Shi­ites and their rep­u­ta­tion

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - THE GRAND MASTERS -

THE founder of the Is­lamic Move­ment in Nige­ria (IMN) Ibrahim El Zakzaky has been in and out of trou­ble since he fell in love with the 1979 Ira­nian rev­o­lu­tion. At this time, he was an Eco­nom­ics stu­dent at the Ah­madu Bello Univer­sity (ABU), Zaria, and was prop­a­gat­ing Shia Is­lam on cam­pus. The Univer­sity au­thor­i­ties did not con­sider his rev­o­lu­tion­ary preach­ing as some­thing to be toyed with. Even though he got a first class hon­ours de­gree in Eco­nom­ics, the Univer­sity de­nied him the de­gree. He seemed to be a faith­ful fol­lower of Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini who over­threw the Ira­nian monar­chy and re­placed it with an Is­lamic re­pub­lic. He prob­a­bly nur­tures the idea, or dreams of such a re­pub­lic in Nige­ria. That would be a very tall am­bi­tion be­cause the Shi­ites con­sti­tute a small frac­tion of the Moslem pop­u­la­tion while the en­tire Moslem pop­u­la­tion is roughly about half the Nige­rian pop­u­la­tion.

Be­sides, there is no ev­i­dence that Nige­ri­ans, Moslems and Chris­tians, want to live in a coun­try with an im­posed re­li­gion. That has been made abun­dantly clear in the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion. So, if El Zakzaky and his fol­low­ers are think­ing that an Ira­nian type of rev­o­lu­tion in­spired by some ex­trem­ist Is­lamic doc­trine is re­al­iz­able here I should ask them to per­ish the thought.

The Shi­ite leader had his first bap­tism of fire dur­ing the Sani Abacha era in Septem­ber 1996 when he was first ar­rested and put away. He said, flip­pantly, hereti­cally, at that time that there was no gov­ern­ment in Nige­ria worth be­ing obeyed ex­cept that of Is­lam. Un­der Abacha he also got charged with trea­son in Au­gust 1998 and was only freed in De­cem­ber that year by Ab­dul­salami Abubakar, the new Head of State, af­ter Abacha’s death.

Since that time, there have been oc­ca­sional skir­mishes be­tween the sect and the se­cu­rity agen­cies. How­ever, the his­tory of dis­as­ter for the sect ac­tu­ally opened its in­glo­ri­ous chap­ter in De­cem­ber, 2015 when the sect mem­bers clashed with se­cu­rity agen­cies.

There was a Shi­ite pro­ces­sion led by El Zakzaky that blocked the con­voy of the Chief of Army staff, Lt. Gen­eral Tukur Bu­ru­tai who was in Zaria for an as­sign­ment. Vi­o­lence broke out when the mil­i­tary boys and the po­lice had to force them out of the road and cre­ate a safe pas­sage for the Army Gen­eral. He, his wife and many of the sect mem­bers were packed into prison. At the end of the day, 347 Shi­ite mem­bers were re­ported dead in that en­counter. At the time of the in­ci­dent, the Gen­eral Of­fi­cer com­mand­ing 1st Mech­a­nized Brigade of the Nige­rian Army in Kaduna, Ma­jor Gen­eral Adeniyi Oye­bode said; “in that op­er­a­tion, I made one cat­e­gor­i­cal state­ment to my men; we must within the rules of our en­gage­ment make sure as much as it was fea­si­ble then to bring in the leader of the sect alive. We do not want him dead. He is a ci­ti­zen of Nige­ria. But we felt that given the rag­ing vi­o­lence in the city, it was im­por­tant that we bring him into pro­tec­tive cus­tody. At about 9:15, the next morn­ing, we suc­cess­fully ex­e­cuted that”. Since that time in De­cem­ber, 2015 the 65-year old Cleric and his wife Zeenah have been in “pro­tec­tive cus­tody”. Things have not stood still though. A fierce bat­tle for their free­dom has been rag­ing in the courts.

In Novem­ber 2016, the pre­sid­ing Judge of the Fed­eral High Court in Abuja, Jus­tice Gabriel Ko­la­wole had ad­vised the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and At­tor­ney Gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion to re­solve the mat­ter be­fore the next ad­journed date fail­ing which he would de­liver his judg­ment. On the ad­journed date De­cem­ber 2, 2016, Jus­tice Ko­la­wole de­clined the sub­mis­sion of the coun­sel to the DSS, Ti­jani Gazali that El Zakzaky was kept in pro­tec­tive cus­tody. The judge said that the de­ci­sion to hold him and his wife was not based on law. He said: “I have not been shown any in­ci­dent re­port or any com­plaint lodged by res­i­dents around the neigh­bour­hood that the ap­pli­cant has be­come a nui­sance to his neigh­bour­hood.”

The judge cited the death of Mo­hammed Yusuf, leader of the Boko Haram group and said: “if the ap­pli­cant dies in cus­tody which I do not pray for it could re­sult in many need­less deaths. He or­dered their re­lease within 24hours to the Po­lice who shall within 45 days take them, guarded by es­corts to a safe place”. He im­posed a fine of N25 mil­lion each on the DSS for his and his wife’s il­le­gal de­ten­tion. In­stead of obey­ing the ver­dict of the court, the gov­ern­ment ar­raigned him in an­other court and charged him for mur­der four days later. Since then, his fol­low­ers have been restive. The ten­sion has reached flash point, dag­ger point, dan­ger point.

The hard fist of fear is stalk­ing us and putting all of us in a pres­sure cooker. We should ask our of­fi­cials whether we want our coun­try to be wed­ded to the thrill of in­ces­sant vi­o­lence over mat­ters that can be sorted out swiftly. Now the storm has come. Abuja is not sit­ting easy. Ev­ery­one is scared of the dan­ger-whis­tle that is rock­ing the city to its feet. Scores of peo­ple have al­ready been killed cour­tesy of the mega demon­stra­tion mounted re­cently by the Shi­ites ask­ing for the re­lease of their lead­ers and the strong-arm re­sponse of the se­cu­rity agen­cies. Their plac­ards read: “Free Zakzaky”, Free our leader.”

It doesn’t ap­pear the gov­ern­ment is ready to re­lease him and his wife. The Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion, Mr. Lai Mo­hammed is in­vok­ing the the­ory of the clash be­tween in­di­vid­ual free­dom and na­tional se­cu­rity and or rule of law. He weighs in ex­pect­edly on the as­sumed supremacy of na­tional se­cu­rity over the rule of law. Hear him: “Ev­ery gov­ern­ment in the world will at a point in time bal­ance in­di­vid­ual free­dom with na­tional se­cu­rity”. He is not re­leased. He is in a house pro­vided by the gov­ern­ment with his fam­ily, why? It is be­cause the court said we must re­lease him within 45 days, re­build his house and there is no­body to­day within Kaduna State or any­where else that wants to ac­cept El Zakzaky as a neigh­bour. So, who do you re­lease him to, for him to be killed?”

Mr. Mo­hammed sounds like the world’s most benev­o­lent guardian, one who doesn’t want his ward to come into harm’s way since he knows that the world is full of trou­ble mak­ers. But the risk is that of El Zakzaky to take just as most if not all Nige­ri­ans are tak­ing risks from day to day. For how long can Mr. Mo­hammed save the man from an as­sumed death plan? Is it the man that is ask­ing for this pro­tec­tive cus­tody or is it the se­cu­rity peo­ple that are ask­ing on his be­half? The point is that, the court has made its judg­ment pub­lic and the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the gov­ern­ment is to obey it. If Mr. El Zakzaky chooses to put him­self in harm’s way, it is his choice, not that of the gov­ern­ment.

Many peo­ple in Nige­ria are not en­thused by the man­ner­isms of the Shi­ites in Nige­ria. That is a fact. Burn­ing a Po­lice car is an of­fence. Block­ing a pub­lic high­way against the Chief of Army Staff or any­body at all is provoca­tive, un­ac­cept­able and un­ruly. We have al­ways had pro­ces­sions in Nige­ria mounted by faith-based or­ga­ni­za­tions, mourn­ers, and merry-mak­ers.

Each of them has the re­spon­si­bil­ity of en­sur­ing that the free­dom of move­ment of other peo­ple is not im­peded in any way. The Shi­ites seem to think that once their road show is free­dom-re­lated or re­li­gion re­lated, they have the free­dom to do what­ever they want ir­re­spec­tive of the in­con­ve­nience that it im­poses on other peo­ple. They are wrong. Their ac­tiv­i­ties must be con­ducted within the ac­cept­able frame­work of Nige­rian laws.

In the re­cent clash with se­cu­rity of­fi­cials, Shi­ites were re­ported to have used stones, match­ets, knives and petrol bombs. Demon­stra­tions are ac­cept­able ve­hi­cles for air­ing griev­ances in a democ­racy but they must be peace­ful. Those who mount vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions for­feit the right to be treated with kid gloves but killing them is clearly, clearly over the top. Nige­rian se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have es­tab­lished a solid rep­u­ta­tion for bru­tal­ity marked by ex­tra ju­di­cial killings of de­fence­less, un­armed and peace­ful de­mon­stra­tors. What­ever is the bad be­hav­iour of de­mon­stra­tors the re­sponse must be mea­sured.

All over the civ­i­lized world, de­mon­stra­tors are treated with grad­u­ated, not ex­treme force, that leads to death. Such re­strain­ing but not deadly in­stru­ments as tear gas, wa­ter canons, pep­per spray and rub­ber bul­lets are fre­quently used. Why Nige­rian Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials pre­fer the use of equip­ment that have ir­re­versible fi­nal­ity is baf­fling, very baf­fling. It demon­strates again and again that we have very lit­tle re­spect for hu­man life.

“The Shi­ites seem to think that once their road show is free­dom-re­lated or re­li­gion re­lated, they have the free­dom to do what­ever they want ir­re­spec­tive of the in­con­ve­nience that it im­poses on other peo­ple

El Zakzaky

Ray Ekpu e-mail: nim­i­tobe@gmail.com ; Tel: 08088979769.

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