BEING A TEXT BY CHAIRMAN CENTRUM INITIATIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS ADVOCACY(CEDRA) ON ATTACKS ON SHIITES IN SOME PARTS OF NORTHERN NIGERIA ON 23rd NOVEMBER 2016 AT JULIUS BERGER HALL UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS
I’m here today (23rd November 2016) to discuss basic human rights violations of the Shiite Muslims in some parts of Northern Nigeria. And to solicit for support of democratic soldiers and compatriots living in the South of Nigeria and entire global community on our advocacy for the respect of the rights of Shiites to worship without molestation and intimidation by governments and their supporters.
The latest phase of trampling on rights of Shiite Muslims in Nigeria started in December of 2015 in Zaria, Kaduna State. From 12/13 December 2015 the Nigeria Army massacred Shiites, destroyed( through bombing) their schools and worship centres. And invaded the residences of their followers and captured their spiritual leader Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. The scale of the pogrom and verifiable evidences of atrocities committed by the military triggered a global condemnation. That forced the Kaduna State Government to institute a commission of inquiry. Even without Shiites’ participation, findings of the commission certified most of claims Shiites made in their various accounts to the local and international audiences.
During the military operations against Shiites in December of 2015, their spiritual leader Sheik Zakzaky was treated like an enemy combatant in a war front. The military captured and took him to God knows where and later handed him over to the DSS. Since then, the Sheikh has neither been charged in court or allowed to enjoy his freedom as a Nigerian bestowed with array of rights in our 1999 constitution( as amended). His member’s peaceful protests in Abuja and other cities for his release has not attracted a comment or action by his adopters. Sheikh has instituted a fundamental human rights case against the FGN, however, we believe that he should be immediately set free to enable him seek medical treatment and enjoy his liberty as a human being.
As Shiites were struggling through using peaceful and constitutional measures to call for release of their spiritual leader and respect for their right to observe rituals globally accepted by their sect, some State Governments added Salt to injury by outlawing their umbrella body called Islamic Movement In Nigeria(IMN). Such State Governments paraded all sorts of absurdities as raison d’etat. Their actions contradicted constitutional provisions that guaranteed right to worship and beliefs. Sad enough, a day after some Government’s announcement of banning of IMN, miscreants mobilised and killed, burnt and looted homes of Shiites with impunity. As we talk today, none of those arsonists, and murderer has been charged to court.
We are also deeply worried with the quality and sincerity of press coverage of most of the incidences involving the Shiites in Nigeria. The mainstream press has consciously or otherwise swallowed propaganda bait of global cum local anti Shiites activism.
On each occasion of trampling of the rights of Shiites, these pressmen file laughable reportage suggesting a clash or gun battle with members of Nigeria Armed Forces or Police. By this, their reports are tacitly lending credit to the fairy tale of governments that while observing their rituals Shiites move with lethalistic weaponries and other arsenals that threatened public safety. That is mischievous and deliberate falsehood that some of us have independently verified and found to be bunkum balderdash. Is there logic and common sense in piquing that people who moves in millions carry lethal weapons? Is their sheer number not enough security for them?
Aside the mainstream press journalistic laziness and hyperactive biases, they are discriminatory in their dealings with the Shiites. Many a times, efforts by the Shiites to correct their deliberate falsehood are refused a ventilating space. Even their well cherished principle of the right to reply excluded the Shiites. Worse, there were occasions where their advertorials were not accepted by the mainstream press. That is not only unconstitutional but unabashed display of moral and ethical bankruptcies.
The press is a central component of every democratic setting. Because of their paramount status, they are labelled the fourth estate of the realm. There can never be a successful democratic society without an objective and critical press because they inculcate democratic ethos on the citizenry and check excesses of mandate holders. Sequel to this, I expected them to be scrupulous in their reportage by avoiding simplistic and comical notion of governments that is increasingly demonstrating inability to accept dissenting views or see others holding and practising beliefs detrimentally opposed to theirs as citizens that should enjoy their rights like them.
Foreign missions and representatives of international governmental and non governmental organizations in Nigeria have also fall prey of the raw propaganda of government. Their seldom statements on crushing and flattening of Shiites rights seems to stemmed from contaminated press reports of the incidences. We expected them to be more professional and circumspect in their pronouncements. A clear example of “conscious” misleading statements came from the U.S. State Department positing that ” they are deeply concerned’ by the deaths of dozens of Nigerians during clashes between individuals participating in a Shia procession and the Nigerian Police Force in Kano State on November 14.” How Can the State Department called that “A Clash”? This is being economical with the truth because it was a deadly assault by Nigeria Police against peaceful Shiites brothers and sisters observing the ARBA’EEN trek. The State Department and others painting the incidence of a clash to satisfy some ulterior motives, better know that I was personally in Kano, as an independent observer. I went to verify the constant tale that Shiites always carry arms while observing their numerous religious rituals. The trekkers were armless and peaceful. Now, how can crushing of peaceful marchers amounts to a clash as spewed by the State Department?
If an individual like me and a non Muslim (Let alone Shiite) can make it to Kano, why can’t the U.S.and other diplomatic community in Nigeria walk an extra mile to see thing for themselves? Relying on contradictory and unreliable official statements from government and security agencies is wrong. The whole world is looking up to the U.S.because fate has bestowed in her the onerous task of spreading liberty and democracy in the world. When the U.S.shows unwillingness to stand with the oppressed and talk straight, it’s worrisome. And diametrically opposed to the very foundation of their Union established over two hundred years ago. They must not lose sight of their popular declaration that ” all men are born with some inalienable rights”.
There is no denying the fact that, many compatriots chose not to see or hear this political evil wind blowing since December 2015. Is it because they are not directly involved? Is it because the wind is crushing and flattening a religious minority group called Shiites that are far off our climes? Well, beseeching us not to forget immortal words of American Civil Rights Activist Dr. Lurther King jnr that said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We must not also forget the intended counsel enshrined in Martin Niemoller poem titled “Speak Out “. Let’s speak out against infringement of the rights of Shiites. Let’s speak out against continued and disgraceful incarceration of Sheik El-Zakzaky. Speaking out now and massively is our surest buffer against this wind of dictatorship that is collapsing all pillars of rights and liberty. Don’t forget, after Shiites and El-Zakzaky, you might be their next victim. And when that happen, there will be no one to talk for you.
I know that people living far off Nigeria are finding it hard accepting incontrovertible cum impeccable realism that these atrocities are glowing in a democratic Nigeria. Lest they forget, our legal and legislative structures envisioned to balance executive excesses are spineless and ineffectual. It can simply be put: we have supermen that are powerful than our democratic institutions. Charles de Montesquieu opined,”There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” This seems to be the order, now in Nigeria. A system and leadership that arrests people for exercising their God given right to worship and refused to obey court orders is no democracy.
Dr. John Danfulani
Chairman Centrum Initiative For Development
And Fundamental Rights Advocacy (CEDRA)
NO1 SF7 Zabura Plaza Ungwan Romi