Nigerians must take advantage of history to have a good grasp of issues of national security concerns, such as the escalating threats of insurgency by the Ibrahim El-Zakzaky-led Shiite group. Unfortunately, for political expediency, the members deliberately distort the fact and term it a human rights issue, taking the ‘protective custody’ of its leader as reason to campaign against the federal government and threaten the security of lives and property.
The courts’ order freeing El-Zakzaky were strictly based on the isolated facts of his arrest and detention during the national security operation of December 2015, triggered by the daring blockade and confrontation of the Chief of Army Staff’s convoy in Zaria by his aggressive followers. But the remand of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky was premised on sober consideration of the grave national security implications of the violent antecedents of the Shi’ite group’s escalating trajectory of insurgency, initially only against mainstream Islam, then a calculated challenge of law enforcement agencies and ultimately taking on the nation’s last line of defence, the Nigerian Army.
Short memories cannot shut out the Shi’ites’ history of escalating insurgency. It all started when Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, after a visit to Iran at the height of the Khomenei revolution, opted out of an Islamic revivalist students group in ABU, Zaria to become the flag-bearer of the Shi’a sect, until then virtually unheard of in Nigeria. By that singular self-fulfilling move, El-Zakzaky got sucked into the tumultuous heart of centuries old sectarian antagonism between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. The international dimension has fuelled several bloody wars and conflicts in the Middle East, reflected today in the unending Syrian war of attrition and the emergence of deadly terrorist militias such as Daesh, Al-Qaeda, and of course, their local affiliate, Boko Haram.
Since then El-Zakzaky has steadily sowed the seeds of isolationism from the mainstream Muslim community by breaking away from the hitherto united Muslim Students Society (MSS) at ABU, Zaria and even from other Shi’a groups not affiliated with Iran’s Khomenei revolution. A sign of how deep the schism had polarized the Muslim community in its northern haven was the outbreak of violent clashes between Sunni and Shi’a as far back as March 11, 2005 as a result of a protest by Shi‘a and again in February and May 2006 in the revered Seat of the Caliphate, Sokoto. In August 2007, security forces had to demolish the Sokoto headquarters of the Shia sect, when members were accused of killing a rival Muslim cleric.
Such clashes necessitate the intervention of security forces, police and military to restore peace, but the Shi’ites soon began clashing with them too. Instructively, the group’s tendency to replicate Shi’a rites, like the Quds Day and Arbaeen processions, not observed by the larger Muslim community, only increased confrontation. The procession in July 2014 in Zaria sparked the group’s first major clash with the Army. A few days after multiple bomb blasts in Kaduna and amid tense military surveillance operations, the sect members approaching a military check- point rebuffed soldiers’ orders to take another route, prompting soldiers to fire warning shots into the air to disperse them. The Shi’ites surged forward stubbornly throwing stones at the soldiers. This was the precursor to the bloodier December 2015 incident in Zaria, where the group’s leader lives with hundreds of his followers’, virtually taking over Gyellesu area, to the chagrin of non- Shi’a community.
In the group’s latest confrontational stance to the peace and security of the nation, the members attempted an invasion of the National Assembly, leading to abrupt adjournment of sittings and random attacks on security forces and innocent citizens that left several policemen injured. Irate Shi’ites have now gone berserk, attacking innocent people and vandalizing their property, even openly insulting and issuing death threats to the President! This is in addition to the group’s long-standing non-recognition of the sovereign government of Nigeria and an ominous pointer to the direction of the Elzakzaky Shi’ites’ trajectory of terrorist insurgency could be heading if not rapidly and ruthlessly dealt with.
It is also pertinent to highlight the misnomer commonly applied in describing the El-Zakzaky Shi’ites as “unarmed civilians”. In reality, the sect which adopts the callous practice of taking women and children along with them even when confronting security forces as a human shield ploy, has escalated its protests from shouting to actually shooting at the forces, who are restrained by rule of engagement.
Certainly, the rights of all Nigerian citizens to peaceful co-existence and the responsibility of government to protect the lives and property of its citizens are non-negotiable factors of our national sovereignty that cannot be compromised under any circumstance. The El-Zakzaky Shi’ites recognize the Iranian government but not the Nigerian State, yet they base their aggressive agitation on the verdict of a Nigerian court!
– Sidi is an Islamic scholar in Tudun Wada, Zaria
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