Why the Killing of Shi’a Muslims Must Stop -By Ayodele Adio

Filed under: National Issues |

A few days ago, the official twitter handle of the Nigerian Army re-tweeted President Trump’s rambling about American soldiers being stoned at the Mexican border by immigrants, with the caption” “Please watch and make your deductions” – to justify the murder of several Shia Muslims in Abuja who they claimed attacked a military convoy with stones. Given, no one, no matter the provocation, should throw stones at the military but the penalty for stupidity should never be death, especially in a democracy.

Responding to what many considered a silly tweet by the Nigerian Army, Karen Attiah, the Global Opinion editor at the Washington Post, opined infuriatingly that, “this is why Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric should not be taken as just a distraction or a stunt. Abusive governments around the world are taking cues from him”. It should call for sober introspection that our government can be considered ‘abusive’ by one of the most influential print media in the world.


Shiites members protesting the release of the leader, El zakzaky


One can hardly argue against Osai Ojigho, the director of Amnesty International Nigeria that, “the continuous failure to investigate gross human rights violations is fueling a dangerous disdain for the sanctity of human life in Nigeria”. It is mind-boggling that 45 persons, according to the Amnesty International report, will be killed in their own country by the very people who were supposed to protect them and not a single solider is being held to account. Come to think of it, not one officer has been held to account for the 350 Shi’ites killed in December 2015 for foolishly daring to tap the chest of a general and refusing his convoy the right of passage on a federal highway. This utter disregard for human life and the ‘conquistador like’ approach of our security agencies, among several other factors, exacerbated the crisis in the North-East that has remained with us for close to 10 years, displacing over two million people and claiming tens of thousands of lives.

Nigeria’s security agencies and particularly the military are making two fundamental mistakes with the Shiites. The first is the tendency to view the Shi’ites as a threat to national security and an enemy of the state, rather than a religious sect with a different kind of ideology. Little wonder a sitting governor referred to the leader of the Shi’ites in Nigeria, Sheikh El-Zakzaky, as an animal on live television. The second and most frightening mistake is the attempt by security agencies to apply brute force in their quest to tame the Shi’ites. A crash course in recent history would prove the aforementioned dual approach as a waste of state resources and a needless exercise in futility. It takes a lot more than guns and grenades to kill a strongly held religious ideology and our military should know better. Worse is that this approach is even more likely to radicalise the sect, leading to a different kind of insurgency at a time our china shop is too fragile to let bulls run around.

The truth is, Nigeria, with an over-stretched military and scare resources cannot afford a radicalised Shi’a group and we must do everything within the law and international best practice to ensure that the several skirmishes with Shi’a Muslims are not allowed to snowball into a full blown crisis. The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen should serve as a strong lesson to the political elite of what our dear country must never become.

Ayodele Adio, a communication strategist, writes from Lagos.