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Things Fall Apart
Report: Nigerian Army Massacred More Than 300 Shi‘a Muslims

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s list of woes grows longer with each passing day. Despite Buhari’s declaration of “technical victory” over Boko Haram last December, the terrorist group remains a menace in the country’s North. In the South, the Niger Delta Avengers have launched bold attacks on oil infrastructure, cutting Nigeria’s petroleum production by a third. Government revenues have fallen, the currency is depreciating, and the economy is set to enter a recession.

And now, just as things couldn’t get worse for Nigeria, a homegrown human rights inquiry has found that the Nigerian Army massacred more than 300 Shi‘a Muslims last year. Reuters:

Nigeria’s army killed 349 people from the minority Shi’ite Muslim sect last December in a series of clashes for which troops involved should be prosecuted, a judicial inquiry has concluded in a report. […]

The report published on Sunday confirms claims by human rights groups such as Amnesty International that the army killed hundreds of Shi’ite Muslims during three days of clashes in the northern city of Zaria. The army has repeatedly denied this.

“The Nigerian Army used excessive force,” said the report by a commission appointed by Kaduna state, where Zaria is located.

“The Commission therefore recommends that steps should immediately be taken to identify the members of the NA (Nigerian Army) who participated in the killings of 12th – 14th December 2015 incident with a view to prosecuting them,” it said.

Half of Nigeria’s 180-plus million people are Muslims, but of those, only a small minority are Shi‘a. Expect them to be understandably upset at the report’s findings. But the report’s repercussions will resonate far outside the country: when rumors of the massacre swirled last December, Shi’a Muslims as far away as India took to the streets in protest, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called on his Nigerian counterpart to protect Shi‘a Muslims. Shi’a around the world will remember how Nigeria’s army murdered their co-religionists.

Keep in mind that this latest report isn’t from a Western NGO’s investigation—it was commissioned by the state government of the city where the massacre took place (Nigeria, like the United States, has a federal system where considerable powers are constitutionally reserved for the states). That the report was written and compiled by Nigerians gives it some extra punch—and now the federal government, especially the army and the presidency, will have to respond.

Western governments and NGOs will also face pressure to cut or suspend aid to Nigeria until the government sorts out this mess and puts a few officers on (show) trial. The last thing Buhari wants to do right now is to punish some of his loyal supporters in the army, but it looks like that’s what it’s going to take to win the loans Nigeria requires to fend off a daunting fiscal crisis and to secure the weapons and supplies the country needs to fight off festering insurgencies in the North and South.

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  • Tom

    Open question: were these civilians killed deliberately, or were they killed as part of the inevitable result of sending any army, much less a third-world one, into an urban battlefield?

  • Tate Metlen

    There is a lot of ethnic cleansing going on in that area between different ethnic and religious groups. The army has an impossible job. Why did they get into a fight with this group? I am sure it wasn’t for just because they are Shia. It isn’t like the military is any one religious or ethnic group.

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