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Towards 50 years of transformation

As Nigeria marks 50 years of independence on 1 October, Horace G. Campbell surveys both the country and the African continent’s ‘struggle to create a society where humans can live in dignity.’ The Nigerian people’s search for ‘a new mode of politics, and new forms of economic relations’, says Campbell, is ‘part of the larger struggle for unity and peace in Africa.’

On 1 October 2010, the peoples of Nigeria and Africa reflected on the fifty years of struggle to create a society where humans can live in dignity. After five decades of leaders such as Sani Abacha, Ibrahim Babingida, Olusegun Obasanjo and other military men at the helm of government, the experiment of Nigeria has reached a new stage. From within the bowels of the society citizens are calling for a new relationship with each other, with other Africans and with the rest of humanity. Nigerians are slowly fashioning a new Pan African consciousness and this consciousness is most manifest in the arts, film, music, poetry, literature and other areas where the creativity of the people can flourish. These citizens of Africa proclaim their pride and seek to excel in all fields, whether in the areas of soccer, music, literature, and the creative arts or in the areas of spelling out the demands for social transformation. These calls for social transformation have been smothered by militarism, foreign oil companies, political careerists and international consultants who facilitate the theft of billions. If the society of South Africa was shaped by the anti-apartheid struggles from the period of the Freedom Charter, the Nigerian experiment has been shaped by the intensity of the anti-dictatorial/anti/militarist struggles. Traders, students, workers, intellectuals, real spiritual elders and patriotic business persons joined the anti-dictatorial struggles. In these long years, the working poor of Nigeria hold a special place in the fifty years of struggle. Oil bunkering and novel forms of theft ensured a form of politics that linked oil companies to politicians and generals.

Because the cultural and social power of Nigeria holds so much promise for African unity and liberation, international vultures have combined to develop unique ways to ensure that the crudest accumulators dominate the cultural and political spaces. Nigeria has been the most successful capitalist experiment in Africa and these capitalists have confirmed the reality that capitalism and individual accumulation cannot be the basis for the well being of humans. In a society where profit is placed before human life, the leading economic forces have confirmed that the people must look for another social system if they are to breathe and have life, health and peace. The media abounds with cases of multi million and multi-billion dollar fraud. Even the establishment of bodies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) became platforms for the sharing of information on how to refine primitive accumulation. In the West, this form of accumulation is hidden behind the façade of the ‘market’ and liberal democratic practices, but in Nigeria, this form of capitalism bares its fangs and the real facilitators of this form of capitalism call what is going on in Nigeria, theft and fraud.

Yet, from within the belly of the society there emerged sons and daughters such as FUNMILAYO RANSOME-KUTI, Fela Ransome Kuti, Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, Ken Saro Wiwa and millions of others who demanded change. Others who are still alive call for revolution. Probably the most famous Nigerian who has called for revolution in the past year has been Chinua Achebe. Bringing his considerable international reputation to the issue of political change in Nigeria, Achebe called on the Youth to “ rise up in unison and challenge the bad leadership and looting of the country. “

These youths who face manipulation and religious intrigue from the politicians have listened to the call to rise up and are calculating on the moment to intervene so that the next fifty years of independence will be marked by Nigerian leadership within the United States of Africa. The destruction of the natural environment has been so extreme that the demands for reparations have been loudest from within Nigeria. Whether it is reparations for slavery, the return of stolen cultural artifacts or the repair of the natural environment, the call for repair reached the highest levels. From the Niger Delta in the South to the far reaches of the North, the people are calculating and seeking ways around the political parties that have become vehicles for enrichment. Chief M.K. Abiola had joined this call for reparations and was imprisoned after he ignited the passion of the people for political change and reparative justice. His death in prison did not put out the flames for repair. Killings and divisions have been the tools of those who plunder but these tools have become worn.

Today as Africa celebrates with Nigeria; it is the same Africa that weeps about the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the attempted assassination of Nigerian independence. Nigerians now understand that the freedom and independence of Nigeria is indispensably tied to the freedom and independence of the rest of Africa. While Goldman Sachs and other bankers project a future of rapid and intense capitalist activities in Africa (projecting Nigeria to be the 20th largest economy by 2025), there is another vision coming from the people, that of a society living in peace, spiritual harmony where the wealth of the society is enjoyed by the peoples.


When the death of Chief M.K. Abiola was announced in 1998, the citizens of Nigeria understood that there was an attempt to smother the long struggle against militarism. Abiola had been jailed by the military dictator Sani Abacha after emerging victorious in the 1993 Presidential elections. The opposition to the military regime that emanated from the June 12th movement became a school for a new generation of freedom fighters who wanted peace and prosperity. From all corners of the society and from all walks of life, Nigerians banded together to support the anti -military struggle. Imperial planners were sufficiently alarmed by the extent of the democratic forces that Abacha conveniently expired in the midst of accumulating billions of dollars. It was poignant that leading members of the US state Department were on hand when the deaths of Abiola and Abacha occurred. History will one day reveal the full extent of US involvement in the attempt to organize a transition to take away from the thunder of the June 12th movement.

Imperial planners had witnessed the massive mobilization against militarism and were alarmed at the levels of unity across religious, regional and ethnic lines. From the day of independence in October 1, 1960 the fear of the enemies of Africa was this unity. The June 12th movement had brought about a unity that had eluded politicians. A new social movement was in the making and had to be stalled. It was calculated that the political parties would be a far more efficient instrument for accumulation. External military forces could entrap younger officers with courses and short term linkages to ensnare them into western thinking and leave the top Colonels and Generals to put on civilian clothes to dominate the federal agencies. Hence the political careerists and their mentors connived with the military to bring another military man in civilian garb in the person of Olusegun Obasanjo. From 1999 to 2007, this former military leader, Obasanjo, presided over a transition process that exposed the reality that democratic participation will require far more that the formal structures of elections, parliaments and electoral commissions. There are now estimates that in the ten year period of 1999-2009 as much money was stolen from Nigeria as in the period 1960-1999. This spectacular rate of thieving has only been surpassed by the intensity of the oppression of the people.

In the fifty years of the period of independence, the people have been struggling against the militarizing of social life. Political parties and institutions that were supposed to express the desires of the people have been so tainted by the cesspool of primitive accumulation that the Nigerian people are searching for ways to register their break with the old. It is this break with the old that is seeking to be born from this rich and powerful African society.

It was precisely because of the wealth and power of the people that the military has been so dominant in the political process. Britain had cobbled together the federation of Nigeria and had bequeathed power to elements from among those who had been educated in schools of alienation and westernization. It was the same British intellectuals who propagated the myth of irreconcilable divisions between the Muslim North and the Christian South. This myth took such deep hold in the society that sections of the society acted out the ideas with the bloody consequences of the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970 .Nigerians learnt their lesson from this massive bloodletting and vowed never to fight on that scale but the ideas of divisions were drilled into every institution with the militarization of the state and the society to guarantee the exploitation of the people.

This exploitation required force and rule by the gun. Hence there were seven military coup d etats in the fifty year period of independence. From Civil War to Ibrahim Babangida to Sani Abacha, militarists have joined the history books as the most renowned Presidents in the fifty year period. After militarism was discredited, the militarists adopted civilian clothes but the same commandist tendencies dominated all spheres of social relations. Today as the people seek to celebrate their struggles against colonialism, former ambassadors of the United States such as John Campbell seek to be the new prophets of doom and gloom in 2011 because of the differences between the North and the South. However, inside of the society the women from the North, South, East and West are at the forefront of denouncing violence and violation. They are calling for investment in caring instead of killing. Women have demonstrated against the oil companies going naked and demanding water and electricity. These demands from below are registering a new politics. This new politics is not the politics of parties, but the politics of life.

The Nigerian population is estimated to be over one hundred and forty million. This is an estimate because earlier this year one politician remarked that the population was about 200 million. The imprecision itself comes from the manipulation of the numbers in the different regions. Irrespective of this imprecision, it is the reality that this is the most populous society in Africa and therefore the most resourceful. This is because the most important resource in Africa is the African peoples. This multi-ethnic society is the depository of some of the richest cultural and spiritual traditions in Africa. Those who plan strategically remember the impressive anti colonial struggles of Nigerian women and want to ensure that this tradition is not resurrected.

Up to the Abacha period, the intellectuals had internalized the Huntington philosophy that the military was a modernizing institution. For over forty years the political scientists taught about modernization and progress but all that could be seen was chaos and rubbish beside mansions. When elements from within the military emerged and signaled a deep Pan African spirit, they were gunned down. In this anniversary o independence, it is important to separate Murtala Mohammed from the other allies of Haliburton and the US military. It was Murtala Mohammed who stated clearly that Nigeria was in the camp of the anti-apartheid forces and rebuked Henry Kissinger when he sought to coerce Nigerians to support white racism in South Africa and Jonas Savimbi in Angola in 1975. For his commitment to liberation, Murtala Mohammed was assassinated. A decade later, the Babangida military regime was sufficiently compromised by the international capitalist networks that Jonas Savimbi could receive support from the highest levels in Nigeria.

Sane persons would wonder how a military person such as Ibrahim Babingida could again offer himself up for leadership in Nigeria as President after all of the details of the killings, theft, racketeering and money laundering. At this time of writing, Babangida has offered himself to be a candidate for the Presidency of the society and his candidacy said more about the military and the ruling party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) than about the people of Nigeria. After the deaths of Abiola and Ken Saro Wiwa, the military colonized the PDP with willing intellectuals becoming governors, presidents and local leaders all over the country. They used military networks to share information while acting as conduits for the transfer of surpluses overseas. Along with the bankers and religious leaders these formed the ruling class and sent their children to be alienated in the private schools of Europe.

The military has been at the forefront of carrying forth British traditions of using force as the principal form of governance. Since that time the population has turned its back on militarism but the political class has proved incapable of unleashing even the most elementary of liberal democratic traditions in the society.


The alliance between the militarists, the foreign banks, oil companies and other corporations has been responsible for the stifling of the people so that billions are looted from the society. Capitalism requires a minimum of stability and continuity for the emerging capitalist classes to accumulate wealth. It is this ‘stability’ that is called the ‘market.’ However, the Nigerian capitalists have understood that they cannot compete in the tradition of liberal market conditions where there is some level of transparency in the competition and the competing classes have access to the state machinery through electoral contests. So, despite the fact that there was supposed to be a transition to civilian rule since 1998, the political system has been so rigged that all who are involved in oil bunkering and the contracting system that the official politics has been contaminated by the amount of money that is available for corruption. The scale of the theft has not yet been properly documented but estimates by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative have revealed that in the first four decades of independence over US $ 440 billion dollars have been stolen. When Obasanjo came to oversee the political economic arrangement in 1999 he railed against corruption and established the EFCC but the institutionalization of bribery and corruption in the country led to similar amounts being stolen in the ten year period 1999-2009. This form of accumulating wealth is central to the basis of international capitalism in Nigeria. The Nigeria capitalist are competent thieves and incompetent in the delivery of products and services. Their accumulation is enhanced by international capitalists in Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland, Hong Kong, New York, Frankfurt, London and the Cayman Islands.

After the establishment of the EFCC, law schools taught the cases that were brought against the thieves but some of the most spectacular thieves dominate the media and the political parties. The former Chairperson of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, noted that,

“Over $400 billion oil money has been stolen by bad leaders. We are going to trace the activities of past and present leaders and publish the names of those leaders who have laundered money, their accounts and the names of the banks where the money is being kept. “

“We will also close the account of those politicians who have laundered money and converted it for their political ambitions. This will stop bad people from coming into power.”

Ribadu could not follow through with this threat because he believed that the curbing of corruption was a police activity that could be carried out behind the backs of the people. He did not understand that corruption was one very clear manifestation of Nigerian capitalism and that to root out corruption in Nigeria required a new social system. Ribadu himself had to seek refuge among the very forces that had supported the corruption; the capitalists in the USA. His testimony before the US Congress on Corruption and the Banking system demonstrated clearly that would be leaders did not understand the balance of forces in Nigeria or the USA. Ribadu had been seeking support from the same political forces than enabled the banks in the USA to protect the Nigerian capitalists who salt away billions in US banks. Younger bureaucrats such as World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo have joined the crusade against corruption and are at the forefront of the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative, but Ngozi believes that these changes can come about from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Neither the World Bank nor Ribadu have shown that they understand the fifty tears of domination that stifles the popular democratic forces in Nigeria.


According to technocrats such as Ribadu and Ngozi, what most of the governors get from the Federation Account monthly is enough to develop their states but these operators lament the fact hart that instead of applying the funds for the good of the public, they disappeared into private bank accounts. Ribadu in his lectures and interviews said:

“There are a lot of cases of government officials who connived with banks to steal government money. This money is being converted and transferred to other countries.

It is this form of primitive accumulation which forces individual capitalists to live in homes which are barricaded like prisons. These elements have been unable to generate electricity, running water or a proper sewage system for themselves as a class. The resulting chaos in the delivery of individual electrical generators, water storage tanks and other forms of social amenities sharpen the differences in social consumption between the rich and the poor. It is this very same class which resorts to the private security firms so that militarism takes a new form with the privatization of military activities. This privatization leads to the planning for private armies and militias and the youths of Jos have been ensnared in this form of militarism. This military reflex is also alive among some would be revolutionaries and because of the depth of the oppression some forces in the Niger Delta have resorted to armed resistance. The killing of Ken Saro Wiwa in this period had suggested to some Nigerians that armed resistance was the only answer to militarism and force. However, criminals and accumulators also corrupted this vision of liberation to discredit those who call themselves emancipators with weapons.


It is in the Niger Delta where the full implications of capitalism I are laid before the world. There a form of capitalist activity called bunkering that links the political class to oil companies, soldiers, shipping companies and a network of capitalist accumulators from Hong Kong to Texas. The most sophisticated form of bunkering is carried out by the oil companies who keep two set of books, one for the company and one for the Nigeria national petroleum Company. In this way billions, if not trillions of dollars have been stolen from Nigeria by the oil companies. The Shell Oil Company has gained international notoriety from its alliance with the political forces in Nigeria at the state level and at the national level. It is this same Shell Oil Company that has paid some compensation for their collusion in the killing of innocent people in Ogoni lands. Money cannot bring back the lives of those who have expired because of Shell oil.

The international campaign against Shell and the other oil companies operating in Nigeria arise from the crimes against nature and the environmental record of these companies. Numerous organizations local and international have brought to the attention of the international community, the consequences of the operations of these transnational companies. In April 2010, the world was brought face to face with the destructive capabilities of these companies by the news accounts of the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. But there have been 6000 such spillages in Nigeria and the legal framework of the states such as Britain, the USA and Holland ensures that instead of being prosecuted, these firms are protected. It is this reality that has led to the internationalization of the struggles for justice in Nigeria. For this reason one of the most important forces of Pan Africanism and political change in Nigeria come from the environmental justice movements.

It is this new force that is calling on the society to leave the oil in the ground and to prepare for another future, that of cleaning up the destruction by the oil companies.


Nigerian scholars and activists in the environmental justice and the labor movements are creating new sites of struggles for the politics of the next fifty years. During the past fifty years they have intervened to expose how the conditions of oil and gas exploration which obtain in Nigeria, would not be tolerated in other parts of the world. Before his tragic passing in a plane crash Claude Ake had been one of the many progressive intellectuals in Nigeria who had dedicated his life to bringing about democracy and social justice. He refused to join those intellectuals who had been ensnared by the wealth stolen from the people and resigned from Niger Delta Environment Survey, NDES, which had been mandated by the federal government to survey the impact of the operations of oil companies in the Niger Delta. Ake argued that the Shell Oil company in Nigeria

"has thrown Nigeria into one of the deepest crises of its history. It insists defiantly that it will not change its ways and denies any part whatsoever in the environment degradation of the Niger Delta, which it blames on indigenes conniving at oil spills to collect compensation."

Evidence of the devastation had been so overwhelming, that not even Shell's well financed campaigns around the world could hide the extent of the destruction of the environment. Claude Ake, who had written on Social Science as Imperialism, quoted from supporters of the liberal agenda such as the World Bank who have lamented the extent of the destruction carried out by the Oil Companies. The World Bank Study of 1995, "Defining an Environmental Development Strategy for the Niger Delta, " estimated that as much as 76 per cent of all the natural gas from Petroleum production in Nigeria is flared compared to 0.6 per cent in USA, 4.3 per cent in the UK, 21.0 per cent in Libya.

In the fifty year struggles of the Nigerian peoples gas flaring has been one of the most severe of the numerous hazards to which the peoples of the Delta and the Rivers States had been exposed. The details of the crimes in this region by the oil companies is well documented and it is now well known that Nigerian oil fields contribute more in global warming than the rest of the world together.

Many of the gas flares are situated very close to villages, sometimes within a hundred metres of homes of ordinary citizens. Shell Oil has been flaring at some sites for 24 hours a day for more than 30 years. . Apart from physical destruction to plants around the flaring areas, thick soots are deposited on building roofs of neighboring villages. Whenever it rains, the soots are washed off and the black-ink like water running down the roofs is believed to contain chemicals which adversely affect the fertility of the soil." Despite this record, the standard view of environmental management, is that the basic rights of private property and of profit maximization, come before the health and welfare of the peoples of Nigeria in general, and in particular, the peoples who live in the Niger Delta. Concerns for environmental justice are kept subservient to concerns for economic efficiency and capital accumulation. Moreover, since the politicians have been willing accomplices to this degradation, the oil companies are protected while the health and welfare of Nigerian society suffers irreparable. The cuts in the social wage of the population make it impossible for local communities to support health clinics and there is an absence of drugs in most rural hospitals.


It is pertinent to underscore the reality that rights to food, clothing, shelter, clean running water, a clean environment, the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and an end to state and domestic violence are central issues for the peoples of Nigeria and Africa. The spontaneous and organized activities of the Nigerian people in demanding these rights, enumerated above, form the foundation for the democratic transformation of Nigeria. It is from Nigeria where we have had revolutionary pan African artists such as Fela Ransome Kuti. Fela, Ken Saro-Wiwa and countless others paid with their lives to challenge the oppression meted out by the military and their political allies. Their sacrifices have paved the way for a new Nigeria. It is their sacrifice that inspired intellectuals such as Chinua Achebe to call for revolution. But the revolution is already underway. It is flourishing in the Nigerian film industry. It is lurking waiting for the right conditions to break out. Goodluck Jonathan came to power in circumstances that gave him an opportunity to move in a new direction. However, in less than one year it became clear to the people that the old politics must go.

The Nigerian people are calculating and searching for a new mode of politics, and new forms of economic relations. This search is part of the larger struggle for unity and peace in Africa.


* Horace G. Campbell is a teacher and writer. His latest book is 'Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA', published by Pluto Press.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.