On The Biafra Question; A Marxist Analysis


By Sanyaolu Oluwajuwon, A Student Of Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria And The Chairman Pacesetters Movement. https://www.facebook.com/groups/603348246405517/permalink/950462028360802/




Below we republish a document of Sanyaolu Juwon on the Biafra Question in Nigeria which the comrade has written and published in 2015. (“On The Biafra Question – A Marxist Analysis”, https://www.thecommunists.net/forum/marxism-and-the-biafra-question-in-nigeria/) Comrade Sanyaolu Juwon has been the Organising Secretary of the Pacesetters Movement in Nigeria. He has also been the long-time spokesperson of the Alliance of Nigerian Students Against Neoliberal Attacks (ANSA) until recently. However, in recent months, comrade Sanyaolu Juwon and his Trotskyist friends had to wage a political inner-party struggle against the old Stalinist guard which continued to control the apparatus of the Pacesetters Movement. On 2 September 2018, the comrades finally split with the Stalinist bureaucrats. They are now building a new revolutionary socialist, i.e. Trotskyist, organization as the sympathising section of the RCIT in Nigeria. (See more on this in our interview with comrade Sanyaolu Juwon here: https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/interview-with-sanyaolu-juwon-rcit-nigeria/). The RCIT has published some comments on this article here: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-marxist-approach-to-the-biafra-question-in-nigeria/




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Years after the outrageously bloody Biafra war which took place between 1967 and 1970, the remnants of the ruthless civil war remains as fetters of the Nigerian history and its lightly obscene legacies are consciously handed over to able bodied young men and women whom one could have just concluded are busy playing into the greedy whims of some bureaucratic profiteers whose only hope of being the new set of oppressors lies in secession. This conclusion however is in no way an hasty sentiment against the historical secessionist civil war but a call to a rather dialectical comparison of the conditions of the Nigerian masses between the years of the civil war and the 21st century Nigerian masses in the year 2015 viz the role of the working people in this most critical historical epoch which might be better tagged as the last days of capitalism.


The Biafra question was once again after a very long while brought into the public spectacle when one of the leaders of Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) was arrested on the 20th of October 2015. Our attention at this period is not in fact in the arrest but in answering a major question which I term here as “the Biafra Question”. Should we as Marxists support the demand of this group of secessionist Micro Sect? Or rather what position should we maintain which with no doubt must not have any detriment in advancing the cause of the working people but must rather strengthen it.


Nigeria with no doubt is a conglomeration of diverse ethno religious group; to deny this is to intentionally wreck the most wicked havoc on history and that in fact friends is not at all scientific and by consequence not Marxian. We must however not confuse this necessary difference for the real reason for outbreak of the civil war but on the contrary see it as a cunningly exploited factor with which the ruling elites used and is still using in dividing the oppressed rank and file while bettering the lots of their own class; the ruling class or if you must, the national Bourgeoisie; the watch dog of the International Capitalist class-The imperialists. It was the latter who colonized Nigeria just like it did the rest of Africa. To them Africa is far from being an inferior race, obviously not, all they could perceive of the continent is a new market to explore, easy profits, cheap labor, the natural resources to control. in short it was far from being a spectre of racial superiority, it was a question of class supremacy. This was the brutish interest that made the colonial fraudsters to merge the hitherto known ethnic groups into ONE BIG MARKET that would later be called Nigeria. What happened years after in Nigeria and the rest of the British dominated Africa, Asia etc vindicated Lenin’s conclusion which characterized imperialism as an “Epoch of Wars and Revolutions”.


World War2 (1939-1945) forged a new super power which imperatively ousted the hegemony of the British colonial rule that will afterwards be replaced with neo-colonialism of the US. This however is not to say that the British relinquishment of power in Nigeria was not without strong agitations else Lenin might have been misguidedly Judged wrong in maintaining the afore mentioned assertion. Between 1940 and 1945, there were countless labor strikes in Nigeria; the most notable was that of 1944/45 where the centre of demand is what it has always been even till date; The demand for increased wages and humane working condition. This was the period our resources-human and capital- are being used in fighting the greedy imperial war; the scramble for which capitalist class gains control of the international market. The capital created by the working masses instead of being used in the interest of the latter becomes that which enslaves and impoverishes them. It is this capital that is used in fighting these brutal wars. These hostile condition created by the avaricious greed of the Bourgeoisie surged up the political consciousness of the Nigerian working masses. This consciousness unlike the 1917 Russia couldn’t overthrow the Bourgeoisie but was deceitfully maneuvered and exploited by the emerging Nigerian ruling /bourgeois class-The AWOLOWOS- who as at that moment could only be referred not as part of the working class, no way! But as the petty bourgeoisie; there class nomenclature is in no way a function of their life style neither does it lie in the strength of their Bank account rather a function of their position as the only privileged of the British rule to receive oversea University education which would prepare them in being the administrators of the oppressed. This Nigerian petty bourgeoisie- just like it happened in the French 1789 revolution- rode on the limitation of the working class consciousness to take power thus presented themselves as the genuine voice of the workers and the class to look up to for the liberation of the Nigerian masses from British colonial rule. The intention of this intrepid petty bourgeois class is obviously far from national liberation but class liberation, that is, they hope to constitute themselves as the new exploiters of labor, the new bourgeoisie, in summary the new oppressor and they would stop at nothing to achieve that.


With the apparent independence of Nigeria in 1960, the new ruling elite seemed divided on the bases of ethno ideological differences but the real bases for the exploitation of this ethnic sentiment was material interest. The early argument for regionalism, federalism, confederalism and what have you has nothing to do with national interest i.e. the interest of the masses. This people (Awolowo, Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello etc) exploited the ethnic sentiment of the poor uneducated but politically conscious masses to advance their material interest. Every other perceived socio-political insurrections ranging from coup to pogroms all followed the material bases of class interest.


The Biafra war which broke out in 1967 shortly after the first Nigerian coup of 1966 came as a manifestation of conflicting class interest. The common reason for the war was said to be a piling hostility against the role of the Igbo in the 1966 coup. The excuse for the coup was the extent of corruption of the civilian elites. The fact that the coup paved way for the most corrupt and brutal dispensation of military rule has undoubtedly mocked the hypocritical excuse. The mass onslaught of the Igbo people came immediately after another coup that unseated Igbo dictator Aguiyi Ironsi(a representative of the Igbo elite) and replaced him with the northern elite candidate Yakubu Gowon. The question however is “who were the master minders of the vicious killing of the Igbos”? We must at this point understand how economically anti-poor hostile condition created by the material interest of the bourgeoisie could be capable of setting even the oppressed class against each other. We have witnessed the popular xenophobia crisis in south Africa where the South African nationals erroneously concluded that there disdainful economic predicament was caused by the presence of non nationals, we have seen the Ghana must go slogan in Nigeria where Nigerians made similar conclusion of the Ghanians, we have equally encountered racial wars between the white and black American citizens which was based on similar problems as the previous. In fact Fahola in 2010 almost hoodwink the Lagos based Yoruba into believing that the presence of other ethnic groups in the state constituted the gory economic dilemma of Lagos State. In every of this crisis, the victims of this catastrophic upheaval erroneously perceives the other party as the villain of their misery in the same vain the aggrieved subject of the violence sees the objects of this sadistic brutality as his economic nemesis. It was capitalism’s ideology of privatization that concentrated excessive wealth in the hands of minority through the excessive impoverishment of majority. The idea of imperialism is outsourcing for cheap labor which could be via relocation of industries to those countries that have been impoverished through neo-colonialism, encouraging migration of citizens from impoverished state to imperial capitals such as US with big multinationals through fraudulent programs such as the study work scheme for international students, visa lottery etc. In short, imperialism’s development of the urban region by under-developing the rural areas in the name of profit accumulation serve as the basis of the intra class war of the oppressed majority. The truth however remains that neither of the oppressed class are enemies of the other in reality and neither is the bane of another’s misfortune rather, both are porn in the hands of a common oppressor.


This was obviously the case even in the 1967 Nigeria; more Igbo were perceived to be in the higher administrative position, some felt the Igbos were taking their Jobs and most northerners were barely educated. These factors were enough to cloak the masses in an ethno religious sentimental robe and provided with it the necessary recipe for ethnic conflict. One may on the other hand recall that the same mass of people fought shoulder to shoulder in the 1944/1945 labor strikes on the bases of collective demand and class interest and they did this despite their respective religious and ethnic differences. The interest of the working class, the poor Nigerian masses for increased wage, better working and living condition-regardless of ethno religious origin- is one that is irreconcilable with that of the profit driven Nigerian ruling elite either in 1945, 1967 or 2015.


Could the secession have translated into a better living condition for the common Igbo? Definitely not, The declaration of secession was in no way a pro common Igbo people response to the elite created economic crisis in the form of pogrom but a reaction to the bureaucratic marginalization of the Igbo elite who have seen themselves as the Nigerian emerging layers of exploiters of labor.


We must understand at this point that the interest of whether Gowon, Awolowo or Ojukwu is inalienably the same. To maintain otherwise is to ignorantly conclude that the Putin led Russian elite intervention in the Syrian crisis was based on the interest of the common Syrian populace and this interest is different from that of the US. That is a total illusion and misconception of history and motive. The basis of the apparent division of both powers was the competition for the oil rich Syria and the entire Middle East. Russia had to ensure Al-Assad remains in power to meet this aim while it profits the US to unseat him. Whichever side becomes victorious does not nullify that public resources-such as oil-under the control of handful private elites whether national or international rather than a national democratic management of the workers would only benefit the interest of the former at the expense of the working masses. This is as well similar to why both powers are equally at logger head in Ukraine. Just like the Biafra war, scores of lives are being sacrificed to meet the greedy ends of these handful capitalist elites. The creation of the Biafra State will for the elite give them what they have always wanted, to become the new set of bourgeoisie, the uncontestable ruling elite, appropriators and expropriators of national wealth. No sooner than the average Igbo will come to realize that the disguised ethnic liberation was in the real sense class liberation; the liberation of the petty bourgeoisie. The interest of the UK/US in the war couldn’t be more obvious; to keep that oil rich large market under single united rule of pro west government.


Is this however to say that as Marxist we are opposed to right of self determination? Absolutely not, for us, we believe that the working people in every bourgeois epoch have no national identity, neither have they any identity other than working class identity which must dispassionately overthrow its nemesis; the bourgeoisie. The mere fact that the working people must be subjugated for the privileged handful to appropriate national wealth (proceeds of labor) and nature’s resources have further justified this assertion. National identity can under no circumstance be substituted for national existence rather must be characterized by economic equality i.e. equal opportunities to appropriate the product of the society without subjugation of the labor of others else it becomes class identity.


We do not however support right to self determination should it be pursued mechanically any more than we advocate mechanical unity under the bourgeois state. We would only support the Unity of the working masses of Igbo for a right to self determination under socialist programs. Only the united struggle of the working people of Igbo under socialist programs can guarantee a real victory for the generality of the Igbo lest it becomes the interest of few privileged Igbo bureaucrats. This however is not to mechanically conclude that the struggle of the working Igbo people is totally different from the plight of the general Nigerian masses, neither is it the illusion that the needed victory of a Biafra workers state is independent of the united struggle of the Nigerian workers as it would be tantamount to total daydreaming. Only a workers Unity can guarantee a country we can all be proud of and a world free of socio-economic violence.