It’s Time to Tame the Shi’ites Menace

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Shi'ite members protesting the release of their leader

Without further delay, the federal government must immediately contain the menace posed by the Shia Movement by whatever means possible, writes Olawale Olaleye

The last few weeks had maintained an uneasy calm in the city of power, Abuja. The Shia Movement had upped the ante of their protests by not only putting the security agencies in the federal capital territory on red alert, but also catching them unawares most of the times.
So far, the properties lost to this ensuing ‘madness’ in the name of protesting for the recognition of their rights are inestimable, while the number of lives gone with this wind of indiscretion is also not known to anyone yet.

The reason for this new wave of security threat is public knowledge. The federal government had since December of 2015 ceased the leader of the Shia Movement, Ibrahim El-zakzaky on account of indulging lawlessness and orchestrating public disorder.

The height was the confrontation the group had with the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, in 2015, when it denied the army chief thoroughfare on a certain route, a development which cost many lives of the Shia adherents.

It was also this development that stoked the arrest of El-Zakzaky, which his adherents have continued to protest against by calling for his release.

Interestingly, the call for his release has not been in the vacuum. Many courts of competent jurisdiction – about seven of them – had also granted bail to the Shia leader, despite the charges preferred against him.

But at each occasion, the federal government too had appealed the bail grants, thus creating the impression that there was more to his detention than meets the eye and so, having seemingly failed to secure justice through the proper channel, his people then resorted to self-help, a menace the federal government has hitherto dealt with, albeit unsuccessfully.

Penultimate week, the movement showed that it was not joking with its demand for the release of its leader, when it unleashed terror on the security agencies in the Abuja metropolis. It had a violent and daring encounter with security agencies, suggesting a night of long knives.

Unfortunately, the federal government, the presidency especially, didn’t make things easy, when it immediately issued a statement, condemning the attacks and warning that violent protest would not get their leader out. This was considered unnerving and further provoked the Shia Movement to sustained protests, though violent.

It was no wonder, therefore, that during its most recent protest and clash with security agencies, the death of two people amongst others had ignited public outcry.

First was the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Usman Umar, who was killed within minutes that the protest began and an intern with the Channels Television, Precious Owolabi, who didn’t see it coming.

Curiously, the Shia Movement has been emboldened the more and willing to give it all up for the struggle to get their leader out of detention. It issued a statement to that effect.

The government, as part of its options in dealing with the situation, is also said to be considering the possibility of proscribing the group and tagging it a terrorist organisation, the way it descended on a Biafran group.

But, is that going to change the current tenor of protests? Most probably not! This is why it is incumbent on the federal government to come up with a better approach to the Shia threat before it degenerates into something beyond its capacity to contain, perhaps, dialogue.
Besides, there is a growing feeling in the country now particularly, within the corridor of power that the Shia group might have been emboldened this much, because it is getting some sorts of support from some foreign countries, a development which not only makes the whole protest suspect, but stokes genuine concern about the extent to which they could go in actualising their demand.

Another concern for a majority of Nigerians, most especially the political actors, is the sense of urgency of President Muhammadu Buhari in addressing not only the issues of security, other issues of national concerns that could affect the general growth and development of the country.

This was confirmed lately when Buhari described the security challenge in the country as isolated, even when bandits once went straight to his place in Daura and abducted their district head. The man was not rescued until about three months after.

There is hardly any part of the country today, either regionally or state-by-state assessment that is not affected by the sweeping security challenge, a situation that utterly dismisses the president’s assertion that the challenge was isolated.

There is, therefore, the need for the president to buckle up his chin straps and get tougher. There is also the feeling across board for a review of the current security architecture, which presupposes that the current team might have become insipid and no longer fit for the new challenge.

The Shia encounter is an instructive signpost of what lays ahead. Government cannot afford to dismiss the signs but probe further with a view to staying above the fray and being able to contain the challenge that they pose as well as other similar groups that seem to threaten the country’s collective unity for selfish or sectional interest.