Sowing the Seeds of Revolution: Exploring the Roots of Marxism in Nigerian History, Written by Ogundipe Samuel

From its origins in Europe, the ideology of Marxism has traveled the globe, seeping into the consciousness of people yearning for social and economic change. And the story of Marxism in Nigeria is no exception. From the colonial era to the present day, Marxist thought has permeated the socio-political landscape, sowing the seeds of revolution and inspiring new visions of society.

The origins of Marxism in Nigeria can be traced back to the early 20th century, when Nigerian intellectuals were exposed to the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels through British colonial education.
During the colonial era, Marxism gained a foothold among Nigerian intellectuals and activists, who saw in its teachings a way to challenge the exploitative structures of colonialism and capitalism. In the 1920s, Marxist study groups began to emerge, giving birth to the first generation of Nigerian Marxists who would play a crucial role in shaping the country’s political and intellectual landscape.

As Nigeria approached independence in the 1950s, Marxist ideas began to take root in the growing labor movement. Trade unions and student organizations adopted Marxist principles, demanding better working conditions, greater political representation, and an end to colonial exploitation.
The 1960s saw the emergence of the first Nigerian Marxist political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). Led by activists like Anthony Enahoro and Femi Johnson, the NNDP advocated for a socialist vision of Nigeria that would empower the masses and end the domination of foreign capital.

In the 1970s, Marxist ideas continued to influence the political discourse in Nigeria, with a new generation of radical intellectuals and activists forming groups such as the Socialist Workers and Farmers Party (SWFP) and the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP).
The 1970s and 1980s were a period of intense political unrest and upheaval in Nigeria. Marxist ideas continued to shape the discourse, with groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) using Marxist analysis to understand the exploitation of the Niger Delta region by multinational oil companies.

However, the rise of neoliberal policies and the imposition of structural adjustment programs in the 1980s dealt a severe blow to Marxist thought in Nigeria. Many of the country’s leftist organizations were suppressed, and their members imprisoned or exiled.
Despite these setbacks, Marxist ideas have endured in Nigeria, finding new expressions in contemporary social movements and political parties. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has continued to embrace Marxist principles in its struggle for workers’ rights and democratic governance.

In recent years, Marxist thought has also played a role in the growing youth movement, with groups such as the Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWYL) advocating for a socialist alternative to Nigeria’s corrupt and oppressive political system.

The legacy of Marxism in Nigeria is a complex one, shaped by the country’s unique history and struggles for social justice.
As Nigeria continues to grapple with the challenges of poverty, corruption, and inequality, the lessons of Marxism remain relevant. The idea that the working class must organize and mobilize to challenge the domination of capitalism, and that a better society can be built on the principles of equality, justice, and collective ownership, continues to inspire activists and thinkers in the country.

But the Nigerian context also demands a nuanced understanding of Marxism, one that takes into account the specificities of the country’s history, culture, and politics.

Indeed, Marxism continues to evolve and adapt to the realities of contemporary Nigeria.

One example is the emergence of what some scholars have termed “Neo-Marxism” in Nigeria, which incorporates elements of Marxism with African traditional thought, Islamic philosophy, and postcolonial theory. This hybrid approach aims to reconcile Marxist analysis with the specific needs and experiences of African societies, creating a more holistic understanding of society and liberation.

Another development is the growth of Marxist analysis among younger generations in Nigeria, particularly in the context of the country’s vibrant social media culture.

As Marxism has adapted to the Nigerian context, it has also taken on new forms of activism. For instance, the End SARS movement that erupted in 2020 mobilized young Nigerians in a mass protest against police brutality and corruption, drawing on Marxist ideas of class struggle and resistance.

Furthermore, Marxist thought has become an important part of the ongoing debate over Nigeria’s socioeconomic direction. Marxist scholars, writers, and activists have been influential in shaping the discourse around issues such as land reform, public sector reforms, and the relationship between Nigeria’s ruling class and multinational corporations.
The arrest of Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian journalist and activist known for his Marxist leanings, is another example of the state’s efforts to suppress Marxist thought and activism in the country.

In 2019, Sowore was arrested by the Nigerian government after calling for a nationwide protest against poverty, corruption, and bad governance under the #RevolutionNow campaign. He was subsequently charged with treasonable felony, cyberstalking, and money laundering, though these charges were widely seen as politically motivated.
Indeed, the arrest of Omoyele Sowore adds another chapter to the long history of Marxist thought and activism in Nigeria. Sowore’s story underscores the challenges that Nigerian Marxists continue to face, as they navigate a political landscape marked by corruption, repression, and inequality.

Sowore’s #RevolutionNow campaign had a simple yet powerful message: that ordinary Nigerians deserve better, that they deserve a society that is free from corruption and exploitation. And while his arrest may have slowed the momentum of the campaign, it did not extinguish the spirit of resistance that animates Marxist thought.

The case of Nnamdi Kanu is another significant example of the Nigerian government’s crackdown on activists who challenge the status quo.

Kanu is a prominent leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist movement that advocates for the creation of an independent state in southeastern Nigeria. He was first arrested in 2015 for alleged treasonable felony and was subsequently released on bail in 2017. However, he fled Nigeria after his home was raided by security forces and his supporters were killed.

In June 2021, Kanu was once again arrested in Kenya and extradited to Nigeria.

Kanu’s arrest has been widely condemned by human rights organizations and political observers as a blatant violation of his right to free expression and political association. His continued detention without trial has also raised questions about the Nigerian government’s commitment to due process and the rule of law.

Kanu’s case has further revealed the deep-seated tensions and divisions within Nigerian society, with many in the southeast region expressing frustration over the Nigerian government’s perceived marginalization of the Igbo people. Some have even suggested that Kanu’s arrest was part of a larger effort to silence dissent and crush political opposition in the region.


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