Avoiding another Boko Haram

The recent killing of no fewer than 40 defenseless and stick-welding members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) also known as Shi’ites by the Nigerian soldiers in Abuja was uncalled for. It is absolutely condemnable.

Also, the continued detention of the sect’s leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, despite repeated court orders to the contrary is an indication that the present administration has no respect for the rule of law; a process which the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to uphold when it was campaigning for votes in 2015

Our worries over the poor and mindless handling of the El-Zakzaky case stem from the revelations that Nigeria might yet be laying the foundation for the metamorphosis of another Boko Haram if the case of El-Zakzaky was not properly handled.  The monster called Boko Haram started as an insurrection of a group which felt short changed by the government and thus moved into the trenches to protest and perhaps protect itself and belief. Nigeria cannot afford to fight the enemy on two fronts considering the difficulties the nation has encountered trying to contain the Boko Haram scourge.

The Boko Haram insurgency germinated from the killing of one Kabiru Yusuf by the military who allegedly captured him after a frantic efforts to control a rampaging Muslim sect. This today is the pact that the Shiite Muslims appear to have embarked upon.

It would be recalledl that a public inquiry set up by the Kaduna government in 2016 had revealed that the Army massacred 347 Shiites when they stood on the way of the Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai in December 2015. The home of El-Zakzaky was destroyed by the Army thus rendering him homeless. The protests and processions which the group has sustained since that incident are perceived to be in furtherance of the enforcement of the rights of lawful assembly under the law.

Our position is that the Federal Government should be mindful of the risks inherent in driving the El-Zakzaky group underground. The resurgence of the group could come in form of another Boko Haram. Nigeria can ill afford such a scenario.

Although it might be true that the Shiites are a tiresome set of people which nobody may enjoy having as neighbour, their crimes as it were do not merit the enormity of the punishment and violence meted to them. They may have been lawless but that definitely does not justify their being slaughtered in batches.

No matter what any person thinks of them, the “unfortunate” truth is that they have the right under the law to a free assembly. The use of intense force in denying the group that right could lead to unpleasant consequences as is the case of Boko Haram.

Recently, members of the Islamic group had embarked on its annual procession along the Kubwa Expressway in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. They had also used the annual procession to demand for the release of their leader and his wife while also protesting the killing of Shi’ites by the Nigerian Army.

Reports had indicated that the protesters blocked the Dutse and Galadima ends of the Kubwa Highway, causing gridlock for many hours when they encountered a batch of soldiers who were purportedly escorting military ammunitions. The rest is now history.

El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, have been in custody of the Department of State Service, DSS, since 2015 after members of his movement attacked the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai in Zaria area of Kaduna State.

According to Abdullahi Zango, a representative of IMN Academic Forum, 47 Shiites were eventually killed in the latest violent clash.  After a raid was carried out on their home by the Nigerian Army, El-Zakzaky was reportedly injured while hundreds of his followers were killed.

The continued detention of the sect’s leader is in violation of subsisting court order since December 2016.

A  Federal High Court in Abuja ordered in December 2016 that El-Zakzaky and his wife be released from detention into an accommodation that must be provided for them within 45 days. Two years after that pronouncement by the court, the couple is still in custody.

Despite several calls by both local and international human rights organisations, the government has refused to grant the Islamic cleric and his wife their freedom.

The couple’s continued detention has led to several protests by members of the sect. The last protest held a few days ago led to the killing of over 40 members of the Movement

Shooting of the sect members was uncalled for and should have been avoided by deploying non-lethal weapons like rubber bullets, water cannons or tear gas to disperse th0e protesters.

In order to avoid this kind of bloodletting, the Federal Government should obey the court order and released El-Zakzaky and his wife and the soldiers responsible for the killing of the sect members be brought to book.

This is necessary because, we believe that the action of the security agents showed that their approach was to kill and not to restore public order considering the fact that automatic rifles were reportedly used on the protesters.

We believe that failure to do this may trigger the formation of another terrorist group which may be deadlier than Boko Haram.

Government must not forget how extra-judicial killing of the founder of Boko Haram turned the group into a massive terror machine which we have been unable to contain. We cannot afford to open yet another front.

While we view the killing of the Shi’ites as a crime against humanity, we also believe that disobedience of court orders is totally reprehensible and confirms the statement by the US Ambassador to Nigeria that perversion of institutions, which abuse of court orders typifies, is the worst form of corruption.

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