A former United States of America’s Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, is urging the federal government to thread carefully in the way it is handling the case of the spiritual leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, warning that his ongoing trial could worsen the nation’s security.
In a piece titled, “Nigeria’s Treatment of Shia Minority Recalls That of Boko Haram,” posted on the website of the American think-tank organisation, the Council on Foreign Relations, the former envoy said “there is an escalating conflict between Nigeria’s Shia minority, some of whom are organised into the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), and Nigeria’s secular government” that has been largely overlooked by the Western media.
Campbell continued: “The current focus is the eight charges of murder brought by Kaduna State against IMN leader Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, whom the government has detained for two years without charge. Complicating the issue is the Iranian government, which has periodically protested el-Zakzaky’s confinement.
“Beginning in April, there have been daily protests in Abuja and cities in the north against el-Zakzaky’s continued detention. According to the Nigerian media, some of these demonstrations have turned violent and the capital has occasionally been ‘shut down.’ The demonstrations may have provoked the Kaduna State authorities to formally charge el-Zakzaky with murder; if convicted, he could face the death penalty.”
The former US envoy pointed out alleged similarities between the way the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, was treated and the manner el-Zakzaky’s case is being handled.
He said federal, not state, authorities are holding el-Zakzaky in custody, “and federal spokesmen have said that he cannot be released until the Kaduna State judicial process is completed.”
Campbell added: “In December 2015, el-Zakzaky and his IMN group were accused of attempting to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, when they blocked his convoy. Following that, the Nigerian Army attacked IMN facilities, killing hundreds of people, including members of el-Zakzaky’s family while the MIN leader and his wife were seriously wounded and arrested.
“The Zaria episode is in some ways similar to the 2009 clash between the army and followers of Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, which led to Yusuf’s death and to the emergence of Boko Haram in its present form. But unlike Mohammed Yusuf, el-Zakzaky has not been murdered by the police.
“Advocacy of violence aside, there are striking ideological similarities between IMN and Boko Haram, at least for outside observers. Both see the secular state as evil; both want an Islamic state based on Islamic law, and both want the end to Western influence, including in education. Both also seek the end of northern Nigeria’s traditional political and religious elite. “For IMN, the model appears to be the aspirations of the post-revolutionary Iranian Islamic state. Boko Haram’s vision appears more nebulous and less developed, but both try to function as a state-within-state.”
Warning the federal government further, the former American ambassador to Nigeria noted: “El-Zakzaky has claimed to have followers ranging from a few hundred thousand to three million. Whatever IMN’s numbers, it has demonstrated the ability to shut down Abuja, if only for a few days at a time. Were el-Zakzaky to be tried, convicted, and executed-the worst-case scenario-Abuja could very well face the ‘black swan’ of an insurrection.”