This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news.
The past week saw at least 3 clashes between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and the Nigerian Army. Between October 27th and 30th, protesters from the Shia religious organisation, led by Ibrahim Zakzaky, encountered security operatives in Abuja and the neighbouring state, Nasarawa.
During these encounters, the security services killed at least 40 IMN members. The military, despite video evidence, claims that only 6 people were killed in self-defence. The group members were participating in an annual trek to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad in Islamic doctrine.
The march also involved the Shiites calling for the release of their leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been in prison since 2015. Notwithstanding orders from courts of competent jurisdictions calling for his release, the Nigerian government has kept him in custody.
It is not the first time security operatives have gunned down members of the Shia religious organisation. In 2015, the Nigerian army killed over 100 members of the organisation in Zaria, Kaduna State. The group in their usual march had blocked the road and cars, including the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai.
The blockade angered soldiers and resulted in their retaliation by killing scores of Shiites and burning their homes. The army still maintains that all of that was done in self-defence despite eyewitness accounts insisting that the attacks were deliberate and targeted.
Stakeholders and organisations like Amnesty International have described the action of the Nigerian military as condemnable and an abuse of power.
According to Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International Nigeria's country director, the killings amount to extrajudicial executions, as the military operatives deliberately use tactics designed to kill when dealing with IMN gatherings.
Here comes Donald Trump
For the most recent clash with the IMN, the Nigerian army has cited a video of US President Donald Trump in justifying their actions last week. In the video, Trump says soldiers should respond with force to migrants who throw stones at them.
"When they throw rocks... consider it as a rifle. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back." says Donald Trump in the clip
Considering that members of the Shia organisation threw rocks at the military during the protest, this video is being used to rationalize the reaction.
“We released that video to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International? What are they then saying? What did David use to kill Goliath? So a stone is a weapon. Our soldiers sustained injuries. The Shiites even burnt one of our vehicles, so what is Amnesty International saying?” - Brig. John Agim, Nigerian Army spokesman
At the moment, there is still an ongoing debate on the actions of the Nigerian military.