Thewill Editorial: Shiites And The Simmering Religious Crisis In Kaduna

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SAN FRANCISCO, October 25, (THEWILL) – The Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, also known as the Shia sect or Shiites, has had a myriad of problems in the past decade. But its continued existence appears to have been badly threatened in the last one year, following a bloody clash it had with the Nigerian Army in Zaria, Kaduna State in December 2015. Hitherto, not many Nigerians knew about the group.

From that episode, Shia spiritual leader in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and other leaders were clamped into prison and have remained incarcerated, despite several calls for their prosecution or release, as the case may be.

However, the recent ban placed on the movement by the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El'Rufai, may be the proverbial last straw that broke the carmel's back, unless the issue is urgently revisited.

In banning the sect, the Kaduna State government said it was part of its fundamental obligations to preserve the security of the state and uphold the rights of all citizens to practice their faith.

It added that the IMN was not a registered organization in the country, noting that its right to freedom of worship should not affect the rights of other members of the society.

While the sect has insisted that it is being unduly threatened in a country where the Constitution supports freedom of worship and association, some individuals have called for stiffer actions against it.

Following the reported killing of two members of the Shiite movement as the sect tried to rebuild its school destroyed near Zango road, Tudun Wada in Kaduna, the Shia Islamic movement criticised El'Rufai for condemning the attacks suffered by its members, alleging the governor was behind the attacks and his stance was an afterthought.

Without prejudice to whatever trial is on-going regarding the matter, THEWILL would want the Kaduna State government and the Federal Government to be cautious in the manner that Shia issue is handled. This call becomes more apt in the face of the volatile nature of the state and the fact that it is gradually penetrating into other states.

It is common knowledge that beyond the Shiites, there have been several religious crises in Kaduna, including the clashes between the Southern and Northern parts, on grounds of ethnicity and religion. Over the years, hundreds of lives and property worth billions of naira have been destroyed in these attacks.

Recently, the police reported attacks against members of the IMN in Tundun Wada area of Sokoto, leading to the death of one person who was reportedly on his way to its annual “Ashura” religious procession. Violent confrontations have also been reported against the group in Kano, Kebbi, Kastina States, among others.

It is feared that if contentious issues are not curtailed, it would not only spill over to other states, but could take some international colourations in view of the sect's history.

In this connection, the global feud between the Shiites and another religious group, the Sunnis, readily comes to mind. Placing a ban on its activities in Kaduna is therefore not the solution.

As an advocate of a free society in which all citizens enjoy freedom of worship, THEWILL advises that government enters into dialogue with the movement with a view to regulating its activities in conformity with the Constitution.

In view of the numerous insurrections and religious crises that this country has witnessed, we cannot afford to allow the issue of the Shiites to snowball into another threat to national security. This is important to avert a recurrence of the Boko Haram phenomenon, which had started like a minor rebellion before becoming an uncontrollable monster.

We recall that in the wake of the Shiites clash with the military in Zaria, governors of the 19 northern states had pledged to find a lasting solution to prevent what they described as a repeat of the “poor handling” of the Boko Haram episode. This is the time for them to revisit the promise to find a lasting solution to it.

However, in the interest of peaceful coexistence, we implore the IMN to regulate its religious activities in line with the laws of the land. This is a necessity, if the allegations that, “The movement has constituted itself into a parallel government with a uniformed paramilitary wing in complete disregard to the constitution and laws of Nigeria,” is anything to go by.

Nigeria is already having so much threat to its security. Any re-enactment of another insurgency in the mode of Boko Haram terrorism or the type of ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims and the similar issues in Rwandan cannot be tolerated in this country. However, THEWILL demands that the international community should abstain from interfering in the matter to avoid complicating it. Nigeria should be allowed to handle this internal issue, and handle it right.