Religion is the arena of the highest level of passion and commitment, and by allowing too many of our young people to emerge without guidance and without opportunities… It is my hope that engagement with our report will be an opportunity for Nigerians and their governments to engage in a wider dialogue on rebuilding social cohesion, civic culture and the regeneration of a State system that serves the people.
It would be recalled that between December 12th and 14th 2015, hundreds of people were killed in Zaria following clashes between the Nigerian Army and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). On Friday, the Justice Garba Commission of Inquiry on the clashes presented its report to Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State. In his speech, the governor promised to read the report diligently and act on the recommendations. He also promised to release the report to the public for their information and scrutiny, but hesitated when he saw the Commission had marked the report “TOP SECRET” in red and added he would read it before taking the decision to publish it or not. I had the privilege of serving as one of the commissioners and my personal view is that the report should be released to the public simply because Nigerians have a lot to learn and act upon based on our findings. I suspect we marked the report “TOP SECRET” because we have a history of lack of governmental transparency that leads to the anti-people reflex of declaring all governmental documents as restricted and not available for citizen scrutiny. We must make an attempt to get out of that tradition and come to the realisation that citizens have the right to know and the duty to act on the basis of the knowledge they have acquired. I cannot go into our findings and recommendations but the most frustrating issue for us, during our work, was the non-appearance of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria to give their own side of the story.
Their Counsel had written the Commission stating they had no access to their client and IMN leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and therefore could not receive instructions to present their memorandum. The Commission delayed its public hearing for six weeks to help facilitate access to the IMN leader. After securing access, the IMN leader took the decision not to appear or send a memorandum. In yesterday’s Leadership newspaper, El-Zakzaky’s Counsel, Femi Falana made the call that the officers and men of the Nigerian Army should be prosecuted for killing 347 members of the movement. I regret that they declined the opportunity provided to make their case before the Commission. Meanwhile, their lawyer, Falana, is in court trying to secure the release of El-Zakzaky who has been in detention since the events of December last year.
Nigeria today has an enormous number of religious movements and practices, many of which are relatively new and have introduced new beliefs and practices into the country… There should indeed be broad and regular studies of new religious movements by our research institutions for improved understanding of their nature and activities.
It would be recalled that the clashes had occurred while the Islamic Movement in Nigeria was conducting a “hoisting of flag ceremony” at their national headquarters in Zaria. A large crowd of IMN members were controlling the traffic on that very busy highway and had set up a road block just as the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff was coming from Dutse, Jigawa State to attend the Passing out Parade ceremony of the 73rd regular recruits at the Depot in Zaria. His passage was blocked by the movement members, leading to the commencement of the clashes. In response to occurrence, the governor of Kaduna State established the Commission of Inquiry to determine the immediate causes of the clashes, the historical circumstances and the remote causes that led to these. The Commission was also asked to identify acts of commission and omission of relevant persons, traditional and religious institutions, non-governmental, Federal and State actors and emergency response agencies before, during and after the clashes and to determine whether the acts of commission and omission so identified were necessary, appropriate and sufficient in the circumstances in which they occurred. The Commission was also to determine the evolution of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria and how the organisation contributed to any engagement with the community, constituted authorities and the security agencies while reviewing all other factors that may have contributed to the incidents or may conduce to such incidences in the future and make recommendations thereto. With the work of the Commission concluded, it is now the responsibility of the Kaduna State Government to study the report and take appropriate actions.
As a student of the sociology of religion, one of the most revealing issues that came out of the inquiry for me is the open access to the religious arena in Nigeria. Ibraheem El-Zakzaky had started his religious activism in the Muslim Students Society in Ahmadu Bello University in 1979. Subsequently the organisation he established transformed into an ideologically focused mass religious movement with branches in all states in the country. The context of the origin of the organisation was the acrimonious 1978 debate over the establishment of a Sharia Court of Appeal in the Constitution of the Second Republic. Then came the Iranian revolution of 1979, which became the trigger for the emergence of the Shiite group that developed into the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. Nigeria today has an enormous number of religious movements and practices, many of which are relatively new and have introduced new beliefs and practices into the country. In one of his television appearances, President Buhari had promised to launch an in-depth study of Boko Haram, the movement that appeared to have emerged from no where and became a major force in the country. There should indeed be broad and regular studies of new religious movements by our research institutions for improved understanding of their nature and activities.
New religious movements have shown a high capacity to recruit followers, especially the youth. I guess it is relatively easy to do because the problem of youth unemployment in Nigeria is very acute and is becoming a social time bomb. New understandings of doctrine and spirituality coupled with offers of financial support or livelihood opportunities means that the young are ready to try out these new religious movements. In Northern Nigeria, there are eleven million male children, almajirai, of primary school age, who are out of school and who do not live with their parents. They are available to be mobilised for action. Over the decades, serious strains have been affecting inter-communal relations in Nigeria and one of my greatest concerns is the decline in the use of civil and refined manners. We refer to the other with such vile and insulting language that hatred becomes a common outcome of inter-communal relations. Religion is the arena of the highest level of passion and commitment, and by allowing too many of our young people to emerge without guidance and without opportunities, it is no surprise that the breakdown of social cohesion and escalation of violent conflicts become the order of the day. It is my hope that engagement with our report will be an opportunity for Nigerians and their governments to engage in a wider dialogue on rebuilding social cohesion, civic culture and the regeneration of a State system that serves the people.