Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



By Wole Olubanji

The Shiites, members of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), were yet victims of another state-triggered and possibly state-sponsored attack, on Wednesday, 12th October 2016. The Kaduna-State government had banned the IMN in the evening of Friday, 7th October, 2016; eleven days before these gruesome attacks on Shiite members. A day before the attack, the men of the Nigerian Army were drafted to the venue of a Shiite religious festival called “Ashura”, Inferably, the youths only completed the attacks on the Shiites on Wednesday, bringing a cruel denouement to another stage of conflict between security operatives and the Shiites.

The new wave of attacks on the Shiites in Kaduna and elsewhere is one too many. But this recent attack brings in a new and frightening dimension. Alongside the security agencies, a mob made up of youths from the Sunni Muslim majority played roles in the killing, maiming and burning. This could lay the basis for a religious war and potentially a new front in the war against terrorism. The Shiites, who belong to the Shia sect of the Islamic religion, are only a tiny minority among Nigeria’s Muslim population. The Nigerian Shiites are approximately put between 2-8% of Nigeria’s Muslim population. The gap of practices and beliefs among the Shia and Sunni (majority sect that most Nigerian Muslims belong to) are marked by age-long animosities. Mutual suspicion and hatred between the adherents of both sects have survived till this day.

Realizing the dangers, the Kaduna state government quickly condemned the attacks and directed security agencies to fish out the perpetrators. But this is tongue in the cheek. The descent of the Kaduna State government to religious intolerance, and prohibition, by law and crude force, of the freedom of IMN members to choose any form of religion is sickening and undemocratic. The decision of the Kaduna state government to ban the IMN on the flimsy ground that its principles are perceived as a threat to the state, must be roundly condemned a violation of their fundamental rights. It is clear that the imprudent decision of the government to ban the Shiites precipitated both the deployment of dangerous-looking soldiers to lay siege on a religious assembly and the subsequent attack by misled youths who had only taken enforcement of an unjust order into their own hands.

The government apparently based its decision on the report of the commission of enquiry that was set up in the wake of the December 2015 massacre of Shiites in Kaduna by the men of the Nigerian Army that killed 349 Shias. Amnesty International has released report that indicts the Army in the attacks, and also suggests that the army might have carried out a systematic cover-up and destruction of evidences of the massacre. To further show that both the federal government and the Kaduna State government condone these heinous acts they are equally not making any attempt to give justice to the victims of these cruel attack. This happens despite the reluctant admission in the report of the commission of enquiry set up by the Kaduna state government that the Army used “excessive force… and those responsible for the killings should be prosecuted” (Vanguard newspaper, 8th October, 2016) This report, despite admitting to unprofessional conducts by men of the Nigerian army, is still moderated in its tone; and shies away from saying point blank that the army employed “excessive force” against civilians, including women and children, in an act only comparable to conscious attempt at genocide

Since late 2015, the national leader of IMN, Sheik El-Zakzaky, has been detained despite a failing health allegedly caused by the loss of an eye during the 2015 attacks. This is a flagrant contravention of the Nigerian constitution and laws that bar detention of any suspect of crime beyond 48 hours without arraigning the suspect to court. The latest ban on IMN has further shown that Nigerian ruling elites can go to any extent to repress the democratic rights of workers and masses,. More so that the ban is in clear contradiction to the freedom of every citizen to associate and hold religious views, as entrenched in the 1999 constitution of the country.

If anyone is still in doubt that the state is only secular on pages of law documents, then the attitude of the state to Shiites shows for everyone to see that the state plays politics with religion and even sponsors the concept of official religion of the state. It is commonplace in Nigeria for politicians to kindle the passion of religious intolerance or ethnic chauvinism among the people, in order to divide and rule the masses, leaving them drawn away from the corruption and rivalries within the ruling class.

However, behind the strong religious tension or fervour in the North is the economic hardship that Nigeria’s neo-liberal economic policies have caused the people. This is why it is vital for the labour movement to develop a fighting programme that can unite the working people across religious and ethnic divide in common struggle to resist neo-liberal and anti-poor economic policies. As part of that programme, labour must clearly stand against attacks on religious freedom and defend the rights and liberty of all people, including minorities, to practice any religion or none. Otherwise, other forces including sectarian and fundamentalist sects can easily step into the vacuum by exploiting legitimate anger at economic crises and state repression of religious minorities to fight for religious goals. This is the lesson that the rise of Boko Haram teaches.

Socialists stand for religious freedom, defense of minorities from attack and joint struggle of the working masses and poor irrespective of their religious belief or none. Therefore, we condemn the ban of the IMN and the unrelenting repression of the Shiites including the illegal detention of El-Zakzaky. We call on Labour to give a lead in organizing both protests against the state’s repression and joint collective defense of all those threatened with attack because of their religion or enthicity.

However, we see religion as a personal affair and campaign for the separation of both Church and Mosque from the State as well as from our schools and other institutions. We do not also agree that religion provides workable prescriptions to end the horrors of war, poverty and environmental devastation that capitalism has plunged humanity. Ultimately, the political programmes that can save Nigerian masses and working class of all nations need to be scientifically based, and carried out by the people themselves. This is one of the fundamental differences between the principles of scientific socialism as enunciated by Marx and Engels and other political philosophies. While several theories rely either on messianic intervention to save mankind, Marx saw in the working class and masses, when they are consciously organized, the real power to transform society from its miserable state to that of super abundance. But this change can only be effected if the means of production in the state are put under the democratic control of the people, and these sectors of the economy are democratically run in the interest of mankind and not the profit of a few as is the case under capitalism..

The attack on IMN in Kaduna is disheartening, and the youths and masses in Northern Nigeria must ensure that they are not used as pawns to attack kinsmen who feel the same pain as themselves. The real enemy is the capitalist government that has continuously failed to put the gargantuan resources of this country into good use for the benefit of the masses, youths and working people of this country. More than ever, the people must come together, irrespective of religious leanings, to bring about the political solution that this county needs that is, a working and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies and run through direct administration of the people, instead of a government that capitulates to the demands of few billionaires elites.