The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a group of the Shi’ite Islamic sect, was almost unknown in Nigeria until the 80s when a First Class graduate, Ibraheem Zakzaky, introduced it. The movement gained large followers among those disenchanted with the political and religious establishments in Nigeria.
Though the majority of the Nigerian Muslim population is Sunni, there is a significant Shi’ite minority, particularly in Kaduna, Kano, and Sokoto. However, there are no actual statistics that reflect a Shi’ite population in Nigeria and a figure of even 5 percent of the Nigerian Muslim population is thought to be too high
The Sheikh Zakzaky-led Shi’ite group has, however, never been out of the news. But not for good reasons in the last three decades, hence the suspicion that the movement desires more than just freedom of worship and association.
The IMN was said to have been promoting an ideology similar to that of the Boko Haram group, by having little or no regard for the political establishment and claiming that it could not be subservient to the authority, which is not established by the tenets of Islam.
At a time, the control of Kaduna State—the base of the Shi’ites leader — was almost slipping away from the hands of the authority; the then Military Administrator of Kaduna State and present Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hammed Ali, had to wield the big stick.
Then, followers of the Shi’ite group were allegedly indoctrinated to lose their belief in the establishment, to the extent that, those who had earlier acquired western education were setting their certificates ablaze and pledging allegiance to an Islamic government under the group.
It was against this background that Col. Ali’s government went confrontational with the sect and El-Zakzaky was relocated from the outskirts of Zaria where he was allegedly operating his ‘Islamic’ government to Zaria town.
The activities of the group, however, went solo until the return of democracy in 1999, when the then Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi-led government gave some recognition to the sect.
As enshrined in the 1999 constitution, the IMN, after the return of democracy, has enjoyed the freedom of worship, but the irony is that, why they enjoy the right to worship, they were always accused of trampling on other people’s right of movement and in some cases taking the law into their hands.
Unlike other Islamic sects, the IMN Shi’ites had always had one reason or the other to mobilize processions involving thousands of its members, including women and children, by usually trekking from one city to the other.
Regular travelers on Kaduna-Zaria Road and Kano-Zaria Road are forced to ply on one way, at least twice annually. Though the group always claims it seeks the permission of the security agencies before embarking on such foot journeys on public roads, the fact remains that their processions are never guided by either the police or the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC).
Residents of Kaduna, Zaria, Kano and other cities in the North have been at the mercy of the members of Shi’ites group anytime they decide to embark on the procession. The group, which has its security personnel, subject any car that crosses their path to a thorough check before being allowed to pass.
In Zaria in particular where the sect leader resided and all their activities took place, the IMN security personnel mounted roadblocks and subjected motorists or cyclists attempting to pass through to thorough check. There are reports that, in some cases, they blocked such roads.
Road blockade has been the genesis of the sect’s problem with the security agents in the last few years. Before the 2015 encounter with the Chief of Army Staff’s convoy, the Shi’ites had clashed with soldiers around PZ area of Zaria, when movement on a procession to celebrate Quds day, as well as demonstrating against military operations in Gaza by the Israeli forces, denied an Army Commander right of way. The incident left 35 persons dead, including three biological sons of Sheikh El-Zakzaky.
After the killing of El-Zakzaky’s children, many who thought the IMN and their leader would abolish their old practices later concluded that there is more to the movement’s activities.
Though the IMN had constantly denied such claims, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai in 2016 outlawed the sect, arguing: “IMN does not recognize the constitution of Nigeria; they do not recognize Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria. They do not recognize me as governor of Kaduna State because they had their governor in Tudun Wada. Their allegiance is not to the Nigerian government; their allegiance is to somewhere else.”
El-Rufai went on: “They have their paramilitary wing, the call them ‘Hurras’. They train them in violation of our laws. They do not accept that any law in Nigeria applies to them. They block public high ways, they occupy schools when they are doing their processions and they feel that to practice their religion, they have to infringe on the right of others. That is completely wrong!
“Because IMN doesn’t recognize Nigerian laws, they are not registered with CAC, so they cannot be sued or held responsible. They build anywhere they want without approval. They don’t even bother to acquire title to land. If you put all these facts together, IMN looks like an insurgency waiting to happen.
“IMN is a political organization. The objective of El-Zakzaky is to gather enough followers to effect an Iranian type of Islamic Revolution in Nigeria and everyone knows what that can cause! Nigeria is not 100 percent a Muslim country that you can do the Islamic Revolution, it is a recipe for crisis.”
El-Zakzaky’s elder brother, Sheikh Muhammad Sani Yakoob, likened him to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
He said: “Before now, during their Ashura celebrations, most residents of Zaria dared not come out of their homes for at least three days. They used to take over the entire main roads of the town throughout the period. This time around, nothing of that sort happened. Their stock in trade was to infringe on people’s rights when they are practicing their religion and Islam frowns at that. What they were doing is not Islam.”
He added: “In my opinion, the government did the right thing by banning their organization because it endangered peace. The organization was always causing trouble. If the government had not taken this step and the Shi’ites started receiving arms from Iran, they would have become another Boko Haram.
“If IMN had not been proscribed, they would have formed their government in Nigeria, because they had their soldiers, state governors, local government chairmen and even police. They had no regard for any constituted authority. So, if they had started getting arms from Iran, they would have risen against the state because they disregarded every organ of the state.”
The Department of State Services (DSS) says the group’s highest objective is the creation of an Islamic State in Nigeria. Its State Director, Mustapha Sani, told the judicial commission of inquiry that IMN owes its allegiance to Iran where, according to him, they receive financial assistance and other support.
He said the Shi’ite group conducted paramilitary training for their members, adding: “The sect has remained and will always remain a security threat, as their ultimate objective is the establishment of an Islamic State based on their doctrines.”
However, IMN said the group couldn’t run a parallel government.
“If you say we are running a parallel government you should tell us who our governors, our commissioners are. But, in any given society or group, there is supposed to be a structure for coordinating the activities. And this is not abnormal. Name any group whatsoever; even if it is not religious, it has a structure.
“So, to claim that we are running a parallel government is a surprise. After all, we are paying our taxes. I can boast that if you go to the police station you hardly see any members of the Islamic movement accused of any criminality. We are law-abiding citizens; we are not running a parallel government.”