Iran’s Poisoned Chalice And The Making Of Another Insurgency

The December 2015 killing of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMV) better known as Shi’ite in Zaria, Kaduna State drew international condemnation and rightly so. Human life is sacred so the condemnation that trailed the killings during a military operation is understandable. Countries and organisations that issued statements in the wake of the incident made the reasonable suggestion that a probe is necessary to understand what went wrong.

One can to some extent surmise that those who made such calls are friends of Nigeria who want to strengthen enforcement of fundamental human rights in the country. Such countries and agencies have history of assisting Nigeria in other areas so this intervention in the aftermath of the Shi’ite incident is not out of the blues.

Unfortunately, one country, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been strident in its interference in Nigeria’s internal affairs using the Shi’ite –

Army clashes as the pretext to assume the position of an imperial or colonial master. It has through diverse avenues sought to bring Nigeria under undue pressure to compromise its own sovereignty.

The issuance of statements calling for investigation into the incident was followed by calm, ostensibly to enable authorities probe the occurrence, but Iran has done everything possible to exacerbate the situation since that time. It had been short of calling on the Shi’ite in Nigeria to attack government institutions. The country’s posture has ranged from warning Nigeria to outright threatening descent into chaos over the handling of the matter.

Iranian Ambassador to Nigeria, Saeed Koozechi has been at the forefront of the verbal belligerence. He has never let go of any opportunity to verbally attack the Nigerian state even to the extent of openly making incendiary statements. Koozechi goes as far as using the Nigerian media to push his country’s agenda. He went as far as comparing the continued detention of the Shi’ite leader, Ibrahim Yakubu El-Zakzaky, to pouring fuel on fire. This is a luxury that the opposition or other nations cannot enjoy in Iran.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hoseyn Jaberi-Ansari even said Iran has “used all those channels to warn” Nigeria over the Shi’ite situation. Other senior Iranian officials have quipped one response or the other with airs that suggest Nigeria is just one of the provinces in Iran.

While it is easy to dismiss these developments as high level international diplomacy at play, indications to the true intention of the Iranians can be gleamed by the array of talking heads they have lined up on their government backed Press TV. These so called analysts’ only goal is to twist the narrative in a manner that can jeopardise the peace in Nigeria.

The foregoing is worrisome given Iran’s antecedent in its geo-political sphere of influence in the Middle East, where its meddlesomeness has acted to blow what started as internal issues for some countries into full scale global crises that currently defy solutions. This penchant for interference in the internal affairs of other countries possibly the result of a desire to grow the Shi’ite population worldwide but it should have been reasonable enough to recognise and accept that Nigeria is a different case.

Interference from Iran in Nigeria’s affairs is dangerous and must be condemned as such. Unfortunately, there are some people who tend to misunderstand this intervention as genuine – anything that demonises our Armed Forces or the Army is welcome by such people, who have largely been unable to divorce their anger over previous years of military rule from the statutory responsibility to protect the territorial integrity of the nation. The open castigation and threat to the nation by Iran is thus misconstrued as desirable so long as it is bashing the Army. No. It is not about the Army. It is about Nigeria.

Whereas it is up to the investigation ordered by government to decide if the Army’s response was disproportionate to the reported provocation by IMN, we are all witnesses to the fact that Nigerians across various divides had condemned the occurrence. Even the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) did not hesitate to carpet the Army. So why is Iran suddenly strident on this matter, making it look like the entire nation is out to kill off Shi’ite?

It is understandable that each nation has the right to pursue a foreign policy that is beneficial to its interests. Iran, no doubts, has its political, economic and even religious interests in taking this hard-line stance on Shi’ite in Nigeria.

By virtue of this same reasoning, it must understand that Nigeria has its own set of interests. One of this is the desire to remain a secular country that, in line with its constitution, has not adopted any religion(s) as state religion. The implication of this is that all Nigerians must respect the rights of others not to be burdened or intimidated by the way they chose to practice their own faiths. It implies that institutions of the country are able to enforce the rights of citizens.

It must also be stated that we have a recent bitter history of extremism that snowballed into the monster called Boko Haram today because it was not nipped in the bud early enough. Perhaps, that experience influenced the dispatch with which authorities dealt with the Ombatse sect and also the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). So why shouldn’t we also promptly contain IMN given that it was becoming rapidly militarised?

So, no thanks to Iran, Nigeria has no desire to drink from the poisoned chalice you are offering in the guise of advice and warnings. We will not sit by, on account of your threats, and allow another insurgency grow on our soil just to please you.

— Agbese is a trainee lawyer based in the United Kingdom

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Articles by Philip Agbese