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Nigeria Under Fire Over Alleged Political Execution

The Final Call, News Report , Brian E. Muhammad Posted: Aug 10, 2009

(FinalCall.com) - Mayhem and bloodshed recently rocked the Northern region of Nigeria with several days of violent clashes between government security forces and a controversial Islamic group.

Since July 26, up to 700 people were reportedly killed including Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of the group. The disturbances took place in various states but mainly in Maiduguri, the capital city of the Nigeria's Borno state.

According to reports, the fighting reached its peak as a result of hostility between the Islamic organization and state security. Nigerian national armed forces were sent in to strengthen the state security forces after an escalation that led to raids, arrests and police stations being attacked.

However questions arose from eye witnesses and human rights organizations concerning excessive force allegedly used by the government to end the rebellion. The criticism intensified when Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of the group was killed apparently while in police custody.

Activists, clergy and international rights advocates voiced outrage over the slaying, labeling it an extra-judicial killing, which is the illegal killing of political dissidents and social figures by any authority of government, like the armed forces and police, or criminal outfits such as organized crime groups.

Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) agreed with the government's right to defend itself from any internal threat but described the killing of Mr. Yusuf and others as extreme, calling it repulsive and barbaric.

Anyone suspected of committing an offense must be given adequate opportunities to defend himself. This is a fundamental right that must be protected by all civilized people. The resort to extra-judicial killing by our security operatives is condemnable, Chief Akeredolu said.

Amnesty International agreed, saying it opposes all unlawful killings, whether committed by armed forces under the control of the government or armed groups. Illegal killings by armed groups do not absolve governments of the responsibility to conduct security operations in a manner that does not lead to illegal killings by state security forces themselves.

According to Corinne Dufka, senior researcher in charge of Africa for Human Rights Watch, such killings are common in Nigeria.

The killing of suspects of all different types of NigeriansChristians, Muslims and all different ethnic groupsin police custody is really a pattern in Nigeria. It's been denounced by us, local groups and by the UN Special Rapporteur for Arbitrary Killing. This is a well known pattern by the Nigerian police and this would appear to be yet one more example of it, Ms. Dufka told The Final Call in a telephone interview.

International rights groups are calling for a proper objective investigation of police officers carrying out or sanctioning Mr. Yusuf's alleged execution. The Muslim leader's death added controversy because of conflicting police and army accounts of what happened.

Col. Ben Ahanotu, the army commander of the operation assigned to Boko Haram, the Islamic group, told the press he arrested Mr. Yusuf and handed him over to the commissioner of police in Maiduguri. Col. Ahanotu maintains Mr. Yusuf was alive with a bandaged arm wound.

Conversely, the police insisted Mr. Yusuf was killed in a shootout and then said later he was killed trying to escape.

But citing eyewitnesses and media sources, Ms. Dufka argues the Muslim leader arrived and was alone. He wasn't part of a unit of militants that was captured, appeared to be the sole detainee, and was found dead with multiple bullet wounds, she said.

Civil conflict is not new for Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa with nearly 150 million people and 250 ethnic groups.

In recent years the West African nation suffered unrest across faith traditions, turmoil from economic disparities in the oil rich Niger Delta region and struggles in the Northern region over the question of implementing Shariah, or Islamic Law.

After years of struggle against military rule, Shariah was applied in 12 northern states.

Observers characterize the current spate of violence as haves vs. the have-nots, while in the past friction was clearly inter-ethnic or Christians versus Muslims.

In November 2008, some 700 Nigerians were killed in Jos, capital of Plateau state, when disagreement over local elections degenerated into battles between Christians and Muslims.

Because of oil revenues, Nigeria has grown as a player on the world stage but has yet to achieve full internal peace. The economic gap between the impoverished masses and the wealthy elite are the root cause of discontent.

Analysts say the uprising reflects the negative effect of unresolved grievances over unequal resource sharing, corruption and blatant kleptocracy of government.

According to published reports the Boko Haram members were particularly angry at the inadequate systems of social welfare for poor people, which is fully provided for under Shariah.

In recent months, the police have been raiding Boko Haram locations and allegedly finding explosives and arms. The group's compound in Maiduguri included a laboratory used to make bombs, according to the military.

However critics doubt the conspiracy claim of the government, questioning the group's actual preparedness for revolution in light of local media reports that described the group's makeshift weapons as machetes, homemade guns and bows and arrows.

Moreover, rights organizations on the ground charged massacre-like actions of the part of police and army against the group and citizens caught in crossfiresan allegation the government denies.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, on a state visit to Brazil, accused the group of plotting to overthrow the government in the name of jihad.

President Yar'Adua said the military was ordered to attack when the group started gathering fighters from nearby states at its Maiduguri compound in preparation for the holy war.

The organization has been nicknamed the Nigerian Taliban, although there isn't any known connection between the movements. According to Nigeria State Security, the organization has been under surveillance for some time because of their positions on Shariah and pronouncements against the government in Abuja.

The group is also known to take a hard line against Western culture and its ill-effect on Nigeria's Muslims. The group came to be known as the Boko Harama Hausa term meaning Western education is impure, according to published reports.

The loss of life could be turned in a positive way, said one analyst. It's an opportunity to urge for a proper response from the Nigerian authorities to take measures to make the police a more responsible, law abiding institution, said Ms. Dufka.

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