It is no longer news that contemporary records of flagrant abuses of human rights have been synonymously identified with the Muhammadu Buhari administration since he assumed the office of the presidency in May 2015. It is, however, disturbing that the degree of senseless persecution of citizens and groups for inane reasons has hit the skies with no comforting end in sight.
Disappointingly, numerous mental pygmies have proffered different kinds of rationalizations to these flagrant abuses in favour of the tyrannic regime of General Buhari.
While I understand that the majority of those defending the existing tyranny that we see today are merely ensuring the continual security of their source of livelihood and that the rest are either too ignorant, sentimental or illogical to dissect and make dispassionate submissions about the situation; I have chosen to write this piece with the hope that such people and their sympathizers would be rudely awakened to the supremacy of humanism and the constancy of moral law in the entire human agency.
My focus today is on the continuing confrontation between the Federal Government’s forces and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) or the Shia Islamic group as they are also called.
Basically, there are two sides to the ongoing debates on the Government vs IMN: On the one hand, there are those excusing the killings of Shias by the state’s forces as an inevitable act of violence in defence of Nigeria’s unity and territorial integrity; and on the other hand, there are those claiming the contentious issue is mutually exclusive of common understanding. While I disagree that the contentious situation is not for public discourse, for there is no better way to reach amelioration than through this means; I must state that the debate is one that requires logical lucubration.
On whether the Islamic Movement of Nigeria is indeed a threat to Nigeria: In times of war, commanders use different tactics to demonize their opponents and also win public sympathy. One of the potent tactics used is known as psychological warfare or Hearts and Minds or Propaganda. An effective psychological warfare or propaganda is like an opium; it can easily capture the mind of man and convince him to believe anything its proponents are propagating. And as has become evident in the General Buhari-led administration, there is presently an effective propaganda against the Shias in Nigeria.
Among many, the group has been regarded as a violent group with members (especially women) allegedly walking around with knives tucked inside their abaya looking for people to stab. It has also been regarded as a group practising Bidah (in Islam) or doctrinal heresy. Another potent propaganda is that which promulgates the group as a radical secessionist movement intending to hand over Nigeria to Iran. At the epicentre of this propaganda, however, is a litany of carefully concocted fables intended to enforce a structural and cultural violence against the IMN members so as to demonize them in the sight of the people and eventually inflame the seething impetus of direct violence against the group. For many will refrain from associating with this group while many more will support whatsoever unjust act is carried out against them because of this propaganda.
In spite of this propaganda which has considerably turned public sentiment against the distressed group especially at the grassroots, it is instructive to note that the Shias have been moderately calm with their temperament. Even in the face of extrajudicial killings and state-sponsored direct violence which has so far led to the death of hundreds of its members including six sons of its leader Elzazaky; the Shias have demonstrated zero proclivity for violence.
For we have seen the mass killing and burial of over 300 IMN members in mass graves; the prolonged incarceration of its leader even with the court ruling otherwise; and the frequent clampdowns on peaceful protests organized by its members in different parts of Nigeria; yet we have also seen a great sense of self-suffering and non-violence that the world has not witnessed since Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s era in the Civil Rights Movement.
On the other side of the debate which attempts to foreclose this issue from public discourse: I think there can be no stronger attempt to shield impunity and glorify injustice than this hypocritical narrative from religious zealots. Surely, this narrative seeks to vindicate and sanctify the state’s aberrant use of aggression against the IMN as though it were nothing.
From a religious point of view, the continuous killing of Shias is indicative of the decades-long religious feud which exists between the two major Islamic groups in Nigeria; The Sunnis (commonly described as orthodox) and the Shias (commonly described as unorthodox). These two groups have fundamentally been entangled in several doctrinal disputes as the former believes its doctrines supercedes that of the latter. This has led to increasing tensions between both sides over the years. Painfully, the role of government in dousing the tensions between both groups as the arbiter of conflicts has drastically diminished since the beginning of the current regime of General Buhari; for his regime is more sentimental than neutral and has become an inciting element in the conflict as a result.
Interestingly, the increasing degree of aggression of the state against the Shias is a glaring disregard for PART II Section 23 of the CFRN which accentuates Religious Tolerance as one of the National Ethics of our country. In addition, Section 38 (1) of the same constitution says, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” But the desperation of the Federal Government and its forces to clamp down on Shias as has been done to many other groups since 2015, knows no bounds.
The consequence of the current approach of General Buhari’s regime is that it might lead to bigger problems for the country. For we have learned from history that a people subjected to oppression and dehumanizing conditions are a people on the fringes of violence.
Although I am not one to encourage the use of violence, I must warn that it becomes inevitable when one is left with no other option. For we can always learn from history that injustice and oppression make violence inevitable. Even now, we have seen the IMN transmogrify from a position of great vulnerability with no sign (and most probably intent) of attacking the state’s forces, to a position of stone-throwing as a last resort for self-defence. And should the present injustice against the group continue, it may be extremely difficult to curtail or abate the angst of the group later.
Instrumental to my point in the last paragraph is the fact that we have become a people of no sober reflections. As of today, we can wistfully recount the monumental ordeals that our country has had to go through as a result of religious extremism: From the religious violence of Yan Tatsine between the late 1970s to mid 1980s that led to the death of over ten thousand Nigerians with over 30, 000 displaced citizens across Kano, Maiduguri, Kaduna, Yola, and Gombe; to the Jos Riots of 2001, 2008, 2010 and 2018, and the massacres of 2004 and 2010 that altogether left roughly 7, 700 Nigerians six feet under; to the religious tensions in Kaduna that has led to several riots since 2000 up until now with at least 7, 000 to 10, 000 dead Nigerians; and the most calamitous Boko Haram extremists who have so far killed at least 20, 000 Nigerians with no less than 2.5Million people displaced and scattered across the country and even beyond its shores!
Bearing this factuality in mind, I believe it is treasonous to country and extremely noxious to humanity for any government or leader; person or group of persons; to further stoke religious tensions or inflame the embers of violent religious extremism by perpetrating acts of great injustice against a group under the cloak of national security or whatsoever cock and bull story they so please to propagandise. But I believe it is very crucial at this point in our national trajectory that we call a spade by its name and never allow ourselves be driven into a shell of fear when our lives are endangered regardless.
Let it not be that we the people of Nigeria will continue to glorify the ignominious practice of canonising state violence against the people as just and demonising the people’s resort to the same as an act of terror. Whether Christian or Muslim; Buddhist or Sikh; Deist or Atheist; king or subject; legislator or constituent; rich or poor; President or not; we all possess the same inalienable rights of man which makes us incontrovertibly equal.
As I passionately hope that we all are longing for a society of peace and religious tolerance, it is important to urge the citizens and government of Nigeria to take a leaf out of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative of the Golden Rule. That in all our discussions and decisions, we will be guided by the imperative to treat others the way we want to be treated, too.
Adebayo Raphael is the national secretary of the OurMumuDonDo Movement. He writes from Abuja and can be reached on Twitter via @Asorosobioro.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.