​Nigeria is a multi-religious country in which the two main faiths, Christianity and Islam, are sub-divided into numerous sects and groups, not all of which accept each other. Our Constitution protects all of them by guaranteeing religious freedom. Any attempt to deprive any religious group of the freedom to practice its religion runs the risk of provoking a major conflict with that group.

It is in this context that PREMIUM TIMES wishes to call attention to the dangers associated with the widespread attacks on Shiites, a Muslim religious movement, in various parts of Northern Nigeria. The attacks are directed at members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Nigeria’s foremost Shi’a group.

It would be recalled that the Kaduna State Government recently issued a legal notice in relation to the Commission of Inquiry Report on the “Clash Between the Nigerian Army and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN)”. The Order, which came into operation on October 7, 2016 declares that: “the Society that bears the name, style, guise or nomenclature of the “Islamic Movement in Nigeria”, is hereby declared an Unlawful Society in Kaduna State.”

The justifications for the order, according to the Kaduna Government, are the imperative for the promotion and protection of public safety, public order, public morality or public health; and/or the rights and freedom of all persons in Kaduna State.

The Order is anchored on the findings of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the clashes between the group with the appellation “Islamic Movement in Nigeria’’ (IMN) and the Nigerian Army in Zaria between December 12 and 14 2015. The findings, the government says, draw attention to acts, which if allowed to go unchecked will constitute danger to the peace, tranquillity, harmonious co-existence and good governance of Kaduna State.

The Commission itself was very problematic because although one party, the Nigerian Army, participated with a huge array of lawyers, the other party to the confrontation, the IMN, neither sent memoranda nor appeared before it. They stayed away because they had lost hundreds of their people who were killed by soldiers, with many more arrested and jailed, while their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife, had been in detention with the SSS since December last year. They also pointed out that some members of the Commission of Inquiry had been on record proposing that Muslims should kill members of the Shi’a religious group. It was therefore not surprising that they boycotted the Inquiry. As such, the fact of the matter is that the Commission heard only one side of the story.

Nonetheless, the Commission of Inquiry was categorical in its findings that the Nigerian Army was wrong in “shooting its way” through the blockade set by the IMN that led to the initial killing of seven members of the IMN. The Commission also found that the claim by the Army that the IMN had a large stockpile of dangerous weapons was false as they could only produce one locally made pistol and some catapults, knives, swords and bows and arrows as evidence of the purported “large arsenal” of arms. The Commission therefore concluded that the use of lethal force by the Nigerian Army leading to the massacre of 347 members of the movement was wrong, illegal and punishable. The Commission subsequently recommended that steps should immediately be taken to identify members of the Nigerian Army who acted contrary to their Rules of Engagement and professional ethics and participated in the killings of the IMN members and other citizens between December 12 and 14, 2015, with a view to bringing them to justice by prosecuting them.

Rather than punishing the Nigerian Army for its crimes, what we have witnessed so far is the proscription of the movement. Many of the members have also been attacked and killed since the proscription order.