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EDITORIAL

End Shi’ites’ Protests Now!

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Recently, members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), also known as Shiites staged a protest at the National Assembly Complex in Abuja. It suddenly turned violent as the protesters allegedly shattered window glasses of the security gate at the main entrance to the complex and smashed windscreens of several vehicles at the premises before leaving. The incident forced the House of Representatives to abruptly adjourn plenary.

The Shiites who were protesting the continued incarceration of their leader, Ibrahim El Zakzaky by the Federal Government were, however, resisted by security operatives at the last gate to the main building of the National Assembly who fired sporadically into the air to disperse them. It is instructive to note that the IMN leader has been in detention since his arrest in December 2015 for allegedly causing breach of the peace.

El Zakzaky’s arrest and detention followed a clash by IMN members with the Nigerian Army when they allegedly blocked the motorcade of Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff in Zaria. Curiously, after several courts of competent jurisdiction granted him bail, government has consistently disobeyed such orders as it has continued to keep him in detention. Angered by this position of the government, his followers had often taken to the streets in endless protests that have made life unbearable for Abuja residents. The situation worsened in the past one week due to the constant protests by the group with attendant disruption of social and economic life of citizens.

This Newspaper strongly condemns the violent protest by the movement. We find it not only unacceptable but also reprehensible. On no account should any group resort to self-help to press home their demands or air their grievances. Disarming security officers is an invitation to anarchy and an affront on the Nigerian State.

We also make bold to assert that the federal government should obey court orders on the release of the Shiite leader and other persons still in detention despite court orders for their release. We insist that the continuous detention is illegal, illogical and in bad taste. Government should be guided by the rule of law in all its dealings with the religious sect. We also do not agree with the President’s views when he addressed an audience of lawyers at the 2018 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja, that the principle of rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the country’s security and national interest as we believe this will be abused by the executive arm of government.

We advise that the government should err on the side of caution before the IMN becomes radicalised. The country cannot afford another insurgency right now. The lesson from the initial handling of Boko Haram terrorists must not be forgotten so soon. We recall that Boko Haram was a ragtag innocuous group until their leader Yusuf Mohammed was killed by security forces in 2009. The group became radicalized and metamorphosed into a full blown terrorist group.

Unfortunately, in our view, since the insurgency started in 2009, Boko Haram has killed over 100 thousand and displaced no fewer than 2.3 million people from their homes. The group has carried out mass abductions including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014 and the Dapchi school girls in 2018.  The Global Terrorism Index in 2018  ranked them in the top four of the world’s deadliest terror group alongside the Islamic State,  Taliban and Al-Shabaab .The United Nations had said  it  needs $1 billion to scale up intervention in Nigeria’s North East. The money is meant to meet the needs of about 7 million internally displaced persons.

We must emphasise that Nigeria is still battling with the devastation and havoc caused by Boko Haram and we cannot afford to have another insurgency right now. And come to think of it, Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife are already being arraigned in Kaduna State High Court on charges of culpable homicide and unlawful assembly.

As a matter of urgency, we call on the federal government to fashion out a political solution to this impasse and release the IMN leader without further delay. He should be released and placed on constant surveillance by the security agencies. This is a win – win situation and it will lower considerably the constant violent protests by the group.

In the same vein, we call on leaders of the group to rein in their members to stop attacking the security agencies as well as other citizens or property, public or private. This is an invitation to anarchy and will make them lose public sympathy faster than they can imagine.

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