Shi’ites: Humans, Nigerians or what?By Ralph Egbu
— 14th August 2016
Nigeria is a puzzle. Our processes, operations and other things that happen here are simply incomprehensible. It is not that we are not human beings or we do not have the benefit of history, I can attest that we are humans and though the study of history has been prohibited, a lot of us still know about history and more importantly the lessons they have to teach about building a decent society in which life really thrives. What baffles me is why in spite of these lessons, things that are inconsequential continue to be of significance to us especially in the leadership and political sphere. Let me take one example, budget padding, to illustrate what I mean. Some say it is a mess, some say the nation is about to collapse, others say it is about who, between the Legislature and the Executive, has the right to initiate programs. The more mischievous ones say they have caught armed robbers; they have been at this while the real task of substituting poverty for abundance remains neglected. In places where leaders are products of great scholarship and where the issue of transforming society and lives are taken seriously, so-called padding is a simple matter. What they would do is to find out what was wrongly added, note it, and refuse to fund it. By so doing, we exorcise it like we do with evil spirit without causing harm to the physical body. But because we must fight dirty political conflicts, what is not an issue has become a serious matter, capable of consuming the All Progressives Congress as a strong political platform and the security pillars of this nation.
This malady is not restricted to the political horizon, for instance the media to which I belong, has made it the norm to give the widest publicity to men and events that either have capacity to decimate and degrade us or prolong our quest to establish that society in which we all and generations to come can live in bigger and better comfort. Boko Haram we all know is a threat not just to us but to the entire humanity, but the barbarians would cough and we find it good enough to make it headlines in both our broadcast and print media, yet somebody will tell me that bad news is what makes news. This is what the western world has taught us and we reflect same in our curriculum, consequently washing our dirty linens in public. We de-robe ourselves of respect and still want to have it or have the world give us honour, a clear case of eating our cake and still desiring to have it back. It doesn’t add up. Even last week, a small unit like the American Embassy in Nigeria issued a so-called travel guide listing about 22 states out of 36 we have as unsafe destinations and our media celebrated this in their front pages, not knowing that they further dehumanize the entire population and portray us as less than humans incapable of sound organisation. The point I am trying to make is that since independence we have by our own actions continued to erode our human rights and to have a system that confers no respect on us on every aspect; the army and police for instance, should ordinarily be institutions full of empathy and compassion for the citizens, but that’s not what we get. Little altercation between any member of the armed forces and the citizens, results in severe brutalization of the latter. I have witnessed instances of mere traffic offences and in place of correctional instructions, our armed personnel order down the drivers and occupants of a vehicle, flog and make them do frog-jump in dirty, muddy water on our streets and highways. I don’t have space to enumerate what citizens go through in the hands of police officers at various police stations or civil servants who like the rest are very poor and shortchanged, yet take delight in acting as emperors over their less fortunate compatriots.
The focus today is on the clash between the Muslim Shi’ites and the army which happened few months ago in Kaduna State; that incident was gruesome and offends the sensibility of any person whose conscience is still alive. I was traumatized by that dastardly development but I retrained myself from commenting because I wanted to see how Nigerians, our governments and the media would react to it and what I discovered shocked me. I noticed that our reactions and levels of repulsion depended on how the development affected us personally, religiously or ethnically. If what happened to the Shi’ites had happened to one of the elite tribes, or mainstream religious groups, or still if the group had enough financial muscle, I can bet that by today both the federal government and the Nigerian state would have known no peace. It happened to the Shi’ites, a peripheral group and so we all turned our eyes the other way, wanting to pretend that a terrible thing did not happen. That is what has prompted my question: are members of the Shi’ites group in Nigeria not human beings? Are they not Nigerians? If even they are not Nigerians, don’t they have the right to exist? If they are Nigerians or have Nigerians among them, does the freedom of worship clause in our constitution not apply to them? I have heard that they are an unruly group, a republic within a republic. This is fine but the question is: would it not have made sense to infiltrate the group to learn firsthand about what they do what they do and stand for? Am yet to read how many times the governor of Kaduna State, I mean the past ones and heads of security agencies have had constructive engagements with these people and if they did, what was the outcome.
The above would have been the sensible thing to do and what became a calamity would have been clearly avoided. I thank God the report of the Commission of Inquiry has been made public and as I expected, the military has been heavily indicted. The truth is that what led to the killing of over 300 souls was not about events of that day in which the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Buratai wanted to force a way through the religious crowd on the highway. I believe it has something to do with two things. One, religious politics at the world level and two the poor manner in which we do things in this nation. The Shi’ites are propelled by Iran, while Saudi Arabia leads the other group. We just imported other people’s war and began to kill ourselves. The same way Buratai and his men would have avoided these people by taking an alternative route. They acted wrongly when Nigerian Army soldiers went back many hours after the road encounter to destroy the Shi’ite properties and kill their members. This kind of behaviour is not only barbaric, it is capable of destroying this nation; for this reason I insist severe punishment should be meted out to serve as both correctional and deterrent measures. I demand the immediate, forced resignation or compulsory retirement of the army Chief of Staff and other officers who had a hand in this animal act. Government should immediately release the Shi’ite leader and adequately compensate them for lives and properties lost. It is time we tell our government officials, armed personnel and others in line of ensuring human rights what Benjamin Franklin said: “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.”