Time to End The Shi’ite Co­nun­drum

Sunday Trust - - PAGE 3 COMMENT -

The vi­o­lence that oc­curred in and around Abuja for three days up to Mon­day last week was deeply trou­bling to all right-think­ing Nige­ri­ans and we be­lieve it is time for the au­thor­i­ties to make a se­ri­ous move and end this sit­u­a­tion be­fore it gets out of hand com­pletely.

Al­ready, the se­cu­rity forces’ han­dling of last week’s events has earned Nige­ria a se­vere rep­ri­mand from Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, which said “se­cu­rity forces must be held ac­count­able for…the hor­rific use of ex­ces­sive force by sol­diers and po­lice that led to the killing of at least 45 sup­port­ers of the Is­lamic Move­ment in Nige­ria (IMN) over two days, as the Shi’a Mus­lim group held a peace­ful re­li­gious pro­ces­sion around Abuja.” AI’s Di­rec­tor in Nige­ria Osai Ojigho said they have “seen a shock­ing and un­con­scionable use of deadly force by sol­diers and po­lice against IMN mem­bers. Video footage and eye­wit­ness tes­ti­monies con­sis­tently show that the Nige­rian mil­i­tary dis­persed peace­ful gath­er­ings by fir­ing live am­mu­ni­tion with­out warn­ing, in clear vi­o­la­tion of Nige­rian and in­ter­na­tional law…This pat­tern clearly shows sol­diers and po­lice ap­proached IMN pro­ces­sions not to re­store pub­lic or­der, but to kill.”

The se­cu­rity forces how­ever saw things dif­fer­ently. In­spec­tor Gen­eral of Po­lice Ibrahim Idris told top po­lice of­fi­cers in Abuja that 400 IMN mem­bers were ar­rested “for caus­ing dis­tur­bance of pub­lic peace and set­ting ablaze of a Po­lice pa­trol ve­hi­cle, with thirty-one bot­tles of petrol bombs and il­licit drugs re­cov­ered from them.” He said they will be prose­cuted for acts pro­hib­ited un­der the Ter­ror­ism Pre­ven­tion Amend­ment Act, 2013.

Last week’s episode was the dead­li­est since De­cem­ber 2015, when sol­diers killed hun­dreds of Shi’ites in Zaria fol­low­ing a deadly con­fronta­tion when IMN’s mem­bers blocked the path for Army Chief Lt Gen­eral Tukur Bu­ratai. While a Kaduna State Gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed in­quiry com­mis­sion said about 350 Shi’ites were killed and buried in a mass grave, IMN said up to 1,000 of its mem­bers were killed. Re­mark­ably, many Nige­ri­ans, es­pe­cially in the ma­jor­ity Mus­lim North, are not sym­pa­thetic at all to the plight of the Shi’ites and in fact sup­port the use of deadly force against them. We do not agree with this mis­guided ma­jor­ity opin­ion. It is true that IMN’s ac­tiv­i­ties over the years, in­clud­ing block­ing high­ways and se­verely in­con­ve­nienc­ing other cit­i­zens in the name of re­li­gious treks, thor­oughly an­gered many cit­i­zens. Yet, we agree with Amnesty In­ter­na­tional that se­cu­rity forces should never use live bul­lets to dis­perse a peace­ful pro­ces­sion, re­li­gious or oth­er­wise. It can be ar­gued that the Shi’ite pro­ces­sion was not to­tally peace­ful, since some of the marchers hurled stones at armed sol­diers. Still, that did not war­rant the killing of dozens of peo­ple in or­der to cur­tail their act.

Last week’s Shi’ite march in Abuja was meant both to cel­e­brate the Arba’een trek in mem­ory of the Shi’ite Imam Hus­sein and to also de­mand for the re­lease of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Yakub El-Za­kzaky. We fully sup­port the call to re­lease El-Za­kzaky from DSS de­ten­tion since a court granted him bail nearly two years ago. Gov­ern­ment could still re­strict his move­ment and place him un­der close watch but the or­der of the court should be obeyed.

Our fear is that gov­ern­ment’s cur­rent, ob­sti­nate ap­proach to the is­sue could make it to spi­ral out of con­trol. Given the zealotry of IMN mem­bers, un­less the cor­rect mea­sures are ap­plied, we could have an­other Boko Haram on our hands in years to come. An agree­able ac­com­mo­da­tion must there­fore be found that will dif­fuse peren­nial ten­sion be­tween Shi’ites and au­thor­i­ties once for all. IMN must mod­ify some of its doc­trines and prac­tices in or­der to con­form with the re­quire­ments of law, or­der and peace in so­ci­ety. At present, it does ap­pear that it is in­tent of build­ing a Hezbol­lah-style state within a state. This can only lead to con­tin­u­ous con­fronta­tion with au­thor­i­ties. We be­lieve it is not too late for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser (NSA) to out­line to IMN’s lead­ers the prac­tices that must end in or­der to have last­ing peace, in­clud­ing the long high­way treks, oc­cu­pa­tion of schools along the high­way, mo­lest­ing neigh­bours and run­ning a uni­formed mili­tia. Mem­bers of the Sunni Mus­lim ma­jor­ity on their part must learn to live with what they see as Shi’ites’ queer re­li­gious doc­trines be­cause the con­sti­tu­tion pro­tects such be­liefs. Be­fore much can be done how­ever, Sheikh El-Za­kzaky should be re­leased on bail. No mean­ing­ful agree­ment can be reached with the Shi’ites if he is not around.

It can be ar­gued that the Shi’ite pro­ces­sion was not to­tally peace­ful, since some of the marchers hurled stones at armed sol­diers. Still, that did not war­rant the killing of dozens of peo­ple in or­der to cur­tail their act

An in­jured Shi’ite mem­ber dur­ing the clash be­tween the group and po­lice in Abuja

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