BY ADEMOLA ORUNBON
The incessant deadly clashes between government troops, police force and Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), known as Shi’ite Muslims have raised fears that another conflict is about to get out of hand in the country. Even the civil society is calling on the central government not to repeat past mistakes because the police itself not doing the right thing to suppress the issue.
Police duty is to maintain law and order and protect lives and properties, especially in discharging their duty, the legislature and the Judiciary have always provided enabling laws for the discharge of this onerous duty.
However, recently the table has turned, the table turned because events have shown that there is a conspiracy to emasculate the police to the advantage of lawbreakers. After all, before now, for a group of people to embark on any procession that is likely to affect the freedom and business of members of the public, they must apply to the police to enable the police to plan, monitor, and prevent hoodlums from hijacking such protests.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s government stands accused of abusing human rights and oppressing a minority group after clashes every now and then, especially between the Shi’ite group and the government, in which scores of people were killed including a Channel journalist, Precious Owolabi and Deputy Commissioner of Police, Usman Umar.
Nigeria’s main Shi’ite problem is continuing detention of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and shooting and killing many of their members by the police force in the process of calling on the government to free their leader, who has been in detention since December 2015 is uncalled for.
Violence broke out when soldiers at a military checkpoint prevented the procession from entering Abuja to markArbaeen which occurs forty days after the Day Of ASHURA, a day of mourning for Shi’ites. In the past, the event has often ended in clashes owing to intervention by security forces. The march now is a protest, not just a religious rite, since it was also meant to pressure authorities to release the Shi’ite Cleric, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky. The founder and leader of the Islamic Movement Of Nigeria (IMN), which has been in jail since December 2015. At that time, security forces killed more than 300 adherents of the movement in the so-called Zaria massacre in Kaduna state.
Till date, causes of the conflict between the Shi’ites and government could not be ascertained, the IMN and the army were given conflicting accounts about what happened exactly on the 12 December, 2015, though, an army statement alleged that IMN members, on the order of El-Zakzaky attempted to assassinate the army chief, General Tukur Buratai, en route to a military ceremony in the city of Zaria.
The statement said hundreds of armed sect members barricades General Buratai’s way, spurned warnings to disperse, then started pelting his convoy with dangerous objects. It said troops responsible for the army chief’s safety had to protect him by clearing the barricades forcefully but did so in accordance with the army’s rules of engagement and code of conduct.
Nigeria’s Moslems are mainly Sunnites and there was no real voice for the Shi’ite until IMN was founded in the 1980s by El-Zakzaky. Then, the movement grew out of student enthusiasm for the Iranian revolution. The number of Shi’ites in the country now is estimated at three million, a number big enough to scare the central government.
This Shi’ites ideology is in opposition to what the establishment follows, which Saudi Arabian Wahabism. And the IMN has a lot of followers in the north. That’s more reasons the government needs to take the bull by the horn, otherwise, we are entering another Boko Haram in the making in this country.
The sect, in a few weeks ago, invaded the National Assembly where they reportedly attacked the security officer on duty. Indeed, two of the sect members were then said to have been shot in their legs, but they burnt down three cars and vandalized other property during the incident. It is now imperative for the government to focus more resources and attention on fighting the Boko Haram terrorists rather than turning their guns on unarmed peaceful citizens they are obliged to protect. The IMN is now gradually becoming a terrorist group with their actions and deeds. The central government needs to release their leader, his wife and other members of Shi’ites in various detentions to allow peace to reign in the country.
Nigerians all over the country are increasingly worried that the IMN could turn into a second Boko Haram. Though the movement itself denies any plans to take up arms. IMN spokesman, Ibrahim Musa has said it before now, rejecting analogies between his movement and Boko Haram.
He further stated that the Islamic Movement is guided by and led by the principle of Islam, and Islam is a religion of peace. And perhaps, only calls on people to understand it, that it doesn’t force people to follow it doctrines and ideologies.
Indeed, the movement fundamentally believes and proclaims that “there is no government except that of Islam”. The founder and leader Ibraheem El-Zakyzay who, since the early 1980s, has called for Islamic revolution to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, an end to Western influence in the country and the stringent adoption of Islamic legal principles and systems.
The movement is very critical of northern Nigeria’s traditional religious and political elite, including the Sunnis who are the majority of the country’s Muslim population. No statistics are available, but Shi’ites are thought to make up just 2 or 3 percent of Nigeria’s population 178 million people. Present in small numbers in Nigeria for a long time, Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution inspired strong growth in the Shi’ite community and persuaded its leaders to challenge traditional and secular Muslim authorities more vigorously.
We should be recalled that Boko Haram also started as the police killed a non-violent group that now turned deadly after its leader, Muhammad Yusuf, in 2009. And since then, the central authorities have learned nothing from what happened in the northeast. Instead of listening to these people and trying to address their problems, they come up and start shooting people, and radicalising the group will only lead to more violence and aggravate their militancy, maiming and killing of people including the military forces.
However, it has now come to a stage where dialogue alone will not be enough to solve a problem, which has an international dimension and undertones. I have no doubts that Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a proxy war in Northern Nigeria, as they are in Yemen. That is why we also have to rely on international action, likes the U. S, the British, the French and other leading powers in the world.
Though, the government, especially the police too have their own share of the blame on the anomalies and incessant protest of those Shi’ites as they failed to salvage the situation. Sometimes if prudence and foresight is not employed in legislation, we end up creating more problems for the society than the mischief we hope to cure.
For me, the responsibility lies primarily with the Nigerian government. The government must follow the rule of law and comply with the Court ruling, that ordered the El-Zakzay and his wife’s release. The Cleric, who is in his mid-sixties has lost the sight in one eye during the 2015 clashes, and has only been seen in public twice to thrice since he was detained by the Department of Security Services (DSS), what are they doing in the custody of DSS four years ago, after he has been granted bail by two to three separate courts of the country. He and his wife are said to be in poor health.
- Orunbon, a journalist and public affairs analyst, wrote from Abeokuta, the Ogun State. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org 08034493944 and 08029301122.