Baba Aye: Workers and youth should defend their communities against Boko Haram but should also oppose the government’s state of emergency which is used to bolster the rule of a corrupt elite
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re continuing our discussion about the situation in Nigeria.
Now joining us again in London, although he’s normally based in Nigeria, is Baba Aye. He’s a trade union educator, deputy national secretary of the Labour Party, and a national convener of United Action for Democracy.
Thanks for joining us again, Baba.
BABA AYE, NATIONAL CONVENER, UNITED ACTION FOR DEMOCRACY: Thank you very much, Paul.
JAY: So, before I ask you what do you think Nigerians should do about this situation, what do you make of this international campaign, “bring back our girls”? There’s Hollywood stars and all kinds of people wearing the T-shirt and a Twitter campaign. What do you make of it?
AYE: First and foremost let me say that even the narrative of that campaign, the nomenclature “bring back our girls”, I consider it very patronizing. Which our girls? I think it’s significant to point out that the 65 out of the over 270 students of Chibok Government Girls Secondary School that are free today are free due to their own guts and wits. So, essentially what I’m saying is that these are not some–.
JAY: Meaning that they were able to escape based on their own resources.
AYE: Yes, yes, yes. So in a sense it does sound patronizing. I think the point of departure the should be respect for even what they have done as [students (?)]. You know.
So, now, to that issue, because even the secret police described it as a franchise, and rather correctly, I must say, the “bring back our girls campaign” in Nigeria responded because, I mean, it was a pattern of a narrative nowadays, especially when you already have the government declaring a war on terror, you know, using the word franchise sends them the wrong signals. Especially, you have now seen them talking about psychological terrorism.
But back to the issue of the “bring back our girls” campaign with the shape it has taken globally, it is both welcome and grossly inadequate, if not partly misleading. And by this I must say that, yes, while as I said earlier the narrative is patronizing, anything and everything that could be possibly done to ensure that these young women are free should be done and should be supported. So, to that extent, yes, it is welcome.
JAY: Now, what do you make of the American government apparently loaning drones? And I don’t know what else in terms of intelligence the Americans are handing over. What do you make of that involvement? ‘Cause some people will argue, well, that might help free the girls.
AYE: Well, I would say there is a danger here, and that danger is the history of American humanitarian intervention. There’s a saying where I come from that wisdom comes from your looking back when you fall to know what made you fall, [rather] than just staring ahead into the future. I mean, knowing where we’re coming from is very useful for knowing where we are going to.
What has happened with the efforts of the United States military in Afghanistan, in Iraq? I mean, it’s a poison chalice. And to that extent, we are against foreign jackboots of any nature on the ground. We are even against the state of emergency. [Without, (?)] the Nigerian army is killing innocent persons in the name of Boko Haram, not to talk of United States, French, British, or Chinese troops. So we think that–and the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t help in any way. And the problem is about getting them out from where you have seen it has worsened a bad situation there rather than in any way bringing about a positive change.
JAY: Okay. So let’s go back to the broader picture. You have an elite with a big, repressive state security force and army. You have most of the wealth of Nigeria in very, very few hands. But you do have a history of a real working-class movement there with some clout. So what should people do now? What are you calling for?
AYE: Good. I would break it into two, first the issue of the Chibok students, because we’re talking of lives here. You have also had the subsequent abductions. I think that the federal government should negotiate with Boko Haram with regards to releasing the girls. Despite its no negotiations with terrorists policy, the United States recently negotiated with the Talibans to release a soldier of the United States Army for five persons from Guantanamo Bay. So I think that that could be done. Of course, our calling for negotiations on this particular case is rather different from what you have had with the elites, because you have had the issue of a call for negotiations, starting with the sultan–well, not starting, but if we give [a great fill of Tweets (?)] last year, January 23, 2013, after, for a long time calling for smashing Boko Haram–but as I had stressed in other places, that was because Boko Haram had then attacked some of the most revered figures within the emirate institutions, including the now deceased former emir of Kano.
So, now, back to what is to be done, as I said earlier, there is the need for a working-class alternative and independence, you know, self-activity from below against this. Part of the argument we addressed earlier had taken up flesh and blood. And one of these, a very, very important one of these, is the need for self-defense, the need for self-defense. We have argued that the military could not guarantee, you know, the security and safety of Nigerians in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa under the state of emergency, or anywhere, for that matter, ]because we have seen–even we have had a case where 15 top officials have been court-martialed, which included a few generals. You know. So how do you trust that?
But beyond that is that we have to take our fate in our hands. And this is what you saw with the creation of the civilian JTF in April 2013 by–it was spontaneous–you know, by youths in Borno, who organized in self-defense against the Boko Haram.
However–and this brings us back to the issue of the centrality of the working class to an emancipatory project as alternative to Boko Haram and the general madness that you see that, I mean, [marks decision of anomie (?)] that Nigeria is embroiled in. And this is that.
The civilian JTF sees itself more as an extrusion of the Nigerian state. It’s a contradictory thing. That is why even from the name–the JTF is the joint task force, which is joint task force of the army, the secret police, the police, you know, in the northeast, you know, which is kind of the enforcement of the state of emergency. So it’s [just the same as (?)] the civilian arm of the JTF reports to the garrison commander there.
And you have had the elite, ever very smart, tapping into this. In Borno state, for example, the government has set on up BOYES, Borno Youth Empowerment Scheme, you know, which has drawn in members of the civilian JTF, a kind of paramilitary. So what started as an independent, spontaneous independent resistance against the Boko Haram which has been able to clear a degree, largely, of Boko Haram influence is being [before you have areas (?)], literally speaking, co-opted, you know, by the system. And why is that? It’s because the trade unions, the broader labor movement, has not been able to serve as an alternative pull over traction, you know, to these processes going on.
JAY: Baba, how much are some of the trade union leaders getting a taste of some of the oil wealth?
AYE: Ah. I think that question–. Let me put it this way. You have–the trade union bureaucracy is a contradictory reality. The trade union bureaucracy might not feel–actually does not feel the pangs of working-class life the way the rank and file feel. And I dare say that the primary contradictions within the trade union movement is between the trade union bureaucracy and the rank and file much more than between left-wing factions and right-wing factions of the trade union bureaucracy.
But–and this is the important thing there–the objective conditions that the Nigerian working class and working people face has been the tinder that has pushed and will continue to push trade union bureaucrats, including fat cat trade union bureaucrats, into mass action. For example, I mean, the January 2012 general strike, it was quite clear that the trade unions had no choice but to spring into action. In a way, you had that revolutionary upsurge from below.
And as I have argued in a couple of places, Adams Oshiomhole and his successor, Comrade Abdulwahed Omar, are not necessarily–they are not socialists, for example, but they have organized longer strikes than you had under Hassan Sunmonu, who is a lifelong socialist.
And what is this? I mean, what we draw from this? What we draw from this is that objective reality is stronger, yes. The subjective factors could either facilitate or hinder the extent to which the movement moves at different points in time. But the objective conditions are quite primary.
And the thing is, the labor movement can not, is not, and should not be restricted to the trade unions. The way forward for the working class involve tensions of collaboration and contestation, critique, and, where necessary, cooperation between the trade unions, the socialists groups, the radical civil society groups, and so on and so forth, in what continues, you know, what constitutes a dynamic labor movement. And that is where, you know, bodies like the United Action for democracy, as the largest coalition of rights-based civil society organizations, and the Joint Action Front, you know, of prolabor civil society organizers are working closely, you know, within the political context in Nigeria to raise the level of consciousness of the rank-and-file worker, to raise the level of consciousness of the need for an alternative and the readiness to fight for such within the country.
JAY: Now, Baba, I know you’ve called for a united front to end the state of emergency. Are you getting buy-in on that?
AYE: There has not been much of a buy-in on that. And for me, that is one of the unfortunate successes of the–two things: the whipping up of patriotic sentiments by the state; and even in some place where on the left the patriotic sentiments are not essentially bought into, but, you know, seeing Boko Haram simply as being terrorists. I think that that is not only inadequate as an understanding of it; it is very simplistic and it hides much more than what it reveals. Boko Haram represents a contradictory reality of both antiestablishment and reactionary politics. You know. And it has to be understood from this perspective to be dealt with. And also, secondly, that the issue of Boko Haram goes beyond Boko Haram as an organization. And the need to understand the evolution and development of political Islamism in its different currents and movements in Nigeria and situate this within the broader dynamics, the broader ebbs and tides of the class struggle in that country and globally.
JAY: Okay. Well, this is obviously just the beginning of a discussion. We’re going to publish on our website, you’ll see in the columns to the side, an article that Baba wrote a few months ago titled “Beyond Presidents: Jonathan’s War on Terror”. And that will give you a kind of more extensive take of his analysis on all of this.
Thanks very much for joining us, Baba. I look forward to doing it again.
AYE: Thank you so much, Paul. It’s been a pleasure.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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