The federal government has to do everything to prevent Shiite from metamorphosing into a violent, extremist sect.
Sometime around July 2009, the Nigerian military captured the spiritual leader of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (a longer, tongue-twisting way of simply saying ‘Boko Haram’), Mohammed Yusuf, and paraded him for effect.
A shirtless Yusuf was thereafter handed over to the Nigeria Police Force, which is constitutionally empowered with keeping the peace internally.
File picture of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri on July 30 2009, shortly after his capture by Nigerian troops
On July 30, 2009, the police made a show of executing Yusuf outside the police headquarters in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, as onlookers cheered and bayed for blood.
Yusuf’s execution would turn out a pyrrhic victory for the police and the Nigerian nation. Boko Haram immediately went underground and re-emerged as a more brutal, blood thirsty sect post-Yusuf, with a psychopathic, mentally deranged Abubakar Shekau announcing himself new Boko Haram leader—the one ‘anointed’ to avenge Yusuf’s death.
It’s been 10 years hence. With Shekau at the helm of Boko Haram affairs, the terrorists have killed more than 50,000 people, displaced millions, kidnapped thousands and waged an unrelenting war against the Nigerian state.
The nation has expended humongous resources battling an insurgency it could have nipped in the bud in 2009 with a little more tact and subtle intelligence.
Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, has led a bloodthirsty sect since 2009 (AFP)
Comparisons with El-Zakzaky’s Shiite sect are not wide of the mark at this point. Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, spiritual leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), has been in government custody since 2015, when his followers stood in the way of a convoy of top army officers in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The last time we saw El-Zakzaky in a courtroom, he was sporting a neck brace amidst growing concerns that his health may just be deteriorating by the day. He’s looked even more gaunt, stooped and unshaven with every public appearance.
Slammed with charges bordering on unlawful assembly, criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide, El-Zakzaky has twice been denied bail by a Kaduna High court. Held behind the walls of a prison facility alongside his wife, El-Zakzaky’s followers have taken the fight for his release to the police on the streets of Abuja without let.
Clashes between Shiites and the police have led to deaths on the streets of Abuja (SaharaReporters)
Members of the Shia sect have been felled by police bullets, police officers have lost their lives in bloody confrontations, members of the public have been caught in the crossfire and there is a genuine concern that in the defiance and belligerence of the Shiites could lie the same seeds from which Boko Haram sprung into one of the most cold blooded, deadliest terrorist sect in the world.
Certainly, the signs are there. From the footage we have been inundated with time and again, the Shiites are a fearless, combative bunch. They love a fight and then some. They are ready to lay their lives for a cause they believe is right. They are unafraid of death. They have been chased with teargas canisters and pummeled with live bullets. But they keep coming back. Every time their members are felled with bullets, the Shiites regroup with more determination to press home their demands and cry for El-Zakzaky’s freedom.
At this point, something certainly has to give and the answer could lie in the courts and in the executive. Why is El-Zakzaky being denied bail time and again? Is he getting the kind of medical attention he requires given his advanced age and deteriorating health? Is the presidency and the government of Kaduna State interfering with the judicial process here by keeping El-Zakzaky in solitary confinement in perpetuity?
‘Like Buhari, El-zakzaky deserves oversea medical treatment,’ says Shiites (ALL9JA)
The Shiites are not a peaceful lot by any stretch of the imagination. They carry trouble and violence in their loins. They wield petrol bombs, cudgels and stones which they aim at police officers and passersby each time they take to the streets to protest El-Zakzaky’s continued detention. They should be told that their lawlessness and resort to violence is also foolish and silly. They have no right whatsoever to disrupt the public peace now and again. That 2015 cordon of a major road and preventing a convoy of military officers from driving through was the very definition of insanity. Who mounts barricades against a column of high ranking army officers?
Nigerian police fired tear gas to disperse Shi’ite Muslim protesters (Sabcnews)
However, in matters of state, the government must always play the ‘bigger man’ role if only because of its superior resources.
Excessive and disproportionate force doesn’t always solve problems like we saw with Boko Haram. The courts must dispense justice when they should, the dialogue option should be explored a lot more and the government should not be interfering in this matter any longer if we do not want a repeat of 2009. This nation can ill afford another extremist, deadly sect at this time.
If the Judge so declares at the next hearing that El-Zakzaky walks, so should it be. No one else but the courts should be allowed to sort out this mess, while alternative dispute resolution channels are explored to the fullest in the interim.