While President Muhammadu Buhari was assuring the Canadian government that his democratically elected government was strengthening democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria, the Nigerian Army was firing live rounds at Shiites protesters in Abuja.
Shiites under the umbrella of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) want their leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky whom the government, in violation of several court orders, has been holding since 2015 released.
But the Buhari administration, which says it is deepening democracy in Nigeria, continue to disregard the law courts which form an essential part of any democracy.
Buhari once became a military dictator after toppling a democratically elected government. Critics say it is impossible for the despot to democratise. But prior to winning the 2015 general elections, Buhari assured all and sundry he was “now a born again democrat” who believes in the rule of law.
Buhari’s handlers also chorus that the president was learning the tenets of democracy, and fast.
“President Buhari told Canadian Governor General Julie Payette that Nigeria had been learning from the mistakes of those who practiced democracy for a longer period, and by looking inward at its own peculiarities,” presidential media aide said in a statement on Monday.
Observers say one of the mistakes of Buhari’s predecessors was the way they failed to handle a pre-terror Boko Haram diplomatically. The Islamic sect turned to terrorism after its leader was killed in government detention. Critics fear the same could happen if El-Zakzaky suffers a similar fate.
But the Nigerian government repeatedly assures that it is not mistreating the IMN leader who faces possible treason for allegedly acting against the Nigerian state.
Photos: Military says soldiers seized these weapons from Shiites on Monday
Critics, however, ask why the Buhari administration (if it truly believes in democracy) would refuse to fully commit El-Zakzaky’s fate to the courts.
Questions are also being asked of the Nigerian military as clashes between troops and IMN members repeatedly produce Shiite corpses.
The military took Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife into custody after soldiers gunned down hundreds of his members in Zaria, Kaduna State, between December 12 and 15, 2015. El-Zakzaky’s children were among slain. A judicial panel set up by Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai found the military culpable in the massacre, recommending a major-general for trial.
But President Muhammadu “Born Again Democrat” Buhari defended the military during a media chat (the only one he has had since becoming president) on December 30, 2015.
Shiites continue to demand El-Zakzaky’s release in protests during which they clash with police who routinely disperse demonstrators with water cannons, batons and teargas.
But clashes with the military who frown on IMN traffic-causing processions and marches have resulted in killings rights activists condemn. Government backers berate Shiites for thinking soldiers, if attacked, would respond the same as police. But critics ask why soldiers, and not police, are deployed against protesters in a democracy.
One of such clashes occurred on Monday, the same day President Buhari told the world his administration was deepening democracy in the country.
IMN members clashed with security operatives during a protest at Nyanya military checkpoint in Abuja. The military admitted to firing live rounds on the demonstrators whom they said were armed with “dangerous weapons”.
“The sect in massive numbers forced their way into the troops checkpoint after overrunning the Police Force,” the army said.
“The Police withdrew back to own troops position to join efforts to repel them.
“They fired weapons at own troops, throwing bottle canisters with fuel, large stones, catapults with dangerous objects and other dangerous items at troops causing bodily harm and stopping motorist movement, breaking their windscreen and causing heavy traffic.
“However, Troops repelled the attack in conjunction with the Nigerian Police Force to stop the situation from further deteriorating.
“Unfortunately, during the encounter three members of the sect were killed while four soldiers sustained various degrees of injuries and are being treated at a military medical facility,” the army said.
Photos: Shiites allege military killed 16 IMN members during latest clash
The military shared photos of two Dane guns it claimed to have retrieved from the Shiites. But none of the soldiers reportedly injured during Monday’s clash bore bullet wounds.
Shiites, however, said 16 of their members were killed.
Is this a democracy?