It is just recently that the so-called 'Arab Spring' was provoked across the Middle-East and North Africa. What appeared to be popular protests on the surface ended up as strategy for regime change in several of these countries. The greater fallout of those protests is instability that replaced the relative peace those nations once knew – Libya, Yemen, Egypt are basket cases while Syria is now the theatre for the world's most confounding proxy wars that began with what trusting citizens thought were simple street protests.
What those who earlier believed in the spontaneity of those early protests have found out is that the larger population responded to populist chants intoned by hidden terrorists among them. No sooner did the protests turned violent than the extremists began killing government forces who in turn responded in kind thereby triggering the disaster that has now engulfed many part of the earth. The refugee crisis from the ill advised kindling of terrorism now threaten to overwhelm Europe.
Nigeria is facing its own threat of foreign-backed terrorists induced protests with the growing boldness of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) which is actively supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran in pursuit of the spread of Shia brand of Islam.
The extremist group has in recent times been holding series of protest that its leadership apparently aim to use in precipitating nationwide crisis. Similar to the terror cells that operated underground in the Middle-East until they launched with the Arab Spring protests that allowed them metamorphosed into the noxious ISIL, IMN had taken its time to permeate the various sectors in the country – the group has parallel departments that corresponds with government ministries. The structure fits snugly into its disavowal of the Nigerian state and its rejection of the constitutionally guarantied secular state.
It had tested the extremism it would impose on Nigeria on a micro scale in Zaria in Kaduna state where residents and travellers endured years of abuses from IMN extremists. They often obstruct the roads with their processions and totally disregard the resulting hardship this has on other citizens.
But the true confirmation of this group's intention came to light when almost one year ago they made attempt on the life of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, the man entrusted with routing terrorists. That ugly incident in Zaria was likely the IMN's planned precursor for a 'Nigerian Harmattan'. The professional but firm response of the military to that error of judgment should probably be credited for stunting the extremists' rise into a full blown terror group.
Since that incident, IMN has made several attempts to instigate widespread protests, usually with the claim that the protests, marches and treks were to demand the release of its leader, Sheik Ibraheem Alzakyzaky from detention. He is being held for instigating the deadly clashes in the aftermath of the attempt on the COAS' life.
If clashing with the military has been proven to be sheer idiocy that must not be repeated again, the IMN has simply refused to learn that vital lesson that the military represents Nigeria and as a secular state the country will not allow the dictatorship of a sectarian group or any group for that matter. The Shia group barred its fangs on citizens in October this year during the Ashura procession but soon learnt the hard way that it is dangerous to dare the collective will. They were routed in every city in which they dared to attack Nigerians.
Only a few days ago the extremists turned their attention to a new foe in the quest to undermine the Nigerian state. The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) became its latest target. The police reportedly got intelligence that these radicalised persons were moving cache of arms across state boundaries and swiftly moved to prevent these from being put to use. But IMN would not have any of what it perceived as interference from an institution that represents the law and order for a state it does not recognise. It killed policemen in Kano even though the act also came at human costs to the IMN.
At the burial of its dead members, an IMN leader, Sunusi Koki expressly vowed that its member would not respect the laws of the Federal Government even if it means them paying the ultimate price. He went on to charge them to continue to resist – a code word for continuing to attack security agencies.
The brazenness of these extremists can only be understood in the context of the support that Iran is actively given them. The logistics, funding and arms flowing from Iran to the extremists is a logical explanation for why they think they are ready to fight Nigeria's military. That country, through the utterances of its senior officials, including past and present ambassadors, have given IMN members the false hopes that it would invade Nigeria once they can be suicidal enough to get as many as possible of their members killed in clashes with state agencies.
Iran in conjunction with the elite wing of the IMN mount intense propaganda to make extremist look like the victim in what can only be a ploy to limit the ability of Nigeria's security agencies from checking these excesses – it is an equivalent of the no-fly zone that had in other unfortunate countries given terrorists the upper hand to topple government. Since the clash with NPF in Kano this propaganda has only intensified even as the threat of unleashing more mayhem with protests and treks increases.
The world may be struggling to understand what went wrong for the seeming popular protests in the Arab Spring to be hijacked by terrorist but the scenario is playing out before our very eyes again here in Nigeria where IMN is expanding a terror network it imported from Iran. Nations are being misled into seeing IMN rebels as victims as evident in the statement from the United States that made condemnation without adequate understanding of the facts.
If another fiasco must be avoided the Iranian-IMN aggression in Nigeria must be understood and treated as what it is, the new face of terrorism.
Abiodun writes from UI, Oyi State.