Nigeria, Boko Haram/Africa
Nigeria - Free Now? - Africa

Nigeria - Free Now?

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

It is estimated that the Nok people settled in Nigeria’s Jos plateau for the first time in 800BC. Starting from 670AD, Uqba ibn Nafi conquered Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco under the Umayyad’s – it is from this early time that Muslim traders and preachers started influencing Sub-Saharan and Western Africa. So much so that the Mansa dynasty that for the first time consolidated the Mali Empire in 1230AD, was a local Muslim dynasty.

 It has been recorded that in the time of Mansa Musa, Islam entered southwestern Yoruba-speaking areas of Nigeria, especially through the Wangara traders who specialized in gold-trade and Islamic scholarship.

After 1571, King Idris Alooma of the Bornu Empire accepted and advocated Islam in his kingdom. In 1809, Islamic scholar Usman dan Fodio defeated the Hausa Kingdoms of Northern Nigeria and established the Fulani Empire with its capital at Sokoto. Hence northern Nigeria was systematically Islamized in several centuries.

By the dawn of the 19th century, Islam had not penetrated through the Middle Belt of Nigeria, which houses great degree of ethno-linguistic diversity - while Southern Nigeria was exposed to Christianity mainly by the efforts of the missionaries of the British colonial period from 1861 onwards.

But before Britain formally colonized Nigeria - the British, the Portuguese, the French, the Spanish and the Dutch had been running a massive slave trade from this land. From 1500 to 1900 12million to 28 million free Africans were displaced into slavery in Europe and the Americas. The map show that the bulk of the slave-trade went between the western coasts of Africa and the American colonies - and Nigeria was central of these slave-factories – reason being that it has been the most populated country in Africa.

It was only after the industrial revolution, at the end of the 18th century that in Britain, laws against slave-trade were made – in effect slave-trade went on till the 1850s. But with the suppression of the slave trade, Nigerian ivory, timber, beeswax, and palm-produce became the main extractables, useful for the Eurpoean industries from 1884 to 1916.

But of course the colonials were not the only ones to blame for all the misery of the Nigerian people. It has always been the local chiefs and princes that have willingly or not, served as intermediaries for the colonialists’ interests. They have gathered slaves for them and enforced cash-crop farming on the locals to win the favors of their foreign masters. This practice gave a privileged status to the coastal middlemen who procured mostly from the hinterland and exchanged for European manufactured goods such as arms and ammunition, alcohol, enamel wares, clothes etc.

Perhaps this passive attitude of the delta middlemen allowed the British to harbor their imperial plan over the whole of Nigeria. First the British protected their commercial interests in Bights of Benin and Bonny by gun-boat diplomacy, later in 1851 they intervened in a dynastic dispute in Lagos, and ten years later (1861) took complete possession of Lagos. From Lagos, the British became gradually involved in the interior in Yorubaland.

In 1884 on the eve of the Berlin Conference, infamously known as the ‘Scramble of Africa’ between the colonial powers, Nigeria was confirmed for British influence. By 1890, the British government in Lagos concluded treaty agreements with a number of Yoruba states, whereby the states would be bound to fulfill British interests. Where there was resistance, the British dealt with either by coercion or by use of force - but generally submissive state heads made indirect rule possible for the British, requiring less British officials for supervision on ground.

The British ‘United African Company’ later renamed Royal Niger Company (RNC) dealt with all matters of British interests until 1906, when Nigeria was made an official colony. Under the British rule the states were divided into districts and previous kingdoms and caliphates were converted into local governments responsible for collecting taxes for the British. The Native Authorities retained a share of the taxes collected while the remaining portion went to the protectorate government. This made the state-heads mere employees of the protectorate government. However, from 1911 the portion allocated to the Native Authorities was converted into a treasury, in effect, making the Native Authority and all its functionaries salaried or stipendiary staff of the Native Administration – this was to help create a state head who himself was to be an intermediary of tax-collection and the treasury was henceforth used only as means of assuring control of the state-head.

Another maneuver of the Protectorate was to make Northern and Southern Nigeria two separate constituent units - each under a fully-fledged governorate.  In effect this division caused the North and South to operate in self-interest and enhanced ethnicity in the body politics of the state. Now the same policy of using the delta middleman was dispersed over all states-heads – if they needed to stay in power they had to satisfy the interests of the Protectorate.

In 1939, the country was divided into three regions - Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria and Northern Nigeria – areas naturally separated by the Niger and Benue rivers. This brought to forth an ethnic tripod with the north dominated by the Hausa/Fulani, the west by the Yoruba and the east by the Ibo ethnic group. Starting from three, by 1996, 36 states have been declared and yet there is more agitation for the creation of states by unsatisfied ethnic groups. This regionalism topped with a mechanism of authority that was to behave merely as stooges of the former colonialists – was the seed of contention sown in the Nigerian thought.

The root-cause of unsatisfied masses lies – not simply in an inherent ethno-communal thinking based on “greed and grievance” that has allegedly manifested the “new barbarism” of the African people – but rather in the perpetuation of economic slavery and the deprivation of basic human needs in the masses. In the words of Claude Ake, for most Nigerians the central authority, has been a set of ‘ruthless tax collectors, boorish policemen and bullying soldiers, corrupt judges cynically operating a system of injustice, a maze of regulations through which they have to beg, bribe or cheat their way every day’ – If Nigeria’s resources were used on the Nigerians and all the federations had the power and will to develop their own people and lands – ethnic identity would not have been sought as political grounds – when the people lose hope in the center, it is but natural to re-organize in local, sub-national terms.

The Nigerian struggle for independence is stared with several great names – but each name is also marred with the colors of ethnicity - Herbert Macaulay’s NCNC was focused on the Igbo interests - Nnamdu Azikiwe’s Nigerian Youth Movement was Yoruba dominated - Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Balewa of the Northern People's Congress wanted a strong North – the Action Group of Obafemi Awolowo represented the Western Nigerians. The million dollar question being – ‘were the Nigerians too raw to unite’ or ‘did the colonial maps drawn all over Africa, on the ideal principle of ‘divide and rule’ not bear the essential fruit of ’disunity’?

After independence in 1960, unfortunately the conditions of the common Nigerian remained just as squalid as were before independence – the reason being the replacement of slavery and palm-produce with an even deadlier product – Oil.

Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum in the world and the 8th largest exporter, and has the 10th largest proven reserves – oil accounts for 40% of GDP and 92% of Government earnings. Before leaving Nigeria the British made sure that all the oil went to the British Petroleum and the Royal Dutch Shell Company – the former is 100% British-owned, the latter is a joint Anglo-Dutch. Several laws were enacted which ensured complete tax-exemptions for these companies and that they could freely transfer their dividends to their mother countries, moreover only British shipping companies could carry Nigerian goods. In absence of any real say of the Nigerians in the matter, bad practices have caused widespread pollution and environmental damage in the region and militant groups engaged in hostage-taking and sabotage have rapidly increased.

One would question: but how would they impose such laws in a country they had left? This was made possible by the generous act of calling several Nigerians to gain higher education in London, this bunch of Nigerians would then return to Nigeria as comrades of the ex-masters. Commanding positions – from local government level to federal level were occupied by western educated elite – an elite that had been cultured to serve as a Bourgeoisie Comprador over the decades of servitude under the British – an elite obsessed with acquiring wealth and power and at the same time being an intermediary between their country’s resources and global trade.

The first insurgency in Nigeria is recorded in 1967, the second in 1995, three decades later. In 2004 fighting between two militant groups, the Niger Delta Vigilante and the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force and later activities of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) ignited a culture of terrorism, kidnapping, harassment, hostage taking, crude oil theft and illegal oil bunkering in the country. These and other underground groups were funded by political parties who used the foul tactics of these armed groups to maintain political positions amidst wide-spread corruption. While this went on, ethno-religious movements like the Arewa, the Egbe Afenifere, the Ohanaeze-Ndigbo, and the Ogoni were also struggling in the backdrop.

In July 2009, Boko Haram, a so called Sunni-Salafist Tafriki group bean its insurgency with clashes with the Nigerian army, killing about a 1000 people in 3 days. It must be understood that Boko Haram is neither a militia of a local political party nor has it an ethnic base – it is a phenomenon sharply contrasting with the culture and history of the Nigerians – a culture of finding identity in ethnicity – whereas Boko Haram finds its identity in an international circle – which in aggregation is called al Qaeda.

It has been reported that Boko Haram received its initial training and weapons from the Algeria-based Al Qaeda in the Magreb (AQIM) led by Abu Mousab. In Feb 2012, the Nigerian Tribune reported that Boko Haram receives funding from the Al-Muntada Trust Fund, headquartered in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia’s Islamic World Society. In turn, during the Libyan Uprising NATO and France claimed of arming the Al-Qaeda (AQIM) rebels who were fighting against Gaddafi. It has also been reported that the Ajuba Bombing terrorist Mamman Nur received training from Al Shabaab in Somalia – Boko Haram has also conducted joints activities with splinter groups Ansar Al-Dine and Ansaru as well as with MOJWA and Al Qaeda affiliate of Mali.

Very recently Boko Haram has extended its activities in Chad as well where in Feb 2015 10 people have been killed and the Ngouboua village was set ablaze.          

For centuries the Nigerians have been oppressed and for centuries they are struggling to rid themselves from slavery of one kind or the other – but all these struggles have been internal and directed against the immediate oppressor. The question is whether a non-socio-economic concept like Boko Haram emerged from the culture of the Nigerians or are its roots external to its soil – induced with the help of funds and weapons – that are now being used to pump up another kind of a ‘middleman’.

Controlling and exploiting another people’s resources, so that nothing but misery goes to them, is a tricky business requiring vicious greed, intrigue, double-play and coercion. Today US controls the politics of Nigeria through its multinational companies, Shell being the major one.

In Nov. 2010 Wikileaks published material that revealed Shell Oil’s involvement in Nigeria’s affairs.  The Shell Oil Company is the US-based subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell (of Anglo-Dutch origin). In the leaked documents Shell Oil claimed that it had inserted staff into all the main ministries of the Nigerian government, giving it access to every movement of politicians. Ann Pickard, then Shell's vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa had boasted that the Nigerian government had "forgotten" about the extent of Shell's infiltration and was unaware of how much the company knew about its deliberations. Moreover, it was revealed that the drug company Pfizer had hired private investigators to find evidence against the Nigerian attorney general Michael Aondoakaa to pressure him into dropping charges against the company. Pfizer was sued in Nigeria over the deaths of children in drug trials.

The Guardian published an article on this matter in Dec.2010, in addition to the above allegations, it interestingly states, ‘Another cable released today, from the US consulate in Lagos and dated 19 September 2008, claims that Pickard told US diplomats that two named regional politicians were behind unrest in the Rivers state. She also asked if the American diplomats had any intelligence on shipments of surface to air missiles (SAMs) to militants in the Niger Delta’.

From such a manner of speech one can easily assume that Shell is not only aware of militant activities but also using it to their benefit. Pickard also found out that Russian energy company Gazprom's was ambitions to enter the Nigerian market. The previous year, Gazprom had signed a $2.5bn deal with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to build refineries, pipelines and gas power stations. Obviously Shell sees Gazprom as a contender that has to be discouraged by all means – therefore more pressure would have to be built over the Nigerian authority.

So from 1500AD onwards the Nigerians face one kind of enslavement after another at the hands of Western powers. Under their white faces painted with civility, human rights and democracy, this is their real face – the face of vicious greed that dehumanizes entire populations in their sway for profits – and for centuries.