- Zakzaky’s location was triangulated by tracking El-Rufai’s phone call to him
- Zakzaky was shot six times and perhaps lost an eye from shrapnel
- Military was beefed up in and around Zaria two days ahead of the encounter
by Fulan Nasrullah *edited Note: Author stated his hatred of Shia as “the worst of God’s creations” in his religious view
On 12th December 2015, a series of events occurred in Zaria City, Kaduna State of Northwestern Nigeria, that threaten to throw this country into greater chaos than we are already in. Subsequent to those events, a lot of disinformation and misinformation was thrown into the air by the two sides involved i.e the Nigerian military and the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria, as part of deliberate strategies to own the narrative of whatever is expected to come after this, from the very start.. This post is just an attempt to throw some clarity into what occurred, to put forward what I believe may likely occur, and to put certain things in perspective.
The Shia were attacked unjustly and killed unjustly, their creed does not justify this. Secondly, they were living in Amanah with the Muslims and the Christians due to the pact which we all entered into called Nigeria. Thirdly, the incidental friends you people had in the Nigerian Army did not kill them for the sake of Islam, or to establish Islam and wipe out their filthy creed. They killed them for the sake of securing Nigeria’s power and preventing the current system from being threatened by them. This last part should scare Izala especially and every Muslim who believes in the obligation of establishing Shariah generally. The same threat Zakzaky and his movement posed to Nigeria’s security is the same threat the Salafis, Izala and anyone who seeks to establish Shariah poses (TMC, Ta’awunul-Islam, MSSN etc). All that has to be done is to grow as strong as Zakzaky and his people grew, remain as united as they are, and actively start working on removing this system of governance whether through elections or violence or boycotting the institutions of state, and the same hands and weapons used to kill the Shias now, will be activated to crush you also. Bala Lau and co in Izala, again should keep this little fact in mind.
Last year, the military attacked the Shias in Zaria without provocation or cause, using disproportionate force, and killing over 35 Shias including three sons of Zakzaky. There was widespread condemnation, and it took the personal intervention of the then Kaduna State governor who worked behind the scenes to approach the Iranian ambassador and the consul in Kano to reach out to Zakzaky to prevail on him to control his followers and prevent an escalation of hostilities.
Military Planned This Above President’s Head
According to a serving military officer, Unknown to the governor and the wider world, military units had been beefed up in and around Zaria starting two days before the incident shootings occurred, and the military was prepared to use any retaliation by the Shias as an excuse to go in and destroy the Zakzaky movement, its structures and identified leadership. This officer said the decision to dismantle the so called Islamic Movement was taken by the national security apparatus sometime last year, before the attacks in Zaria. Asked if this was a decision the political leadership signed off on, he replied that on fundamental threats to Nigerian security, the military’s intelligence services operate outside the regular system, keeping the political leadership out of the loop if necessary, as the security of Nigeria surpasses the legal requirement of civilian control of the military. The politicians have always displayed a lack of understanding of the complex world of national security, and usually made political decisions that were detrimental to the country’s national security. Hence informally there is a tacit understanding within the national security community, that on such fundamental issues affecting the core security interests of Nigeria’s security, the politicians are kept out of the chain of decision making.
The Zaria shootings last year of over 35 Shias including three of Zakzaky’s sons were the opening salvo in an undeclared war. The Army had moved significant destructive resources into areas in and around Zaria, hoping to be given an excuse by the Shias to go in and cut off the heads of the snake (structures, arm caches and leadership), which it believed were sequestered in the Gyallesu area of the city where the Shias had established their headquarters. Wisely the Shias refrained from falling into the trap the military had carefully set for them, and after several attempts to provoke a reaction went unsuccessful, the Army stood down its forces brought in for this mission.
There was an eerie peace over Zaria following this. To the average people, the violence that was expected to follow the killing of Zakzaky’s sons did not materialize, and life quickly went back to normal. Behind the calm scenes however, the military and the Shias were busy positioning themselves for when the next battle in this war will occur. According to the aforementioned military intelligence officer, the Army’s Directorate of Military Intelligence aka DMI, stepped up intel gathering against the movement, seeking to develop a more accurate picture of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and the way it is structured and run, with a focus on identifying weak points that if hit hard would cause the movement to crumble and disintegrate. .
Suicide Bombers Who Attacked Zakzaky Followers Suspected Sent By Military
With this stepped up intelligence gathering campaign, came the formulation of a proper plan to be implemented if the opportunity presents itself. However, the restraint exercised by the Shias even after they were targeted by suicide bombers that they rightly or wrongly assumed to have been sent not by Boko Haram, but by the Nigerian military, prevented such an opportunity from arising.
The Events Of 12th December 2015
There are several versions of what happened on that day, what led to what happened, and what was just justified or not in what happened. I have listened to first hand briefings from all sides, i.e the Army’s, the Shia’s, people who were neither with the Army or the Shias but were present at the scene. And I have watched multiple videos of the incident many of which will never be released to the public domain. Whatever conclusions I have reached here, I have reached after careful analysis and a sincere attempt to understand all that transpired on that day. I may be right or completely wrong, I may never know as I was not a participant or a decider in these events, but my work here as been done in good faith.
The Army Killing Of Three Shia Youth A Day Before
On the 11th of December 2015, the Shias and the Sufis of the Tijjaniyyah Tariqah engaged in fighting after changes were made in the leadership of a mosque which was jointly controlled by them. This was in a small village just outside Zaria. The fighting involved the use of sticks, knives and machetes on both sides. Surprisingly, the Army (not the Police which has first jurisdiction in such incidents) appeared on the scene, and in the attempt to control the situation, killed three Shia youths. Now accounts of this incident are hotly disputed.
The Nigerian Army insists that its soldiers were threatened and used live ammunition to defend themselves from the fighters, killing the three Shias in the process. The Shias denounce this account as lies, and insist that the soldiers did not attempt to disperse the fight, rather they opened fire only on the Shias. The Sufis say that the Army did attempt to disperse the fight, but that the Shias were adamant and resisted the military’s efforts to disperse the fight, following which the soldiers opened fire. Whatever the truth was, three Shias were killed, and tensions rose as the community remembered how the same Army killed over 35 of their number just last year, including three sons of Zakzaky.
The next morning, the Shias began a procession, protesting their deaths the night before. While on their way through Zaria town, they were informed that the Chief Of Army Staff,Tukur Buratai was on his way through the town, and they thus proceeded to block his path.
They were armed with nothing except sticks and stones at this time, which would not have been enough to overpower the COAS’s security detail or smash through his bulletproof vehicle body. However the Shias blocked the road, with the the overt intent of protesting to the COAS, the killing of three of their number the previous night by the Nigerian Army.
The Shias did not initially attack the convoy of the Chief Of Army Staff, instead they were chanting and refusing passage. The initial reaction of the COAS’s escort personel was to prepare to open fire, this was only averted by an officer (seen in the video) who was screaming hysterically “Don’t shoot! don’t shoot!”.
The officer then proceeded to demand and subsequently plead that the Shias open the road and allow the COAS’s convoy through, but the Shias refused to do so unless they address the COAS himself, accusing him and the Army of deliberately oppressing their sect and seeking to exterminate them. The Officer did not acknowledge their demands, but rather kept insisting that they first clear the road and allow the convoy through. When he kept dismissing their angry protests of the killings the night before of three Shias by the Army, and the killings of over 35 Shias in 2014 again by the Army, the Shia youths began to stone the convoy and increased the tempo of the shouts. Shortly thereafter, the soldiers opened fire on orders said to have been given by a senior officer in the convoy. The crowd scattered and people began to run helter-skelter, but the soldiers fanned out systematically spraying the area the Shia protesters were fleeing to with live rounds. Shortly thereafter, reinforcements arrived, on both sides. Armed Shias who had rushed to arm up from the sect’s caches in Gyallesu and other areas of Zaria on hearing that their brothers were under attack, rushed in and met military reinforcements rushing to beef up the COAS’s security detail, and provide a safe exit for the COAS. Gunfire was exchanged on both sides. By the time the smoke cleared, between thirty and forty people lay dead, most of them Shias.
At some minutes past 7pm, Shia sources say that Ibrahim Az-Zakzaky was informed that the Nigerian Army was making preparations to storm Gyallesu and kill him.
The Shia leader was advised to go into hiding by his closest advisors, and he initially resisted the idea but ultimately he was pressured by his advisors to accede to this advice.
From 6pm, military units drawn from Kaduna, Abuja and Kano began pouring into Zaria, amongst them elements of the 176 special forces battalion of the Brigade of Guards, which according to the senior military intelligence officer, was given the responsibility of leading the door-to-door assault operations .
Sometime after 9pm, the Army finished encircling the neighbourhood for the most part and launched its assault. The orders given to the soldiers were simple, use maximum force, terminate with extreme prejudice anyone deemed to pose any sort of threat to the soldiers, except designated persons who were to be captured alive if possible.
The military’s assault on Gyallesu was met with armed resistance contrary to what is widely believed, and some soldiers may likely have perished. While the assault was ongoing, Shias in Zaria called Shia youths in Zango area of Kaduna telling them that Mallam was under attack, the Army was searching specifically for mallam, and that God Would ask the Shias of Zango, Tudun Wada, Kaduna if they did not rush to aid Mallam (meaning Zakzaky), and instead abandoned him like Al-Hussain was abandoned at Karbala. Over 120 young men I can confirm left Tudun Wada, Kaduna that night headed for Zaria, none of them returned. It is believed they died in the fighting at Gyallesu.
The Execution Of Turi
Sometime in the morning the next day 13th December 2015, the soldiers finally battled their way to Zakzaky’s house where they captured the younger Turi, Mahmud Turi who was tortured according to eyewitness accounts from both sides, and refused to betray where Zakzaky’s location was. Seeing that he was of no practical use to them in finding Zakzaky, the commander of the detachment that captured Turi radioed for orders, and was given the order which he passed on to his men, to kill Mahmud Turi. Turi was riddled with bullets and his body bagged and tagged along with the bodies of other top members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. These bodies are now believed to be in the custody of the Army’s Directorate of Military Intelligence.
Zakzaky Son Executed In Front Of His House
One of Zakzaky’s sons was executed in front of the house also, and according to eyewitnesses on both sides, Zeenat, Zakzaky’s wife, was inside the house along with many other people, when it was brought down by the special forces operators.
El-Rufai’s Phone Used To Find Zakzaky
According to the senior military intelligence officer whose account of how Zakzaky was found was corroborated by other senior officials in the national security establishment, Zakzaky was found by the DMI Signals Intelligence Division who tracked the call Kaduna State Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai made to Zakzaky that day. Was the governor aware that his call was to Zakzaky was tracked? this remains unclear.
What is clear is that Zakzaky’s location was triangulated using that call, and that shortly thereafter, troops drawn from the crack 145 Battalion arrived in the area the Shia leader was holed up, with elements of the Nigerian Navy’s Special Boat Service said to be assisting.
There was a firefight, and Zakzaky was shot six times (according to what was attributed to the doctor who first treated Zakzaky at 1 Division’s medical centre before he was moved to 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital where he was operated upon and then moved again) before he was dragged out of the hole/bunker in which he had sought refuge.
Was The Army’s Actions In Zaria Planned?
The answer is yes and no. What happened in Zaria was not initially planned, but it gave the necessary pretext the Nigerian military establishment needed to activate its operational plan to demonize, decapitate and dismantle the Zakzaky-led Islamic Movement of Nigeria, before it grows too big to handle.
The road block incident in my opinion falls into one of two categories:
- It was a staged encounter, the Shias were baited and lured there and the pretext needed to activate the plan was encouraged to be created there. It could perhaps be argued that the killing of the Shias the night before, the leaking of the COAS’s ETA and travel route, and the making sure there were cameras around to record certain scenes, were part of a grand conspiracy to ensure that a necessary pretext was generated from that incident.
- It was not staged, but it was hijacked and manipulated to create the necessary pretext for the military establishment to launch its attempt to dismantle the Islamic Movement of Nigeria led by Zakzaky.
Whatever the case, somewhere along the line, while the incident of the roadblock was ongoing, it was decided by someone or some people to initiate this plan.
Casualties: More Like 1000
I believe the Human Rights Watch was extremely conservative in its estimate of the number of people that died in this fighting. A more realistic figure would be closer to a thousand, probably 700 or more. This is going by the number of people missing, reported to have been killed etc from Shia sources. The number of Shias from Zango, Tudun Wada, Kaduna and from Unguwar Mu’azu, Kaduna that went to Gyallesu the night of 12th December, and are believed to have perished in the fighting there, alone pass the 150 mark.
A large number of the Shias killed in Gyallesu were young men, followed by women and then children caught in the cross-fire. The men were deliberately targeted. After it became clear that vetting combatant young men from non-combatant young men in the heat of fighting was not possible. Many more were summarily executed in the search for Zakzay, including three of Zakzaky’s sons.
Hundreds of Shias are said to be held in detention in military facilites across Kaduna, and Kano states. They are being kept in appalling conditions, and there is frankly no direction on what to do with them
The case of Az-Zakzaky is a complex one. He was first taken from Zaria to 1 Division Headquarters, Kawo, Kaduna where he was given first aid at the medical centre there. However due to his gun shot wounds which included shrapnel in his face (there are credible rumours that he may have lost an eye), he was moved to 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Tudun Wada, Kaduna, where he was operated upon, according to miltary sources. He was then moved to a DMI facility in the outskirts of Abuja. He is not in the custody of the Nigerian Police Force as at the time of writing this post, as is being claimed. Rather there are credible reports that he may be in terrible condition or close to death, and it was claimed by the DMI, that they have moved him to a hospital in Lagos, as he needed surgery that could only be performed there. This was within the last 48 hours.
This incident occurred without the knowledge beforehand, or permission of President Muhammadu Buhari. In fact, the President himself has tacitly recognized that on fundamental issues of national security, the military will not hesitate to act without seeking his permission. The defence establishment ran the operation autonomously without keeping the political leadership in the loop. The Ministry Of Interior, the Police and the SSS were also kept out of the loop. The Army has point-blank refused to grant access to Zakzaky and other Shia leaders it has in its custody to the MOI, DSS and NPF. It as a matter of fact refused to even tell them in what state Zakzaky was being held. The President himself in this dispute between the MOI, the DSS and the NPF versus the Army and to a lesser extent the Navy and Airforce, has made it clear that he will not interfere in the Army’s campaign to dismantle Zakzaky’s group, despite that the other agencies have argued that ultimately this military plan will risk causing more problems than it has solved.
What Led To The Military Deciding On This Strategy?
Firstly, was the fear of a Hezbollahization of Zakzaky’s movement. They were gaining supporters, and creating an open pro-Iranian fifth column inside Nigeria that made it clear that it owed its fealty and allegiance to the Iranian Supreme Leader, not to any local religious or traditional leader. This fifth column was also receiving arms and training from Iran through the Iranian consulate in Kano (which is spied on by the Saudis, Egyptians, Americans, Nigerians, Israelis etc), and through Hezbollah via the Lebanese Shia community in Kano and Abuja.
The fear of a well armed, well trained, religiously committed , too large to wipe out , Iranian fifth column exercising veto powers over Nigeria’s security and political direction as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon, scared Nigeria’s security policy makers beyond anything else. This fear extends back into the 90s.
To prevent such a scenario occurring, it was decided last year to demonize, dismantle and decapitate the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, and to reduce it to just another religious sect, not the highly organized cultlike group it is.
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.
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 is 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.