By Catherine Shakdam*
The forgotten victim of Wahhabi-inspired radicalism, Nigeria stands besieged by powers which have disguised themselves as legitimate, the avant-garde of an ideological plague which seeks a complete re-engineering of Africa’s religious map.
But if the African continent has failed so far to generate a media frenzy on account, and Western powers have offered little by way of political interest, we ought to pay close attention to Nigeria’s ongoing crisis as it appears the vassals of the Black Flag army have now infiltrated the military to better weave themselves within the region’s power dynamics.
Nigeria it needs to be said is home to one of the most brutal denominations of Wahhabi-terrorism: Boko Haram. Although Ilsamic State (ISIS) might from a distance epitomize terror’s irrational taste for bloodletting, this one homegrown African radical faction has claimed to its name more deaths than ISIS, al-Qaeda, or any other Wahhabi outfits ever did in their years of rampage.
A news report by RT this November read:
“The Nigerian jihadists, who pledged allegiance to IS in March 2015, killed more people than their fellow Islamists, claiming 6,644 lives compared to 6,073. Nigeria accordingly experienced a staggering 300 percent rise in terrorism deaths in 2014, although other militant groups take partial blame for the increase.”
To oppose Boko Haram and the stooges it bought to its ideology to the tune of financial patronage and threats of retaliation, one man has stood tallest: Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the country’s most renowned Shia cleric.
A fervent advocate for religious freedom, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky has worked to denounce those powers within Nigeria which have claimed to oppose radicalism, to better benefit from war lords’ financial largess, thus betraying their office in the name of personal gain.
Shielded by Gulf monarchies’ wealth, protected by regimes whose political myopia made them blind to the real enemy hiding among their midst, Boko Haram’s armies have advanced in Nigeria, sowing destruction and fear as they carve a bloody empire.
In truth, if not for Western powers’ desire to demonize Iran and the Russian leadership, if not for a political narrative which requires Iran’s servitude and humiliation, heads of state would have recognized that their best bets against terror lie still with Shia Islam, as it is its House, Wahhabi radicals ambition to lay waste.
But this logic has been suppressed in favor of a grand alliance with Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia; those very regimes we know have played radicalism to pursue very hegemonic agendas across Africa and Asia.
Nigeria early this December has witnessed a deluge of violence. In plain sight, and without so much of a murmur from the international community, communities in Africa stand in the line of a barbaric fire.
On December 12, Nigerian soldiers raided the home of Sheikh Zakzaky, in Zaria, a Shiite stronghold. What started as a targeted attack quickly devolved into carnage as soldiers opened fire on civilians.
Where such actions might have been rationalized by officials’ allegations that Shiites pose a threat to national security, it is really the community’s opposition to Boko Haram and military officials’ ties with radicals which prompted such a sectarian witch-hunt.
The leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Zakzaky has been highly critical of political corruption, Boko Haram and the relationship it entertains with facets of the Nigerian army.
But for all its statements and condemnations, never did the movement stray from its commitment to peace and interfaith harmony.
A role model for many religious communities outside his own, Sheikh Zaksaky has been hailed an inspiring humanitarian figure by the like of the Islamic Human Rights Commission [IHRC], AhlulBayt News Agency [ABNA] and the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies.
Zakzaky’s stand for peace was rewarded in blood. As soldiers ransacked his home, his wife, and son were held at gun point, only to be shot before his eyes.
On Sunday Haroon Bainavi, a Nigerian political activist confirmed that Sheikh Zakzaky was shot and wounded during the attacks.”We don’t know where he is or where they took him,” he told the local press.
Activists and local residents also confirmed that a large number of soldiers torched and destroyed several parts of Zakzaky’s house before arresting him this Sunday.
But the military did not have its fill of blood just yet as a mourning procession became target practice for over-zealous soldiers: 30 unarmed civilians were killed and countless more were injured.
One man, Bukhari Muhammed Bello Jega took to social media to alert the world to the crimes taking place in his hometown. Before he was slain, alongside his wife and baby daughter, Bukhari was able to relay the horrors Shiites and Christians have had to endure under the reign of Boko Haram.
Recalling soldiers’ first attacks on Zaria last Saturday (December 11), Bukhari writes:
“It is carnage here in Zaria … soldiers are killing civilians in Gyellesu area and the home of our revered leader…. Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky…. They destroyed all the shops along the road leading to the house and several bodies of civilians are just piling up here… Do we have human beings in government? Are Nigerian soldiers above the law? Do those in authority lack the will or power to stop those vampires?”
On Sunday his plight turned into a prayer for his fallen brethren:
“Disappointment and confusion in the camp of Nigerian soldiers as they are about to face the biggest shame of their lives… they have done a lot of killing and they have injured scores of brothers and sisters, yet, we remain peaceful. Shame and defeat is eminent, as morning get closer…. the people will continue from where we stopped… they lost the support and sympathy of the people …. The REAL BOKO HARAM is now on the loose bombing building and killing innocent civilians ….. Indeed the command center has just moved to Zaria … “We are praying to God to give us courage, bravery, faith and patience, we pray not to change no matter the hardship and tension…”
On Monday Bukhari’s voice was silenced by a bullet.
It is such violence and Nigeria’s connections to terror which has gone unreported for it betrays an agenda rooted in the exploitation of terror for political and hegemonic gains.
In Iran, officials have already risen in outrage, calling for Nigeria to be held accountable. Ayatollah Ali-Reza Arafi in Qom decried the attack as a clear attempt to defeat those powers committed to defeat Wahhabi-inspired radicalism. He pointed out that because Nigeria is home to 15 million Shiites Wahhabis had chosen to strike hard and fast.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also joined his voice to that of other officials in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Addressing his Nigerian counterpart Zarif called for “immediate and serious” measures to stop violence against all Muslims.”
An official at the Iran Foreign Ministry told me under anonymity that Iranian diplomats in Nigeria had already made clear that should anything happen to the Sheikh, Tehran would hold the authorities directly responsible.
This statement was echoed by Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s own warning – Iran’s Arabic and African deputy foreign minister – “Currently we have very good relations with Nigeria and the country’s president recently visited Tehran. So we warned our friends in the Nigerian government that they are responsible in this issue … Sheikh Zakzaky’s health is very important to the nation, the Muslims of Nigeria and the whole of the Islamic world.”
With tensions running at all-time high in Nigeria, religious minorities fear they lost the safety Sheikh Zakzaky offered them so far, by acting as a rampart against Wahhabi fundamentalism.
As for Washington and other Western capitals their silence speaks volumes of their commitment to the war on terror, this political farce powers have waved as a banner for well over a decade.
A fire has been lit in Africa and few seem interested in extinguishing it.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT. Nor do they necessarily represent those of Human Wrongs Watch.
*Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen.
A regular pundit on RT and other networks her work has appeared in major publications: MintPress, the Foreign Policy Journal, Mehr News and many others.
Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting. She is the author of Arabia’s Rising – Under The Banner Of The First Imam