I am no Shiite. As the son of a Sunni Muslim scholar, I have irreconcilable theological differences with Shiism. But I would be remiss if I failed to speak up in the face of the murderous persecution of Shiites in northern Nigeria. Shiites have had run-ins with Nigerian law enforcement agents for as long as I can remember, but the lamentably cold-blooded mass murder of hundreds of unarmed, defenceless members of the group by the Nigerian military in Zaria in December 2015, took the cake. I was numb with horror for days on end in the wake of this brutal mass slaughter of fellow human beings whose only crime was that they constituted themselves into a nuisance.
Report of the government-appointed “Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Zaria Clashes” said at least 348 Shiite Muslims were murdered by the military, but the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria said nearly 1,000 men, women and children were butchered by the military. The group’s leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, was shot several times, including in the eyes, publicly humiliated by being paraded half-naked in a dingy wheelbarrow, and has been in detention for nearly a year — in addition to the insensate murder of his wife and children and the destruction of his home.
That was horrific. But what was even more horrific was the complete absence of expression of outrage or even a tinge of moral compunction from Nigerian authorities. Not even President Muhammadu Buhari, who is always quick to issue statements of solidarity and sympathy when even a single soul dies in a terror attack or a natural disaster in the West, deemed it worthwhile to express sympathy over the heartless and unwarranted mass slaughter of his own citizens by soldiers he is commander-in-chief of.
No one denies that Shiites, particularly in Zaria, are an intolerable irritation. They habitually block traffic and make life a living hell for road users. But that is no justification for the callous murder of their members. There is no proportionality of justice in killing people because they blocked traffic. In any case, Sunni Muslims, Christians, and other cultural groups in Nigeria also habitually block traffic for Juma’at prayers, Maulud celebrations, crusades, “owambe” parties, etc.
But an even more insidious phase in the persecution of Shiites has just started. Late last week, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, issued a proclamation banning the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. This is the same group whose support he studiously courted in the run-up to the last general election and for whose sake he once described the Nigerian Army as “genocidal.”
One of life’s enduring existential ironies is that most people will rather give up their lives than give up their way of life. That’s why laws that seek to legislate people’s way of life never work. No legislation, imprisonment or murders will stop the existence of Shiites — or any other religious group. Repressive tactics historically only solidify groups and drive them underground from where they engage the state — and the society at large — in tediously protracted guerilla warfare.
That’s how Boko Haram emerged. This is one avoidable self-injury we can’t afford to inflict on ourselves at this fragile moment in our life as a nation. This isn’t about Shiites; it’s about respect for the basic rights of all people. Shiites are at the receiving end of fascistic repression today; you, yes you, could be next tomorrow. A society’s health is judged by how well it treats its minorities, its vulnerable members. •Dr. Farooq Kperogi (An Associate Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media, School of Communication and Media, Kennesaw State University)
It is difficult to say whether Shiites or those who attacked them are wrong. Religion is a way of life. This is one cardinal principle the government must know. The government is tending to one side. It is polarising the country. The appointments so far have shown that the government is one-sided.
Interestingly, there seems to be a rivalry even among Muslim brethren. Whether Shiites or not, Muslims are Muslims. We do not know them by any other name. Can we now say that Muslims are fighting one another? The conflict is unfortunate.
The government should focus on promoting the essence of religion which is mutual love.
Promotion of religious conflicts is not doing the country any good. Religion is all about doing to others what you expect them to do to you. •Anthony Olubunmi Okogie (A former Archbishop of Lagos, Catholic Church)
If Shiites do anything that is against the law, they should be tried according to the laws of the land. I don’t think mob action should be encouraged. If we address such issues with mob actions, we would not be helping the society. If Shiites do something wrong, our institutions should operate in such a way that sanctions would be pressed against them. It is not Islamic to attack people because we believe that they have broken Islamic laws or some other laws.
This does not imply that Shiites are right. They may be wrong in many of the things they have done. They may have even broken Islamic injunctions. Islam says we should not commit adultery, steal, rob or kill. Anybody who does such things should be tried according to the specific laws. If Shiites are involved in criminal acts, they should be tried based on the evidence against them.
We should be courageous to tell the whole world that what Shiites are doing is wrong. We should also be courageous to bring them to justice. But attacking them would not solve any problem; it would rather complicate the matter. Mob action is not encouraged by Islam.
Unfortunately, the attackers cannot be traced. But the relevant security agencies should make efforts to check recurrence. Shiites themselves should not violate Nigerian laws. I am not sure that anybody would go after them if they practise their religion peacefully. After all, they had done that for long without anybody going after them. They should respect the laws of the land. If they do not, relevant laws should be applied in dealing with them. •Sheikh Ahmed Baban-Inna (Chief Imam, Bauchi Central Mosque)
In the first instance, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in Kaduna State is lawless. It’s not right for any organisation to deprive the citizenry access to public roads; that is condemnable. But the reaction of the military to what happened in December is outrageous considering the fact that after the Chief of Army Staff eventually found his way out of the rowdy situation and went to perform his duty, military men came back the second day, demolished their (Shiites’) houses and killed several of them. On what basis did they do that when they have the power to arrest, detain and prosecute? It is also condemnable.
The leader of the organisation has been detained since that period. He has never been charged to court. That is arbitrary. There is freedom of association in Nigeria and if anybody has violated the law, that person should be charged to court accordingly.
A judicial panel of enquiry visited the site, where the people killed were buried. The number of those killed was outrageous and it outnumbered what the military claimed. The judicial panel of enquiry submitted its report only for the state government to outlaw the group for demonstrating. Security operatives attacked them and that led to killings.
As far as I am concerned, two wrongs do not make a right. The government must be very careful with the way it handles this matter. We are still talking about Boko Haram. It started one way or the other in Maiduguri (Borno State) while the state and federal governments did not handle the matter quite well. Look at where it has led us to.
We are calling on the Federal Government to quickly respond to this matter. You cannot outlaw such a religious organisation because there is freedom of worship in Nigeria. The activities of the individual member of the group are what could be charged to court. If the Nigeria constitution allows freedom of association and freedom of worship, on what bases is the government banning the organisation? Besides, the Federal Government has not made a pronouncement on those killed by the military in December. •Idris Miliki (Executive Director, Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution)
The challenges we face in different parts of the country are caused by politicians. They (politicians) are the ones sowing the seed of discord among us. If those who started intolerance in the form of religious and ethnic crises were dealt with, what has happened today would not have happened.
Sowing the seed of disunity would not add any value to us as a people. The vulnerable in the society are neglected; children and women are neglected. There are militia in different parts of the country while the so-called leaders have no regard for the rule of law. There is injustice almost everywhere. Until we begin to respect the rights of individuals, we cannot experience any change.
To address the current challenges, political leaders should take responsibility. People who do not have access to those in power should be given a sense of belonging. The government needs to be just. Otherwise, the masses would not have any regard for the laws. There is virtually no sincerity anywhere. Our leaders should be responsible while the masses should be more active in matters of public interest.
The attacks on Shiites and other related issues are purely political. They are parts of the fallouts of the seed of disunity that has been sowed among Nigerians. We have derailed and that should worry those in power. •Bose Ironsi (Executive Director, Women Rights &Health Project, Nigeria)
Compiled by: Afeez Hanafi and Geoff Iyatse