Army/shi’ite Clash: Let Justice Prevail
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin.
The ancient city of Zaria was recently in the news for a wrong reason. On December, 12 the city witnessed yet another unavoidable crack in the military-civilian relationship. To put it straight, defenceless citizens consisting mainly of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria otherwise known as “Dan Shi'ite” were mowed down by the vicious bullets of the Nigerian army on account of denying the Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Tukur Buratai who some reports say was in Zaria on an official assignment the right of passage to public road.
Reminiscent of an epic action movie scene, the apparent lack of military fire power and tactical direction since the nation's quest to end Boko Haram onslaught suddenly came alive and was freely unleashed on helpless civilians. As reflected in one of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's popular rendition, they left in the wake of the destruction sorrows, tears and blood. It was ludicrous that an attempt by the army to preserve the right and life of one man has ultimately led to the untimely and premeditated deaths of about 300 precious lives according to Human Right Watch.
The needless two day crack-down launched on the same defenceless group to decimate them for daring the army resulted to the senseless demolition of Hussainiyya Baqiyyatullah, the residence of Sheik Ibrahim Zakzaky and many more unconfirmed manslaughters. The unwarranted demolition of the Hussainiyya Baqiyyatullah and Zakzaky's home is condemnable. “Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means”- Ronald Reagan. Even the military knew there was no justification for such premeditated action. It was at best one braggadocios show of power, might and deliberate demonstration of anger taken too far. The Army later issued a phony statement claiming that the Chief of Army Staff survived an assassination attempt by the Islamic Movement. The movement had since issued a rebuttal to that. The game of wits and war of words between the two on this matter has already split the piazza of public opinion.
The army's angle to the story of an assassination attempt of their boss was preposterous. It was tantamount to a face-saving and crisis management effort aimed at concealing the obvious truth. The statement to say the least was incredible and stands the truth on its head. How possible could the COAS be assassinated by a group of angry people wielding only sticks, cobblers and machete. Could it be that the intelligence around the COAS failed even before coming to Zaria only for it to spring to life on the spot of the incident? Those who understood the rudiments of intelligence gathering could attest to the fact that if the life of the COAS was in danger that day, stringent security measures would have been taken several days before his arrival to avert any attempt on his life. The Nigerian army in my view does not lack intelligent personnel capable of nipping any assassination plot against the COAS in the bud or frustrating any attack against the military institution for that matter. There are numerous rank and file who would have been stationed at strategic places in and around Zaria several days to ward off any danger or imminent attack on the army boss.
There is no gain saying the fact that the Islamic movement in Nigeria has no regard for constituted authorities. In fact, Zakzaky is notably and constantly on a collision course with the constituted authorities for his intransigence and inciting messages. The Shi'ite symbolic Arba'een trek where major parts of roads are seized in defiance of the law and convenience of other road users is the height of Shi'ite disdain and insubordination to the constituted authorities. The penchant for blockage of access to public roads or restriction of free movement of people by the Shi'ite sect in whatever circumstance is unruly, uncalled for and in contravention of the law. It is condemnable also. However, this cannot be a licence for the army or anybody for that matter to send innocent citizens to their early graves.
It would be recalled that there was no love lost between the army and to some extent the military and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria before and after the massacre of the three sons of Sheik Zakzaky and some Hussainiyya faithfuls on that same spot during Pro-Palestinian protest known as Quds Day Procession in July, 2014. In effect, who would not think like the Shi'ite that this attack was provocative and one too many aimed at testing their will. It was another unforgettable scar in the life of a religious group who sees the army as their arch enemy and has accused them of extra-judicial killing of its members.
The number of casualties recorded in this mayhem has rubbished the claim by the army that it applied minimal force to ensure the safety of COAS. If the army could not apply restraint in the face of minor provocation; who else would? There is an alternative route for the COAS to pass aside of that contentious one. The number of lives lost would have been preserved if he had taken advantage of that route. The fact that one bent down to greet a dwarf does not make one a dwarf either. Suffice it to say according to Albert Einstein that, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” What was the role of the police in a situation of this nature? From various accounts of the incidents there was no place the soldiers called in the police to intervene in a matter so civilian. Differing positions taken by Iran and Saudi Arabia on this matter point to the struggle for religious supremacy, superiority and relevance among the Sunni and Shi'ite sects around the world. Nigeria has had enough crises and should not be a testing ground for this religious experiment or superiority.
We must be careful to avoid a repeat of the ugly mistake of the past. The mayhem unleashed on the nation by Boko Haram after the extra-judicial killing of their leader Yusuf Mohammed and the apparent perversion of justice in that matter is once again lurking around. Governor Nasir El-Rufai's address on the incident which dwelt majorly on condemning the activities of a bruised sect and the studied silence maintained by the government at the centre on the death of Nigerian citizens could be termed tacit support and consent to army action. The Movement had made public its position and demands on the killing of its members and destruction of their property. Those arrested, living and wounded should be allowed unfettered access to their families, doctors and lawyers while the dead allegedly seized or mass buried by the army should be released to their families for proper internment. The blood of innocent citizens is crying for justice and it is only justice that can heal the wound. An independent panel of inquiry should be constituted to unravel the remote and immediate causes of this mayhem. Appropriate sanctions should also be applied to the culpable no matter who for Anatole France declared, “Justice is the means by which established injustices are sanctioned.”
Written by Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a Media and Communications Specialist.