The editorial of any newspaper is a powerful tool. It often gives insight into the position that an organisation takes on crucial national issues and its pronouncements are usually tempered by measured caution to ensure that the newspaper does not lose its credibility or respect among readers. It is equally imperative that editorials take the additional precaution of not been seen to endorse criminal or volatile positions so that the proponents of such do not cite the newspaper as the source of their authority in commission of further crimes.
This understanding was not lost on a respectable online newspaper that published an editorial “Nigeria Must Not Transform The Shiites Into Enemies” on Friday October 21, 2016 in which it tenuously attempted to make a case for the Shiites in Nigeria as typified by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) to continue undermining the state. The editorial also tried to criminalise not just the Nigerian state but also strategic institutions like the Nigerian Army and the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Kaduna state government to investigate a deadly IMN-Army clash in December 2015.
Read in isolation, the editorial in question is a wake up call that would challenge even the most obtuse government. The other stories, features and opinion articles that the newspaper had been running in recent times however took the wind out of its official position as the direction of the editorial fits smugly into what has been canvassed by supposedly independent contributors. It therefore oozes of being part of a larger communication campaign that is meant to catalyse particular actions.
Before the entire country becomes enslaved to a vocal minority, it is vital to correct some wrong premises advanced in the recent array of write ups like the editorial. The imperative to correct the misimpressions becomes even more urgent upon the realisation that in this age where researchers rely on internet searches, there is a concert effort to saturate the online servers with wrong information that would in the nearest future be referenced as facts.
When citing recent incidents around the IMN in the course of discussing the need for religious tolerance, protection of minorities and respect for human rights, it is important to resist the temptation to set out portraying the group with its members as victims and the rest of the country as aggressors.
The inherent danger in doing this is that the infractions, shortcomings and crimes committed by the militant or extremists wings of the IMN are glossed over and they go away with the impression that they have done no wrong. It becomes more dangerous when other groups or even the moderate elements of the IMN are encouraged to adopt similar behaviours.
Secondly, no group, least of all the IMN should be encouraged to disregard state institutions – statutory or ad-hoc. IMN’s decision to boycott the Kaduna State Judicial Commission of Inquiry was wrongly justified on the supposed grounds that they have no confidence in some of its members. This was the same way several publications and commentators actively encouraged the sect’s members to stay away from the panel, which has proven to be a mistake as it turned out that the findings are binding on IMN as things stand.
They threw away the chance to present their own accounts of events and they cannot now expect the rest of the country to not believe that their boycott has nothing to do with their rejection of a secular state.
The Army, which got its fair share of blame even after appearing with an array of legal experts, now know where to make amends. The Army is a national institution and would never be disbanded to service the interest of any group or organisation even when such entities are known to have active support from foreign donors to constantly make Nigeria look like a basket case. This is one reality we are forced to live with and the best that can happen is to continue pressing for individuals that erred to account for their action but not asking to subvert the Army for IMN.
Furthermore, the trend of condemning decisions taken by state governments in pursuit of safeguarding the rest of the population from the handful of Shiites must be discontinued. States do not have the responsibility to pander to IMN’s extreme expectations of being allowed to torment others with obstructive processions with members known to have been militarised. The responsibility is to each an every citizens who have the right of access on public road, the right not to be under constant threats and others.
Newspaper organisations that accept the brief to make IMN’s excesses appear like legitimate exercise of their right to free worship, association and expression must as a matter of fairness execute similar briefs for other minorities pro-bono. Such organisations should defend the rights of Ombatse members to slaughter security operatives as part of their expression of religious freedom. They should defend the child burning fanatics who label minors as witches in order to kill them as merely expressing a minority religious view same way they should protect rapist charlatans that hide under the cover of religion.
Ritual killers who believe in dismembering other humans to get ingredients for their money making séances are also practicing their faith and would demand protection by the same token. While at it they should not forget that Boko Haram terrorists have never seen themselves as anything but enforcers of a religion in spite of their sick perversions, they too should get the sympathies that would provoke favourable editorials.
On a more serious note, the reality is that we must look beyond the superficial and a mindless sense of vendetta that has driven most of the pro-IMN communication. It is only then that it would become clearer that it is this group that has made Nigeria the enemy and not the other way round. Instead of helping to convey and amplify IMN threats, newspapers that are truly objective and desirous of making a deference should fashion out an enlightenment series targeted at de-radicalisation of those that have been thought to rise up against the secular state.
****Abiodun writes from Ibadan, Oyo State.