TUESDAY, September 10, 2019, was billed as another day for a bloody showdown between the Nigeria Police Force and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN(also known as the Shiites). It was a day the Shiite Muslim sect worldwide conducted this year’s edition of their “Ashura” Day processions.
The Shiites usually carry out these processions on the 10th day of the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, to mark the death of Sheikh Husayn Ibn Ali, the third Imam of the Shiites and grandson of Prophet Muhammad in the battle of Karbala, Iraq.
The Nigeria Police had risen against this year’s procession by the IMN which the Federal Government recently proscribed after dubbing it a “terrorist organisation”. They also vowed to treat the procession as “a gathering in advancement of terrorism”. The IMN, though often recalcitrant, irreverent and tendentious towards the authorities, has never been known to carry out any terrorist attacks.
Early reports on Tuesday indicated a generally peaceful procession in the 19 Northern states, though there were unconfirmed reports of shooting and the death of three IMN members during the procession in Kaduna and another one in Bauchi. Media reports quoted an IMN spokesman as saying: “There were also shootings in Lela, Sokoto State; Azare in Bauchi State and in Katsina State too where the protest was held. They used teargas to disperse our members”.
We have always advised the authorities and the IMN to tread with caution in their relationships with each other. The IMN, being Nigerians, are constitutionally entitled to free and peaceful assembly, association and freedom of worship. On the other hand, the Police and other security agencies have the constitutional mandate to protect all Nigerians through the maintenance of law and order.
The main cause of friction is that the Shiites and some other radical Islamic groups do not feel bound by the laws of Nigeria. Rather they insist that as Muslims they recognise only the Islamic laws encapsulated in the Qu’ran and Hadiths.
Besides, the Shiites as a minority within the Nigerian Islamic fold is involved in a fierce ideological and foreign-fuelled rivalry with the majority Sunnis who occupy commanding positions in the Nigerian governmental establishment, and this reflects in their official actions towards each other.
Once again, we call on both sides to calm down. The IMN and the police can cohabit without rancour. All that is required to make this possible is a little understanding of each other.
While IMN should practise their religion, the Police has a constitutional duty to enforce law and order without excessive use of force.