A United States-based think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, has warned the Nigerian government and the security services about the dangers of violating the human rights of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a Shia religious organisation.
This is coming on the heels of the US President Donald Trump administration’s call for more religious freedom in the world as the States Department marked the International Religious Freedom Day and US Policy on Religious Freedom.
Drawing a parallel with the incident that led to the extrajudicial killing of the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, a report written by Jack McCaslin, a research associate for Africa Policy Studies at the CFR in Washington, noted that Nigerian security services might be biting more than they could chew.
“Should security service behaviour radicalise the IMN, Abuja would face yet another insurgency for which it is ill-prepared. Despite their similarities, Boko Haram is in the Salafist tradition that generally loathes the Shia, and it is therefore highly unlikely that the two groups would join forces,” McCaslin argued.
The report further noted: “That religious and political movements in Nigeria criticize or purport to offer an alternative to the massively corrupt federal and state governments should not be surprising. But, the government’s frequent and indiscriminate use of force reduces or eliminates the possible peaceful paths that these groups might take in their criticism.
“The Zaria episode is reminiscent of the 2009 confrontation in Maiduguri between security services and Boko Haram, during which the Mohammed Yusuf-led group staged an anti-government insurrection. The security services killed Yusuf, who was in their custody at the time, and several hundred of his followers. The movement then went underground, only to emerge two years later as one of the world’s deadliest terrorist organisations.”
Scores of the Shia Muslims were allegedly killed by the Nigerian Army during their annual trek to mark the 40th day of the murder of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The Shiites called for the release of El-Zakzaky, who has been detained by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration for about three years.
In December 2015, IMN members were reported to have blocked the path of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai’s convoy in Zaria, Kaduna State, leading the federal government to accuse El-Zakzaky of ordering the assassination of Buratai. El-Zakzaky was not formally charged until April this year.
The report said, “Security services subsequently raided El-Zakzaky’s compound and injured and arrested him and his wife. During that December crackdown, security services reportedly killed over three hundred Shia across at least three locations in and around Zaria and quickly buried them in a mass grave.
“In December 2016, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the State Security Service to release el-Zakzaky, but it was apparently ignored. More recently in August 2018, the Kaduna State High Court cleared and released eighty IMN members also arrested in 2015 during the crackdown, but dozens of others still remain in custody.”
McCaslin further noted, “El-Zakzaky has vehemently opposed Nigeria’s federal government, the state of Israel, the United States, and secular government more broadly, and his rhetoric has been explicitly anti-Semitic and dehumanizing. In this way, some of his messages are similar to that of Boko Haram. But, El-Zakzaky does not promote violence, and in 2015 the IMN even supported Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential candidacy.
“The IMN, through el-Zakzaky, is also undeniably linked to Iran; he visited there in 1980 and was said to be inspired by the Islamic Revolution, and he has made frequent reference to it and its leaders. It is unclear how significant those links are for IMN operations.”
Speaking at the Washington Foreign Press Centre Briefing recently, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback, said: “We believe there needs to be more religious freedom in the world. Unfortunately, 80 percent of the world’s population lives in some sort of religiously restricted environment. And we don’t think that’s appropriate. We don’t think that’s good. And we’re going to continue to push, as an administration and as a country, in a bipartisan fashion, for religious freedom everywhere around the world, for all people, in all places, at all times.”
Continuing, he added, “We did that at a ministerial earlier this year. In the end of July, we had the first-ever International Religious Freedom Ministerial. We had countries – 84 different countries were there. And I talked about the need for expansion of religious freedom. I believe we’re at a watershed moment. I believe the gates of religious freedom are going to fly open around the world, that the iron curtain against religious freedom is coming down, and that more and more countries will embrace this.”
Last week, the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, had also warned about the dire consequences of the way the federal government was handling the issue of El-Zakzaky and his followers.
IMN said, “There can be no justification for the level of blood-letting that has been carried out against the sect, whose crime has been protesting the continued detention of their leader, in spite of different court orders to release him from detention. The act of 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.
“We, therefore, call on the federal government to release the leader of the Shiites as ordered by different courts and ensure that the security personnel responsible for the mass killings of his supporters are brought to book. We 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 and we are opening yet another front.”
Specifically drawing attention to the crisis in Kaduna, the report added: “We have also witnessed how Kaduna State, whose Governor Mallam Nasir el-Rufai once boasted of paying off criminals, has become virtually ungovernable with the recent Kasuwan Magani massacre that led to the deaths of no fewer than 100 persons and the attendant spill-over crisis.
“We are worried that there has been no coordinated response on the part of the Federal Government to these needless loss of precious lives, just as it continues to ignore calls for the overhaul of the country‘s security architecture with a restructured polity to guarantee greater security of lives and property,” Afenifere had said in a statement issued on Thursday.