Monday, January 23, 2012

Nigeria's bombings - How the UK created, fostered and empowered Nigeria's terrorists

In Nigeria the news headlines are of the Islamic organisation Boko Haram's bombing campaign. A MediaLens contributer reminds us the historic role of British divide and rule in Nigeria's past.

Nigeria was the creation of British imperialism and marked the limits of its aims, arms and ambition around Africa's third longest river - the mighty Niger, which gave the country its name. Originally the invaders were only interested in the southern parts of the territory now called Nigeria, especialy its rich forests and their plentiful produce of raw materials in heavy demnd in the west, particularly its palm oil, then required to grease the humming wheels of English industry. The natural deep harbours of Calabar and Lagos with its protective lagoon, were also coveted by the British crown.

However to protect the source of the Niger from the encroachments of its French rivals then enfiltrating southwards from their North African holdings, Britain's colonial army, fresh from subduing the southern tribes east and west of the Niger, marched north and bursting through the forest found the northern Savannah domianted by one of Africa's oldest, most educated and cultivated ruling classes - the Hausa Fulani islamic aristocracy whose relatively spohisticated state structure, monotheism and powerful calavary gave them unchallenged writ across the vast northern grass lands. After subduing their initial resistance, the sultans and emirs were integrated into the coloinal structure as its willing tools, keeping their thrones and faith in exchange for fidelity and subservience to the new conquerors. Kneeling to the west for their power, if still facing the east in prayer.

Unlike the lawless and rebellious tribes to the south, with their weak states and fractious people the universal and unquestioned authority of the northern princes was attarctive to the colnial rulers as it fitted in with British colonial poilcy of occupation lite, ruling in the main through local puppets, an approach they had mastered in india. Hence the new masters favoured the aristocracy in recruitment to the new civil service army and police. Development, as would be expected from a low base proceeded rapildy in the south, while to maintain the power of its islamic allies in the North, education, industrialisation and liberal social policies were restricted in northern nigeria by the British colonial administration.

The quicker urbanisation in the south created an increasingly radicalised working class and restive intelligentsia there who from the 1920's began organising against the colonial regime. By the end of the second world war, strikes, demonstrations and increasingly assertive agitation against coloinal rule was taking place across the sotuhern regions, with its nationalist leaders demanding ever more forcefully and confidently full independence from a severely weakened post war Britain.

To counterbalance the agitation centred in the big southern cities like Lagos, the British bolstered the power of the islamic aristocracy in the North, expanding its regional base and powers and placing the scions of its ruling houses in key positions in the army and emerging civil service. The country's census was also rigged giving the north a fraudulent edge over the far more populous southern regions, at a stroke re-writing the rules of geography by increasing the population of a land the closer it got to the desert.

"... islamic terror in Nigeria first burst on the scene in the same city, Kano, it has returned to with such venom. This was in 1956, when the British colonial Government and its allies amongst the conservative islamic aristocracy in the north reacted to a motion of independence by radical nationalists, by instigating a murderous rampage of islamic mobs in the ancient city of Kano, slaugtering agitators for independence and southern Nigerians, where demands for independence were most vociferous..."

"...another far bloodier episode of apocalyptic Islamic terror in Northern Nigeria, far bloodier in scale and serious in consequence than the 1956 riots which were used to intimidate the country into handing over power at independence in 1960 to the west's prefered faction - the subservient emirs and sultans in the North , the most retrograde and reactionary social layer on the continent, who as in Pakistan, now also disintegrating at the onslaught of right wing islamic terror, the departing British imposed on the country to ensure this potential regional giant remained forever prostrate and subservient to the west.

This second major incident of right wing islamic terror in Nigeria occurred in 1966 when in response to a radical coup by a group of young leftist officers in the Nigerian army, MI6 station oficers and British diplomats in the north brazenly broke cover and together with its conservative allies helped mobilise and unleash crazed islamic mobs across the north against southern Nigerians and suspected supporters of the coup. Men women and children across the north were dragged out of their homes and hacked to death in the streets by frenzied fundamentalist mobs with pregnant women having their foetus ripped out from their wombs before the mothers themselves were butchered.

While this was going on British and American diplomats sipped tea and brandy with right wing military officers, sons and scions of the northern ruling houses, in Lagos's main cantonment, plotting a military domination of the country that would last another 3 decades and bring the country to the brink of ruin.

Almost 30,000 mostly ibo southerners were killed in the massacres of 1966 which led to the Biafran war where a milion more died. The dead were so many in Kano, yes the same Kano, that excavators had to be hired from Julius Berger and other construction firms to pile the heaps of corpses into mass graves hastily dug outside the ancient city's walls.

Boko Haram the Nigerian fundamentalist group behind the Kano Bombings is not the Nigerian wing of Al-Quaeda as the western media suggest, sharing its global apocalyptic vision, although there are undoubtedly links. However like the Pakistani Taliban the groups agenda is largely local.
In reality It is the armed wing of the country's powerful conservative Northern establishment who were edged out of power after 40 years of totally dominating it by the pro-democracy uprisings and struggles of the mid to late 1990's. The current wave of bombings and indiscriminate attacks are the arrow head of a counter offensive by the Northern elite and its conservative alies across the country to regain what they beleieve to be their birth right - the right to rule the cuntry without challenge or even the most rudimentary democratic accountability. The right the British gave them at independence in 1960....
As in Pakistan there are clear links between the terrorists and senior memebrs of the countries security establishment, many of whom have now gone rogue."

"...At independence with the power of the British state behind them, power unsurprisingly went to the northern leaders who now in full control of state apparatus, reeaced out to allies across the country creating a pan regional conservative alliance cutting across tribes and regional lines and based upon the direct access to and theft of public resources at the centre and repression of the masses across the country. The discovery of oil and the concentration of its revenues in federal hands increased the powers of patronage of the Northern emirs and further cemented the pan regional alliance of the newly enriched national elite, who fearing the potential power of the millions of dispossessed but increasingly organised and educated masses in the heaving southern cities particularly the teeming megapolis of Lagos were happy to keep real power in the far islamic north from whence it could crush any uprising in the perpetually seething southern cities as it had crushed the Biafran rebellion.

The military dominated by the northern ruling houses was the prefered tool of power and its most powerful arms, the armoured brigades and bomber squadrons were all based in the north. After its crushing victory over the Biafran rebellion in the oil rich south east, it would rule almost unchallenged for 3 decades - from 1970 to 1998.

The north far poorer than the south was frozen in time with a stupendously rich and powerful elite enjoying the most modern amenities and luxuries money could buy while ruling with the help of imams and islamic scholars over a populace whose standard of living had seen almsot no change from the conditions their forefathers had endured over 6 centuries before. In Northern Nigeria the rich live in splendour, the poor in their millions beg in the street, a lumpenised class whose dehumanisation is without equal anywhere on the continent and from wherein the fanatics recruit their foot soldires.

The northern Oligarchy and the ruling class it dominates have devastated Nigeria in 4 ruinous decades of staggering corruption, mismanagement misrule while surbodinating the country in the most servile manner to the most rapacious exploitation of western imperialism - a period in whch the country has earned the equivalent of a quarter of a trillion pounds in oil revene without one of its towns or city's boasting a working electricity, transport, sewage or water supply system.

The combination of miliatry dictatorship and the use of auxillary islamic mobs served to maintain the power of the elite backed at the hieght of the cold war for decades by western imperialism whose policies were then to support the most vile and reactionary right wing regimes in the thrid world regardless of their brutality in an attempt to prevent the rise of popular movements in these countries.

However this changed in the early 1990's due to two reasons; the rise of pro-democracy movements on the African continent, partly inspired by the succes of the struggle in South Africa and secondly the collapse of the Soviet Union and rise of islamic fundamentalism which replaced communism as the West's main bogey man.

In 1993, the Nigerian military backed by the oligarchs cancelled an electrion, the country's freest ever, won by a popular centre left Business man Moshood Abiola, sparking a civilian uprising without precedent in the country's history and plunging Nigeria into its biggest political crisis since the Biafran war. However this time around their western patrons, already distancing themselves from their most brutal cold war allies across the third world, and fearful of creating more hot beds of rising islamic militancy, the chancelries of the west were far cooler and more ambivalent to their old allies in the north.

Isolated internationally and weakened domestically by civil unrest and regional tensions, the millitary dictatorship collapsed in 1998.

The resultant civilian regime was a compromise one which to pacify the people edged out the northern oligarchs and their most corrupt and hated alies from direct control of the state. In 2011, to pacify the oil producing Niger Delta and its long brutalised people who had risen in arms against their oppressioin, under intense western pressure, desperate to calm the Niger Delta, an indigene of the area, Goodluck Johnatahn, was sponsored for and won the presidency.

While slavishly folowing the neo liberal agenda of all his predecessors, his victory has been a step too far for the conservative oilgarchy whose powers are directly linked to the control of the state, its oil and the immense powers of patronage it provides.

In the past the Oligarchy and conservatives would have regained power through a coup detat using the army which they've always controlled. But things have changed - military rule is no longer fashionable internationally and the growth of civil society and labour and environmental militancy particualry in the south and oil producing parts of the country makes this a fraught option - a recent general strike over fuel prices brought millions on to the streets

Any coup now would in all likelihood lead to a break up of the country and possibly a war which the Northern elite facing a changed and less favourable international climate than during the Biafran war, cannot be sure of wining. Hence the use of an armed islamic auxillary force, Boko Haram, backed by shadowy figures within the state to intimidate a civil society they now see slipping away from their autocratic control, forcing the west to re-think and hand them back their 'right to rule' or face the country being made ungovernable..."

"If Nigeria the biggest and most powerful country on Africa's west coast falls the entire region could be set ablaze with the Northern region developing into a badland of fundamentalism and violence so uncontrollable that it would make Somalia look like a sleepy saturday resort park."

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