By ANTHONY KOLAWOLE
There is an image that the promoters of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) want people to have about the Shiite group. It is image of a docile group that continues to maintain civility even in the face of provocations, a collection of religious devout who only hold hands and chant prayers as their mode of protest. The pictures and videos they are ever willing to share and promote online are the ones in which IMN members are on the receiving end of the supposed brutality of law enforcement agencies, oftentimes these are images of wounded members or those fleeing from teargas.
An objective flip of the channel will however reveal an IMN that is so militarized that the Kaduna state government, following a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, issued a White Paper that outlawed the group. Part of the reason for the ban was that IMN was found to be a militarized extremist group, whose members were not only armed but also dangerously radicalized. With the ban came the realization for IMN that it can no longer freely operate in Kaduna state since there is a framework under which its activities are effectively criminalized.
Compelled to relocate its activities to a more tolerant Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nigerians are now able to fully appreciate the full extent of harassment and intimidation that the people of Zaria and environs in Kaduna state had to endure at the hands of these fanatics before their reign of intimidation was cut short. But that realization might have come too late as the extremist members of the group now have the nation’s capital in their rabid grip.
Dislodging them from Abuja is proving difficult. First, they have in the course of the past three years infiltrated the satellite towns of the FCT and set up cells that they easily activate for their so called protest for the release of their leader, Mr Ibrahim ElZakyzaky, who is standing trial for treason before a court in Kaduna. It should be noted that they refused to protest in Kaduna, where their leader is on trial but rather preferred to punish the inhabitants of Abuja. Considering that IMN has only so far activated its brigades assigned to protests, we should all be afraid of when its actual militants wings, already ensconced in the satellite towns, are activated.
Secondly, IMN enjoys some misplaced sympathies from Nigerians who are not necessarily supporters of the group but who end up sympathizing with them while castigating the authorities for the wrong reasons. Among these are those who do not fully appreciate the risk posed by IMN members to the society – these ones see the issue purely from a misplaced human rights perspective, they want IMN members to be accorded liberties they deny other Nigerians. The other sympathizers are those who, for political reasons, find it expedient to demonize the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Armed Forces of Nigeria, with the Nigerian Police Force, simply because it fits into their own larger agenda. The mix of these two categories of sympathizers is catalyzed by the die-hard campaigners of the IMN – ranging from paid activist lawyers to erstwhile journalists and columnists that have switched alliance to become part of terrorists.
There is a thickening of the support from those sympathizing with IMN for political reasons. They have seen that Nigerians have come to disregard the group’s provocative protests that consist of denying Nigerians right of way, vandalizing cars and property along their protest routes, launching projectiles against security personnel, defacing public property and just about any other criminal thing that can be done in the course of protests. The images that the IMN propaganda machine shares from these confrontations usually omit IMN militants throwing back teargas canisters at policemen, they edit out the members hurling stones and sticks and the IMN camera somehow always miss its members dressed in military fatigues and camouflage, with some influence peddling such pictures also do not make it into the publications that are tolerant of the IMN nuisance.
But the recent attack on the National Assembly by IMN militants during which shots were fired and some policemen sustained gunshot wounds, others were stabbed or clubbed, is a wakeup call to the growing rabidity of IMN extremists. It does not matter whether its members came with the weapons they used or snatched the ones with the policemen, the warning light is blink red and rapidly. An outlawed organization that attacked two critical institutions in a democracy – the parliament and police – has crossed the Rubicon. The only outrage left for the group is to launch full scale terrorist attacks on key national institutions.
It is critical to at this stage interrogate what emboldened IMN militants to attack the National Assembly without the fear of repercussions. An immediate answer is to be found in the violence that has spread across the country. The spate of kidnappings, banditry and terrorism (in the north-east) have stretched the military and police thin. The start of IMN’s terrorism will open a new front that will further burden law enforcement and the military, which will certainly give IMN an upper hand.
Interestingly, the spate of kidnappings, banditry, and other forms of violence besetting the country are not unconnected with IMN’s growing rabidity. It is has been revealed that the massive attacks and killings that have taken hold of the country after the general elections are meant to culminate in political instability, which the opposition has reportedly engaged the IMN to precipitate, hence its decision to invade the National Assembly and make that arm of government unable to function afterwards. A desperate opposition found in the IMN a willing vehicle for achieving the destabilization of Nigeria and some citizens that are no wiser are cheering them on.
Between the IMN and the opposition, the conspiracy to destroy Nigeria’s democracy is thickening. When democracies fail, the first casualty is often if not always the parliament – the executive arm will survive and judiciary will exist as a tribunal of sort. The burden is on the members of the National Assembly to shake off their present lethargic silence especially since it was their institution that was targeted by the extremists. They should collectively, as an institution, demand an end to IMN’s menace while uniting across party lines to call the opposition to order and ask that it stops using the Shiite group as a prop.
Kolawole, PhD, sent this piece from Keffi, Nasarawa state