STILL ON THE SHIITES CONUNDRUM

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Violent suppression of the Shiites could provoke a backlash
The latest clash between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), better known as Shiites, and the police in Kano has once again brought to the fore our inability to manage conflicts without inflicting deep and emotional wounds on those involved. “They cannot keep breaking the law and tampering with the rights of other citizens,” said Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Kano State governor. “As far as they continue breaking the law, the police have to come in. They cannot use their freedom to do whatever they want because they are violating other people’s human rights.”

While we agree with Ganduje that no group is above the law, we are nonetheless worried that the authorities do not seem to know what to do beyond the use of excessive force to resolve the Shiites conundrum. About nine people, including a police officer, died in the violence that broke out on the outskirts of Kano city, after the police tried to stop the Shiite members who were on their annual Arbaeen trek from Kano to Zaria. The Kano State Police Command said security operatives including anti-robbery squad units intervened only when the Shiite members became unruly, attacking motorists and passersby and inducing gridlock in the process.

Last December, some 348 members of the religious sect were mowed down in apparent disproportionate use of force by security agencies in Zaria, Kaduna State. Furthermore, the leader of the movement, Sheikh Ibrahim Elzakzaky and his wife have been detained since then, without being charged to court. Their offence bore similarities to what happened in Kano – reported blocking of roads during their annual procession while the security forces quelled the clashes with the usual heavy-handedness.

The latest violence has fuelled local and international accusations that the Shiites have been marked down for a raw deal. “Members of the Shia community, like other religious communities, have the right to assemble, peacefully express their religious beliefs, and mark their celebrations” said the United States Government in a statement. “We call on the Nigerian government to protect and defend these rights. It is also incumbent on members of the IMN and all Nigerian citizens to respect the rule of law and cooperate with the police as they attempt to maintain public order.”

It is noteworthy that the Kano State Police Command had banned IMN from conducting street processions ahead of the annual Ashura celebration. The government of Kaduna State under the pretext of implementing the recommendations of the judicial commission of inquiry into the Zaria violence went further by proscribing the IMN. Yet the federal government has not taken action on the report, especially since the report blamed the army for using excessive force and for not complying with the rules of engagement during the clash.

In a previous editorial, we had warned that the authorities should not create more problems by using force instead of reason to diffuse tension, and to prevent the opening of more dangerous flanks. The lessons of the brutal insurgent group, Boko Haram, are too dangerous to ignore.

We believe that the Shiites deserve fairness and justice, both of which have been denied them since the beginning of the crisis. And it is always better to deal with the “enemies” you can see and monitor than those forced underground as the authorities are inadvertently doing with the IMN. It is even all the more unfortunate that their members and leaders are being denied all their rights under the law while hoodlums, taking advantage of the position of some powerful people in government, practically now target IMN members for vicious treatment. This, we dare warn, is not in the interest our country and could engender severe consequences.