The Shi’a, The Nigerian Army And The Buhari Change By Umar Bello
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor…” (Quran 4:135)
Nigerians have woken up to yet another carnage between the military and the civil populace, this time with the Shia group. There are so many versions to what is clearly a callous massacre of the civil populace by none other than the men and officers that are supposed to protect them. Going through some of the public statements and the general opinion of people, there is clearly no doubting the fact that the Shia movement has constituted itself into a societal menace, always thronging the streets and federal highways with a mammoth crowd of people obstructing traffic flow. While the infractions of the Shia movement are all well-known, the wholescale massacre committed by the military is totally mystified or underplayed by two classes of people.
There are those who are die-hard supporters of the Buhari regime who never see anything wrong in the regime, partly due to party loyalty or due to the fact that they are now involved in governance. In this group, I place Mal Nasir El Rufai who came with a highly biased speech against the movement in a state broadcast. As recent as 2014 when GEJ was the president and there was an altercation between the Shi’a and the military, El Rufai as usual was highly critical of the army, calling it on his twitter page “a genocidal Jonathian army”. At that time, he never realized that “the Islamic Movement of Nigeria acted like a parallel state, with total disdain for the formal structures of the Nigerian government and little regard for the rights of non-members..” This realization only suddenly came now that he is the governor. The same genocidal murderous army under Goodluck Jonathan has probably been replaced by others (perhaps imported from Mars!) who “…mounted operations to repel attack, remove obstruction to a major public highway, and to contain and arrest the perpetrators…” The army has not changed. The modus operandi of the army has not changed. The Shi’a intransigence has not changed. What has changed is the human toll. While the ‘Jonathian genocidal army’ had killed about 33 Shiites, the present army killed over a thousand. What has changed is also the politics of el Rufai’s emotions and the loyalty of those who believe that the Buhari leadership is about a personality cult, party affiliation and their involvement. We that have vehemently supported Buhari have not done so simply as an end itself, but because we have seen in Buhari a hope for redemption, justice and fair play which have been denied the ordinary masses in this country. The abiding loyalty of the people should be to good leadership and fair play not merely to a leader’s name or party or image. The Buhari regime so far has, sadly, not proven to be a marked departure from the ominous past we have just been weaned from. His silence over this carnage is deafening, and his seeming nonchalance continues to detract from the robust support he has overwhelmingly enjoyed just a few months ago.
The other group are those who hate the Shi’a movement for sectarian reasons. No any Muslim worth his salt would ever tolerate some of the purported blasphemous pronouncements made by the Shi’a group against the Sahaba and wives of the prophet. What is, however, on trial here is not the blasphemy, per se, but the willful murder committed by the military. The Shi’a ideology deserves painstaking intellectual rebuttal and temperate engagement, but violence only stokes it further. People here should be guided by the spirit of the above verse that commands us to remain just arbiters no matter who the parties involved are. Moreover, the military have not killed the Shi’a because of their religious creed or deviant ideology. They have killed the Shi’a as a result of a culture of impunity and that of diminished responsibility that has been allowed to overgrow in our country without any hindrance or opposition. And the culmination of that impunity has timelessly been visited on innocent ctizens irrespective of all barriers. At the slightest provocation, the army always resorts to violence, whether the case is between them and other law enforcement agencies like the police, or whether it is in any personal exchange between them and the civil populace. In fact some of the casualties in the Tudun wada suburbs in Kaduna are ordinary bystanders killed by stray bullets, bullets that don’t differentiate sects. If we the Sunnis would bother to scratch a bit deeper than the army media whitewash about boko haram victims, we may realize that there are as many innocent people (largely Sunni masses) killed with impunity through bungled operations and random killings by the military as those felled by the Boko Haram bullets. The military are decidedly above the law!
The video released by the military totally shows a very arrogant shia mob without regard and respect to constituted authority. I totally respect the restraint demonstrated by a senior officer who at a certain point in the exchange with a very young Shi’a zealot said in Hausa “ka san fa na girmeka” meaning that “you know that I am older than you”. He appealed to age seniority rather than rank. I think diplomatic officers like that man are the real officers needed in the military. I believe whatsoever occurred in terms of violence later might not be with the consent of that fine officer and gentleman. He singularly prevented all forms of military confrontation especially when his men are already battle-poised to start shooting.
However, even at that point of the highest level of provocation, there were options for mob dispersal like the use of tear gas or rubber bullets through the police, but none of this was resorted to. If at that point the military had used force to pass through and leave it at that, there wouldn’t have been much censure, but the large-scale massacre the following day was calculated, deliberate and thus highly condemnable. Though one can easily fault the Shi’a movement for their flagrant abuse of traffic laws and careless assembly of people within a small public space, the military have behaved quite disproportionately both by their use of force and flagrant disregard to constituted authority. Yes, the Shia have taken laws into their hands by that assembly that hamstrung movements, but the military have taken worse illegal action i.e. that of willful murder, destruction and arson. They have rubbished all the law enforcement and judicial processes that adjudicate on these matters by that action, processes they should be the first to respect and protect. They have further taught the people how to take laws into their hands. We have seen how such mobs in civilized societies are dealt with in a manner showing a lot of restraint and professionalism. In fact such spirited trigger-happy action is what Nigerians yearn for right in the pit of Sambisa not on soft armless civilian targets hounded in their homes at night.
We expect the military to behave in a manner that demonstrates that they are far better in restraint and the respect of the laws of the land than the mob they are confronted with rather than being worse. In Nigeria, we sustain the notion of the military being ‘mad dogs’ and most narratives are made in accusation of the victims for daring the ‘mad dogs’. This only continues to give the impression that the military or law enforcement can continue to act with diminished responsibility while we remain the masochists. It is a very faulty narrative that justifies and encourages impunity against us. We expect the highest level of professional conducts from those paid to safeguard and enforce laws of the land not unruly mad dogs terrorizing the populace. It may the Shi’a today; it can be you or me tomorrow so long as that culture of impunity is allowed
umar, writes from Jubail, KSA.