Nigeria’s IMN Ban: Mix of Govt. Fear, Foreign Influence
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Nigeria’s IMN Ban: Mix of Govt. Fear, Foreign Influence

In a new development, on Monday the Solicitor General of Nigeria Dayo Apata has confirmed in a text message, according to the Reuters, that a federal court in Abuja had granted the government permission to label as a terrorist organization the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the Shiite movement the detained cleric leads. The court’s authorization will open the hand of the government to clamp down even harder on the members of the movement. To find the real roots of such a court ruling and the crackdown of the government, we should first examine the activities of the IMN in Nigeria and the role of the powers in West Africa.   IMN activities   The Islamic Movement of Nigeria was founded in the early 1980s with the aim of cultural and social activities. Before the foundation of the movement, Zakzaky while a university student asked along with others for Islamic Sharia laws to be included in the national Nigerian constitution. The Nigerian military accuses the movement of the assassination of the army commanders, even though it is solely engaged in social and pro-reform activities taking a cue from the Muslim Brotherhood. Daily Post newspaper of Nigeria, citing the head of the press office of the IMN Ibrahim Mousa, reported that Sheikh Zakzaky has never been for violence and on the contrary his house provided always shelter for the Christians and other minorities at the time of crisis.   Since its foundation, the IMN has built about 300 elementary and secondary schools across Nigeria. The movement also operates an Islamic center in Zaria, a major city in Kaduna State in the north of the country, dubbed Fodiya taking its name from Nigeria’s 18th century pro-reform and religious teacher and revolutionary Usman dan Fodio. IMN, furthermore, set up in 1992 Sayyid Al-Shuhada Foundation meant to address orphans. In 2001, it founded Saha Foundation, an organization providing free medical services. Health activities of the movement included sterilization and disinfection and provision of first aid at the time of crisis. It also founded Al-Zahra charity for reconstruction in 2010.   Sheikh Zakzaky, a graduate of economics, has always been a critic of the blatant corruption of the government and poor infrastructure and social welfare. The country has over 250 ethnic and religious groups. The IMN has always repeated the need to unite with other ethnic groups. When violence erupted following the 2011 disputed election, the Shiite cleric harbored some of the Christian students of Gilsu region against security crackdown.   Government pressure   The Sufism background in Africa and the special morale of the people of this continent beside a traditional knowledge about the Shiite imams among such groups as Khojas caused such faiths as Shiite to thrive there aided by their passionate and spiritual roots. Before 1994, the Shiite population was less than 5,000 but within 15 years their number went beyond 7 million. Some figures like Sheikh Nejah al-Tai, a former friend to Sheikh Zakzaky, suggest that the Shiite population of Nigeria has now reached 20 million. The speeches, as well as cultural and scientific conferences organized by the Shiite community over the past years, turned Nigeria into the third state with the largest Shiite population. This set off the alarm bells to the Nigerian government and some regional sides like Arab rulers and the Israeli regime. They started to prepare the ground for a government-led crackdown marked by iron-fist repression against the Shiites.   Since Muhammadu Buhari, an ally to Saudi Arabia, became president in 2015, the anti-Shiite clampdown ratcheted up. He, won the election last year with the slogan of fighting the terrorist group Boko Haram, in practice stepped up anew the pressures against the IMN. Despite Zaria massacre of 2015 in which the government killed dozens of Shiites and detained Sheikh Zakzaky, the regional powers’ concerns about Shiite growth in Nigeria are far from relaxed. Now they push for its ban to eradicate the Shiite movement in the African country.   Nigeria’s court in 2016 acquitted the IMN leader of all of the government accusations and ordered his freedom. The government has not freed him so far, however. In recent days, reports said that the government tried to poison the spiritual leader of the Shiites. Ibrahim Suleiman, a member of the IMN, said that the government’s disobedience to the court ruling and preventing his health check by the doctors indicate it plans for his silent death.   IMN ban consequences   The government’s call for the court to authorize a ban on the IMN came after it violently put down a peaceful protest requesting Sheikh Zakzaky’s freedom. According to the court ruling, the IMN’s activities will be frozen by the government in all of the country’s states and consequently the people will be stripped of the right to take part in the movement’s activities.   But three issues could even add to the popularity and influence of the IMN:   1. The court verdict violates article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1976 that declares religious freedom as an invincible right. The articles 18 and 27 of the covenant cover other aspects of the freedom of religion. So, the Nigerian government’s action is in stark contrast to international law. This will help the movement reflect the government pressures to the world using the international rights groups.   2. The IMN holds no arms and a majority of its activities are cultural and educational. After 2015, the government imposed extrajudicial restrictions on the movement. Such a ruling is not a new justification for further repression and only will encourage the IMN to boost its education online.   3. The violence by such fundamentalist groups as Boko Haram and the government’s show of moderation to their crimes and extremist ideology will raise such peaceful groups as IMN as an alternative in the eyes of the world and Nigerian public. German Spiegel paper in a mid-July report questioned the government’s focus and crackdown on the “peaceful” IMN while such a violent group as Boko Haram is active in the country, calling the IMN a “victim.”   

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