The Anti-Ruga Coalition and the Abubakar Fire-fighting Initiative

Perhaps, Nigeria’s former military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, meant well for the country in initiating a roundtable on security with the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN). But it seems that initiative did not go down well with the anti-Ruga coalition- the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF).

The coalition rejected an invitation from Abubakar for the talks. Their underlying reason might not be far fetched. The Buhari administration has not been dealing with all sections of the country fairly. It has been obviously pro-Fulani and pro-Sunni at the detriment of the Shia. As we see it, an administration that is eager to contain the huge security challenges in the country could not be overtly involved in opening another possible avenue of insurgency. At its instance, the Buhari administration last week obtained a court order to proscribe the  Shiites, known as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN).

The Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday ordered the proscription of the movement as their protests rocked the capital city within the week. Justice Nkeonye Maha issued the order in a ruling in which  she also designated the activities of the Shiite organisation in any part of Nigeria as ‘’acts of terrorism and illegality.’’

While the court restrained ‘’any person or group of persons’’ from participating in any form of activities involving or concerning the IMN ‘’under any name or platform’’ in Nigeria, it also ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation ‘’to publish the order proscribing the respondent (IMN) in the official gazette and two national dailies.’’

The judge however, gave the order following an ex parte application by the Buhari administration, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/876/2019 which was filed in the name of the Attorney-General of the Federation.

Justice Maha granted the four prayers contained in the application shortly after the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, argued the application on Friday.

The IMN was the sole respondent to the application but the group was not represented by a lawyer on Friday since it was an ex parte hearing.

Ruling on Friday, the court made ‘’a declaration that the activities of the respondent (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) in any part of Nigeria amounts to acts of terrorism and illegality.  An order of this court proscribing the existence, and activities of the respondent (IMN) in any part of Nigeria, under whatever form or guise either in groups or as individuals by whatever names they are called.

‘’An order restraining any person or group of persons from participating in any manner whatsoever in any form of activities involving or concerning the prosecution of the collective intention or otherwise of the respondent (IMN) under any other name or platform howsoever called or described in any part of Nigeria. An order directing the applicant (the AGF) to publish the order proscribing the respondent (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) in the official gazette and two national dailies.’’

The administration had filed the application before the court on Thursday, after a protest by members of the group in Abuja led to a bloody clash between them and the police. The Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, Federal Capital Territory Command, Usman  Umar, and a Channels Television journalist, Precious Owolabi, died in the clash with many others injured and property destroyed.

The Shiites have for over two years been regularly taking to the streets particularly in Abuja to demand the release of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenat. The couple has been in the custody of the Department of State Services since December 2015 after a bloody clash between members of the group and soldiers in the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, in Zaria, Kaduna State.

In the application for the proscription of the group, the Buhari administration accused the group of carrying out coordinated violent protests in the country, alleging that the ‘’aggressive activities’’ of members of the group had led to the loss of lives and destruction of private and public property in the FCT and other cities in Northern Nigeria.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations in the FCT Command, Nyinnaya Adiogu, who deposed to the affidavit filed in support of the application, also alleged that the Shiites engaged in series of illegal activities,  ‘’which are inimical to the corporate interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’’, such activities, according to Adiogu, who said he was briefed by the Inspector-General of Police and the Solicitor-General of the Federation included setting up of a para-military guard called HURRAS.

The Shi’ites were also accused of ‘’nefarious activities’’, murder, attacks on security agents and provocative preaching and hate speeches while working towards an agenda of creating an Islamic State in Nigeria, as the affidavit, which highlighted what it described as ‘’series of violent and unlawful activities’’ of the sect since 1991, stated that the activities of the IMN members under the guise of clamouring for the release of their leader had not only heightened tension and insecurity in the country but also earned the country negative rating globally.

‘’On July 22, 2019, the respondent’s members again launched another vicious cycle of violent protests around the Federal Secretariat (Abuja), during which they set a sub-station/Ambulance Bay of the National Emergency Management Agency, containing a truck and an ambulance on fire.

‘’A Deputy Commissioner of Police, Usman Umar, in charge of Operations in the FCT; a national youth corps member by the name of Precious Owolabi, reporting for Channels TV and others were killed by the protesters. (Copies of media reports by The NationDaily TrustLeadershipPunch and The Sun newspapers dated July 23, 2019, on this incident are attached herewith and marked as Exhibit FGN 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E).

‘’The violent and aggressive activities of the members of the respondent under the guise of clamouring for the release of their leader have not only heightened tension and insecurity in the country, but it is also earning the country negative rating globally. Both the US and UK governments have already issued travel warnings on Nigeria on account of these violent protests which are equally deleterious to foreign investments. (A copy of the above report by The Punch newspaper is attached herewith and marked Exhibit FGN 5)’’, the affidavit stated.

Recalling that before the July 22, incident, the sect in a violent protest on July 9, while trying to force their way into the National Assembly complex, ‘’inflicted fatal injuries on policemen stationed at the National Assembly, shot two policemen and also injured other policemen with stones and clubs, damaged police vehicles and other vehicles belonging to visitors and staff members of the National Assembly who also sustained varying degrees of injuries.’’

The affidavit also stated the ‘’nefarious activities’’ of the group, to include, ‘’unauthorised blocking of public highway (especially the Zaria-Kano Highway during their processions), engagement in illegal road traffic functions, illegal roadblocks, imposition of illegal curfews and checkpoints, raids on police posts, prevention of arrest of their members, invasion of court premises to abort legal proceedings involving respondent members, refusal to submit to ordinary security checks, and attacks on security agents which led to the death of Corporal Dan Kaduna Yakubu;

‘’Setting up of a para-military guard known as ‘HURRAS’ through which the respondent has been terrorising local residents; respondent has also instituted unregistered security outfits and performed paramilitary ceremonies, hoisting of flag, combat exercises, parades and inspection by the respondent leader reminiscent of state authority.

‘’Provocative preaching and hate speeches aimed at inciting members against non-members while working towards its agenda of creating an Islamic State in Nigeria. Brazen acts of disrespect of Nigerian laws, non-recognition of constituted authorities, refusal to operate within the ambit of the law, and failure to register with the appropriate authorities.”

While the affidavit equally recalled the clash between Shiites and soldiers in the Chief of Army Staff’s convoy in Zaria on December 14, 2015, it also recalled similar clashes between members of the IMN with ‘’security forces in Kaduna’’ in 1991, and another incident in 1996 when the members of the group allegedly ‘’seized and decapitated a Christian, alleging that his wife used pages from the Quran to clean their baby.’’

It also alleged that in June 2005, the group ‘’clashed with emirate authorities in Sokoto over access to the city’s central mosque’’, that in July 2007, the group ‘’murdered’’ a Sunni cleric in Sokoto, Umar Dan Maishiya, ‘’for being highly critical of Shiites’’, adding as part of the group’s unlawful activities that the activities of the respondent’s members in Gyallesu, Zaria and environs have been threatening the peace and security of the affected areas over the years.

‘’Constant conflicts with local communities and forceful takeover or appropriation of mosques not belonging to the respondent in Kaduna and Kano states as well as other northern states. Violent protests, creating ethno religious strife and other criminal acts of aggression against individuals and communities often results in deaths, grievous bodily harm and destruction of property. The respondent has over the years manifested its penchant for launching attacks on security agents.’’

Spokesperson for the Shi’ites, Ibrahim Musa,  said the administration cannot proscribe the movement, pointing out that their members are Muslims practising Islam as ‘’revealed’’ by Prophet Muhammed, insisting that the group is neither an association nor a political party that could be proscribed by fiat.

While noting that the IMN is a mass movement and cannot be made to abandon its religion just like that, Musa said, ‘’firstly, we are not an organisation or association or a political party that can be proscribed by fiat. We are Muslims practising Islam as revealed to Prophet Muhammed under the leadership of his family. Ours is a mass movement, hence we can’t abandon our religion just like that.

‘’We don’t bear arms, we don’t force others to join us, we are just demanding justice within the ambit of the law, therefore, proscribing us won’t work. We can’t say this is what we will do if we are proscribed, because it just won’t work. We are in each and every facet of life like other citizens.’’

In their bid to resolve the disturbing Fulani herdsmen crisis, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State disclosed Northern governors will soon convene a summit on security and education. This was as his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Matawalle, said there is no going back on establishment of Ruga settlements in the state.

Both governors spoke in Abuja at the end of a Presidential Policy Retreat held at the Presidential Villa. Lalong however, said the most important take away from the event was tackling insecurity. ‘’I had mentioned here that when I was elected as the chairman of Northern Governors Forum, that my priority is security. So, we discussed how to tackle insecurity as presented by the Inspector General of Police, with a lot of contributions.’’

Continuing, he said, ‘’the second aspect is education; we mentioned to the president the Almajiri system. So, these were the things that all of us have taken in and very soon, I will convene the northern summit for us to collectively discuss because at the Northern Governors Forum, I have already set up a committee chaired by the governor of Katsina to look generally at insecurity in the north. We also set up another committee to look at education in the north and then the prospect of an economic summit for north. So, these are three things we are working on.’’

For Matawalle, his administration will adopt Ruga in its strategy to address the herders/farmers crisis, maintaining that it is a developmental project on ranch and ‘’we are ready for it’’.

In the mean time, in a letter addressed to Abdulsalami, signed by Chief Edwin Clark for the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Ayo Adebanjo for the Afenifere, Chief Nnia Nwodo for the Ohanaeze and  Dr. Pogu Bitrus for the Middle Belt Forum, the anti-Ruga coalition leaders said it was an insult to lump the apex socio-political associations with the cattle herders’ body.

In the letter they said it will be an insult to invite them to a dialogue with a trader association on national issues and security, pointing out that they were aware of most of the associations invited to the roundtable on national issues and security as they were socio-political organisations, but took exception to the invitation to Gan Allah Fulani Development Association and Miyetti Allah, which they described as ‘’traders’ associations’’.

According to them, ‘’we individually received your invitation to the above event holding in Minna between July 29 and 30, 2019. We thank you for your interest in the affairs of our country, which made us to accept your invitation in good faith. It was in the thick of our preparations for the journey that fuller details of the roundtable came to our attention, some aspect of which has necessitated this last-minute communication with you. We observed that the roundtable will have in attendance all the national security heads, Chief of Defence Staff and notable Nigerians, underscoring the high level of the consultations.’’

While they warmly welcomed the invitation of PANDEF, Ohanaeze, Afenifere, Northern Elders Forum and Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), they roundly rejected the extension of the invitation to Gan Allah Fulani Development Association and Miyetti Allah.

‘’The lumping of Miyetti Allah, a trade association for cattle herders and whose members have been accused of various violations of rights, including life, across the country sends worrying signal to us. It falls into the categorisation of our respected socio-cultural platforms with Miyetti Allah by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu. We consider it a grave insult on our bodies and our coming to a roundtable with the group would mean acquiescence to the narrative that put us in the same bracket with those wielding illegal AK-47 all over the country and inflicting terror on fellow citizens.

‘’Even if the above was not the case with Miyetti Allah, bringing a trade group like them in the same vehicle with the nationalities organisations would not have been appropriate as there are organisations of their category for fishermen, farmers, spare parts dealers and poultry owners among others across Nigeria who are not invited.

‘’Towards this end, we decline participation in the roundtable as scheduled without prejudice to your peace-building effort which is appreciated. We equally regret any inconvenience our decision may cause you as we know the efforts that go into putting events such as this together. Rest assured of our cooperation in all efforts and dialogues to make Nigeria peaceful, secure and forward moving provided they are organised in a way that does not subtract from our dignity and value’’, they said in the letter to Gen. Abubakar.

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