Why “Zaria Massacre” is a Scary Deja Vu

Photo credit: News24ng.com

The cruellest analysts of the December 12 crackdown on Shiite mobs in Zaria are those who ignore the background of the sect’s past confrontations with both the authority and other parts of society not comfortable with their doctrinal alignments. The clash with Nigeria Army was a familiar experience, in the pattern of the July 26, 2014 unexplainably fatal “self-defence” by the same Army.

Shiism didn’t suddenly become what’s perceived by rival sects as a nuisance, with their members condemned as heretics, on December 12. It’s a practice that only followed the script and rule of this institutionally dysfunctional nation that has given religious bodies an unwritten permission to build an independent sub-system which, with many others similar, compete for the destruction of this country.

I don’t seek to justify the zealotry of Shiite youth who mounted roadblocks on a public road, denying even a military boss access to it. It’s not the first time a youth, either under the banner of a religion, political party or civil society organization adopted such method of civil disobedience to express a grievance, even if not perceived as legitimate in popular opinion.

No matter what, there’s always an alternative to a crackdown on a bunch of boys with sticks and knives. A rain of bullets on a ragtag group, in the season members of the group are yet to trust the authority for the killings of their members in a politicized incident of suicide bombing and state-authorized killing, isn’t a wise approach.

No matter what, the Nigeria Army could’ve handled the recalcitrant Shiites with a certain speck of intelligence, learning from their disastrous response to the dissents of similarly provocative isolates in Maiduguri. That the rate and way the crackdown on Boko Haram cult, which began on June 11, 2009, escalated didn’t even serve as a lesson to our security personnel and policymakers is a confusing tragedy.

This Commando-style approach is the reason we’ve too many widows in our Army Barracks today. Even the most technologically advanced countries who are quick to exhibit their military might haven’t succeeded in suppressing religious extremism through the use of force alone. We need force only when and where intelligence fails. We’re a country in the middle of a crisis and thus we must ally against all avoidable actions that may make more enemies for the state.

But I understand that, as votaries of the Maliki school of Sunni Islam that is the majority in this part of Africa, our abhorrence to perceived deviations of Shiism isn’t just political; it’s doctrinal. We abhor them because they misrepresent Islam, and thus deserve horrible deaths. But in spite of our perception of the Shiites as nuisance, no people destroyed the image of Islam as believers who subscribe to the precepts of Sunnism. Both Boko Haram and ISIS identified with Sunni Islam. So did Osama Ben Laden, and all these misrepresent the image of Islam in the name of jihad.

Shiism is a nuisance, a heresy. But have their members been indicted in any act of terror in Nigeria to earn them a graduation into terrorism? Shiism, like all religious or sectarian movements, is what it is in Nigeria because of this obvious dysfunction in our institutions. Such dysfunction we witnessed even recently in the government’s response to the confrontation between the Shiites and Nigerian soldiers, recording many casualties, including three sons of the national leader of the Shiites.

I’m not defending anyone, but if disorderly assemblies are what constitute nuisance in the practices of our religion, then we the self-righteous and blame-apportioning believers are all guilty. We must be honest in our attributions of wrongs that accumulate to this mountain of troubles we want to destroy.

This republic must step out to draw the lines between freedom and transgression, to highlight the extent to which a citizen is allowed to exhibit his religiosity or partake in a freedom of worship not specifically clarified in the Constitution. The truth is, various sects of both Islam and Christianity in Nigeria are notorious for contravening the laws of the land. All block public roads while marking certain religious functions. Many even have a paramilitary unit tasked with “defending” them from the rest of us. If the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff comes to pass through Kashim Ibrahim Way here in Wuse II, Abuja when the largely Sunni Muslims gather for a Jummah prayer at An-Nur Mosque, he will be asked to turn back no matter the emergency he points to as reason he wants to use that public road.

Similarly, every Sunday, churches in my neighborhood in Life Camp, Abuja, block public roads and nobody, even the FCT Minister whose official residence is just about three blocks away from one of the churches is allowed to negotiate that public road. It’s the same story on Mambolo Street, Wuse Zone 2, every Sunday. It’s also the same on Kur Mohammed Avenue in Central Area on Sunday when church service holds at Thisday Dome. A church mounts roadblocks to deny the residents of the district a right to use that road until the service is over, often with the connivance of our police force.

My point is, except we just developed brains overnight, Nigeria gave religious bodies these unrestrained powers to become “nuisance” wherever they function. What the Shiites do in their processions isn’t different from what our politicians do in their political rallies, where political thugs block roads, harass and hurt non-participating passers-by and motorists.

The first step we must take in demarcating the boundaries of religion is to know what “freedom of assembly” means. We must seek to understand, in our civics, why followers of Candidate Muhammadu Buhari would be allowed to shut down a city in the name of a political rally and Cleric Ibrahim El-Zakzaky is perceived as a nuisance for the activities of his own loyal followers. We need to clarify many things and define what is wrong and right according to our Constitution.

What frightens me even more is, If Nigeria Army had been what it’s designed to be, it would’ve gathered intelligence on, or foreseen, the happenings in Zaria before it allowed its boss, the Chief of Army Staff, to embark on that road trip. We have a military intelligence unit tasked with the responsibility of such secret operations. Why aren’t you thinking along that line and talking about it? The COAS is not god, and for making more enemies for the state when his people are still unable to wipe out the existing, when we’ve too many widows in the barracks, he showed a lack of wisdom in executing that promise of the government to terminate the existence of Boko Haram this December.

The fact that the military seem to have no idea what was happening before the tragic encounter with the mob should be the first institutional lapse to look into in our enquiries, and in the state’s investigation. This may explain many things, because, if Nigeria were a sane country, the confrontation could’ve been avoided. Making more enemies for the state in the month you promised to end the existence of their ilk is either a ploy to distract or manufacture an excuse for the failure to fulfill the promise. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda On Twitter