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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Left Edge: The Struggle Against Neo-Colonialism in Nigeria

Segun Olagoke Aderemi, a leading labor and civil rights activist in Nigeria, is on a speaking tour across the US. Aderemi is a prominent political figure in Nigeria, often interviewed on TV and quoted in the press. He is the General Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement, Chairperson of the Lagos State Chapter of the National Conscience Party, and Legal Advisor to the Campaign for Independent Unionism.

On Tuesday September 17, at 2:30 in the Wheatley fourth floor student lounge, Mr. Aderemi will give a public lecture on “the Struggle Against Poverty and Neo-Colonialism in Africa.”

Consider this scenario: Production is paralyzed for two weeks at a Chevron-Texaco facility operating in the oil-rich, people-impoverished Niger Delta. 250-plus unarmed women of the Ijaw group, ages 30 to 90, have besieged the headquarters, holding 700 employees inside for days. What are the women demanding? That the multinational spare some of its billions in profits to fund road construction, water and electricity service, and jobs for community members.

In their steadfast determination, the women threaten that if the company refuses to negotiate, they will rally outside company offices, nude, to embarrass the largely expatriate workforce. Finally, the company is forced to send out negotiators to deliver concessions.

This seemingly impossible scenario took place in July 2002 when women of the marginalized Ijaw people, fed up with years of environmental and economic exploitation, took matters into their own hands. According to Nando news, “Chevron-Texaco agreed to employ more local people, invest in electricity supply and other infrastructure projects, and assist the villagers in setting up poultry and fish farms to supply the terminal’s cafeteria.”

Participants in the movement spoke out in indignation. “We have nothing to show for over 30 years of the company’s existence,” said Lucky Lelekumo, spokeswoman for Ijaw activists. A protest organizer, Anunu Uwawah, said: “We will no longer take this nonsense. This is the beginning of the trouble they have been looking for.”

This occupation has had a snowball effect, inspiring a spate of protests now involving thousands of participants who have targeted both Chevron and Shell. On August 8, 3,000 women stormed facilities and set up mass pickets outside company offices. The police attacked the women with tear gas and even gunfire, killing one protestor. But Chevron and Shell were forced to come through with concessions again.

These events have illustrated again the viscous rule that corporations exert in Nigeria, and reflect the neo-colonial status of Africa in general. The transition from military to civilian rule in 1999 brought hopes to the Nigerian masses languishing under a decade and a half of military dictatorship. These hopes have been dashed, however, as grinding poverty, endemic violence, and corruption have worsened under the new president, Olusegun Obasanjo.

Nigeria is the world’s sixth-largest exporter of oil and fifth-largest supplier to the US. Yet the Niger Delta, the source of the country’s $20 billion in annual oil exports, is one of this west African country’s poorest regions.

Nigeria has moved from being the 50th wealthiest nation on earth to 176th, out of 206 nations. Nearly 70% of its citizens live in poverty.

Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government has moved quickly to privatize public assets, slash social services, and promote trade liberalization. State-owned industries in several key sectors of the economy, including petroleum, construction, insurance, hotels, cement industries, and telecommunications, are being sold off to the highest bidding multinationals and Nigerian capitalists. These measures have led to mass layoffs, higher prices for services, and a general lowering of living standards.

US imperialism considers Obasanjo an important ally in the “War on Terrorism” and in protecting American interests in Africa. Nigeria has become a proxy for the US, which gives Nigeria over $160 million a year in aid, a large portion of which goes to the military. In particular, the US wants Nigeria to be a watchdog state in the West African region and to help carry out “peace-keeping” operations, as in Sierra Leone.

In his error-laden vernacular, Bush reasserted the strategic importance of Nigeria in a press conference with Obasanjo at the White House in May 2001: “As many Americans may know, that we are in the process of helping provide technical assistance to Nigerian troops so that they are better able to keep those peace missions.” Nigeria is also seen as a key oil supplier in the event of a war with Iraq.

Ravaged by neo-liberal policies, conditions for the vast majority of Nigerians is getting more desperate daily, with plummeting livings standards, a collapsing infrastructure, increased crime and disease, and a general breakdown in society. The AIDS epidemic thrives in Nigeria’s poverty-ridden communities.

Massive protests have erupted, with two general strikes in the last year. But without a clear class-conscious leadership in these struggles, they have failed to show a way out for the working class. In this vacuum of working class leadership, there is a growing tendency toward national fragmentation along ethnic and religious lines. The possibility of an all-out civil war dividing the country cannot be ruled out, which would have devastating consequences for the whole continent.

There are more than 250 distinct ethnic groups within Nigeria, many of which straddle Nigeria’s borders with neighboring countries. The government cleverly exacerbates divisions among them in order to divert anger away from its own practices. Obasanjo gives these groups unequal funding, and some groups are given more political power than others.

A significant sector of society is responding to fundamentalist appeals from Christian and Muslim groups out of desperation from the social and economic crisis. In northern Nigeria, which is predominately Muslim, 12 states have adopted the strict Sharia law – which calls for amputation, stoning, and flogging as punishments for crimes such as theft and adultery.

The harsh repression of Sharia law drew international attention in the case of Safiya Huseini, a woman who was sentenced to death by stoning for allegedly committing adultery. An international campaign to free her successfully struck down the court’s sentence, and she was acquitted. Fears among non-Muslims in predominately Christian central Nigeria have lead to enormous clashes, which have claimed thousands of lives in the last two years.

Capitalism can offer no future for people in the African continent, which has been sucked dry by huge multinational corporations. The only way to guarantee that the rich oil resources are used to meet the needs of Nigerian workers and poor people is to bring these giant corporations under public ownership and workers’ democratic control. Nigeria’s Democratic Socialist Movement is committed to this necessary step.

[For more info on the UMB Socialist Club or Segun Aderemi’s national speaking tour: [email protected]]