Shiites/Security Clashes: Two of a Kind

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Men of the Nigeria Army

Security forces’ poor management of a recent protest by Shiite members has exposed both the sect and the agencies as two of a kind, writes Olaseni Durojaiye

The unceasing bloody clashes between security agencies and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) otherwise known as Shiite Muslim sect have again exposed the need for the nation’s security apparatus to up their game particularly, as it relates to inter-agencies intelligence gathering and sharing in their bid to nip in the bud potential threat to internal peace and security before it gets out of control.

The latest bloody clash arose from a protest match against the continued detention of Ibrahim El Zakzaky, leader of the sect. He was arrested in Zaria, Kaduna State on December 12, 2015, in the aftermath of a bloody clash between his followers and security forces.

During Tuesday’s clash, several lives were reported lost and many more were injured. The protest match had lasted three days (as at the time of filing this report). A police vehicle was also reportedly set ablaze by members of the sect. Trouble had begun when the protesters proceeded towards Amigo area in Wuse 2 amid heavy security presence.

Findings have shown that El Zakzaky had for long carried on as if he was above the law. He reportedly ruled his Gyelleus community in Zaria where he lived like a state of his and not answerable to the nation’s laws. Several accounts had it that his followers molested residents of different parts of Zaria especially, Gyelleus until his arrest.

But matters reached a head on December 12, when members of the sect, allegedly led by El-Zakzaky, on a procession waylaid the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, who was in town for an assignment. Violence eventually broke out when the military with the support of Mobile Police Unit, after failed several appeals, forced them off the road to enable the COAS to continue with his journey.

Then the army claimed it got intelligence report that the group, not pleased that their procession was ‘disrupted’, had mobilised other members for whatever action; and so the military stormed their bases in Gyelleus, Hassaniya and Danbo road, leading to several casualties and the eventual arrest of El-Zakzaky, his wife and some of his members.
Addressing the media in the aftermath of the clashes and El-Zakzaky’s arrest, General Officer Commanding 1st Mechanised Brigade of the Nigerian Army Kaduna, Major General Adeniyi Oyebade, had said, “…And because of the report, we heard that they were mobilizing at their three key strong points, including the big temple called the Hussaniyya, the area occupied by the sect leader in Gyelleus and another temple somewhere on Danbo road, I decided that I had to bring the situation under control by securing those three sites.

“In the course of this engagement, of course, there were casualties. There were also causalities among the security forces. In that operation, I made one categorical statement to my men, we must within the rules of our engagement make sure as much as it was feasible then to bring in the leader of the sect alive. We do not want him dead. He is a citizen of Nigeria. But we felt that, given the raging violence in the city, it was important that we bring him into protective custody. At about 9.15 (next morning) we successfully executed that.”

However, the latest clashes had raised a few questions including the rationale behind the continuous detention of El-Zakzaky. Observers have questioned the legality or otherwise of the continued detention of El-Zakzaky. Many commentators initially lampooned the administration for not releasing the sect’s leader after the court ruled that he should be released. The call for his release gained so much traction that the government struggled to justify his continued incarceration.

However, justifying government’s refusal to release him, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed had told THISDAY in an interview that, “Every government in the world will at a point in time balance individual freedom with national security. Let me take the first case of El Zakzaky. I think people are just being mischievous; people have expressed a lot of ignorance in respect to El-Zakzaky.

“Yes, El-Zakzaky has not been released but where is El-Zakzaky today? Is he in prison custody? Is he in police custody? No. He is in a house provided by the government with his family. Why? It is because the court order said we must release him within 45 days, rebuild his house and there is nobody today within Kaduna State or anywhere else that wants to accept El Zakzaky as a neighbour.

“So who do you release him to – for him to be killed? So, he is in protective custody with his family and this is one thing people don’t say. As I said, at a point in time, a government will be faced with this kind of dilemma, so how many rules of law do you want to balance against national security?”

While analysts contended that it was within the sect members’ right to associate and by extension hold public procession they, however, faulted the practice of depriving other road users the same right, arguing that it was tantamount to enjoying their rights while denying others same.’

The sect was quick to lose the initial sympathy it had enjoyed. Many observers who hitherto shared in the anger and saw reasons with them for protesting peacefully turned their backs on them the moment they resort to violent protest and attacked police and innocent citizens in the process.

“For me, they stepped out of line the moment they turned violent in their protest. You don’t vent your anger on innocent people and still enjoy the support of the public; he who comes to equity must come with clean hands,” stated Dr. Kolade Adams of the department of political science, Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo.

Other commentators, however, took the argument further and argued that there was the need to check the sect before they become another deadly insurgency group given their propensity for violence. One such observer is a public affairs commentator and aviation consultant, Olumide Ohunayo.

In his view, the sect’s boldness has for long been known in and around Zaria but taking it to the nation’s capital has the capacity to disrupt peace and order adding that its last clashes were capable of affecting tourism.
“I think the government needs to have a rethink on the kind of force that is being used now. It is very glaring that the police cannot handle members of the sect considering the boldness and the brute force which they have demonstrated so far, because what we see is that they start peacefully and then turn violent, whether it was hijacked by hoodlums or not is still to be seen.

“This is a group that has shown over time that they fear no foe. What people see is that they are not armed, but when you brazenly block the road against other road users, when you haul stones at policemen or innocent people then you have used an element of force and when you do so, it is appropriate that government must deploy force to restore law and order. I also feel that the government should find a way to allow their leader to have some level of freedom. However, what is paramount now is that this is a group that must be tamed,” he maintained.

Even with the call on the government to be tough on and tame the Shiite sect, other observers also questioned the use of excessive force to manage the situation. Those in this school insisted that firing live bullets at members of the sect betrayed lack of better protest management strategy. Indeed, firing live bullets has gone extinct in civilised societies, rather, government forces are known to fire rubber bullets with less fatality ratio at protester to disperse them.

But with the way both parties had prosecuted their causes in the clashes, it simply pointed to the fact that they are same of a kind. Some analysts, however, argued that the more fundamental question to ask was how did El-Zakzaky become so emboldened and audacious leading to what he is today? How did his activities escape the intelligence gathering capability of the nation’s security apparatus, and how come he was able to indoctrinate his followers so much so that they were ready to lay down their lives for him?

Adams said, “This is beyond the cliché that religion is the opium of the poor. The security agencies must have tolerated him for long and for whatever reason because I cannot believe they have no intelligence report on his activities as to detect that someday he will become what he has become, and how his followers terrorise denizens of Zaria before now.”

But Ohunayo traced El Zakzaky’s ability to indoctrinate his followers to the low level of education in the north. In his reasoning, which may not altogether be wrong, when a people are not exposed to robust education, they are easily manipulated and when that is achieved by any territorially minded leader, Shiite and Boko Haram are what you get.