Nigerian State Government 'Acting Like Boko Haram,' Says Shiite Spokesman

Nigeria Shiites cemetery
Members of the Kaduna state Judicial Commission of Inquiry stand at the demolished cemetery of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) on the outskirts of Zaria on April 26. Kaduna's government has declared the group unlawful and said it will prosecute its members. AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images

The spokesman of a Nigerian Shiite group says that the state government in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, is acting like Boko Haram after outlawing the group.

The Kaduna state government declared on Friday that the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN)— the country's main Shiite movement—was an "unlawful society" and that members of the group would be arrested and prosecuted.

Members of the IMN, an Iranian-inspired movement led by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, clashed with the Nigerian army in December 2015 in the city of Zaria. A commission of inquiry found that at least 347 members of the group were killed in the clashes, although the sect had previously claimed hundreds of its members remained missing. Zakzaky was arrested during the clashes and has been detained without charge for the past 10 months.

The inquiry, which concluded in August and was conducted by a state-appointed committee, said that the Nigerian army had used "excessive force" during the clashes and that soldiers who participated in the killings should be prosecuted. The army's role in the clashes had previously been condemned by rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, with the latter calling for an investigation into the alleged existence of mass graves containing bodies of the IMN members killed in the conflict.

The Kaduna state government on Sunday issued an arrest warrant for Ibrahim Musa, the IMN's mouthpiece. A spokesman for the Kaduna governor Nasir El-Rufai said that Musa had flouted the order by issuing statements on behalf of the IMN over the weekend.

Musa told Newsweek on Tuesday that he did not intend to hand himself over to the authorities. "I will not give myself in because they are just infringing on my rights. I haven't committed anything that is contrary to the established laws of the land," said Musa.

The IMN spokesman also told Newsweek that police had arrested 22 IMN members in Kaduna on Monday—including 12 minors—as they attempted to attend meetings of the group. The minors were later released, according to Musa, who claimed that a further five female IMN members were arrested on Monday evening. Newsweek contacted the Kaduna state government for comment but had received no reply at the time of publication.

Musa says that the ban will not stop the IMN from continuing its activities. "The Islamic movement is not an association with a president, secretary and other portfolios. It's just a group of like-minded persons that believes in the concept of practising Islam," Musa declared. "So if they say we should stop that, it means as well that we should stop our practice of our religion, which we cannot do. No matter what the tribulations will be, we will keep on doing what we know Allah has said we should do."

He also accused the Kaduna state government of acting in a manner similar to Boko Haram, which views Shiites as infidels who deserve to be killed. In a video released in September, Boko Haram disputed leader Abubakar Shekau threatened the Shiite group, saying that they should repent with the warning, "This is the end."

The clashes between the IMN and the Nigerian army prompted concern from Iran, with the country's President Hassan Rouhani reportedly calling his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari to discuss the matter in December 2015.