Sunday, May 18, 2014

Lambeth Joint Trade Unions demand #Bring Back Our Girls!

I'm catching up on blogging, and will start by posting up the leaflet distributed at our Lambeth joint trade union vigil in support of "BringBackOurGirls on Friday. We thought it important to stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria without illusions in imperialism. There are many Nigerian members in UNISON - and we need to build a relationship of solidarity with sister and brother trade unionists in particular.

What is going on and why?

A wave of revulsion has spread worldwide over the news of the kidnapping of at least 276 young girls from a school at Chibok, in Borno state in north-western Nigeria, and subsequently the slaughter of at least 300 villagers in nearby Gamboru Ngala on the Nigeria-Cameroon border by the violent Boko Haram sect. “Boko Haram” means “Western education is forbidden” in a mixture of Hausa and Arabic. The ultra-violent sect is just the latest of a series of such groups, going back to the 1970s, which consider that “western,” meaning modern, education is sinful because of its teaching of scientific concepts, its association with Christian proselytisation and because it promotes the education of women and thereby alters patriarchal gender relations.

Boko Haram have also bombed workers’ May Day demonstrations, killing 19 people at Nyanya in Abuja. There are complaints that the Nigerian military has — before the kidnapping — gone after Boko Haram’s social base with extreme harshness, committing many murders and other violations of human rights. The Nigerian Labour Congress has criticised the response of the Nigerian authorities, saying that they “need more brain than brawn.” In March, Amnesty International claimed that six hundred mostly unarmed detainees were extra judicially executed by the army in a single day.

The roots of Boko Haram lie in the isolation, backwardness and poverty of the north. There is a real danger of losing sight of this root cause of the problem, namely the neglect and poverty of huge areas of Africa like Borno state. Economic development requires the empowerment and education of women and girls.

Is Western intervention the answer?

The problems of Nigeria have their origins in the colonial involvement of European powers in Africa. Nigeria is a product of British and French colonial rivalries in west Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when feudal Muslim emirates, stretching east to west along the Sudanic belt of West Africa, were seized by direct or indirect military intervention. The Borno emirate, where Boko Haram started, was an ally of Britain, so when it became part of its empire in Africa in 1905 the ruling dynasty was kept on. The idea of administering colonial possessions through traditional rulers was promoted by colonial administrator Lord Frederick Lugard. As governor of Nigeria between 1912-19, Lugard continued the policy of leaving the north essentially neglected while southern areas were developed more but without concessions to labour unions and democracy.

After independence in 1960, the stage was set for north-south conflict. A 1966 coup by junior army officers from the south, in which a number of Muslim leaders were killed, set off bloody reprisals against southerners living in the north, followed by the Biafra war of independence. Since then, hostility between the Muslim north and the mostly Christian south and a series of military coups has bedeviled Nigeria.

Although Nigeria is endowed with great natural and human resources, the for-profit system of capitalism ensures that over 80% of the country’s oil wealth is cornered by a few while the vast majority are condemned to struggling to benefit from the remaining 20%. According to latest statistics, Nigeria is now the biggest economy in Africa. In addition, the richest person in Africa is a Nigerian, while Nigeria is home to hundreds of private jets to support the exotic lifestyle of the rich. Yet over 100 million Nigerians (about 70%) are said to be poor. Over 50 million youths are unemployed and the number of homeless is unknown. On March 15 2014, over half a million graduates turned up at test centers all over the country to seek employment for less than 5,000 advertised vacancies at the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). Tragically over 20 people died in the process due to crowd stampeding.

Behind Nigeria’s corrupt capitalist ruling elites are often Western imperialist countries, like the US and European powers. Their global financial institutions, the IMF and World Bank, prop up corrupt regimes in Nigeria, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, for their own strategic and economic gains. The western powers’ humanitarian concerns are always linked to their strategic interests.

What can we do?

Ordinary working people across the world are mobilising around the slogan #BringBackOurGirls– we must offer our solidarity and support to the people of Nigeria, their trade unions and civil society organisations.

As the United Nations say; “The violation of the rights of women and girls on such a scale, no matter who they are and where they are, requires the whole world to stand up and take action. We are racing against time and every moment counts. We need the Government of Nigeria to act fast and we need the support of the world.”

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