Islamic Movement vs Boko Haram: Can Nigeria Survive Another Wave Of Religious Extremism?

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Events in the past weeks have heightened fears about a new Islamist threat in Nigeria. The recent clashes between soldiers and members of the Shi’ite Islamic sect also known as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) that left scores of the members dead and the leader of the group in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, severely wounded during the annual religious procession called Muzahara in the northern city of Zaria, have led people to believe that we could have another Boko Haram on our hands if the frequent military-Shi’ite confrontations are not properly handled.

It was under almost similar circumstance that Boko Haram began a bloody campaign against the Nigerian state in July 2009 that is still ongoing, with over 20,000 people killed and millions displaced in northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Muhammad Yusuf, the leader of Boko Haram, was killed in police custody and hell was let loose by members of the group who have been on the rampage since then.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, expressed the worries of Nigerians in the aftermath of the Zaria massacre when he warned the authorities in a statement that they should not create a new Boko Haram, adding that the past, with cataclysmic consequences that Nigeria is yet to recover from, should not be allowed to be repeated. Northern governors have also held talks where they expressed fears about the Shi’ite movement in the North metamorphosing into another Boko Haram. They must remain vigilant and do not allow another violent religious extremism grip the North. It would be one calamity too many.

What happened to Yusuf, the slain Boko Haram leader, almost happened to Zakzaky during the Zaria confrontation between members of his group and the soldiers in the convoy of the chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai. Zakzaky was shot and severely wounded. Some even believed he had been killed along with his wife and children. The military later stoutly denied the social media reports about his death. However, his son, Mahmud Ibraheem Zakzaky, second in command, and scores of others were massacred. A similar clash with soldiers last year left three of his children dead along with a dozen other members of the sect.

Experts have also expressed worry over this unpleasant development. According to Malte Liewerscheidt, Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a research and investment firm, the IMN, attracts impoverished Muslim youths by preaching defiance of Nigeria’s secular authorities and offering a social infrastructure that is not provided by the state, just the way Boko Haram abhors Western education and offers jihad as an alternative avenue through which it could create a distinct Islamic state. Maplecroft added that, like other Shi’ite movements around the world, the IMN enjoys political and financial support from the Shia regime in Iran. Since Nigeria’s security forces are ill-equipped and trained to deal with riot control, the escalation of a local confrontation with the IMN was just a matter of time. The risk of escalation will be compounded if the military response spirals out of control and if due process is ignored in the handling of Zakzaky and his followers who are in custody.

M.K. Ibrahim, director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, has also called for an impartial investigation into the Zaria events, because, he added, whilst the final death toll is unclear, there is no doubt there has been a substantial loss of life at the hands of the military during the two-day bloody confrontations that led to the destruction of a mosque and Zakzaky’s house in Zaria by soldiers. Reports say Zakzaky, who founded IMN in the 1980s, has been monitored by the Nigerian security forces for years on suspicion that he is trying to create an independent Shi’ite state. This is very worrisome, with the loaded statement by the defiant, fiery preacher in the late 1970s that Nigeria was a country being run by thieves.

The events in Zaria could have been avoided if the parties involved in the conflict had exercised restraint. Two wrongs, they say, do not a make a right. The Shi’ites should not have blocked the road during their procession thereby preventing other law-abiding citizens from exercising their freedom of movement. It was even a great affront for them to have prevented the chief of army staff from passing on that road after his aides came down from their vehicles to plead with them to allow Buratai’s convoy move on. The soldiers on their part were heavy-handed while dealing with the situation. However, the life of the army chief was at stake as the soldiers claimed, and they had to use maximum force to prevent him from being assassinated.

The incident should be thoroughly investigated and handled with care so that there won’t be a repeat of such again. With the Boko Haram insurgency still raging in northern Nigeria, the Shi’ites in the country should not be pushed into waging another religious war in order to create an Islamic state for its members. It is believed that Boko Haram sprang forth from a cocoon of injustice. Zakzaky’s Islamic Movement in Nigeria must not be allowed to snowball into the kind of monster Boko Haram has become.

To prevent this from happening, there must be vigilance on the part of security forces, tolerance and obedience to the rule of law by the military and members of the sect. Nigeria is a secular state. Nobody should attempt to impose his religion on other citizens, or allow his religious activities impinge on the freedom of others. Violent religious extremism is an ill wind that must not be allowed to blow again in this country. We should remember the Maitatsine riots of the 80s that left many people dead in the north. If the religious uprising had not been nipped in the bud, by now Nigeria would not have survived the religious conflagration.

Mr Ocheyenor wrote from Lagos.

The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of

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The post Islamic Movement vs Boko Haram: Can Nigeria Survive Another Wave Of Religious Extremism? appeared first on Nigeria News today & Breaking news | Read on NAIJ.COM.

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