Zainab Maina, the Minister of Women’s Social Development in Nigeria, stated in 2013 that seven of every 10 women in Nigeria live in poverty. Although this sad narrative of the conditions of African women in Nigeria can be told using any country in the world as the backdrop, taking a look at Nigeria provides a clear snapshot of what’s happening with African women, why it’s happening, and what types of things need to be done to alleviate this unnecessary suffering.
The core of the problem relates back to the historical relationship of colonialism, its off-spring neo-colonialism, and the impacts these backward systems have on Africa, and African women’s abilities to develop in healthy and productive ways. First, it’s necessary to clearly define what we mean by neo-colonialism. The system of colonialism, where the British violently marched into the area of Africa known today as Nigeria and brutally installed themselves as the rulers of that territory, was initiated hundreds of years ago. That process of exploitation was institutionalized after the Berlin Conference of 1884 organized imperialist Europe to divide Africa up like a cherry pie for the benefits of enriching countries like Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal, at Africa’s expense. In fact, it was at that Berlin Conference where the territory known as Nigeria was created. And this new Nigeria, being created solely for the political and economic benefit of Britain, was created without regard for the social fact that the Yoruba people for example, extend within Nigeria as well as the now separate country known as Benin. In other words, imagine someone coming into your house and splitting your family apart. Then what if they forced you to see yourself and your separated family members as a separate people, often with opposing interests. Obviously, this type of insidious system would contribute towards eternal destabilization. Then, once the people force the British to recognize that colonialism’s days are numbered, the British leave, but not before ensuring that the system they meticulously set up to represent their interests is kept intact via remote control. So, although Nigeria gained independence as a country in 1960, at the time the British left, they had taken great strides in making sure the Nigerian bourgeois was trained to think British, act British, and represent the class interests of the British capitalist ruling classes. What that means is today, 55 years after Nigerian independence, English remains the official language in Nigeria. The version of history taught in schools still advances the backward notion that Britain civilized Nigeria in areas of social customs, religion, ideology and culture. These values were so firmly entrenched in the society that Africans became the primary promoters and perpetuators of this thinking. Thus, the definition of neo-colonialism; the colonizers are physically gone, but the system they put in place is sustained so that their interests remain the priority of the system in place.
Neo-colonialism has created chaos in Nigeria and all of Africa and this chaos has been especially painful for African women. The mechanisms of neo-colonialism established systematic tools to oppress women. For example, the African Union reported in 2014 that only 28% of women in Nigeria are able to attend school to gain basic skills such as literacy. This is so because 70% of the food produced in Nigeria is produced by women who must often develop independent ways to provide food for their families. The need to prioritize food production, coupled with the systematic obstacles placed in the way of women by the oppressive institutions of the country, make it impossible for women to collectively advance.
The neo-colonial government of Nigeria not only does nothing to assist the women, but it plays a significant role in perpetuating this oppression. The preponderance of neo-colonial policies, such as the prioritization of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) in Nigeria, have taken resources out of the hands of women. Since the IMF has instituted SAP in Nigeria in 1986, the bulk of Nigeria’s economy has been steered away from agricultural development (thus making it more difficult for food to be produced) and into the oil industry. The purpose of this is not to create self-sufficiency for the people of Nigeria, but to increase profits for the oil industry. This is borne out by the fact that since 1986, Nigeria’s agricultural industry has seen a dramatic reduction in its capacity, being reduced from 48% in 1971 to less than 15% in 2000, according to statistics provided by the African Union (AU). At the same time, according to the AU, oil production has grown to represent 90% of Nigeria’s total gross national product. Dutch Royal Shell, better known simply as Shell, reports that SAP support has permitted their operations in Nigeria to move that country into the slot of being the 5th largest producer of oil in the world today. They also report that Nigeria accounts for 14% of Shell’s annual production. Shell also acknowledges receiving over 30 billion dollars in revenues from Nigerian operations in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, while the percentage of that which trickles down to the people of Nigeria is clearly negligent based on the fact Nigeria remains one of the poorest countries in the world according to the United Nations.
Shell and the oil industry’s theft from the Nigerian people is underscored by the devastating environmental impact of over 7000 oil spills reported to the Nigerian government, according to The Nigerian Spill and Detection and Response Agency. According to that agency, over 2.4 million barrels of oil have contaminated the Nigerian landscape over the last two decades.
What the priority and development of oil production in Nigeria and the method in which this production is supported by imperialist agencies like the IMF tells us is that there is little focus and attention to using the vast resources available to support the suffering masses of people there in general, and women in particular. Plus, the lack of attention to social services and infrastructure which explains how 70% of the women of any society can be poor has opened the door to exploitative elements such as Boko Haram to emerge and further subjugate the women in Nigeria. Founded in 2002, Boko Haram – or Jama at Ahl as-Sunnah ID Da-wah wa’l Jihad, or Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad in Arabic – operates primarily in northeast Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Although apparently founded originally in alliance with al-Queada, in March of 2015, Boko Haram publically expressed its solidarity with the Islamic State or ISIS. Their stated aim is an allegiance to their brand and idea of what an Islamic society looks like and their methodology for carrying out their vision has included violence against local populations, primarily women in rural areas, which has caused almost 7000 people to be killed and almost 2.3 million people to be displaced since 2014 according to the AU. Boko Haram’s primary tactic appears to be targeting African women as a strategy of creating more insurgents to support their version of Islamic society. As a result, they have targeted thousands of women with kidnapping, including the abduction of 300 young girls in 2014. They have released communiques indicating their intention to impregnate as many women as they possibly can. The objective being to create an army in their image.
Of course, Sekou Ture taught us that the more you oppress people, the more they will rise up against you, so it’s of absolutely no surprise that with the absence of systematic resources against Boko Haram, African women in Nigeria have turned to organizing to protect themselves. Women in the rural villages of Attagara and Kawuri in the Borno State have been able to organize and disarm Boko Haram people who have turned up in those villages on more than one occasion. Although the efforts of the women have to be applauded, the attacks in northeast Nigeria credited to Boko Haram that killed at least 85 people on January 30th, 2016, are a clear indication that the women and people of Nigeria are still very much at risk. It’s interesting that these attacks occurred immediately after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the Nigerian military had successfully contained Boko Haram. Clearly, the president is much more concerned with maintaining the image of stability, in order to protect the economic interests of multi-national corporations – and his share in that – than he is with addressing the fundamental problem. And no one should expect a neo-colonial president to have a solution to a problem like this. The solution is a refocus on the development of a social infrastructure that prioritizes the safety and development of the most oppressed sector in Nigeria and Africa – African women. History is proving to us that this refocus isn’t going to come from the United Nations (UN) or even the African Union (AU) necessarily. There is no doubt that there are some sincere elements working within those structures, but the power is clearly in the hands of the elites who wish to continue to keep the system of economic control in the interests of the capitalists who have it today. That means maintaining the neo-colonial system. That means preventing the rise of a truly revolutionary Pan-African solution because that solution would require disrupting the neo-colonial dominance over Africa. It would require building structures from the ground up that seize control of the vast material resources in Nigeria and all of Africa with the intention of using that material wealth to directly address the issues negatively impacting women in Nigeria and all over the African world. This structure is the All African Committee for Political Coordination (A-ACPC) that Kwame Nkrumah calls for in the “Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare.” The role of the A-ACPC is to unite the genuine revolutionary Pan-African political parties in Africa into one political formation focused on uniting Africa for the benefit of Africa and humanity. This entity will use all resources at its disposal to ensure women in Nigeria are given support to have access to clean water, education, anddefence . The A-ACPC, in the physical manifestation called for by Nkrumah, would facilitate the creation of a true All African High Command in the form of the All African People’s Revolutionary Army which would take decisive action to neutralize any threat to the peoples of Africa while the A-ACPC provides the political direction to create infrastructure to build Africa, thus eliminating the vacuum that permits anti-social elements to rise up and flourish as they do today. Revolutionary Pan-Africanism is really our only solution and until we start dedicating serious energy to achieving it, we will unfortunately continue to suffer as a people. Let’s lend real support to the rural women of Nigeria and Africa. Let’s get organized!