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U.S.-Iran clash and the rest of us

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People hold placards as they shout slogans to protest against the US authorities for the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, during a demonstration near the US embassy in New Delhi on January 7, 2020. – A US drone strike killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad’s international airport on January 3, dramatically heightening regional tensions and prompting arch enemy Tehran to vow “revenge”. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)

Escalated tension between the United States (U.S.) and Iran has lately gone on a roller coaster drive, with reverberating effects in many parts of the world including Nigeria. But there is no better time for the key actors and all their apologists to exercise extreme caution than now.

The origin: assassination of the Iranian military commander, General Quasem Soleimani by the U.S. special force in Iraq escalated the tension between Washington and Tehran, with attendant protests in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Without playing the ostrich, the Nigeria Police quickly put its men on a red alert to prevent a breakdown of law and order in the country. This is remarkable. A day after, protesters under the aegis of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) did take to the streets in Abuja, setting flags of the United States ablaze in protest against America’s action in Iran.

The sympathetic reaction of the IMN for Iran against the U.S. is not unexpected. By an estimate, at least one in every five Muslims in Nigeria is a Shiite and traces their spiritual ethnogenesis to Iran – a country dominated by the Shiites with only nine per cent Sunnis. Indeed, the sectarian rivalry between Shiites and Sunnis cuts across the Middle East, parts of Africa and has been with the Nigerian Muslim community for a long time.

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But irrespective of their affiliation, the IMN and other interested groups in this matter should not forget that Nigeria is a plural state. For us, variety is the spice of life and the more we are the merrier. Traditionally, the true African orientation that an average Nigeria showcases do not discriminate on the basis of sect, ethnicity, religion, gender, or political party of affiliation. We even do this to a fault of accommodating chaos!

Lest we forget, ancient Africa was polytheistic in religious orientation. So, it was normal for seemingly diametrically opposed gods and goddesses to have their shrines pitched side-by-side without their adherents going up in arms against the other. In fact, the pragmatic flexibility of traditional religion permitted adherents to freely ditch a nonperforming deity and switch to another that has a better prospect of meeting their needs. We may call it religious prostitution but the central message is placing religion at the service of humanity and collective wellbeing.

Unfortunately, colonialists super-imposed mono-theism on our worldview. With it came fundamentalism and battle for supremacy among adherents. Notwithstanding, the relics of our fundamental diversity continue to accommodate diverse religions, even when they are fast losing relevance in their ancestral homes. That is why it is not uncommon to have all the dominant religions, sects or denominations represented in a typical Nigerian family and everyone is at peace with one another.

Such peaceful co-existence and respect for other beliefs are imperative in today’s world. It is on this premise that all parties in the current tension must exercise caution in the spirit of common humanity. Many Nigerians are till date mounting pressure on the Federal Government to expedite action on the release of the IMN leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, from detention in accordance with the rule of law and democratic values. Many of these are neither Shiites nor Muslims but they consistently demand El-Zakzaky’s rights as a human being and a Nigerian. Clearly, the string that binds us together is stronger than the divisive tendencies of ethnicity, religiosity and sectarianism.

Nevertheless, discretion is a better part of valour. And it is in this wise that the Nigeria Police’s red alert is commendable. The entire security architecture of the state must, however, go a step further to harmonise intelligence-gathering nationwide. It is not enough for the authorities to merely gather and estimate how much the Nigerian economy would profit from an increase in oil price on account of the tension between the U.S. and Iran. We should tighten our security loose ends by integrating the intelligence activities of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Department of State Services (DSS), Police, Immigration and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to safeguard our gateways and always a step ahead of insiders’ threats.

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It is bad enough that General Soleimani was murdered on allegations of instigating the killing of millions, attacks on U.S. troops and in the process of attacking four American embassies. Hasty retaliatory attack on U.S. base in Iraq has turned out to be worse. In error, Iranian ballistic missile brought down a Ukrainian commercial jet PS752, killing all 176 passengers and nine crew members onboard. Among them are at least 82 Iranians and 57 Canadians.

The embarrassing development did not account for at least 50 that died in stampede and 20 in fatal road crash prelude to the burial of Soleimani in Iran. None of the deceased offended the U.S. or Iran but had to be sacrificed, which once again underscores the futility of international aggression, violence and war.

Apart from these families that would forever mull their losses, the rest of us must remember that no escalated tension or war leaves a people the same again. It is easier to pull down than to build. Examples of this abound in Libya, Egypt and Iraq (the battleground of U.S., Iran and their allies). For a long time to come, the embarrassment of shooting down a commercial jetliner will haunt Iran, coupled with the economic implications of airlines’ withdrawal from its troubled airspace and a stressed economy.

With anti-government protest reaching its feverish pitch in Tehran this week and lives lost across nationalities, it is expected that all the parties would have learnt some lessons in diplomacy, patience and peaceful co-existence. After all, before the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran was one of America’s biggest allies in the Middle East and was led by the U.S.-backed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Things have degenerated badly over the years, but nothing forbids a reconciliation and complete de-escalation of the current tension. Both the U.S. and Iran may decide to forgive the past and bury the hatchet. But never to be recovered are lives wasted in the senseless defence of avoidable rivalry and conflicts.

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