With barely one week to the end of this year, one organisation that readily comes to mind is the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), a Shi’ite Muslim group.
The IMN, is a religious organisation focused on the adaptation of Islamic state in Nigeria. Its leader, El Zakzaky was inspired by the Iranian revolution and rejects the authority of the Nigerian government. The movement focuses on a non violent approach towards achieving an Islamic state.
But since 2015, the group has been seeking justice for those killed, an account for the hundreds who have gone missing and, above all, the release of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat Ibrahim.
His detention came after an “altercation” between his group and the Nigerian army which resulted in the killing of over 300 members. Amnesty International said the Nigerian military killed more than 350 men, women and children in Zaria.
The army alleged that IMN members “armed with batons, knives, and machetes stopped the convoy of the military”, saying it acted in self-defence and to avert the possible assassination of Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant general Tukur Buratai.
After the incident, El-Zakzaky was accused by the government of murder, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace and other charges following the 2015 violence. As a result, the organisation has had a frosty relationship with the Federal Government over the incarceration of its leader which most times resulted in deaths and injuries to the adherents.
In 2019, the group kept the Federal Government on its toes following its demand for the release of Zakzaky who remains imprisoned since 2015 despite court orders for his freedom.
Recall that before the violence of 2015, Shia Muslims were a relatively unknown religious minority led by el-Zakzaky and since his detention following the incident, several other members of the group have lost their lives in protest marches for his release.
Many people are of the view that government should be careful in handling the IMN so that it would not turn out to be another Boko Haram, a sect which has become a torn in the flesh of Nigeria.
Boko Haram since 2009, has grown from being a fringe religious sect to a brutal terrorist group which has killed over 25,000 and abducted thousands of others. From available statistics, at least 2 million people have also been displaced from their homes across the North East following the group’s deadly activities.
Many are praying that Nigeria does not repeat many of the mistakes which led to the rise of Boko Haram as a terrorist group.
In the outgoing year, members of IMN led by Ibrahim El Zakzaky engaged in exchanges with the govrnment that resulted in the deaths of many of the mmbers of the Islamic group who were typically met with brute force from the security agencies.
The argument is that there are parallels between the handling of IMN and early-day Boko Haram sect as the government detained the leader of an ideologically radical religious group(Boko Haram), triggering anger among its members with no way to predict or contain the fallout.
In the case of Boko Haram, erstwhile leader Mohammed Yusuf died in police custody, sparking violence which eventually saw the group develop into a murderous sect and resulting in a more radical leader emerging in Abubakar Shekau, now Nigeria’s most wanted man who’s proven hard to capture.
With IMN vowing to stage more protests in El Zakzaky’s absence and security forces unlikely to change tactics, there are fears the development may degenerate into another cycle of violence led by a similar group, Boko Haram.
As Nigeria goes into the New Year, many would want to see a change of tactics in the way government handles the activities of IMN to avoid tension and reduce casualties on both sides. It is hoped that government would obey court orders for the release of El Zaky Zaky to reflect the true spirit of democracy and observance of the rule of law.
By Eya Chidera Obumneme