The Shiites and Non-Violent Protests in Nigeria: Lessons for Activists – By Donald C. Benjamin, Ph.D.

Protests are universally recognized as legitimate means of expressing grievances. It involves gathering in large numbers and marching through streets and/or converging in an area to deliver messages through codified slogans, placards, outfits and demonstrations.

Governments and their agencies are usually the targets of many protests. Protests can also take the form of demonstrations, processions, rallies or gatherings.

In Nigeria, protests are also known mechanisms for driving home demands of various groups across the country. However, what appears to be unique about protests in Nigeria, particularly mass protests, is that it always degenerate into violence. Thus protests in the language of the government is unwarranted as it is synonymous to civil disobedience.

One group in Nigeria that is however uniquely identified with protest as its mode of existence and operation as a group, is the Shiites under leadership of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. This group, for a very long time, have been identified as a group whose activities are associated with processions and rallies on designated dates as well as demonstrations and protests as circumstances warrant.

Although, the regular outings of Shiites attract backlash from the security agencies, they constitute the major victims of the crackdown by the police and other security agencies.

The group is known to be very professional and disciplined whenever they hit the streets on procession or as protesters. The usual claim that hoodlums, thugs and criminals hijacks protest is unknown in the series of activities of the Shiites.

There have never been reports of vandalization of property of private or public ownership or even attack on individuals and groups that are perceived enemies by the Shiites during their protests. The focus of their activities have always been the messages they intend to deliver. They are though brave, ruthless as some will allude, provocative in their style of processions and protests. Nevertheless, even their arch enemy will testify to their peaceful conduct on the streets.

In terms of crowd management, they are absolutely the best. Even though they are minority within the larger Muslim group, they are known to have the capacity to attract the largest gathering with modest civility and control of congregates. They are known to have institutionalized patterns of traffic control, movement of people and prevention of infiltration of hoodlums into their ranks. They move around with traffic volunteers, medical teams and sanitation volunteers.

Except that their processions and protests are attacked by the police and/or hired thugs, their activities end largely without incidences.
Even when they are being serially attacked with brute force, they always exercise restraint and insist on their chosen peaceful and lawful activities.

Even in the face of highest provocation, the Shiites are very civil but acts with greater determination and courage to exercise their rights as citizens.

Recently, the governments of both Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari unleashed violence on the group, killing more than one thousand of their members including six children of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzakky, yet no evidence has emerge of any destruction or mayhem perpetrated by the group. The leader and his wife sustained multiple gunshots when their house was attacked for two days running and later whisked away and detained without necessary medical care.

For over five years, they are being held arbitrarily even against valid court order. In addition to this, members of the group also suffers serial police brutality across different parts of Northern Nigeria, leading to loss of lives, arrests and incarceration involving teenagers and women. In spite of this brutalization, their continuous Free Zakzakky Protests have remained peaceful across Nigeria and the FCT.

How I wish the EndSARS protesters and other groups expressing grievances learn from the El- Zakzakky- led Shiite group. This will go a long way in keeping the government in check and also help enhance good governance indicators in the country for the good of all. The Shiites need to be commended for their steadfastness and patriotism as against groups of protesters that transform to destruction and killings or whose protests are easily hijacked for destructive ventures.

Accordingly, protests in Nigeria need to be organized as that of the Shiites. The strong and central leadership of the Shiites and the unity of their voice is largely responsible for the feat achieved in decades of peaceful protests. It will not be out of place if genuine protesters on just courses learn the skills of peaceful protests from the Shiites. God bless the people of Nigeria.

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