The Sunni-dominated Northern political and clerical establishment is using the machinery of the Nigeria State to wage war against their co-religionists and rival, the Shia Muslims, whose organisational umbrella, the Islamic movement of Nigeria (IMN) is currently under siege. The latest heavy-handed and ruthless measure, against the Shia Muslims or Shittes as they are referred in the popular media is the police massacre of their members in Kano, who were doing a peaceful trek in one of their religious rituals.
The weapons with which they allegedly provoked the police, consisted of catapults and sticks for which the police responded with heavy machine gunfire which the media reported killed about 20 of them. However, the group said that their casualty figure is over 50. Antecedents show that the group figures are usually more correct.
December, last year, when the army ruthlessly descended on the group in Zaria, following a stand-off, the group had with the army chief, Gen. Buratai over traffic gridlock allegedly orchestrated by the Shitte movement, the group put their dead at nearly half a million which was disputed by the army.
During the Kaduna State government panel of inquiry, which supposedly investigated the fracas, the state government officials let out the cat, of a hurriedly-dug mass grave, which contained at least 347 bodies of the decimated Shia members including women and children. The panel of inquiry concluded their months long seating without testimony from the Shittes group, whose leader, El Zaky-Zaky and his wife, both mortally wounded in the Army-December onslaught, were taken prisoners and kept incommunicado, since then.
Even Mr. Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the armed Kurdistan workers party (PKK), who for years before his capture in the late 1990s waged war against Turkey, in his maximum security prison had lines and channels of communication with his armed party, that is engaged in an on and off war with Turkey. To lock away a man, who is not leading an armed rebellion, and whose three undergraduate sons were brutally killed by security force, unarmed members routinely harassed and killed, with his wife separately, in obvious solitary confinement is the most unconscionable assault on human dignity. It is more horrifying and even revulsing that a government that is in desperate search to placate and pacify the brutal and murderous Boko Haram, who have killed over 20,000 Nigerians and tormented the lives of several millions, is unleashing State-directed terror, at a group whose only alleged acts of public disorder, consist of obstructing the convoy of the army chief, and public marches in observation of their religious rites.
The Nigerian State is constitutionally secular, and therefore, should not and would never be conscripted to prosecute a sectarian war of any religious group against the other. The current government is in flagrant breach of the secularist character of the Nigerian State, because in its current war against the Shittes, there is no shred of a Shia threat to state security, except the mortal fear of Shia rivalry to the hegemony of the Sunni-dominated northern political and clerical establishment.
The ideological insecurity of the Sunni-dominated northern establishment should never be taken for a threat to state security. How could the “roar of the words”, for which the Shia clerical establishment is famous all over the world and which is replicated in Nigeria by the equalitarian, republican sermons of the Islamic movement of Nigeria, constitute a threat to state security?
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the firebrand Shia cleric, who upturned the Pahlavi dynasty and founded the Islamic Republic, in Iran, did not lead an armed opposition, let alone an armed insurgency. He used the “roar of the words” to crack the decomposing and corrupt regime of Shah Reza, who had relied on the crude method of brutal force.
In fact, there is nothing in historical Shia Islam that associates it with aggressive violence. Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam and the progenitor of Shia Islam, while on the verge of military victory over the ruthless and cunning governor of Sham (Syria) Muayiwa, opted to negotiate peace, in recognition that military victory secured with the blood of co-religionists even on the opposing side was not worth it. Even, the revered figure of Shia Islam, Iman Hussein, grandson of prophet Muhammed, born to Ali by the prophet’s daughter, Zainabu, was not exemplary for aggressive violence, but in patient resistance and heroic endurance in the face of overwhelmingly superior adversary. Even as he and his starving and thirsty associates were being decimated, he remained uncompromising to the values of his conviction.
Nearly two years ago, the three undergraduate sons of Mr. El Zaky-ZAky were brutally murdered by Nigerian security, when the group marched to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his associates otherwise known as ashoura in Shia Islam.
Given the extreme measure at which the Sunni-dominated northern establishment commandeers the Nigerian State to do its bidding, in suppressing the Shia Muslims, the question arises as to what is in the “roar of the words” of the Shittes that triggers the paranoid of the mainstream, Sunni-dominated establishment.
The chasm of the social distance between the mainly Sunni-northern political and clerical establishment and their rank and file in accessing economic and political opportunities is largely viewed as a pre-ordained religious order, for which the Shittes vehemently disputes.
It appears that it is the danger of leading an Islamic social reawakening that the Sunni-dominated northern establishment is mortally fearful of the Shia movement than the fabrication that the Shittes are not only running a parallel state, but plans a takeover of the Nigeria state.
The comparison of Shia Muslims to Boko Haram is essentially fraudulent. If, in provoking the Shittes, the aim is to push them to armed insurgency as the Boko Haram, it is a futile effort. The only Shia armed group, the Hizbollah in Lebanon is not fighting to establish Shia hegemony or even to take over the Lebanese state, but as rather contributing a national effort to check mate Israeli routine aggressions of Arab states. Recently, the Hizbollah supported very strongly, the election of General Michel Aoun , a Lebanese Christian minority leader as the president of the country. It currently fights alongside the largely secular Syrian national army to fend off, the extremist armed insurgents consisting of the Islamic state and Al-Nusra front. Even in Iraq, the movement for political reforms of the Shia-dominated government is powerful Shia opposition led by Moqtada Al-Sadr.
The current violent persecution of the Shittes is an unnecessary distraction to urgent key challenges to the Nigerian State. As one of the Shitte leaders was reportedly quoted that “our religious inclination is a matter of the heart, therefore, no amount of intimidation, or blackmail can change our posture. it would better to leave us with our faith”.
To leave the Shittes to practise their faith is not an act of favour, but a constitutionally guaranteed responsibility, which the State is under obligation not only to dutifully protect the group but to ensure that, they practise their faith without the fear of molestation.
Onunaijui is a journalist based in Abuja