January 30, 2016

Shiites: Why people are indifferent to the killings in Zaria

Shiites: Why people are indifferent to the killings in Zaria

•One of the victims allegedly shot in her private part

In the aftermath of the bloody clash between  members of the Shiite sect and the military recently, Ben Agande who has been following the development, travelled to Zaria and captured the mood of some of the injured members of the sect still on admission at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital.

For Mohammed Abdulkareem, a Senior Secondary School 3 student, life as he had known it in the last fourteen years will never be the same again. He was shot multiple times as he backed off from the Shiite headquarters when the Nigerian army invaded the place to drive out members of the sect who had earlier barricaded the Zaria-Sokoto road and prevented the chief of army staff from passing through. He sustained gun shots to his leg which left him with a fractured femur. The gun shot to his back exited though his abdomen leaving a large wound that was encased in a huge plastic when Vanguard visited him on his hospital bed at the Ahmadu Bello University Hospital.

•One of the victims allegedly shot in her private part

•One of the victims allegedly shot in her private part

Apart from the gun shot wound he suffered, his anatomy was seriously affected to the extent that in the last thirty days, it has been impossible for him to defecate normally. Instead, one of the members of the movement who has been assigned to look after the injured members at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital where most of the injured members were admitted, Mallam Anas Abubakar Abi on a daily basis, inserts his hand into young Abdulkareem’s anus to evacuate the faeces trapped between his anus and the rectum. Wearing gloves, Abubakar Abi demonstrated this in the presence of this reporter. He had been put though on this by the nurses.

But what Mohammed Abdulkareem is going through pales into insignificance when compared with the fate of fourteen year old girl also admitted at the female orthopedic female ward of hospital. Apart from a broken leg from a gun shot, this innocent looking girl who remained fully veiled on her sick hospital bed was violated in the most private of her body: she was allegedly shot on her private part after allegedly resisting attempted rape by one of the soldiers who invaded the residence of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria where many members of the sect had gone to seek refuge.

The narrative as to what really happened on that fateful day has been that of the Nigerian army and the members of the Islamic sect, whose leader is being held in an unknown safe house in Abuja by the security services while some members of its top echelon have been decimated. According to the army’s account, it’s leader, the chief of army staff survived an assassination attempt when members of the sect, against all supplications prevented him from accessing the Zaria-Sokoto road to attend an official function at the Nigerian Army Depot, the passing out parade of new recruits and pay homage to the emir of Zaria.

It explained rather cavalierly that those who died in the encounter were those who carried out the attempted attack. Though the army said it came under attack from members of the sect, it never displayed any weapon captured from the sect; neither did it show any member of its troop that was wounded. But the Shiites sect has a different story line. At worst, it believed that it’s members were victims of a premeditated attack from the army which it accused of nursing a grudge against members of the sect who are by the way, minorities in a country where majority of the over seventy million Muslims belong to the Sunni sect. It points to its members who are still on admission at the Hospital as living proof of the Army’s brutality.

The two patients under reference above are among the over seventy four others who were brought to the hospital a day after the bloody encounter between the army and the Shiites sect. While a substantial number of the wounded members had been treated and discharged and about four reportedly died of their gun shot wounds, seven remained on admission with varying degrees of injuries when Vanguard visited.

Despite the grave violence visited on members of the sect and the huge casualty incurred, the mood among the majority in Zaria including non-Muslims in the ancient Zaria city appears to be at best, indifferent and at worst celebratory to the fate of the Shiites. A cross section of some Muslims who spoke with Saturday vanguard on what befell the Shiites members expressed the views that the Shiites got what they deserved. But what would make some body, especially people of same faith celebrate the brutal killing of its members? Why are Muslims in Zaria not outraged by the mass killings of Shiites members by the military?

According to Dr Sadiqque Abubakar, a lecturer in the department of Political Science at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, the indifference of majority of the residents of Zaria City to the fate of Shiites could be explained in three ways; the lawlessness and over-zealousness of the Shiites for a long time without check, the prejudice against Shiite by the majority Sunni community in Zaria who don’t see the Shiites as true Muslims and the pains caused by the Shiites to Zaria residents any time they block the roads for their very many processions and ceremonies. They are accused of annexing places with ease.

His view especially on the blockage of road with seeming impunity was shared by many other members of the Zaria community who spoke with Saturday Vanguard. Mr Ikechukwu Chinwendu who owns a furniture shop that shares a boundary with the now demolished headquarters of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and has stayed in Zaria for more than fifteen years. He corroborated the views of Dr Abubakar. He said that though members of the sect are not overtly violent, “when they block the road for their ceremonies, they are usually armed with dangerous weapons like knives,

Cutlasses, Catapult and all sorts of Arsenal. Their mere sight is terrorizing. People don’t like them because any time they have a ceremony in Zaria, the whole town is brought to a stand still. The police most times appear helpless. The people therefore see what the army did as a way of liberation. There is no body in Zaria who has not suffered from the excesses of the Shiite activities in Zaria” he said.

But for Harun El Binawi, a Shiite blogger who lives in Kaduna,  the indifference of or even support of   the majority Sunni Muslims in Zaria and northern Nigeria for the army massacre against the Shiites has wider dimension with its roots in the international gang up against Shiites worldwide.

According to him, “this can be assessed in two perspectives: the silence of the international community on the massacre in Zaria and the celebration of the Zaria community. It is the infiltration of Wahhabism into this country that has brought about the hate mongering in the country. One of the universal agendas of Wahhabism is to kill Shiites where ever they are. That is why in the Middle East, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan Shiites have been target of attack by Wahhabis. The people in Zaria who are celebrating the massacre of Shiites in Zaria are people who have been contaminated by the Wahhabis ideology.   If it was Christians that were killed in that encounter, they would have been celebrating as well”.

Though there appeared to have been a unanimous condemnation of the seeming excesses of some Shiites followers when they block the roads during their procession, many residents of Zaria believe that the blockage of the road was used as an excuse by the army to deal with the Shiites once and for all, and that the army was emboldened to carry out the killings because the Shiites are a minority who do not enjoy wide support in the immediate community.

According to Dr Sadiqque Abubabkar, though the Shiites were wrong to have blocked the road and prevented the chief of army staff from passing, it was not enough reason for the army to visit hell on them.

“But if you look at what is happening and when you ask people, they will tell you that they (Shiites) blocked the road. But people do not see what others are doing. Go to any major town in the north on Fridays. What you will see is not different from what the Shiites do, even in Zaria. On Fridays, roads are blocked when it is time for prayers.   It is not only the Shiites. Until recently when Governor El Rufai intervened, if you were driving from Kaduna to Zaria, you kept meeting road blocks especially when you come to Zaria. So what they accuse the Shiites of doing, they also do it. It all boils down to the fact that the Shiites are Minorities and they are not seen as Muslims. What ever the Shiites do is magnified.

All Muslim groups in the north block the roads. It is not the exclusive preserve of the Shiites. If people want to have reasons to blame the Shiites, they have to have that outside the examples I have given you” he said. And for the state, Dr Sadiqque has a very strong message: How you treat minorities and the weak would determine how People take you serious and will go a long way in ensuring peace in the country.

“ We are all Nigerians and we are supposed to be protected by the Nigerian state. we are also expected to respect the laws of the country. Any citizen who breaks the law must be dealt with according to the law. If it is traffic offence, the laws dealing with traffic offences are there. Those laws must be applied. No body must be above the law. We forgo the use of arms because there are people in Nigeria who have been appointed by the Nigerian state to use arms legally but they do not have the right to use the arms given to them indiscriminately.

They must be used within the confines of the laws otherwise they are stimulating anarchy. The very moment people realise that those who have been given arms to protect them are using the arms against them; they will also find a means of protecting themselves which means they will also acquire arms because they will not allow themselves to be sitting ducks. That is the danger. The state must ensure that all agencies allowed by the law to use arms use them according to the laws of the country.

“I am not saying that the Shiites are absolutely right; they have no right to block public space, to block road, but there are laws to deal with that. It does not call for mobilization of troops to start shooting people indiscriminately. There were people who were going about their legitimate businesses that were caught in the shooting.

“What is very frightening is that because something like this happened and because it happened to a minority group, people tend to be happy with it. No matter what the Shiites did, they did not deserve the kind of reaction that they got. Are we saying that we will condone the massacre of minorities, groups we don’t agree with?   I think our responsibility is to insist that the laws must take its course. Those who carried out the massacre in Zaria are expected to respect the laws of the country. What would they say if others do not respect the law?

That is my fear. We know what happened in the case of Boko Haram. It is really frightening that in a community like this, soldiers will come and kill people. The way even the corpses were handled was very bad. They came with a truck on  a broad day light and throw the bodies in the truck. Life has become meaningless. What are you teaching those young boys who were watching?” He lamented.

With the setting up of a judicial panel by the governor of Kaduna state, Nasir el Rufai to investigate the circumstances leading to the crisis, it is expected that perhaps a new insight would be given into the incident and perhaps the people of Zaria may give an insight into why the Shiites are treated with contempt and dislike. But with the decision of the Shiites to boycott the panel sitting alleging bias of the panel members, the Shittes may not respect the report of the panel.

For the victims still in the hospital, whatever the outcome of the panel, their faith in their sect remains strong. “I may not be able to use my private part for normal delivery of a baby again. I may have to limp through out my life if the doctors are able to mend my broken legs. But for as long as I live, I will continue to follow my faith of Islam and I will continue to follow our leader. No gun can discourage me” said Amina, one of the victims at the ABUTH who was allegedly shot in her private part.