Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
The state of ‘mass poverty’ and widespread ‘insecurity’ in Nigeria under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari is unsustainable, activists said in a statement to Today News Africa on Monday, even as the Biden administration has warned against abuses by the Nigerian government.
“The state of insecurity has attained a dangerous level as the lives and property of Nigerians have come under constant threat. Kidnapping, robbery and other violent crimes are on the increase while the capitalist state and governments have woefully failed to respond to the crises,” the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) said. “Increasingly, more Nigerians are condemned to life of poverty and misery and many Nigerians have lost their jobs. We call on labour to mobilize for a 48 hours general strike and mass protest against insecurity, growing poverty and all anti-people policies.”
SPN said it supports “the mass protest against insecurity and mass poverty organized by The People’s Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M) holding today May 31, 2021,” and called “on the working people and the masses to join the mass protest and similar initiatives.”
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Abiodun Bamigboye, SPN acting national chairman, and Chinedu Bosah, SPN national secretary, who signed the statement added that “Beyond the mass protest, there is the need to build a pan Nigerian mass working peoples’ party to challenge and defeat the political parties (PDP, APC, APGA etc) of the self-serving ruling elite.”
They wrote; “Hence, we call on Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to convene a conference of trade unions, left-leaning political parties like SPN and pro-masses organizations like JAF to commence the process of building a political party of the working people.
“The profit-first capitalist system is responsible for the growing poverty and insecurity. The trade union movement and the working masses should be prepared to defeat the capitalist system and build a socialist system wherein resources, production and exchange will be planned to meet the needs of all.”
SPN statement came before police fired teargas canister shots at Nigerian activists in Abuja, including at Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, an online publication, to prevent a planned rally at Unity Fountain.
The protests are against what they describe as the “worsening situation” in Nigeria and the escalating level of poverty and hunger in the country.
Reports said Sowore fell to the ground after being hit by the canister and was rushed to the hospital.
Deji Adeyanju, a Nigerian activist who had also been brutalized by security forces in the past told journalists Sowore was rushed to the hospital after he was shot.
Some activists claimed he was hit by a gunshot while the police have said he was not hit by a bullet.
Buhari’s ouster by a former president
The Nigerian President is not only grappling with widespread protests over insecurity and increasing poverty, on Sunday, his supporters released a statement warning that a former president is plotting the ouster of the current leader, ahead of worldwide protests to demand changes in Africa’s most populous nation, as the economy tumbles, insecurity expands, poverty grows and human rights abuses skyrocket.
The Buhari Media Organization (BMO) described the alleged move as “a sinister plot by a former civilian president and a gang of conspirators under the guise of ’eminent persons’ to instigate an uprising to force the resignation of President Muhammadu Buhari.”
BMO warned “the former president and his co-travellers to quickly perish the thought and save the country from avoidable constitutional crisis and civil unrest.”
Nigerians at home and abroad, including in the United States, are planning worldwide protests next month to demand changes in leadership, two years ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
Many are citing fallen standards of living, growing insecurity, nepotism, human rights abuses, and many other challenges that have been exacerbated since Buhari came to power in 2015.
Buhari’s supporters did not name the former president plotting to remove him, but described the alleged plot as “reckless and anti-Nigeria.”
In a statement signed by its Chairman Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary Cassidy Madueke, the pro-Buhari group blasted “the conspirators for their recourse to unconstitutional means to force the resignation of President Buhari.”
They wrote: “Our highly reliable security sources have informed us of the determination of the former President to go ahead with a plan to cause disaffection in the country through a planned conference of so-called eminent Nigerians. While the Conference ostensibly aims to review the state of the nation, we can authoritatively confirm that it is actually a premeditated plan to create confusion in the polity by calling President Buhari to resign after a supposed vote of no confidence.
“Our Security sources said the worries over this latest move by the former leader is not so much about the illegality of the planned declaration but the anarchical mindset behind it, especially given the growing resurgence of military putsch in the West African sub-region. Any appearance of national confusion, even if scripted without any basis, could fuel unreasoned confusion.
“We, therefore, call on Nigerians to be wary of manoeuvres by people who are desperate to erode the foundation of our hard-fought democracy to further the agenda of a desperate, bumptious and self-serving group of elites besotted with power to the point that they are ready to throw the country into a contrived pandemonium to remain relevant.”
The Biden administration reaction
On May 12, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in announcing the release of the annual 2020 International Religious Freedom report, expressed concern about the Nigerian criminal justice system in cases involving religion.
Out of the nearly 200 countries included in the report, he highlighted six in particular, one of them being Nigeria.
“In Nigeria, courts continue to convict people of blasphemy, sentencing them to long-term imprisonment or even death,” he said. “Yet the government has still not brought anyone to justice for the military’s massacre of hundreds of Shia Muslims in 2015.”
According to the Nigeria country report, “authorities arrested and detained two individuals under blasphemy laws: Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, sentenced to death for blasphemy on August 10, and 16-year-old Umar Faroup, sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.”
The report also describes how the Nigerian government’s response to growing terrorism threats, conflict between Muslim herders and majority Christian farmers, and other threats to security have been largely ineffective and even “counterproductive.”
Across the North East region of Nigeria, terrorism groups Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) “maintained a growing ability to state forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets” including both churches and mosques.
Attacks included suicide bombings, indiscriminate shootings, execution of a local Christian leader (read President Buhari’s op-ed here), and abductions of people identified by terrorists as Christians.
According to Council on Foreign Relations data cited in the report, “Islamist terrorist violence” killed 881 “persons (including security forces and civilians)”. As of September, “More than 22,000 persons, most of them children, remained missing as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency,” as stated by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the report. Additionally, a reported 112 Chibok students abducted by Boko Haram in 2014 “remained in captivity.”
In the North West and North Central Regions, violence between Muslim Fulani herders and predominantly Christian (some Muslim) “settled farmers” increased somewhat in 2020, though deaths remained below 2018 levels.
Although “some religious groups and [NGOs]” claimed “this conflict had religious undertones” – or was even a “primary driver” – “local authorities, scholars, and regional experts” argued that the main cause of violence was “increasing competition over dwindling land [and water] resources,” among other factors including ethnicity and lack of accountability.
Violence between these groups resulted in 2,454 deaths in 2020, up from 2,198 in 2019, according to ACLED data cited.
There were also a number of attacks and abductions carried out by “bandits” and “armed gangs” in the North West and southern regions. “Although religious figures and houses of worship were often victims,” perpetrators did not claim any religious or ideological motivation.
As the Nigerian government battled Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the “northeast,” it was reportedly “unable to keep pace with the growing number and frequency of attacks” in other regions.
The government launched “20 targeted military operations” against bandits and armed gangs, though “multiple sources stated that the government measures were largely reactive and insufficient to address the violence” despite some reports of success in rescuing “kidnap victims,” making arrests, and destroying infrastructure.
Meanwhile, “counterproductive” measures included state governments’ reliance on “armed vigilante groups” for security services. “Responding to communal violence is not a priority of Nigeria’s state forces,” read a cited ACLED report. “A lack of government engagement leads to an increased reliance on local vigilante groups, and in turn, an increased accessibility to arms.”