Time to End The Shi’ite Conundrum
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