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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 8th November 2018

The Shia question in Nigeria

Blue Lines

Apart from the disputed casualty figures – the Nigerian army says six people were killed and Amnesty says more than 45 – the best measure of the seriousness of a security crisis is the deafening silence of mainstream politicians. Few seeking votes ahead of next year's national election criticised the military's tactics, let alone proposed any resolution to the deepening confrontation between the Shia Muslim minority and the state in Nigeria. Few public figures will even comment on the clashes which some fear could prompt Shia groups to take up arms. 

There is no doubt about the gravity of confrontations that ensued when members of the Shia-supporting Islamic Movement of Nigeria marched through Abuja from 27-30 October demanding the release of their leader, Ibrahim el Zakzaky, held since clashes in December 2015. The most vocal reaction to the clashes came from Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International's Nigeria affiliate, who said video footage and eye-witness accounts showed government soldiers firing live ammunition at the protestors without warning.

The army's explanation met with ridicule on social media after a spokesman posted a video of United States President Donald Trump arguing that soldiers posted to the US border with Mexico could shoot migrants who threw stones at them because 'our military fights back'. The Nigerian army tweeted, 'please watch and make your deductions.' After a wave of criticism, its media department deleted the posting.