In what could best be described as desperate attempt by the Nigerian army to cover up their heinous crime of the Zaria massacre, they have resorted to campaigns of calumny against the Islamic Movement in Nigeria and its leadership. Of recent, they sponsored a yet to be released movie named “Fatal Arrogance” portraying the movement as a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, behind the scene pictures from the movie making rounds on social media have since gained condemnation from various civil rights advocacy groups and well meaning individuals.
My attention was drawn to one of such calumnies by one faceless Ibekwe, who claimed to be a “security expert” from Enugu; in his opinion piece published in Blueprint newspaper a couple days ago. The writer laboriously tried to attribute “terrorism” to the movement, its activities and leadership. Had he been from another world where information is inaccessible, his piece wouldn’t have been as embarrassing, for someone who claimed to be a “security expert”.
The Amnesty International in an investigation reported that at least 350 members of the movement were killed by security forces between 12 and 14 December 2015 in Zaria, and over 700 people are still unaccounted for ever since the brutal massacre. The New York Times (NYT), in a visual investigation, reported that dozens of peaceful Ashura marchers belonging to the movement were killed by security operatives in October 2018 in Abuja. The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported that no fewer than 45 people were killed in that attack.
Also in a report published by the United States Commission for International Religious Freedoms (USCIRF) in December 2019, the U.S designate Nigeria as one of the countries with highest record of religious persecution, citing example with the continued persecution of the members of the Islamic Movement in the country by state security apparatus. Part of the report reads: “The federal government continued to detain the leader of the IMN, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, along with his wife and hundreds of other members (who are now acquitted and released), and state government continue to ban the group’s activities”.
For the failure to prosecute the perpetrators of such heinous crimes as the massacre of Shiites in Zaria, the killings of people in Plateau and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), etc, the U.S places Nigeria on special watch list of countries with religious intolerance and gross human right abuses.
Mr. Ibekwe, the “expert”, is unfortunately living in another world to have known all these. Indeed, the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has described the Islamic Movement as the most persecuted group of people in the entire history of Nigeria.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, terrorism is defined as: “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion by a particular group in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands”. The activities of the Islamic Movement is very far from this. In fact, they have, on the contrary, always been victims of state sponsored killings and persecution.
The Islamic Movement throughout its over four decades of existence has always resorted to peace by seeking redress in competent court of laws, in a bid to press home its demands. Following the December 2015 massacre in Zaria alone, it has comfortably secured victory over the Nigerian government in not less than 15 court of laws on different occasions. Which “terrorist” organization, worthy of the name, approach court of law to seek the enforcement of its fundamental rights?
The writer who seemingly lives in outer space and didn’t know what had been happening in our world is a fatal disgrace to himself and the cause he represents, especially when he said: “IMN members in dozens, armed to the teeth went out on a certain day in Abuja to waste the lives of a policeman and that of journalist”.
He may be referring to the death of Channels TV reporter, Precious Owolabi, and Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in charge of operations at the FCT Command, Usman Umar, in July last year. But Channels TV later confirmed, on account of eyewitnesses, that their reporter was killed on duty by stray bullet from indiscriminate police shooting just like Alex Ameh Ogbu, the journalist working with the Africa Times Magazine who was killed by police in Abuja earlier this year, while covering the peaceful protest by members of the Islamic Movement.
Autopsy report obtained from the National Hospital Abuja revealed that Alex Ogbu died of ‘brain evisceration’ due to ‘penetrating missile injury’ [gunshot wound] sustained by means of high velocity bullets being fired at him by the police. Similarly, the story is no different for DCP Umar, who experts argued most possibly died from his colleague ‘erroneously indiscriminate’ shooting. Nevertheless, It is a public knowledge that followers of the Islamic Movement do not bear arms during their activities.
Ibekwe called the members of the Islamic Movement “terrorists” for protesting the continued illegal detention of their leader. He, however, failed to understand- or is blinded by his bigotry, that protest is a legal constitutional right in a democratic society. For instance, you have the Black Lives Matter protest in the U.S and other European countries, the Climate Activists in the U.K, the Yellow Vest protest in France, etc.
Here in Nigeria, for example, President Muhammad Buhari himself led protest rally against the former administration sometime in 2014 accusing the administration of playing politics with Boko Haram. In all honesty, various other aggrieved people in Nigeria, not just the Islamic Movement, often take to the streets to register their grievances and make their voices heard. Peaceful protest is not, and would never be, a crime in a democratic society!
The writer also lied a great deal when he claimed that the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, “wasted Nigeria’s scarce resources on a phantom medical trip to India”. In truth, Sheikh El-Zakzaky paid for the entire trip from his pocket. And on the contrary, some government officials are taking the advantage of his continued detention to fill up their pockets. For example, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, once claimed that they spent 3.5 million monthly to feed the Sheikh; [a claim] he was ridiculed for by Nigerians.
Sheikh El Zakzaky is leading one of the most peaceful movements in history, which in spite of continued crackdown from security operatives, always remain calm and resilient; even in the wake of massive killing of their fellows revenge is not in their dictionary. This is why the movement is comprised of people from all walks of life, Muslims and Non-Muslims alike.
Mr. Ibekwe’s opinion piece may be part of the Nigerian army’s series of sponsored campaigns of calumny in their bid to bury under carpet the heinous crime they committed in December 2015 in Zaria, now that the case is opened before the International Criminal Court of Justice. The movie, the many unprovoked attacks, and the sponsored media propaganda are nothing short of the last kick of a dying horse. They must, God willing, be punished for their crimes in this world and hereafter.
Najeeb Maigatari,Jigawa[email protected]