By Mahdi Garba

Nigeria, persecution of Shia Muslims and the continued quest for justice

November 15, 2018 - 11:1

TEHRAN _ Come December 12, people of conscience around the globe would be joining members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria to commemorate the third anniversary of the premeditated attack on armless citizens using armed-to-the-teeth security operatives while bracing up to hoist a flag on the dome of the Hussainiyya Baqiyatullah, Zaria.

Few hours after the first attack that left the some people injured, the Nigerian soldiers invaded the residence of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, some kilometers from the Hussainiya.

The pretext given for the attack, according to the Nigerian army spokesperson Sani Usman Kukasheka was that the Shia Muslims replacing the flag of Hussainiya’s dome barricaded the road which stops the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai from passing. However the events that unfolded afterwards had proved the Nigerian Army wrong.

It was then that pundits within and without the country start to pose questions for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government and Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai’s led Kaduna State Government. The questions have succeeded in making the governments at both Federal and State level culpable of genocide among the Shia minority. Prior to the questions like; what led the military advancing to Sheikh Zakzaky’s house to kill over 705 people? Why does the Nigerian government continue to crackdown on any supporter of Sheikh Zakzaky that is lending a voice to put a stop to his continued illegal detention? The list of the questions goes on.

During the attack on Hussainiya Baqiyatullah and Sheikh Zakzaky’s house between 12 and 15 December 2015, over 705 have been killed in cold blood. Hundreds of bodies were desecrated while others were given mass burial secretly by the Nasir El-Rufai-led Kaduna State Government in a bid to bury their crimes. There are families that lost more than three persons in that attack.

Hamid, Humaid and Ali were Sheikh Zakzaky’s three sons who were killed in the presence of their doting Dad, Sheikh Zakzaky and their beloved mother, Malama Zeenah. We have many families like that of Malam Abdullahi Abbas, Dr. Waziri Gwantu, Dr. Mustapha Sa’id among too numerous to mention that lost more than 3 among their family members, including breadwinners in some instances.

Prominent disciples of Sheikh Zakzaky like Sheikh Muhammad Mahmud Turi, Mukhtar Sahabi, Sayyid Mustapha Nasidi are still at large since the clampdown.

After whisking away with Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeenah amidst gun injuries, the Kaduna State Government demolished every property relating to the Sheikh, including Jannatu Darur Rahma (the cemetery where martyrs of the movement are buried), Hussainiyya Baqiyatullah (where the Sheikh holds classes on Nahjul Balagha, Quranic exegesis, mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and other events), Fudiyya Islamic Centre and the cemetery Sheikh Zakzaky’s mother was buried.  

He and his wife were kept incommunicado for more than six months. When a his family gained access to him in a Department of State Services (DSS) detention facility, he asked his lawyers to file a case against the Federal Government for illegal detention. After several sittings, the presiding judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court 6 Abuja on 2nd December, 2016 declared the continued detention as illegal. Justice Kolawole ordered the immediate release of Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeenah within 45 day. The judgement did not stopped there, the Judge also awarded a 50 million naira (137, 174, 20 USD at the prevailing exchange rate) with a house anywhere within Kaduna State.

Although Nigeria’s President, General Muhammadu Buhari an erstwhile military dictator that toppled the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari in 1982 is assumed to be a repentant dictator when he was contesting for elections under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015, he has been known for flagrant violation of court orders.

Even as a democratically elected now, the trait of abusing court orders and flagrant abuse of human rights are still embedded in Mr.Buhari. This is further known with the way his government continue to handle Sheikh Zakzaky and his disciple. Since the pronouncement of the judgment two years ago, Nigerians and the international community have continue to await when Buhari’s led Federal Government will release, the Sheikh and his wife despite failing health but that don’t seem to be coming.

In what looks like a bombshell, earlier this year Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense, Muhammad Bin Salman in an interview by US Times Newspaper as reported by Ahlul Bayt News Agency  said they have succeeded in curtailing Iran’s influence in Nigeria. The Prince also said his country is behind the continued illegal detention of Sheikh Zakzaky.

The proxy nature of the crisis is not alien to the Islamic Movement and its close allies because times unnumbered, the leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky in phone calls has accused the Nigerian authorities for acting on the scripts of Saudi Arabia of plotting to truncate his life using the court like that Sheikh Baqir Nimr since their guns have failed.

Moreover, Saudi Arabian owned Wisal TV known for its anti-Shia polemics had raised alarm on the rise of Shiism in Nigeria prior to the attack through its documentaries.

This was further corroborated from the encomiums President Buhari receives from Nigerian Wahabi clerics whenever Shia Muslims are attacked in the country. Radical Sunni scholars have used their pulpits to support what they describe as “the good work he has started”. As President Buhari has been scored poor in good governance, poverty alleviation, infrastructural development, human development and economic reforms since his emergence as President in March 2015, pundits are of the notion that the “good work” he has started may not be far from his war against the Shia minority, which these Wahabi clerics see as danger to their own version of Islam.

Recently, while commemorating the Arba’een of Imam Husain with a symbolic trek from outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital to the Central Business District more than 47 mourners have been killed with over 200 sustaining various degrees of gun injuries in 3 days. Over 400 have been detained; out of which 142 minors have been released, 156 have been charged to court while the whereabouts of 102 is still best known to the Nigerian security operatives.

Media blackout has also contributed immensely in the continued persecution of the Shia minority in Nigeria. The domestic media have been fair in their reportage, while the mainstream has continued to respond with a loud silence. This deafening silence compounds the issue of lack of awareness among the international community. No mainstream media has reported that since 2015 more than 2000 followers of Sheikh Zakzaky have been killed by Nigerian authorities.

Despite these series of persecution by the Nigerian state, members of the Islamic Movement have shown resilience through constant peaceful protests amidst security threat without resorting to violence, even with government’s undying efforts to blacklist the movement.

Mahdi Garba is a Nigerian journalist, human rights activist, social commentator and writer. He covers the activities of the Nigeria's Islamic movement for Rasa News Agency, Iran. He is working on his forthcoming book 'Tears of 12 December' a memoir on the Zaria massacre