The first protection that minorities – be they ethnic, religious or sectarian – need is to be shielded from the danger posed by IMN. Beyond making life unbearable for everyone, the sect has been promoting the idea that insurrections can be carried out without consequences. No minority group should buy into this fallacy. Rising up against the state is never the best option.
The Shi’a sect’s manifestation in Nigeria, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), has apparently been ramping up its propaganda. Its strategy has improved to now include delivering its version of the truth using respectable clerics, editorials of respected online publications, talking heads that saturate the airwaves and columnists that seemingly appear to be writing across the divides.
One of the latter category, Chris Ngwodo, penned a write up “Nigeria’s War Against the Shi’a” which perfectly fits into the new slant of covertly threatening the nation to accept IMN’s excesses without the extremist group having to tone down its own insurrection against the secular state. Like all the other formats of the newfound strategy, the new approach adopted by the Shi’a sect is drawing on an asset they had the foresight to set up; their convoluted accounts of past events are now being quoted by those newly deployed to manage their propaganda efforts.
True to a time worn IMN strategy of blaming just about everyone but themselves, Ngwodo’s article in one breath blamed President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for a phantom Shi’a ordeal, while in the same breath acknowledged that they had a run-in with the law in 2014 when a different government held sway. In the traditional disdain the group has for anything related to constituted authority, security agencies that acted to contain the excesses of a belligerent group and those who dared exercise their rights to speak against IMN extremism are described as “extremist voices” and “monsters”.
The piece tries to confuse the issues in IMN’s December 2015 confrontation with the Army when it says President Buhari tacitly justified the massacres. It may be a topic for another day and another context but it is fraudulent to describe attackers who died in a counter-military operation as massacred. The ones that survived among them should be answering charges for using helpless women and underaged youths as human shields.
The writer alludes to a Nigerian state that has “escalated its hostility against the Islamic Movement in Nigeria” since the 2015 incident as a prelude to dismissing the genuine efforts made in getting to the root of that crisis. It admits that the Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up by the Kaduna State government indicted both the army and the IMN, but sidesteps the report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which is unequivocal in placing the blame on the leadership and members of IMN. That report specifically demanded the immediate trial of IMN leader, Sheikh El-Zakyzaky for precipitating, what Ngwodo terms “massacre”.
The import of two separate but related events were lost on the author of that pro-IMN missive. First, the decision of Katsina, Kano and Kebbi states to follow in the footsteps of Kaduna State in outlawing the IMN is apparently the product of popular demand that other states will do well to emulate. No group has the right to plague persons of other faiths and convictions and not expect the state to step in as an umpire. Secondly, the condemnable attacks on Shi’a in Kaduna, Funtua, Sokoto, Kano and Jos should give members of the group and their paid commentators cause to ponder what they did wrong to provoke such morbid outrage among other citizens.
Describing these development as “state-backed systematic persecution and extermination of the Shi’a” is therefore disingenuous and the true hallmark of bigotry. Several fundamentals might have simmered beneath the surface over the years, but where one of the parties to the situation decides to escalate aggression, it will take an irresponsible government not to act in the collective interest of all citizens, which in this case implies that the rest must be protected from the aggression of the errant group. No one has said the Shi’a cannot practice what they hold dear, but they must also recognise by the same token that the rest of the country have the right not to be coerced into the Shi’a doctrin. e
The writer of the referenced piece, if he is above 45 years old, may wish to cast his mind back to when he was younger and see if there was so much noise about sectarian differences in Islam. If he is a younger person, he should ask those who should know. What he refers to as “anti-Shi’a prejudice” has more to do with the responses of states and individuals to IMN aggression. To then try whipping up anti-Sunni prejudice in response to anti-Shi’a prejudice is to be himself guilty of what he is preaching against. If he takes a sincere reality check, he will realise that there is a growing disenchantment with the faiths and sects that are driven offshore. Even if such disenchantment were in its early stage, the pursuit of secularism is what will work for Nigerians and not foreign funded and driven divisions, as he correctly observed at some illuminating point in his article.
That illumination was however absent when it claimed that IMN members only held peaceful protest marches that were then attacked by mobs and security forces. Such claims could only be made by someone that has never had a taste of the horrors that the Shi’a outfit is capable of inflicting.
The Charges Against the Shi’a
This capability of the IMN was at the root of outlawing the group. Once it had gotten to the point where it openly took on the Army and even reportedly made an attempt on the life of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), it became glaring that the nation was not dealing with a ragtag bunch of urchins. Outlawing the IMN in Kaduna State by the Governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai was a logical step. As the Order outlawing the group noted, IMN does not acknowledge the Nigerian state, a fact demonstrated by its decision not to bother with registration; the group was militarised, it preaches extremism, while its members had remained confrontational and unruly in the aftermath of the 2015 incident.
When IMN takes over public spaces with their processions to the discomfort of others, it is a matter of time before the will raise flags, claim territories and enforce their own version of reality. Now that it is known that no sect or faith should hijack state infrastructure, we must move to the next state of stopping Friday prayers and Sunday services from obstructing our roads.
Other groups may hold similar views in their closets, but they will get a taste of the state when they escalate matters to the level of the IMN. Boko Haram has tried it and they now know better. The oil region militants have tried it and they are walking back their folly.
That El-Zakzaky, the IMN leader, once took pro-constitutional and pro-state stances does not rule out the possibility of recanting and denying the primacy of the secular Nigerian state. If he once spoke for constitutionality and then more recently opted to fight the institutions and concepts enshrined in the constitution, the previous views expressed are no protection to shield him from security agencies that must do their work.
This is a mistake that the political class must not repeat. They have, in the past, allowed demagogic sects to fester and only acted when it was too late. Criticisms like the ones unloaded by Ngwodo must not petrify them from blocking the ride of another extremist group. When IMN takes over public spaces with their processions to the discomfort of others, it is a matter of time before the will raise flags, claim territories and enforce their own version of reality. Now that it is known that no sect or faith should hijack state infrastructure, we must move to the next state of stopping Friday prayers and Sunday services from obstructing our roads.
The Strange Politics of Anti-Shi’a Activism
It is indeed strange that Shi’as are a minority in one paragraph and they become strategic to El Rufai, Buhari, and the All Progressives Congress in winning elections in another. Since their numbers can swing votes, then they are not in the minority, at least not on the scale they’re marketing to the world. They should thus exploit the strength of their numbers at the polls, and that is if they are willing to recognise elections held by the Nigerian state.
Sowing the Wind of Extremism
It is for the precise reason that Nigeria should not be a proxy battle ground for the Middle East that it becomes imperative for the Government of The Federal Republic of Nigeria to counter external influences here. If the wind of extremism is being sown in Nigeria, the proof has been traced to Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism – with a cache of arms uncovered, spies arrested in Lagos, financial ties with IMN unravelled and other smoking guns. Once Saudi Arabia can be implicated, even on a smaller scale, any group they are financing would have a run-in with the law.
It must be noted that it is the institutions of state like the Nigerian Army that has been at the forefront of the anti-terror fight and the IMN has done a lot to attempt tarnishing such entities, using Amnesty International and the Islamic Human Rights Commission.
The military has not relented in doing the needful, apparently because there is that commitment to ensure that the replication of the Middle East kind of chaos would not work here, irrespective of how much IMN or any other group assigned to make it happen does.
Ngwodo apparently managed to let slip an agreed talking point for the new IMN propaganda onslaught. It is that claim that the other Muslim sects and Christians would be the next in the firing line once the Shi’as have been disposed of. He even found an opportunity to remind readers of ethnic cleansing and genocide in one desperate attempt at fear mongering.
Protecting Minorities and Securing Democracy
Minorities need not take up arms in response to this unwarranted fear mongering. The first protection that minorities – be they ethnic, religious or sectarian – need is to be shielded from the danger posed by IMN. Beyond making life unbearable for everyone, the sect has been promoting the idea that insurrections can be carried out without consequences. No minority group should buy into this fallacy. Rising up against the state is never the best option.
To protect minorities and secure democracy, what is needed is to prevail on President Muhammadu Buhari not to relent in ridding the country of all forms of extremism, since it is now clear that Boko Haram is not the only fanatical group. If Mr President can do this for Nigeria then his legacy is secured.
Gabriel Onoja writes from Jos.