Title: Naija Marxisms
Author: Adam Mayer
Publisher: Pluto Press
ISBN: 978 0 7453 3662 6
This book is about efforts to advance leftist interests in Nigeria. It talks about feminists, Marxists, labor leaders and left leaning political parties. I think this grouping of traditional leftist interests into the Marxist camp is simply opportunistic. While the left is traditionally the wing of compassion and inclusion, the implementation of Marxism-Leninism was anything but. Or at least, that is what history teaches, and given how the history I know is from the capitalist wing, its views on this issue would be suspect. In any case, while inclusivity has an egalitarian or at least a non-discriminatory aim, it does not always seek to overturn the existing order, which is the aim of the Marxists.
In the book's introduction, the author explained how people around him were nonplussed by his intention to write about Nigerian Marxism. This is valid given how firmly in the non-Marxist camp Nigeria has always been. However, despite the grouping mentioned above, he did write about Marxist thinkers and economists. And he discussed some of their writings, which was good because before the section where he discussed individuals, he kept listing names. The same names over and over. And I started thinking it would be a great disappointment if this man just says "Mr. X is a brilliant thinker" without showing examples of said brilliant thinking. So, it was quite a relief when I got to the sections on the people whose thoughts he had read.
Before reading this book, my stance would have been that Marxist thought in Nigeria would not be worth studying. I hold this opinion because:
1. I have read Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. That book is a fantastic explanation of the desirability of individuality and liberalism. Its devastating criticism of the poster child of Marxism has a simplicity and logic that I have yet to see in any Marxist or socialist writing.
2. Nigeria has always been firmly in the US/Western camp. Despite the USSR being the main supplier of arms to the Federal side during the civil war, this did not translate into Soviet influence or increased prominence for Nigerians who favored that camp. Thus, this might be proof that Marxism was simply not successful here.
3. The only reason why Marxism is a prominent ideology is because it was translated into action in communist countries. That never happened here. Thus, I imagine any "thought" by Nigerians about it, would probably be rehashing of the original material or reviews of actions in other places. I don't think that would be interesting.
4. Related to the bit about rehashing, Nigeria is full of people who only talk but do not do. We have petrochemical engineers but no functional refineries. Electrical engineers, but no electricity. Civil engineers but no good infrastructure. A government, but no governance. Thus, I imagine any self-styled local Marxists would probably just wear the label, without practicing. This last bit is modified by the actions of one person - Edwin Madunagu. This guy lived what he preached because he established a commune. The other Marxists were just talkers. And many of them even eventually betrayed the Marxist ideals either by getting co-opted into government or becoming ethnic champions, thus negating the universalist ethos of Marxism. In addition, the author identified many of the Naija Marxists as Trotskyists. What I know most about Trotsky's ideology is that he wanted a worldwide revolution. None of the Marxists in the book was like Che Guevara, otherwise, their Trotskyist credentials would have been burnished.
5. It is not appropriate to talk about Marxism in early Nigeria because it was a premodern society. If it had to be discussed, then it should be in the context of the colonized versus the colonialists. While the author mentions the independence movements and the labor movements, and while he opportunistically grouped them with the Marxists, I do not think those were class conflicts. In the case of the independence movements, the complaints were based on race while the labor movement did not question the ownership of the factors of production but asked for a greater share of that production.
After reading this book, my opinion is unchanged. Marxism in Nigeria is not a worthy topic. It is possible that if I read works by the people profiled in this book, I would change my mind. However, many of the works the author mentions are out of print. He says Edwin Madunagu has a magnificent library holding many of them. Also, the library is free (further proof of Edwin's practicing what he preaches) even though it does not lend. Even if the works were available, I would not buy them because such books would be pushing an agenda. Just like books published by our Pentecostal pastors, they would be unconvincingly one note, hard to understand because they would be laced with jargon, probably poor quality, and too self referential or referencing similar material to teach me anything.
Earlier on, I mentioned how putting all leftists into a book on Marxism was opportunistic. It was also awkward, shoehorning disparate movements into an agenda that they don't fit into. One such example in the book relates to our civil war. One of the people in the book - Ikenna Nzimiro - analyzed it from a class perspective. I thought that was inappropriate. While the Igbos in the North were middle class, they were attacked for their tribe, not their wealth. Describing the 1966 Northern attacks on Igbos in terms of class conflict is just either willfully ignorant or dishonestly stretching the definition of class, i.e., pushing an agenda. However (belying my assertion in the previous paragraph about the tutelary quality of such books), Mr Nzimiro's book about the civil war said something revelatory about Biafra. The Igbos (who were the Biafrans), mockingly referred to Biafra as "bia afufu" meaning "come and suffer". This is revelatory because right now, due to the failure of the Nigerian government and state, there is renewed agitation for the partitioning of the country along ethnic lines and thus the recreation of Biafra. There is a belief in some quarters, that Biafra could have been an African Tiger, given the dynamism of the Igbos and the crude oil the country would have had. However, the snippets of Mr. Nzimiro's book quoted here, belie that notion. It seems the Biafran leadership behaved in a typically selfish Nigerian/3rd world/black man (take your pick) manner. People in power misappropriated the scarce resources available, extorted civilians, engaged in war profiteering and all manner of disgraceful conduct. While the Biafran war is an important chapter in our history, what I learnt here has reinforced my low opinion of it. The incompetence and lack of skill on the Nigerian side, which despite their overwhelming superiority in men, money, and materiel, prevented them from gaining a decisive victory, seems to have been matched by selfishness on the Biafran side.
Another thing I learned is that Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of our greatest politicians who had a movement - zikism - named after him, disowned the zikists because they were socialists. It is surprising that he could not do anything about the hijacking of his name (or maybe he did, and I don't know about it since my knowledge of Nigerian history is shamefully sparse), but it is not surprising that he was not socialist. Even Obafemi Awolowo (who could arguably be said to be the greatest Nigerian leader) whose programs were the most socialist was certainly no socialist because the socialism in his programs was purely a political tactic. Both Azikiwe and Awolowo's parties had populist manifestoes, but they were the parties of the powerful in their regions. The only socialist or even Marxist lite peer of Azikiwe and Awolowo would be Aminu Kano, whose party; first NEPU and later PRP had declared Marxists as members.
I bought this book because someone I know talks glowingly about it. I am not impressed by it. It is interesting because it is quaint. But most of the people in it are not that impressive. I do not subscribe to Marxist ideas because the results of their implementation via Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism were not impressive. Despite the improvement it wrought in USSR (for a while) there is no certainty that the misery it will bring to Nigeria will be followed by improvements in quality of life. Even the author hints at that. There are portions of the book that talk about the appalling deterioration of the mores of Nigerian society, our continuing deindustrialization, and the inability of our governors to govern. If our government cannot effectively manage its limited sphere, why give it more control over more things?
A further reason why I doubt Marxism would succeed here is because even Marx himself admitted that communism would only succeed where there is abundance, a la the economics of Star Trek. Nigeria is poor. We have to become rich first before we can indulge in the luxury of social and economic experimentation. If any of the current left/right ideologies is to guide us, the result would probably be a little to the left like pre BJP India or a little to the right like any of the big Latin American countries. I hold this view because I think our cultural inertia is too great to be changed by ideology while our cultural capital is too small for us to have the unity and discipline of committing to an ideology. There is even proof of this in this book where attempts by Marxists to form a political party fall apart due to infighting. And where such a party even gets electoral success, the other leftists do not rally to support it.
A third reason I do not subscribe to Marxism is because its implementation so far has been met with much initial and continuing violence. This stance can be challenged by differentiating Marxism from Leninism etc. since Marx was concerned with economics, not politics. But I think the risks are too great to hazard such an experiment.
A final reason why I would not support Marxism here is purely pragmatism. The closest world powers to Nigeria are all Western nations. If we were to espouse Marxism, we would be a Cuba writ large at best. Or a Venezuela. It is possible that as bad as those places are, they are still better than Nigeria. If the West were to decide to squeeze us, the USSR, even if it still existed, would not be able to help us because of how far apart we are. China also has the same limitation, even if it were so inclined. Thus, Marxism is not for us because we cannot go it alone and we cannot get any help if we tried. If, however, Marxism had a chance, and given the electoral successes of NEPU and PRP, then it is possible that it would succeed first in the North. If this were to happen, it would be a nice similarity to the historical development of Marxism because while Marx thought Germany was the most ready for socialism, given their relative advancement, it was Russia who went first. The similarity here is that southern Nigeria is richer and more cosmopolitan than the north. The south has a larger proportion of is populace being proletariat and bourgeoisie. It is more educated and less liable to being led. Most of the Marxists discussed here were southerners. This could lead to disunity as everyone would want to be the leader. The north with its peasants, is more pliable. Thus, Marxists might succeed in the north because the peasants can be mobilized. The way they were mobilized to vote for NEPU and PRP.
The author is resigned about Marxism succeeding in Nigeria. This is only sensible. One reason for his resignation is his noting of Nigerians fascination with US culture. Our music copies hip-hop and R&B. Our aspirations are to consume as conspicuously as Americans. Our elites are only elite because they have money (usually by being around government) and not due to any excellence, which should preferably by intellectual. The author is European, and I imagined an air of condescension as he described the ambitions of the Nigerian lumpen proletariat to become US style petite bourgeoisie. It is thus rather ironic that the first word of the title of his book "Naija", is now most closely identified with the intellectually vacuous class of Nigerians who probably would not know what Marxism is.
This book was interesting but disappointing. It is not recommended.