Frankly Speaking

July 28, 2019

God save Nigeria from another sectarian war

God save Nigeria from another sectarian war

By Dele Sobowale

Dele I want to bring to your attention the Shiite issue now shaking Abuja & nation. Iran is a Shi’ite nation and Nigerian Shiites are linked. If the issue is not properly handled, another Boko Haram will be created” –  Amakiri.

One of VANGUARD’s longest readers sent this piece just as I was about to check-in at University College Hospital, Ibadan. The matter needed the utmost attention before my eyes are “closed” temporarily. I thank him most sincerely for his concern for our country. His fears are well-placed. As a matter of fact, he actually understates the danger we face in the event the Shiite/Sunni Islamic sectarian conflict turns violent.

Shiite is compared to Boko Haram just as a pussy cat is to a tiger. If Shiite protests enter the shooting phase, everybody, including Boko Haram fighters, would need to run for cover. There are so many more of them in all the states of Nigeria. It would be a national conflict in which nobody will be safe. The Federal Government is risking all of our lives. But, just to let my good friend Amakiri know that the matter had not escaped my attention, let me remind readers of an article published in 2017. It was only one of at least six which had attempted to warn the FG of the dangers ahead if they continue to provoke the Shi’ites into self-help – as they are doing now.

First the following was published in 2017:


“Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipotent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”

US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1856-1941, in 1928.

The Federal Government of Nigeria has flouted the law several times with regard to the failure to release the two detainees – El_Zakzaky and Dasuki – despite court orders. This is despite President Buhari’s assurances given in London on May 12, 2016 at the Anti-Corruption Summit attended by sixty Heads of State. At that conference, the Nigerian leader made this declaration to the audience in clear words.

“I am not unaware of the challenges of fighting corruption in a manner consistent with respect for human rights and rule of law. As a country that came out of prolonged military rule only seventeen years ago; it will clearly take time to change the mentality and psychology of law enforcement officers. I am committed to applying the rule of law and to respecting human rights. I also require our security agencies to do the same.”

The participants, mostly from nations where the law is supreme believed our President. At home, the reception was mixed. Some trusted Buhari to keep his promise made openly to the global community. Others were sceptical. They know from bitter experience that scepticism is the best guide to wisdom when politicians talk. Buhari was speaking as a politician in London.

The reason for doubt is not far fetched. Buhari’s eighteen months as Military Head of State were among the most brutal in all the years of military rule. We also know that the man talking about respect for human rights had only one career and that was in the military whose contempt for human rights of “bloody civilians” was legendary. In retirement he was a livestock farmer. Neither life as a soldier where recruits are turned into robots nor as chief herdsman was exactly the best school for learning about respect for human rights. To the critics, the first mentality and psychology of a law enforcement officer to be changed is that of the “potent, the omnipotent teacher” of Nigerians – President Buhari. Soon it became clear that Bukhara was not totally prepared to fulfil his promise to respect human rights. He was going to be selective and by so doing set a bad example for the people he leads.

Stop illegal militarisation of elections in Nigeria by Femi Falana(Opens in a new browser tab)

As the London conference was underway and Buhari was pleasing the audience with his assurances, three events were unfolding at home that would reveal the self-delusion involved his statements and our collective acceptance of them as articles of faith. We were also self-deceived to have expected an old man, past seventy, to unlearn all the habits accumulated since he joined the army in 1961 at the age of 19. Perhaps we wanted to be deceived because we all know that habit is stronger than reason and not easily broken – especially at old age. The three events that would test Buhari’s sincerity were the arrests for different alleged offences of Kanu, the agitator for creation of Biafra; Dasuki, the immediate past National Security Adviser, NSA; and El-Zakzaky, the Shi’ite leader after a violent confrontation with the Nigerian Army…..”

Furthermore, it was observed in that article as follows:

“The rule of law requires everybody, Presidents and paupers, to obey the orders of an independent judiciary. Those on the bench are the people designated to determine guilt or innocence once the Executive branch has done its own duty. They are also the people charged with deciding appropriate punishment within the confines of the laws passed by the Legislative Branch. The law in a democracy forbids the Executive to impose its own punishment on people accused but not found guilty by the courts. Buhari while making his solemn pledge in London might not have understood this. Law is not taught at Mons; killing people is. So he can be partly excused for ignorance – even when it is no defence in law.

Nigerians and the world expected that once arrested the two individuals would be subjected to the same legal process as everybody else – because to do otherwise would amount to discrimination. That is process corruption. They were until various judges sitting in different courts granted them bail under sometimes bizarre conditions. Then, the real Buhari began to show. The man who advocated the change in the mentality and psychology of security agencies demonstrated that he has not changed his own. The potent, omnipotent teacher has since then been teaching his security agencies all the bad habits he preached against in London – to a great round of applause.”

That was the genesis of the problems we now face in Nigeria. We are on the brink of a sectarian war.

“God is always on the side of the big battalions.” Marshal Turene, 1611-1675. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, 20.

One of the first lessons I learnt when taking my introductory course in Economics in the US and before taking a course in 17th Century Europe, and reading about Turene, was that large numbers always count for something – especially conflict. The Shiites claimed membership strength of 22 million. If true, eleven per cent of Nigerians belong to that group. The Nigerian armed forces, minus police, number 500,000; so there are 44 Shiites to every officer – including security guards and toilet cleaners. Even if the armed forces are “not overstretched and rustic” (courtesy of Ooni of Ife), there is no way the Shi’ites can be contained by the Nigerian armed forces who are still battling Boko Haram, bandits and kidnappers. They have left herdsmen to roam and kill as they want. In fact, what will follow will amount to a needless waste of millions of mostly innocent human lives and properties by the FG. And, it is not just the combatants on the front lines who will suffer. Foreigners living in our midst will also share in the pervasive pain and misery. If only half of the Shi’ites are committed to a violent conflict on account of the refusal of the Executive branch to obey court orders; then a war would have been deliberately declared. That calls for another caution for the FG.

“War is much too serious to be left to military men.”

Charles Talleyrand, 1754-1838. VBQ, 268.

What is shaping up can be regarded as a war; however it is defined, which Nigerians cannot afford to leave it to one military man to lead us into  with our eyes wide open. It is our lives and properties that are at stake. No President is elected to throw them away based on his own whims, caprices and prejudices. In fact, if the elected members of the National Assembly, NASS, fail to act, we, the people, must act in our own interest to call the Executive to order. Each of us has only one life to live. We have not elected a President and given him the mandate to determine when it will end.

Editor’s note: Article written before the declaration of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN, Shi’ites) as a terrorist group by a court on Friday.