A Question from a Non-Shiite Nigerian
By Ibrahim Sheme
Anybody saying the Shiites could be made to become “hardened” through the ongoing strong-arm security response to their demonstration in Abuja does not appear to know them properly. Theologically they do not harbour “hardening elements” in the mould of, say, the Boko Haram as some analysts think. For one, they fully believe in “Boko” (western education), that is why they are everywhere – in business, politics, government, media, schools, and even the security services, among others. And that is why they do everything in the open. The guys we see demonstrating in the streets are merely the “face of the Shiites”, but they are not the only ones.
From my reading of their history and activities, I do not believe they will engage in an insurgency like that of BH. I cannot think of a country where they did that, including those countries where they were/are severely persecuted – e.g. Iran under the Shah and today’s Saudi Arabia. But they believe in increasing their numbers to such a humungous level where it is possible for them to launch a revolution. Alternatively, they believe in acquiring or utilising power through participatory politics and all other legitimate human endeavours – very much unlike the BH whose core belief centres on armed resistance.
Someone in the security circle seems to know only the aspect of their non-violent, participatory bent, in my view, hence the gruesome campaign to depopulate them through the brazen killing of their unarmed members participating in civil protest. But killing them is a misplaced and misguided option. The fact that what they are doing tallies with their constitutional rights makes the killing illegal and untenable and disturbingly smacks of a Sunni plot.
Another thing those authorising the killing do not seem to know is that these gun-shootings don’t scare the Shiites into submission or dispersal because martyrdom is at the core of their theology. The only “hardening element” the killing tends to cause is that it strengthens the Shiites’ sense of martyrdom and galvanises them into more protest. In the end the government is the loser because it is attracting negative world and local attention to itself.
Already, there is a growing backlash. One, human rights organizations have been crying foul, with Amnesty International two days ago giving a damning report on the strong-arm response to the Shi’a protest. Two, more than a million votes (of the Shiites) have already been lost by the ruling APC in next year’s general elections. I daresay most Shi’a votes in the 2015 elections went to Buhari rather than to Jonathan, but this time around your guess is as good as mine! Three, some local legal luminaries and civil rights campaigners are talking about compiling evidence for filing a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) sometime in the future. The question from me, a non-Shi’a Nigerian, is this: Pray, does Baba Buhari need all this awful negativity?
If I were an aide with the President’s listening ear, I would tell Baba this:
1. Stop the brutal killing of the young protesters.
2. Release Sheikh Elzakzaky, his wife and other Shi’a detainees immediately.
3. Rebuild and give back Elzakzaky’s Zaria house and learning centre.
4. Pay compensation to Elzakzaky for the killings and the demolitions.
5. Advise Governor El-Rufai and any other state governor to reach a rapprochement with the Shiites.
6. Prosecute in court any Shiite found breaking the law in due course.
Doing this, I believe, is in accordance with the oath of office the President took. Sadly, I am no such aide and it appears that those who have his listening ear either are afraid to tell him the truth or actually think the present like of action is the best. Or, maybe, they don’t give a hoot about any possible consequences.
Ibrahim Sheme is a bilingual Nigerian writer, journalist, filmmaker and publisher.