The first part of this series looked at the events that occurred in Zaria from 1th December 2015 onwards. This part will be looking at the various factors that collided to create this clash, the influencers behind the scenes, and the short and long term probable effects of this clash.
What Were The Factors That Precipitated This Clash?
Several factors were responsible for making this clash occur at the particular point in time it did. There are the short term and then the long term considerations
Short Term Factors That Precipitated This Clash
- Israeli pressure: The Israeli government from the assumption of office by the previous administration till now are said to have not wasted any chances they got to pressure, plead with, suggest to their Nigerian counterparts that they clamp down on the fast growing Shia sect especially the Zakzaky led Islamic Movement of Nigeria. This lies in Israel’s fear that the Islamic Movement of Nigeria is Iran’s proxy that can be activated to open a new battlefield in the shadow war between the Israelis and the Iranians. Unlike in Europe , the Americas, or South Africa, Israel’s burgeoning interests and investments in Nigeria can only be defended and secured by the Nigerian State especially the military. Any threat to the strength of the Nigerian military, is a direct threat to Israel. It is possible that the Israelis saw the expanding Islamic Movement of Nigeria as a serious threat to the Nigerian State vis a vis the Hezbollah scenario, hence the urgent pleas they were said to have been making to the Nigerians to do something about Zakzaky.
- The Military’s reading of political events: According to sources, the appointment of Adamu Adamu who is a Shia amongst other things, was read by many in the national security establishment as a sign that the President was not particularly going to be a proponent of the strategy of containing the Shias outside the system. There is a strong speculative probability, that particularly after the incidents surrounding the President’s meeting with the Iranian Supreme Leader (which many in the national security establishment silently and privately disagreed with because of the message it and other things are sending to the majority Sunni/Sufi population in Northern and Western Nigeria), it was decided to act now rather than wait for a perfect opportunity to present itself, thus presenting the President wth a fait acompli where him openly disagreeing with the military or taking action against those responsible would be tantamount to strategic geopolitical suicide, before the President would order an end to the containment strategy. Basically this would be create the hot war to prevent the end of the cold war, forcing those who see no interest in the coldwar to either line up behind you or lose the loyalty of those with you. As a tactical strategy if this was what occurred (and I am only speculating analytically based on information I have access to), this strategy worked. The President although he personally may not agree with this massacre, nor did he in anyway approve it or had any foreknowledge of it, has been forced to follow the lines given to him by Tukur Buratai and the national security establishment. He cannot publicly disagree with what happened, and as a man who takes his honour highly cannot publicly condone it, hence his preference for silence. He cannot act to punish Buratai or others in the high commands that pursued this plan into fruition, without alienating their significant support base, and practically the whole of the national security establishment save those at the Ministry of Interior and the SSS. Acting against Buratai will be acting against his one guarantor able to keep the military loyal to his administration, a military whose loyalty he will definitely need if his economic policies continue in the path that they currently are on for much longer. The only solution left for him is to ignore the military’s infractions in this matter, recognize that he cannot act against them as long as he needs their loyalty to maintain the silent dictatorship he is building, and to cede control of the Zakzaky file to the Army (which he has done), and to remain silent on the issue (which he is currently doing).
Long Term Factors That Precipitated This Clash
- The Nigerian military’s fear of a Hezbollahization of Zakzaky’s sect: I discussed this in the previous installment of this series. This fear was heightened following the discovery of the extent of involvement of person’s linked to Zakzaky and his sect to the 2012 seizure of Iranian weapons shipments in Lagos. Also the revelations made in the arrest of Lebanese Shias resident in Nigeria who were Hezbollah operatives and had provided weapons and training to Zakzaky’s movement in Kano, scared the Nigerian military and the entire national security establishment to its roots. The policy towards the Islamic Movement of Nigeria changed from one of silent/passive containment to one of active containment while seeking a means to dismantle, decapitate, de-fang and destroy it. The Nigerian military has been waiting for any opportunity that is feasible enough to use as a justification in the court of public opinion to present itself, particularly since 2014, so it can go in and deal with the perceived Zakzaky threat before it becomes too big and strong to handle.
- The threat Zazaky’s sect posed to the status-quo in Northern Nigeria: The ruling Muslim class of Northern Nigeria saw the growing numbers of poor people lured into joining the Shia sect in the region as a threat to their continued existence in the positions they currently occupy. This is especially as the Shias do not hold any particular respect for the tradiional rulership establishment, owing their allegiance to Ibrahim Az-Zakzaky and the Iranian Supreme Leader. The Shias are attracting more and more people each here, they have a very high birth rate helped along by their easy practice of mut’ah (temprorary marriage) and their dedication to becoming the majority in the country. This demographic campaign (conversions and births) by the Shias is seen as a strategic threat to those invested in the status quo in Northern Nigeria. And they have been at the forefront advocating for a clamp down on the Shias.
- The threat posed by the Shias to the Izala movement (both those loyal to Yahaya Jingir and those loyal to Kabiru Gombe and co): The rivalry between Jamaa’atu Izalatil-Bid’ah wa Iqamatis-Sunnah aka Izala and the Zakzaky led Islamic Movement of Nigeria in the eradication of the Sufi sect (an absolute majority of the people who convert to Shi’ism in Northern Nigeria are drawn from the Sufis, especially the Tijjaniyyah tariqah, the same goes for those who join Izala). While Izala is increasingly fragmented and broken, Zakzaky’s movement has remained united and strong. Their followers are all core supporters of the hoped for Islamic Republic, meanwhile Izala has no strategic vision or coordination to achieve the shariah and edn to bid’ah that its leaders want. In the demographic front, Izala is of course stronger but the Shias are catching up. And the rate of conversions to Shi’ism amongst many upper class families has gotten many Izala sheikhs and imams worried. In the race to gain ground in the system, the Shias are winning faster than Izala, as while the Shias are increasing getting front door access (prior to this clash) to the mechanisms of state and government, Izala is finding that its core supporters are increasingly being locked out (talks of ban on niqab and hijab, discrimination against bearded muslim men in employment etc) of the system. Amongst the most vocal advocates of a clamp down on the Shias are many Izala shaikhs and imams. If the Army had not launched a ful;l scale attack on the Shias now, Izala sheikhs and their followers would have been forced sooner or later to declare war on the Shias. Especially if the Shias had continued with their habit of seizing and taking over mosques belonging to the Sufis and Sunnis. Such an outbreak of Shia-Sunni violence would be worse than the Shia-Izala-Salafi conflict that raged across Kaduna metropolis in the early/mid 2000s, as this time both sides would be fighting with more weapons, more money, more supporters, and a desire to wipe out the other.
Short-Term Effects Of This Clash On Nigeria’s Security
Many Shias were shocked and caught unawares at the level of carnage and rage unleashed by the Nigerian military against them in this clash. They expected that the worst the Army would do would be to shoot them dead at the road block protest and that would be it. Even when the military stormed Gyallesu, they did not expect the brutal onslaught that the soldiers unleashed, with tanks and other armoured vehicles used freely.
As long as Zakzaky is still thought to be alive and in the Army’s custody, the Shias can do nothing but organize protests under media coverage and hope that they get shot and attacked by the Army while protesting, to further discredit the military in the international arena while bolstering their position morally in the domestic audience.
Unless the Army launches another brutal attack on them, they will not retaliate for what happened in Gyallesu while Zakzaky is still alive in detention.
The Army on the other is in a bad position right now. It has suceeded in bolstering the moral credentials of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in the international public arean, while demonizing them locally for the most part. Its actions will cost it in the fight against Boko Haram, as it has reduced support it would have gotten otherwise in the battle to get Washington to aid it with training and weapons to fight Boko Haram.
The Shias will continue to protest and I doubt the Army will crack down on them while Zakzaky is still in detention, and the international spotlight is still shining bright on Nigeria.
Long Term Effects Of This Clash
The Nigerian Army is right now in an untenable situation vis a vis the detention of Zakzaky. Should it hand over Zakzaky to the Police to take to court, there would be firstly no believable victory for the prosecution (what charges would they fabricate to use to charge him?), and secondly the thousands probably tens of thousands of Shias that will assemble each day in front of the courthouse to protest the proceedings, will ensure that the case becomes the leading story in the international media from Nigeria for a while, and will overshadow the proceedings itself. Basically taking Zakzaky to court gives the Shias the media victory, which is something the Army does not want.
Not releasing Zakzaky is another bad choice facing the Army, as the criticisms will keep piling and the bad press also, this is in addition to reducing the usefulness of detaining Zakzaky as a deterrent in preventing the Shias to take vengeance for what happened in Gyallesu.
Releasing Zakzaky would be worse than holding him indefinitely, as his moral stature would increase, his followers and backers would be more emboldened, and in the long run, the Army’s credibility would be severely damaged. It would be an admission that the Army did not think its actions in Zaria through, and is not as powerful as it makes itself out to be. Also it would greenlight other potentially troublesome entities that there is only so much the military can do in cracking down on them. Finally releasing Zakzaky will send a very clear signal to those aligned against Zakzaky that should they take up violence as a means to eliminate the Shia sect, the Army will gladly turn a blind eye to their actions.
What Happens If Zakzaky Dies? This is a question that everyone needs to think over as long as Zakzaky is in detention. There is a high probability that he is already dead, and the Army is not announcing it yet until it s ready to. No one really knows for sure where he is since he was moved from Abuja, and the DMI claims that he is in Lagos receiving treatment, yet refuses to even hint to other agencies in the system what kind of injuries he suffered, where he is being treated, and has not granted anyone outside its operatives access to him yet.
Should Zakzaky die or he is announced to be dead, all bets are off. There will likely be an explosion of violence across Nigeria, as there will be no restraints to hold the Shias back from seeking to avenge his death. And considering the numbers of people who are adherents of the Shia sect and who are fanatically committed to Zakzaky, this violent retaliation will create more instability and chaos across a wide area of Northern Nigeria. The only chance for peace in such a scenario is Iran and its strategic interest. Iran may be able to press on the Nigerian Shia to desist from violence if Zakzaky is killed, if it feels that an outbreak of fighting between Zakzaky’s supporters and the military will be counter-productive to the mutual strategic interests of Iran and the Nigerian Shia.
An outbreak of fighting in Zaria/Kaduna State amongst other areas with large Shia populations will stretch the already thin resources of the Nigerian Army to beyond breaking point. Currently the 7th Division and other Task Brigades created to fight the insurgency in the Lake Chad region were carved out of the 1st Division responsible for the area including Zaria, and the 3rd Division based in Jos and responsible for Bauchi State where there is a large concentration of Shias. In addition, elements from the 1st and 3rd Divisions are engaged in the fighting in the Northeast, with only credible minimal forces left to maintain presence in their Areas of Responsibility. The other divisions (2nd, 81st, 82nd,) and the Brigade of Guards currently rotate component units from their formations to beef up forces fighting in the North East. They are in slightly better shape than 7, 3, and 1 divisions, which are not in particularly splendid shape at all. Fighting the Boko Haram Insurgency and a Shia Insurgency, along with maintaining a tight lid over the Niger-Delta and the Southeastern region, is too much work for the Nigerian Army with the personel and equipment it has available currently, to attempt to do. This is without including a pacification of the silent but boiling conflict in the North Central region.
In addition, most of the Army’s support and logistics mas points for operations in the North East lie in the Kaduna area, plus the Nigerian Military’s real strategic depth in terms of access to manpower, raw materials, industrial base and food stocks for operations across the whole country, is in the North West (to a lesser extent, the North Central region too). Fighting a major counterinsurgency campaign in the middle of its main strategic depth area, would effectively cripple its ability to fight other wars in the North East or the Southeast and Niger-Delta regions.
The effects of such an outbreak of violence on Nigeria’s economy can only be imagined. An absolute majority of food consumed in Nigeria is produced in the North West and North Central regions, with the North East region a far third. Already, the North East region is a warzone, the eastern part of the North Central region (Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Nassarawa) especially the rural areas are witnessing serious inter-ethnic clashes (already taking a serious religious colouring) that have disrupted food production to a great extent. The North West has taken up the slack from these two regions, thus mitigating the effects of the crises on the availability of food in the rest of Nigeria. However, with an outbreak of a serious Shia insurgency if Zakazaky dies in detention and his people decide to retaliate, Nigerians will go through a period of scary food deprivation especially as the naira is right now little more than junk currency, the foreign reserves are very low (weighed against the population and the size of the economy), and oil sales are close to becoming non-profitable, which would make importing food a very expensive proposition. Fighting will definitely disrupt farming and animal husbandry activities, as people would be displaced from rural areas into camps and already crowded cities, where the instability would force the few manufacturers operating in them to relocate their operations to safer climes, or scale back their activities significantly.
Should Zakzaky be released alive, I have discussed what will most likely result from those aligned against him. From his movement, expect more impunity, compared to what they used to do that people in Zaria, Kaduna, Bauci and Kano complain about. They will see that their attracting international condemnation by human rights organizations of the Army’s assault was effective, and they will carry on as before, but this time even worse, as they know that the worst the military can do is raid their centres and kill their youths, women and children, while not killing Zakzaky or destroying their movement, and they can always win the battle for international sympathy. This will force those who say that they are forced to put up with their daily harassments to mobilize and use force, and in this they will find allies amongst those with an interest in crushing the Shias permanently. Inter-religious violence (Shias vs Muslims) will definitely break out somewhere down the line, and this will collapse or seriously derail economic growth and stability in the Northwest region.
Should Zakzaky be taken to court, prosecuted (for what exactly, I don’t know) and jailed, there is a chance a smaller insurgency will break out with the goal of using violence to force the Nigerian State to release Zakzaky and other Shia prisoners.
Whatever happens, there is a high probability that Nigeria will not get off so easily.
While I understand a lot of the factors behind the scenes that influenced the decision by the Nigerian national security establishment particularly the military services to pursue a policy of dismantling, decapitating and degrading the capabilities of the Zakzaky led Islamic Movement of Nigeria, I however also believe firmly that on a moral plane, the Shias were killed unjustly. Nigeria says it is a democracy, all citizens are equal, it respects the rule of law etc. What happened in Zaria is NOT respect for the rule of law that President Buhari claims to champion.
People have served in Armies and in conflict zones, and they can tell you that the reaction of the escort of the COAS from the get go was exttreme especially since Zaria is not a war zone, and the protesters for purpose of threat classification were unarmed. Yet from the begining, the soldiers prepared to open fire, until the officer screamed hysterically at them not to shoot. If there was a genuine fear that this was an ambush, standard procedure called for the convoy to initiate escape measures including driving backwards or ramming through if that is not possible, yet this was not DONE, rather the soldiers dismounted and prepared to lay a volley of automatic fire into a basically unarmed crowd. If there was a need to fire and the escort soldiers had no rubber bullets and CS grenades with them to use to disperse the crowd, then shooting the protesters to disable/cripple them, NOT TO KILL, would have been acceptable, yet from the very word go, the soldiers set up positions to lay down suppressing fire.
If this was a real attempt to assassinate the COAS, Lt Gen Buratai, an assumption which I find really laughable, then it follows that either the Police or the SSS should have invited Zakzaky for questioning as part of an investigation, or should have made an attempt to arrest him if there is cause to, this is the rule of law President Buhari and the Nigerian Constitution preaches. This wasn’t done, rather the Army proceeded to invade Gyallesu with weaponry I am sure are badly needed in the North East, and proceeded to kill hundreds of Nigerian citizens (who it can be argued were defending their homes, lives and properties), over a supposed assassination attempt that many of them were not even witnesses to. This is in addition to illegally (according to the principle of the rule of law) destroying a lot of private property. If these people are Nigerian citizens, protected by the Nigerian Constitution, having the freedom to live and own property, and the right to sleep in their homes at night and not have soldiers storm in to kill them indiscriminately, then I dare say that these people were killed unjustly, according to the Nigerian Constitution. As a Muslim I am not subject to the Nigerian Constitution when then the Shariah has legistlated over that m atter, and so in the Shariah, I ask, when people have entered into Amanah between them to live in peace, and one side accuses some people of attacking it and so because of that decides to kill everyone who lives in that area, irrespective of whether they participated in the alleged attack or not, is this permissible? Even if the attack on the Shias was permissible in Shariah, entering into their homes and killing their women and children, and destroying the buildings, is this permissible?
While I have surely earned many enemies in the Nigerian military today with these posts, I believe that while it may have been necessary for this action to be taken from a national security point of view, it was still an injustice according to the rules which the soldiers all swore to uphold.
Finally, like I was taught years ago, national security is not really a moral business. The consideration is survival of the state, and if that means trampling all over the rules and laws, and committing injustice and immorality, then hurry along to commit them all.