Kristi Pelzel is a Senior White House correspondent for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Kristi also covers the US Department of State and the United Nations. She holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University.
It’s been one year since the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and five years since the arrest of a prominent Shiite sect leader in Nigeria, Sheykh El-Zakyzaky. These two men from different countries, holding very different posts, have religion in common. They are Shiite Muslims, and in a population of over 180 million, it’s believed that 50 percent are Muslim in Nigeria. Of those, the majority are Sunni.
As I learned today in an exclusive interview with the Spokesperson for the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim Musa reiterated the vulnerability of their minority, seemingly under constant attack from the Nigerian government, Saudi Arabia, and other religions.
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After five years since Buhari’s Administration arrested the Sheikh, and his wife Zeenah, in his residence, in 2015, after killing 3 of his children (Hammad, Haidar and Humaid) and many of his followers. This was not the first time Buhari has arrested the Sheikh. December 1984, he was jailed during the birth of his first born child, released just under one-year after his arrest.
Iranian General Qassem Soleimani
It was reported that Sheykh El-Zakyzaky, before his second arrest, had ties with Iran, which included funding and military training, alongside religious education. This is a claim that Musa, Spokesperson for Islamic Movement in Nigeria, vehemently denies, calling it “nothing more than propaganda.” The Islamic Movement in Nigeria claims to have no military training and no backing to carry out non-peaceful actions, nor do they, according to Musa, wish to harm innocent civilians.
However, according to Iranian state-owned news agency IRNA, the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif contacted Nigeria in 2015 over the clashes in Zaria, exposing, at least, an alliance between the two groups. Article 154 of the Iranian constitution which states that the government will support “the just struggles of the mustad’afun (oppressed) against the mustakbirun (oppressors) in every corner of the globe.” No doubt, the connection, and frequent trips to Iran created suspicion about the groups intent, leading to a series of counter-strikes by groups that oppose them.
Musa is now calling the international community to action, asking them to place pressure on the Buhari Administration to release Sheykh El-Zakyzaky, the Islamic Movement leader in Nigeria, calling the arrest unjust and without merit.