The Nigerian government has formally declared the Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) a security threat and compared it to the Boko Haram, whose insurgency has caused the death of about 100,000 people since 2009.
The government stated this in its formal rejection of the 2015/2016 annual report of Amnesty International (AI) which accused the country’s security and military forces of “extreme” human rights violations and brutal response to security concerns, such as the Biafra agitation, Boko Haram insurgency and Shiites’ movement.
The Nigerian military had earlier rejected the report.
In the AI report published in February, the global rights watchdog accused Nigeria of unlawful killings, detention and inhumane treatment of pro-Biafra campaigners, civilians in the north-east and members of the IMN, including its leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, as well as clampdown on freedom of speech.
But in a statement shared at the weekend, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs questioned the credibility of the AI report and insisted both IMN and pro-Biafra activists were national security threats, and accusing the former of terrorism.
“The Ministry wishes to point out that the case of Mr. El-Zakzaky, which Amnesty International pronounced on, is a high and national security issue.
“The activities of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and the El-Zakzaky movement in particular are reminiscent of Boko Haram which has become a menace and security concern not only to the Nigeria, but also the Lake Chad Basin region and the entire world. The activities of the El-Zakzaky movement is one that cannot be tolerated by any progressive democratic government.”
The ministry noted that the government had appealed the December 2016 court ruling that Mr. El-Zakzaky be released unconditionally.
The IMN leader and his wife have been in detention without trial since December 2015 when the military killed hundreds of his followers for denying the Army chief, Tukur Buratai, right of way in Zaria, Kaduna State.
While no solider is being prosecuted for killing or ordering the killing of the hundreds of Shiites, the Kaduna State government has since proscribed the IMN.
President Muhammadu Buhari and the federal government have always claimed their inaction on the Shiite killings was because the Kaduna State government was investigating the matter.
While the Kaduna government and now the federal government have accused the Shiite group of carrying out violent actions and being an ‘insurgent’ group, the IMN have accused top Kaduna and federal government officials of pursuing a Sunni-led clampdown on them.
On the Amnesty report on the Biafran agitation, the foreign ministry said “the agitation for a sovereign State of Biafra is unacceptable and detrimental to the peace, unity, stability and development of the Nigerian state.
“The scenario captured and the report itself lacked conformity to both local and international best standards on evidence gathering,” said the ministry.
In its clampdown on Biafran agitators, a leader of the pro-Biafra IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, has remained in detention and is being tried for treason by the government.
Nonetheless, the government expressed commitment to safeguarding citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and association, and that security personnel found to have flouted rules of engagement would be appropriately dealt with.