Save Amina Lawal!
Nigeria: Woman Sentenced to Death by Stoning
Reprinted from Woman and Revolution pages of Workers Vanguard No. 787, 20 September 2002.

On August 19, an Islamic high court in Nigeria’s northern Katsina state rejected an appeal by Amina Lawal, a 30-year-old single mother, and upheld her sentence of death by stoning for having sex outside marriage. Lawal was first sentenced in March by a lower Islamic court. She is scheduled to be executed in January 2004, as soon as she finishes breast-feeding her baby. The workers movement throughout the world must mobilize in protest action to stop this hideous execution!

Amina Lawal was not the first woman to incur the wrath of Islamic fundamentalists in Nigeria. Safiya Hussaini, a divorced mother, was sentenced to die by stoning last year. An appeals court overturned her sentence this past March. A third woman’s case is on hold until she is healthy enough to appear in court.

Since sharia, the Islamic set of social and penal codes, was introduced in a dozen of the predominantly Muslim northern states of Nigeria two years ago, women have been forced to wear the veil and mixed schools have been turned into single-sex establishments, if girls are schooled at all. A teenage girl was given 100 lashes for having premarital sex. Women are banned from riding in the same buses or taxis as men. The sale of alcohol is banned and men caught drinking have been caned in public. A vigilante force was established to enforce the new codes.

The implementation of sharia in the northern states is a lethal addition to an already worsening situation for women in Nigeria. Abortion is illegal in the country. The bride price is prevalent in both Christian and Muslim communities. The horrific and dangerous practice of female genital mutilation, performed on young girls to “curb their sexuality” and ensure chastity, is rampant across ethnic and religious groups, with millions of Nigerian women subjected to this barbarism. Nigeria is one of the few sub-Saharan countries that have no laws prohibiting the practice.

Largely illiterate, the chattel of their fathers and husbands, women in Nigeria are forced into marriages, overworked, malnourished and, in times of the ethnic bloodlettings that constantly plague the country, subjected to rape and killing. Polygamy, based on the subordination of women, is widespread. With little control over their reproductive lives, women are under enormous social and economic pressures: infertility is a stigma and male children are the only potential support in old age. The exponential spread of AIDS in the country, with over four million people infected with the HIV virus, and the attendant ostracism and stigmatization are used to reinforce backward anti-woman ideologies. Because it is a sexually transmitted disease, AIDS is used to intensify the repressive taboos, guilt and shame over sex that subjugate women.

On September 9, the mayor of Rome, Italy conferred “honorary citizenship” on Safiya Hussaini, a Nigerian woman whose death sentence was reversed earlier this year. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” Indeed, barbaric practices oppressive to women are not confined to Nigeria or the Islamic world. In all societies based on private property, various forms of oppression have been meted out by all religions to buttress women’s subjugation. In medieval Europe, women were burned at the stake for purported witchcraft and forced to wear the chastity belt. The “adulteresses” of 17th-century New England were forced to patch the scarlet letter to their breasts. Foot binding was prevalent in pre-revolutionary China. In Ireland, unmarried pregnant women were declared mad and forced to slave in convents for decades. To this day, suttee (widow-burning) is rampant in India.

In all these class societies, the central source of women’s oppression is the institution of the family, a vehicle through which property is transmitted from one generation to the next and the mechanism for raising new generations of workers. In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, written in the late 19th century, Friedrich Engels explained that the monogamous patrilineal family arose “to make the man supreme in the family, and to propagate, as the future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own.” The family is used to regiment society to the powers that be, instilling subservience for authority and reinforcing religious obscurantism.

The struggle for the full liberation of women is tied to the struggle to overthrow capitalism. But to unleash the tremendous revolutionary potential of the fight for women’s liberation requires the leadership of a genuinely communist party armed with the broad vision of a social order of equality and freedom and drawing in women as part of its leadership. Even the most basic needs of the vast mass of women in Nigeria—an end to seclusion and the veil; an end to forced marriages, polygamy and the bride price; freedom from poverty and legal subjugation; the right to free quality education and decent health care, including the right to abortion and contraceptives—demand an attack on the foundations of the imperialist-dominated capitalist social order and pose nothing less than socialist revolution. Ultimately, overcoming the hideous impoverishment and cultural backwardness of sub-Saharan Africa requires an internationally planned socialist economy based on proletarian revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries of North America, West Europe and Japan. For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!

Imperialist Hypocrisy over Women’s Rights

The implementation of sharia in northern Nigeria triggered a violent religious and ethnic conflagration between the majority Muslim Hausa and the minority Christian Ibo tribes. As thousands were killed on both sides and countless churches, mosques and houses were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of Ibo fled to the east, where they are the ethnic majority. A similar exodus of Hausa headed north, fleeing the revenge killings. The ethnic killings recalled the events leading up to the Biafra war in the late 1960s. At that time, following massacres of the Ibo in the north, that ethnic group tried to secede from the rest of the country. The war that followed, with close to two million killed, was one of the most brutal conflicts in Africa’s post-independence history.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, a military ruler during the ’70s, was brought back to power in 1999 with the backing of the military and the support of the northern elites. He openly supported the introduction of sharia in the north, saying that “sharia is not a new thing and it’s not a thing to be afraid of...the federal government would not dispute the rights of states to use it” (London Guardian, 20 August).

An outcry of protests filled the imperialist press following the sentencing of Amina Lawal. The European Union, the U.S. State Department and the Canadian government all joined in condemning the “gross violation of human rights.” Nothing could be more cynical coming from the imperialist powers, who in their own countries promote attacks on women’s rights, most graphically shown by the attacks on abortion rights and the axing of welfare in the U.S. On September 9, Regina Norman Danson, a Ghanaian woman seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape genital mutilation in her country, was arrested and now faces loss of her passport and deportation on the bogus claim that she fabricated her story.

The imperialists have never had the least concern for women in the countries they sought to dominate and exploit. For centuries, these powers enslaved black Africans and plundered the continent. Most recently, it was these powers that “liberated” Kabul in Afghanistan, installing the regime of the Northern Alliance cutthroats, which has kept all the barbaric sharia laws of the Taliban, only slightly “modified.” A leading Afghan judge declared that those convicted of “adultery” would still be stoned to death...but with smaller stones.

For Permanent Revolution!

Nigeria, with over 300 ethnic groups cobbled together into an amalgam of a nation, is a creation of British colonialists following the carve-up of the continent at the conference of Berlin in 1884. The main ethnic groups are the Hausa, the Ibo and the Yoruba, who form about 70 percent of the population and lord it over the hundreds of other smaller ethnic groupings. The Hausa, who dominate the north, are mostly Muslims; the Ibo in the east are mostly Christian; the Yoruba in the southwest are divided between Muslims and Christians. Kept divided and further subdivided along ethnic and religious fault lines, these groups are thrown into unrelenting communal bloodletting fomented by the country’s rulers, who rule on the behalf of the imperialists and international oil magnates. As journalist Norimitsu Onishi writes, “These hatreds and divisions are staggeringly complex, fueled by the misrule and corruption that have left most residents of one of the world’s top oil producers in poverty. What is more, these rifts have been encouraged and exploited by the country’s rulers, from the British to the military governments to the European and American oil companies that pump crude in the Niger delta, an area largely abandoned by the federal government” (New York Times, 26 March 2000).

A report published on August 26 by the World Organization Against Torture documents the role of Obasanjo’s regime in the killing of over 10,000 people since 1999:

“Security agents, acting in most cases on direct orders of the government, have been responsible for many of the deaths as well as accompanying rapes, maiming and torture of thousands of women, the aged, children and other defenseless civilians....

“The local and international media coverage of these incidents portrays them as ethno-religious in nature. However, our investigations show that this euphemism has helped in obscuring the visible roles of the state and its security agencies in the perpetuation of these egregious violations, thereby shielding the government from full responsibility for their occurrence and recurrence.”

Earlier this month, Obasanjo admitted responsibility for ordering the massacres, grotesquely claiming that he acted to “save lives and property.”

Ruled by a succession of generals for all but 12 years after its independence in 1960, Nigeria became a synonym for corruption, terror, brutality and neglect. With nearly 70 percent of its estimated 125 million people living below subsistence levels, the degree of social misery in the sixth-largest oil-exporting country defies description. The per capita income of less than $300 remains unchanged since the pre-oil days. Most of the mass of city populations live in overcrowded slums with electricity seldom on. Thousands are homeless. The telephone system works intermittently at best, and often not at all. Factories are idle. Schools are without books, hospitals are without drugs and public transport has collapsed. In the vast countryside, the peasant population, mired in grinding poverty, ekes out a bare subsistence. Particularly since the counterrevolutionary collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the imperialist bloodsucking of Nigeria has greatly intensified. The IMF and World Bank are now demanding payment on money they had previously given as a sop to such African countries during the Cold War with the USSR.

Despite the constant repression, Nigeria has seen continued labor and social struggles in recent years. Following a government-ordered increase in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel, the country was shut down by a general strike in June 2000 called by the Nigeria Labor Congress. The five-day general strike and massive demonstrations forced the government to scale back a 50 percent fuel price increase. In January of this year, another general strike forced the regime to reduce another hike in fuel prices. In July, hundreds of women courageously occupied four ChevronTexaco pumping stations in the Niger delta demanding jobs, electricity, clean water, schools and health facilities. These are precisely the issues facing all of those within Nigeria’s borders, and it is the task of a fighting workers movement to fight for these demands.

The mass impoverishment and degradation in the country, as elsewhere in the semicolonial world, are the direct product of the depredations of imperialist domination enforced by the local lackeys. From Iran to Algeria and Egypt to Nigeria, plebeian frustration over the desperate conditions has provided fertile ground for the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. With the expectations born out of independence struggles shattered, the dispossessed masses and the unemployed urban youth find solace in religion. They flock by the thousands into the ranks of the Islamic fundamentalists.

The rise of political Islam as a mass movement is the reactionary reflection of both the manifest dead end of nationalism and the absence of a communist alternative. As put by a leading Nigerian Islamist, “It is the failure of every system we have known. We had colonialism, which was exploitative. We had a brief period of happiness after independence, then the military came in, and everything has been going downward since then. But before all this, we had a system that worked. We had Shariah. We are Muslims. Why don’t we return to ourselves?” (New York Times, 1 November 2001).

In a world economy dominated by imperialism, the neocolonial African countries have no chance of achieving significant economic development. With scant industrial production, the bourgeoisie consists mainly of generals, government ministers, government contractors and merchants. Such a ruling class cannot achieve genuine national emancipation from imperialism. The key to social and economic progress in these countries is provided by the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution. As Leon Trotsky explained, in economically backward countries the weak national bourgeoisie—tied by a thousand strings to imperialism and fearful of its “own” working class—is incapable of realizing the goals of classical bourgeois revolutions such as the 1789 French Revolution. He wrote that “the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses” (The Permanent Revolution, 1930).

While the industrial proletariat exists only in marginal and isolated pockets in much of Africa, oil workers in Nigeria and Angola, dock and rail workers in Kenya and miners in Zambia and the Congo, for example, represent a strategic industrial workforce. It is the challenge of an internationalist revolutionary workers party to transform these layers into a human link to the industrial proletariat of South Africa and the workers movement in the Near East, which are key to a revolutionary perspective on the African continent. To mobilize against its capitalist exploiters, the proletariat must launch a struggle against all oppression, crucially the oppression of women.

The struggle for democracy and social progress on the African continent necessarily requires proletarian revolution. It is a given that the imperialists will seek to crush such a revolution. The struggle for proletarian power in sub-Saharan Africa must be linked to the fight for workers rule in the advanced capitalist countries. The hundreds of thousands of immigrant African workers who are a key component of the strategic unionized sectors of the proletariat in Europe will provide the necessary bridge for the critical extension of the revolution.

To this end the working class must forge a revolutionary leadership, Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard parties, as part of a reforged Fourth International. The International Communist League seeks to build such parties to lead the struggle against imperialism and its neo-colonial surrogate regimes. Stop the execution of Amina Lawal!


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