The October 1, bomb blast as Nigeria marked the golden jubilee of its flag independence seems to have thrown up more questions than answers. A series of statements had been issued before the blast signed by Jomo Gbomo, a pseudonym that had been used on several occasions as the voice of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND. And subsequent to the bombing, MEND claimed responsibility.
The President of the Federation, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan immediately stated that the bombing was not orchestrated by MEND, while the Federal Government sought the prosecution of Mr. Henry Okah, who had been touted as the leader of MEND two years back, apprehended, tried and then released as part of a deal which granted general amnesty to “militants” in the Niger Delta, last year. Mr. Okah would later claim in an interview with Al-Jazeera that he had been asked by an associate of President Goodluck to retract the claim of MEND as being behind the bombing and rather lay the blame at the doorstep of elements from “the North” as a way of bolstering Goodluck’s chances at the forthcoming polls.
The plot however thickens still. Chief Raymond Dokpesi, owner of the highly influential AIT television and Raypower radio, who is Director-General of General Ibrahim Babangida’s campaign team for the presidential elections, has been arrested in the wake of the bomb blast. Adamu Chiroma and some 14 others speaking for “Northern Political Leaders” have also gone ahead to demand President Goodluck’s resignation on the strength of Henry Okah’s claims while several quarters allege that the Al-Jazeera interview was itself faked as Okah was in custody in South Africa and did not have the latitude to grant such interview. Other presidential aspirants from the North, including Governor Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and General Aliyu Gusau have however latched on to the reported Okah interview to insist on the complicity of Mr. President in the bomb blast.
Interestingly, several “ex-militants” from the Niger Delta including the likes of Chief Government Ekpemolo, a.k.a. Tompolo; Ateke Tom; Farah Dagogo; Alhaji Mujaheed Dokubo-Asari; Shoot at Sight; Busta Rhymes and Egberipapa, have risen up to condemn the bomb blast and implicitly stand on the side of President Goodluck to say that “the Niger Delta people are not in support of it”.
Meanwhile, “Cynthia Whyte” a pseudonym also identified over time as a voice the Joint Revolutionary Council, of militant groups in the Niger Delta (the largest network of which is MEND), has also spoken up on behalf of the later group that General Ibrahim Babangida had contacted it to carry out the bombing. “She” claims that after the JRC had refused to do that, Henry Okah was contacted and his group, a faction of MEND, carried out the dastardly act on behalf of General Babangida, with the intent of assassinating President Goodluck Jonathan, and other top brass of his administration.
The throwing of brickbats on this matter has gone on in tandem with a reduction of the criticism of the bomb blast to one of security breaches, by many Nigerians. The abominable act has been rightly condemned, albeit, for the wrong reasons. Coming up on the heels of the abduction of 15 primary school pupils in Aba and the turning of Aba and similar cities in the South East and South South regions into ghost towns due to the prevalence of kidnappings for ransom money, the break down of law and order and the collapse of the security of lives and property have been the main whipping boy of popular forces on the crisis at hand.
The matters that the bombing is still unveiling go far beyond that of insecurity.
On one hand we see clearly the dangerous limitations of armed struggle as the pathway for a peoples’ emancipation. The Niger Delta peoples, particularly the toiling workers, peasants, fishermen and women whose daily lives have become a nightmare despite, indeed because of the wealth their land holds, have been traumatized in the half a century of Nigeria’s flag independence. There have been several flashpoints of resistance to this oppressive order in the Delta of the Niger. From Isaac Adaka Boro’s 12 day revolution in February 1966, to the non-violent struggle of the Ogoni’s championed by the slain poet, Ken Saro-Wiwa, the pathway to the December 11, 1998 beginnings of the present fires in the Niger Delta have been strewn with anguish, blood, gallantry, and low-intensity warfare. MEND grew out of this miasma of oppression and resistance.
Where a force over and above the people, even one that claims to be, or even is indeed progressive, takes up the “vanguardist” gauntlet of armed struggle for the people, it reserves the right to cross over to the oppressors in the guise of negotiations over paid general amnesties or even worse still to itself become an oppressive force over the same people. Where it becomes successful it furthers the dampening of the confidence of the masses in their own abilities for self-emancipation, and shatters possibilities of mass-democratic organization and education for liberation. Besides, the nature of the urban guerrilla’s life is one that paves the way for splits and still more splits. MEND has of necessity existed as a network of cells and groups of guerrilla fighters otherwise dubbed “militants”. That there are cracks in the broad MEND framework on how to continue engagement is not new. While some of its forces took the offer of amnesty, some of its elements had on January 30 called off the unilateral ceasefire it had declared on October 28, 2009. Three months after that, it had struck in Warri, in much the same way as what might now be turning out to be its bombing hallmark: two near-simultaneous bomb blasts from parked cars.
The present exchanges of claims and counter-claims and charges of complicity only show how deep the cleavages have gone. The possible danger this portends even for the Niger Delta could be gleaned in the period that the militant “cults” held Port Harcourt hostage a few years back, turning the boisterous city with a robust night life into a ghost town from 6pm. A worse picture is that of the degeneration of Somalia into a state of statelessness with different patches of its jigsaw mosaic governed by different warlords.
In the immediate instance as well, the opening up of reaction which the use of vanguardist terror breeds can be seen in the ban on all forms of public demonstrations by the Federal Capital Territory Police Command. The offensive use of terror by an armed movement separated from the masses confounds both the state and the oppressed mass, legitimating the sharpening of the use of the state’s coercive forces against progressive civil society, as a whole.
On the other hand the recent development show the worrisome readiness of different sections of the ruling elite to play the politics of stroking away the fiddle while the nation burns; indeed a dastardly readiness to stoke those very fires. We might never really know where the truth lies, it is however not impossible from the recriminations being thrown here and there that some sections of the ruling elites had a hand in the bomb blast. That this form of “politics” could become a key move on the chessboard of the power play towards the 2011 elections is a pointer at the desperation with which the elections proper would be fought. We might be in for much more than “do or die” general elections in a few months from now.
It is obvious enough that for the various factions of the ruling class in Nigeria who are sharpening their knives for the kill of the 2011 elections, neither nation nor ethnic group really matters their creed is one and the same despite all pretensions: seizing power by any possible means. The nation could burn for all they care and people die; the prize is Aso rock, and more importantly; the access to mind-boggling resources that Aso Rock guarantees. They will play the ethno-regional card and invoke the devil of terror itself to stoke up the panic frenzy with which their desperate hunger for power could be quenched in the haze of uncertainty, hopelessness and a mass disoriented by disillusionment.
The challenge now for working people in Nigeria is the way forward. It can not be one of merely limiting our demands to security issues, nor can it come out of simply condemning the blast and those behind it. Definitely these are steps to be taken, but to limit ourselves to such would be to play into the hands of the very forces of retrogression that have kept our country in the continued state of underdevelopingness that has marked the better part of our 50years of formal independence. The challenge is for us to seize our fate in our hands.
That the country has sunken to these depths of depravation is a reflection of both the visionless ineptitude of its rulers and the bewildered discontentment of the masses. It points at our being at crossroads in the crises-ridden annals of Nigeria.
The cry of enough is enough should ring true for electoral malfeasance. It must as well ring true for the decadent military and civil rule of a handful who have fed fat on the wealth of the land while the masses starve and pine away. Elections in 2011 without the fundamental restructuring of the economy and body polity of Nigeria might just be a prolongation of the evil day. This is the time for a Sovereign National Conference of the working people across the length and breadth of Nigeria. The pathway to this social, as against mere electoral, transition would be through mass mobilization of the masses by the labour movement and radical civil society. Nigeria’s toiling masses must be awakened to the challenge of our self-emancipation from the shackles of exploitation and oppression which have been our lot for 50 years and indeed more. This is the time for us to rethink beyond the bomb blast, reflect beyond the macabre musical chairs of recrimination and bloody elites-politicking. This is the time for us to act and act with fervour and the determination of building another possible Nigeria and indeed winning a new world that will stamp out want and terror, oppression and marginalization.
Baba Aye, General Secretary of the Socialist Workers’ Movement is Deputy National Secretary of the Labour Party