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ANALYSIS: Renewed Shiite/Army Clash; A Wake-Up Call On Human Right Activism Management


By Tajudeen Balogun, Head, African Examiner, Nigeria Bureau

These are not best of the times for the most populous and biggest African country. Giving the present state of things, Nigeria can be equated to a ‘compacted, congested and suffocated kitchen’ – where the survival of the occupants is only by the special grace of the ‘Ultimate One’. Right now, there are so many urgent National socio-economic issues, begging for quick attention and lasting solutions from the Government with the support of members of the public.

For instance, if the authority or the public is not disturbed or distracted by the evil and retrogressive elements, who pretend to love the country so dearly, on attempt to fight back, on war against corruption; it is alerted by the pan ethnic-cultural groups restiveness, demanding for liberty; one right or the other. If not, the public and Government are stressed and plunged into another round of agony; of incident of killing by the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists, particularly, in the North Eastern part of Nigeria or draw back, with the reports of clash between one religion group and another; or between one tribal extraction and the other.

I had thought critically over it and asked myself that, what actually is the point of attraction to the “Nigerian Presidency”, please not to the mediocre, the like of old ‘bleaching, and Oyato jo’ executives? Rather, to the competent, focused, reputable and results-driven types? Besides making name (admit, this is very key), I have personally concluded that being at helms of affairs in Nigeria, is more or less like embarking on an adventurous journey, the like once made, in the fiction story, by those brave hunters to “Igbo Irumale” (The Spirit’s Jungle). If you made a return from such hazardous trip, you are definitely a hero and thes gallant feat is worthy of celebration. So, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is presently on this delicate voyage, I do not envy you at all! Yet, I share your pains.

It has happened again. The clash; the violence; killing, lamentation and debates over who has the right over what; then distracting the public attention. Last Saturday, December 12, 2016, in the afternoon, when some were already chilling down and giggling it out at the various clubs and weekend Owanbe (party); some still resting at their homes and when the weekend newsmen were still struggling in their various base, to package readers-friendly publications for the following day (Sunday), then came the news of another bloody clash between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and soldiers.

The cause of the skirmish, which claimed still, controversial number of Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Zakyzaky-led IMN (members) is very clear to the public, but very regrettably, despite the reason (protecting the life of Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai from being attacked), as adduced by the Nigeria Army, arguments and debates on the matter – back and forth, have not abated.

Very unfortunately, the incident has thrown up somewhat another round of tribal and religion debate across the country.

I must state clearly here that, on this matter, three key issues are involved. They are: religion; human rights and the law.

There is no denying the fact that IMN – about the only (not really sure) prominent Shiite Islamic sect (group) in Nigeria, has the record of muscle flexing with the country’s law enforcement agencies, in particular, the Military. What happened last Saturday was exactly the repeat of the similar clash which ensued between the group and soldiers last year. The 2014 clash also happened during its procession on Ashura day. It claimed many casualties, including Al-Zakyzaky’s son.
Who has the right of procession and who authorizes it? Very quickly, every Nigerian, group, organization and association has the right to organize rallies and processions. Still, there is need to be explicit on the right of permission.

The Public Order Act (Cap P42) laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, provide that the exclusive power to approve public procession is vested in the Governors of the respective States of the Federation, and not the Police Chiefs, while sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 constitution “as well as Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights” provide the right to assemble freely.

Still on permission, the Public Order Act allows that the State Governor can however delegate his powers to the Commissioner of Police (CP) of the state or to other Police officers. Also, any person who is dissatisfied by the decision of the CP may appeal to the Governor and the decision of the Governor shall be final and no “further appeal shall lie there from”.
I feel that the delegation of right by the Law is perhaps, what gives the general impression that the right of issuing permit for procession belongs to the Police. The issue is not really debatable. In any case, that aspect is not my focus on this piece; it is merely by the way.

Still, if laws allow procession, in what manner? Definitely, no law permits infringing or trampling on another person’s right to life, business, movement and expression due to procession. Confirmed reports and video released, showed the unwarranted occupation of the highway by the IMN members during their procession. This is unacceptable.

For the critically-minded ones, let me quickly agree with you that, this does not necessarily restricted to the Al-Zakyzaky members. Let me also support you by citing among others, the infamous OPC-led procession, sponsored by the immediate past administration, ahead of the last Presidential election in Lagos State. Let me also cite that, there have been so many processions organized in the past and certainly, more are still to hold, by various Christian denominations and Muslim organizations.
Of course, no one needs to remind me of the recent violent processions by the so called members of the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), in which lives of their members and non-members were lost. At least, five persons were again killed on Thursday in Onitsha, when the Military clashed with MASSOB and IPOB members while the frenzy jubilation over the freedom of Nnamdi Kanu, the Biafra Radio Director lasted. You might also want to ask, what actually is the difference between the OPC, MASSOB/IPOB and IMN reckless processions? I will return to that shortly.
Let me assert here, without any fear of contradiction that there have been so many (I have witnessed) in Lagos for instance, and in other places in the country, genuine (well-intentioned) processions by the professional bodies, pressure groups, civil societies, religion denominations and organizations.

The rallies being referred to here were well organized; sometimes festivals-like, well coordinated; peaceful and professionally monitored by the Police. Besides the traffic snarl, which I feel is one of the major demerits of all the processions; the rallies being painted here, were to a large extent “make sense” and most significantly, “civil” in the right sense of the word.
The same so called MASSOB/IPOB agitators despite the earlier warning by the State Government, against such, staged on Wednesday (this week) the first procession in Lagos. But since then and up till now, I have not learnt or been told of any report of breakdown of law and order due to the exercise. Very surprising you might submit. So, if MASSOB/IPOB rally could be this peaceful in Lagos and their processions portray different pictures in South East, this puts a question mark on the people; the groups they represent; the place or base they operate from; their agenda and largely the manner the events turn out.
Now back to the NIM. The Al-Zakyzaky Nigerian Shiite is reputed for its annual inter-state processions. The latest reportedly touched: Kano/Gusau/ Katsina axis and finally scheduled to terminate at the Husainiyah Zaria, Kaduna headquarters of the group. I do not know how many kilometers involved in such a long trek on the express and highways. I wonder why this and what it represents, since they are not necessarily nomadic.
Now back to the processions, violence and rights of others. I watched about 10 minute’s video released by the Nigerian Army on the soldiers’ encounter with the Al-Zakyzaky members. First, from what I saw, I wish to commend the maturity, patience and high sense of professionalism demonstrated by the military men (assumed Buratai’s advance team) in their long conversation and pleads with leaders of the transiting IMN members.

Yet, there seemed to be disconnect, between the beginning and end of the video clip. It appears to me, certain aspects were ‘blackout’ in the video, especially with respect to how the shooting started; who provoked it and the killing. These were not included in the video I watched. Rather, the parts which ended it, was where Buratai’s convoy was driving by the bonfires positioned on the road NIM members. What happened to the aspects I mentioned? Hope the public will have the details, as the events on the clash, further unfold.

The allegation raised by the army, which informed the killing of some IMN members was very weighty. But in the face of law and human rights, the soldiers’ action is questionable and debatable. If the issue becomes subject of litigation, issues that will come forward for argument, examination and judicial interpretation are the actions; reactions; the cause (s) and intents of the main actors in the matter.
Encroaching on others’ freedom in the name of whatever is condemnable. I am very categorical in supporting this position. And just as I have previously scolded and condemned other groups who have been found wanting in the same regards, exactly, the same goes to the Shiite members versus the soldiers. Still, the careful exception being expressed by me, is to avoid creating room for lapses (taking advantage), if it happened to others in the future. That is also by one side.

Now the questions. Is Sheikh Al-Zakyzaky a Muslim? Yes, he is (of the Shia sect). Are his followers/members also Muslims? I will say yes and no. Going back to the army video, I have no doubt that those men (leaders); conversing with the Military men, I will say, can share their leader’s doctrine. But I cannot vouch for the long train of the young and old restless members (including women), decked in black, who barricaded the road and kept threatening to stone and harm the Military men their representatives engaged in chat. On occasions like this, nothing is impossible. Some might want to take advantage of the situation. This in itself poses question mark on the type of leadership Al-Zakyzaky portrays. The message here, is that the quality and substance of a leadership do not reflect only in him, but as well as in its followership. Or can Sheikh Al-Zakyzaky be proud to keep as members, those folks who scattered and laid on the roads and (for days trekking) a very long stretch, including teenagers and able young men and women who are supposed to be either in schools or pre-occupied with their means of livelihood?

Again, does many of the historic untoward alleged advances credited to Sheikh Al-Zakyzaky and his Shiat members represent Islam and Muslims? The answer is no. Those Muslims who have since exercised restraint on the renew clash are only doing so, not to justify the NIM members’ action, rather, their concern bothers on issues relating to right to kill; for what; when; where and by who?

By the way, does Sheikh Al-Zakyzaky and his members many over bearing tendencies have any political undertone? I doubt yes answer. My reason is that the Shiat controls very small percentage of Muslim population in Nigeria. The spread is also very poor (as far as I know). If at all they (Shiite) are in government, the representation I maintain is very insignificant.

Also, what is the grouse the Shiite might have against President Buhari’s administration or Buratai? I wouldn’t know, if not only about the agenda to establish their independent and ‘imposing’ entity – Shiat community in their immediate enclave, at least, to start with.

On possibility of working with the Boko Haram insurgents, I doubt if this position would hold water. The following is my reason. Anyone who follows the politics of Iraq, especially, after the ousting of late Saddam Hussein’s long administration would realize that the oil rich Middle East nation, is presently being governed by the Shiite, under the leadership of incumbent Kurdish President Jalal Talabani. His emergence among other factors, gave birth to the ISIS which still struggles to throw out him out of power.

Expectedly, Talabani’s election suddenly renewed the bilateral relationship between the Iran and her once estranged enemy, neighbouring Iraq. By extension, Talabani in power also prompted the Iranian Leader, Hassan Rouhani’s push and resolve to collaborate with her (Iran) another sworn enemy, the US, to wage a joint war with other US allied forces, against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. The theory here, is that if Iran which is the strong base of Shia sect is waging war against IS, it is very logical to conclude that Al-Zakyzaky (who benefits immensely from Shiat-led Government of Iran) cannot have any link with the Nigerian Boko Haram if at especially, if it has bait with the IS as once speculated.

As I mentioned earlier, the public is interested in getting details about the clash. And this is why it is interesting and gladdens to hear from the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai, announcing the resolve of the State Government to set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, which report, he promised Thursday, would be conveyed to Mr. President for assessment and final decision.

Above all, the solutions to the violence and abuse of law in human right activism in Nigeria, is the obligation of every organization, so also are the leaders and followers. To avoid the hassles which have been experienced in the processions recently staged, the leaders provided their agenda is truly objective and prosperous, must consistently tutor their followers on the significance of respect to the right of others, the laws and constituted authorities.

Finally, the Government must be proactive in prosecuting bodies, groups and organizations, members and their leaders who provoke bloodshed, by resorting to illegalities, in the name of agitation, protest and demand from the government. And such prosecution should be given speedy trial, preferably, can set up special courts for hearing and adjudication on the matters brought before them. The Federal Government must be pragmatic in this regard, so as to safe further loss of lives to the restlessness of the unruly agitators and activists, as well as avoidable extra judicial killings by the law enforcement officers. The same zeal which Federal Government applies to the war against corruption must be replicated in the management of human right activism, in the country, ultimately, to allow peace and normalcy to permeate in our society.

E-Mail: tjaysuccess10@gmail.com; Facebook: Tajudeen Balogun; Twitter: @tjaysuccess10

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