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March 23, 2017

Why Nigeria Needs to Refrain From Membership of the Islamic Military Alliance


The Nigerian government must withdraw its steps from joining the alliance, particularly within the context of the “Islamic” label attached to the alliance… The non-inclusion of key players in the region – Iran, Iraq, and Syria – should be a tell-all sign that the intentions of Saudi Arabia for pushing forth the alliance are intrinsically hidden. Therefore, the focus of the government must be to make decisions that not only reflect Nigeria’s commitment to credible international action, but also favour all Nigerian’s irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation.

In the joint statement released by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the formation of the Islamic Military Alliance to fight terrorism, the Kingdom announced that 34 countries “have decided to form a military alliance to fight against terrorism led by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a joint operations centre shall be established in the city of Riyadh to coordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism and to develop the necessary programmes and mechanisms for supporting these efforts.” The statement further stated that “more than ten other Islamic countries have expressed their support for the alliance and will take the necessary measures in this regard, including Indonesia.” Nigeria is not only listed as a member of the alliance but also as a country that has confirmed to support and play military roles in the alliance.

Before now, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had been greatly criticised for not being vocal in the war against terrorism in the Gulf Arab states, despite its supremacy in the Arab world. Therefore, to testify to its supreme sense of responsibility towards fighting terrorism, the Kingdom deemed it necessary and satisfactory to establish the alliance, with an undertone of the charter of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Although, to some member countries, the alliance echoes the sound of a new dawn for concerted efforts against terrorism, but evidence based on the composition of this coalition – in which all the members are countries with a majority of Sunni Muslims – has cast a shadow over the genuineness of the alliance to fight terrorism, particularly in the context where countries like Syria, Iran and Iraq – in which the majority of Muslims are Shiites – are not listed in the alliance. This brings home the question, which many analysts have echoed, of whether the alliance was set up as a force against Shiite Muslims, or as a coalition against terrorism? This question remains relevant in the discussions on sectarian conflicts within Islam across the world. Thus, it behoves common sense to question why Saudi Arabia excluded from the alliance two large majority Muslim countries – Iran and Iraq – whose indispensability in the war against Islamic extremism cannot be whisked off.

On December 15, 2015, when the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister, Mohammed bin Salman, announced the Islamic Military Alliance, he did so with all sense of conviction that all the 34 countries had agreed to the anti-terror coalition. Following the announcement was a strong rebuttal from countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Lebanon, publicly disclaiming that they had given a formal consent to join the alliance. For example, according to Dawn’s newspaper, the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, AizazChaudhry, in response to the announcement, said that “He was surprised to read the news that Saudi Arabia had named Pakistan as part of the alliance,” hence (sic) “… had asked the country’s ambassador in Riyadh to get a clarification from Saudi Arabia on the matter.”

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In the same vein as Pakistan, the spokesman of Indonesia Foreign Ministry, Arrmanatha Nasir, was quoted in Jakarta Post as saying that “The government is still observing and waiting to see the modalities of the military coalition formed by Saudi Arabia,” hence (sic) “… Indonesia is not supporting the coalition, but instead supporting Saudi Arabia’s effort to combat terrorism and extremism.” Similarly, although Malaysia’s Defence Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, expressed Malaysia’s support for the alliance, however he dismissed Malaysia’s military involvement. In addition, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying that it did not receive any “memo or phone call mentioning this coalition,” hence it had (sic) “no knowledge whatsoever of the issue of forming an Islamic anti-terror coalition.”

For Nigeria, it is unclear where the federal government stands in response to the country’s inclusion in the alliance. Speaking about Nigeria’s inclusion in the coalition, President Buhari’s spokesman, Garuba Shehu, was quoted by Reuters as saying that, “Nigeria has been formally invited to be a member of the alliance and President Buhari is looking into it, but (sic) a decision to join has not been taken yet.” Mr. Garba was quoted as saying further that, “Nigeria is not in or out.” However, going by that (official) statement, it appears that the Buhari-led government is playing on words when other countries are making strong statements to either support or rebuttal of the alliance.

It has been over two weeks since the Saudi government announced the alliance. Yet, the Nigerian government claims that it has not confirmed its position in the alliance. However, evidence appears to show that Nigeria has not only confirmed to support the alliance but also has “opted to assist militarily.” It behoves the Nigerian government to refute this claim with a strong public statement to the Saudi government, if truly Nigeria did not give its consent before the boxes were ticked for Nigeria. The continued silence of the Buhari-led government on a serious foreign policy issue as this, rather speaks volume about the government’s insensitivity to the pressing issues facing the country. This insensitivity has been symptomatic of past administrations in Nigeria. Not even the change mantra has changed it.

It is the collective responsibility of Nigerian citizens to engage with the government to ensure that its decisions reflect the expectation of citizens. In the interest of Nigeria as a sovereign and secular state, the government of Nigeria must not join (if it has joined in principle, it must withdraw) the Islamic Military Alliance.

… the focus of the alliance is very clear – “to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan,” as expressed by the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed. This naturally puts Nigeria’s deadly terrorism in an ancillary position in the so called alliance. This brings home the question of why should Nigeria join an alliance that clearly relegates it to an ancillary position where its interests will be placed below the interests of other countries that face the same terrorist attacks it faces?

First, Nigeria is a secular state with multilateral religious groups. It is unclear which religion (between Islam and Christianity) has the highest population, as the figures vary. Evidence from The World Factbook shows that Muslims account for 50 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Christians account for 40 percent and local religions account for 10 percent. In contrast, evidence from Pew Research Center shows that Christians make up 49.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims make up 48.8 percent and other religions or unaffiliated groups share the remaining 1.9 percent. Also, figures from the census conducted by the Association of Religion Data Archives show that Christians share 46.45 percent of the population, while Muslims share 45.53 percent and the remaining 8.02 percent is shared among ethno-religionists, agnostic and others. The relevance of these figures is to buttress the fact that Nigeria is not an Islamic state, hence joining an alliance that is founded on the undertones of religion will be a violation of the principles of secularism on which Nigeria as a republic of people was founded.

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Second, the memories of over 170 Nigerian Muslim pilgrims who died during the (avoidable) stampede at the 2015 Hajj in Saudi Arabia are still fresh in our minds. Africans, including Nigerians, were blamed by the Saudi government for the stampede. Even when the Saudi government was heavily criticised globally for its insensitivity and failure to provide adequate security measures at the pilgrimage, it did not buckled down to offer apologies to Nigeria or other countries affected. It behoves common sense to ask if Saudi Arabia – a country that has no respect for equality of human rights – is the kind of country that Nigeria should be forming an alliance with, particularly amid the myriads of crises that we are currently facing. For Saudi’s gross violation of the civil rights of its black population, Daniel Greenfield described Saudi Arabia as “the middle east’s real apartheid state.” Even Amnesty International has recently raised its concerns about the alliance, hinting that it could be used as a tool to further restrict human rights.

Third, the focus of the alliance is very clear – “to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan,” as expressed by the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed. This naturally puts Nigeria’s deadly terrorism in an ancillary position in the so called alliance. This brings home the question of why should Nigeria join an alliance that clearly relegates it to an ancillary position where its interests will be placed below the interests of other countries that face the same terrorist attacks it faces? Also, the fact that Nigeria is not included in the countries where the alliance will focus its efforts on suggests that Saudi Arabia takes the deadly attacks, which Boko Haram has been raining on Nigeria since 2009, as inconsequential.

Fourth, Nigeria’s membership to the alliance will be an exemplification of hypocrisy and invitation of ridicule to its strategic position as the largest economy in Africa. Nigeria’s Boko Haram has (arguably) been dubbed the deadliest terrorist group in the world. There is evidence that Nigeria’s Boko Haram has links with the Salafi jihadist militant group; the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There is also evidence that ISIS attacks any country that provides support to the fight against terrorism. Terrorist attacks in Europe and Russia serve as ready examples. We cannot jettison the logic that by the mere involvement of Nigeria in the alliance, the attacks by Boko Haram will double, and even may bring the presence of ISIS clearly to Nigeria.

With the recent incident between the Shiite Muslims in Kaduna and the Nigerian military, coupled with the revelations on how the Shiites Muslims have gained influence in the state in the last two decades, it is obvious that sectarian conflicts within Islam in Nigeria is a can of worms that Nigeria – with its current economic crises – cannot afford to open. Thus, Nigeria’s involvement in the alliance will only send a signal of government’s preference for Sunni Muslims, who are in majority in the country.

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Although, the federal government may continue to propagate information that the Nigerian military has won the fight against Boko Haram, but the facts on the table continue to show that the fight against terrorism in Nigeria is still far from victory, as the Nigerian military is still struggling to neutralise the attacks of Boko Haram.

Finally, in today’s world, the sectarian conflicts within Islam (between the Sunnis and the Shiites) across the world is deepening. The non-inclusion of Iran, Iraq, and Syria from the alliance is a clear illustration that the coalition is for Sunni Muslims, hence it empowers the thinking that the Shiite-majority Muslim countries are not worthy to be part of the alliance, even though they face severe terrorist attacks like the Sunni-majority Muslim countries. This is a move that is bound to worsen the situation in the Middle East. Thus, Nigeria’s involvement in such a move will be an invitation of another round of terror to the already existing terror in the country.

With the recent incident between the Shiite Muslims in Kaduna and the Nigerian military, coupled with the revelations on how the Shiites Muslims have gained influence in the state in the last two decades, it is obvious that sectarian conflicts within Islam in Nigeria is a can of worms that Nigeria – with its current economic crises – cannot afford to open. Thus, Nigeria’s involvement in the alliance will only send a signal of government’s preference for Sunni Muslims, who are in majority in the country.

… the focus of the government must be to make decisions that not only reflect Nigeria’s commitment to credible international action, but also favour all Nigerian’s irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation.

To conclude, the Nigerian government must withdraw its steps from joining the alliance, particularly within the context of the “Islamic” label attached to the alliance. The pockets of evidence from the crises in the Middle East have shown that there are different interpretations of what is Islam or terrorism, even within the supremacy of Saudi Arabia. Also, the government should not forget that Saudi Arabia is facing the worst economic downturn in its history with a budget deficit of $98 billion in 2015, which suggests Saudi’s declining power in the Arab world, hence a conviction that Saudi Arabia may be hiding under the guise of the Alliance to spread across countries both economic costs and otherwise, while it strives to maintain its supremacy in the Arab world. The non-inclusion of key players in the region – Iran, Iraq, and Syria – should be a tell-all sign that the intentions of Saudi Arabia for pushing forth the alliance are intrinsically hidden. Therefore, the focus of the government must be to make decisions that not only reflect Nigeria’s commitment to credible international action, but also favour all Nigerian’s irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation.


 

By Chukwuma Okonkwo

 

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