Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky

Nigeria’s Shias, beleaguered by two enemies

Alwaght- Boko Haram is Nigeria’s number one enemy and that is an irrefutable fact. However, in the past few days, the Nigerian army has launched a heavy-handed attack against the Shia Muslims of the northern Kaduna state. This has triggered a wave of anger in the country where authorities are apparently targeting the innocent instead of focusing all its efforts on the culprits responsible for terrorism in the African nation.

The leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, was allegedly detained while his wife and son were killed by Nigerian soldiers who opened fire on the unarmed group on Saturday, according to the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

After this bloody and unjustified incident, it is becoming increasingly clearer that

the Shia community in Nigeria is beleaguered by two forces: the government and Boko Haram.

On the one hand, such attacks by the army cannot be taken out of context. This is not a single or unprecedented attack against the Shias. In 2014, at least 30 followers of the sect were killed by the army during a religious procession which is seen as an attempt to suppress the growing movement using violence and fear.

In a statement on Sunday the army said: “The Nigerian Constitution guarantees the rights of any group of persons and Sheikh El Zak Zaky’s followers to hold a peaceful march or procession unhindered, but it also guarantees other people’s rights of way on public highways.”

This statement proves that the shedding of blood was uncalled for. The situation did not force clashes nor did it force the army to attack, it was simply a matter of a peaceful manifestation.

On the other hand, there is Boko Haram, a radicalized Sunni group that views the Shias as heretics and has repeatedly attacked the group on that basis. In November, a suicide bomber killed at least 21 people in an assault on a Shiite Muslim procession in Kano state.

Caught between two assailants, the group, which is known to be peaceful, and is considered to be a minority in the African nation, is left to face the brutality of its enemies.

Boko Haram’s actions are somewhat legible in the context of the internationalization of terrorism. The militant group has killed thousands of people in bombings and shootings, mostly in the north-east of Africa’s biggest energy producer since 2009.  For six years, the group has been targeting what it calls infidels, Muslims of different sects and Christians alike, leaving at least 17,000 dead and more than 2.6 million homeless.

However, the government’s attitude toward the IMN is what is dubious, knowing that the Shias have not engaged in terrorist activities nor have they carried out attacks against others.

Many fear that this attack was intended to assassinate Sheikh Zakzaky whose influence is growing among various groups in Nigeria and whose movement was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

As part of attempts to halt the growth of the Shia movement, the state government of Sokoto took discriminatory measures such as demolishing the Islamic Center in 2007.

Yet, despite persecution, the Shia community is neither radical nor self-secluded. Instead, under the leadership of Sheikh Zakzaky, the community has united with moderate Nigerian Sunnis in the IMN.

Reading the Nigerian army’s stance is tricky. Observers have been baffled by the government’s stance toward the IMN, already victims of Boko Haram, making them question on whose side it is fighting.

Others have accused Abuja of hypocrisy as instead of condensing its efforts and military potential on fighting terrorism it is wasting resources and ammunition on attacking the victims of terrorism.

Iran has spoken up against the latest attack and has shown readiness to defend the oppressed. The world, meanwhile, has remained silent. In light of international reaction, the situation of the Shia community in Nigeria remains dangerous with the lives of thousands of people at stake, if nothing were to be done to change the prejudiced balance of power.

By Alwaght