This week something extraordinary happened. For the 3rd time in recent years Iranian Shiites threatened to dismember Nigeria by overthrowing President Buhari and create a Sunni Islamic state in Nigeria.
The silence of the Nigerian government over this incendiary comment is disturbing. We’ve had similarly threats made by an Iranian military commander threatening the Nigerian government with imminent action if their request is not met. A move that saw the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia express support for Nigeria and invited the Nigerian military to join a Saudi Arabia Islamic Military Coalition. A proposal Nigeria turned down.
Iran’s visceral reaction and threats has profound implications for the security and stability of the region. With the United States and France already vested in the region, this latest Iranian bellicose rhetoric has the potential to spark a broader sectarian conflict if these threats are followed on with actions.
Nigeria should regard the potential Iranian threat as serious . Iran is known to be the biggest sponsor of terror in the world, and against this backdrop the Iranian threat to the Nigerian homeland is a credible threat. In 2011 two shipment containers laden with weapons was discovered by Nigerian Customs. One can imagine how many such shipments Nigerian Customs may have missed.
It’s bad enough having to deal with suspicion that Nigeria’s neighbours, backed by the United States and France are covertly running a clandestine operation to keep the Boko Haram insurgency alive, with the primary aim of keeping Nigeria mired in perpetual domestic strife and too distracted to worry about the hostile takeover of West Africa as the ECOWAS bloc is disintegrating, with each member state charting the course of their own trade, political and security future.
The prospect of Iran exploiting the grievances against the Buhari administration from Nigerians and Shiite grievances against political alienation from the Sunni dominated government is most troubling. Most troubling because this is what Iran does best. They’ve done it in Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
The geopolitical landscape is in a tumultuous downward spiral in the region, and unless Nigeria manages these complex development by taking a stand against Iranian meddling in Nigeria’s internal affairs, it could contribute to further shifting of Nigeria’s influence into the geostrategic landscape ebbing away.
Its time Nigeria jettisons its pacifist and docile foreign policy and start taking a tough stance against those who threaten the territorial integrity of the nation. Rebuilding Nigeria’s defences, securing the Nigeria’s borders and a strong and proactive foreign policy will be in order.
Iran’s latest bellicose rhetorics and threats, coming after similar threats were made in 2015, that in itself coming after Iran was caught shipping weapons to Nigeria to fund radical groups, like it does all over the Middle East, is enough excuse for a responsible government to summon the Iranian ambassador or better still expel Iranian diplomats from the country. Why should Nigeria maintain diplomatic relations to a country that has consistently expressed its desire to destroy Nigeria’s central authority.
It is critical that President Buhari condemn the actions of the Iranian government and start laying out a foreign policy objective to safeguard and expand Nigeria’s interest in the world. Nigeria will need credible partner for such an effort. The alternative is the disintegration of Nigeria.
Why Nigeria Should Fear Iran?
The decline of what the Pentagon once considered the preponderant military power in black Africa, a weakness that the Mali crises exposed, led to a global free for all. When Mali was wrecked with a Jihadi take over the eyes of the world was on Nigeria, and rightly so. It had the largest army, biggest defence budget and most combat experienced man army. Nigeria’s inability to act opened the door for France and Chad to fill the security vacuum left by Nigeria.
This event also encouraged Iran to believe that an Islamic revival was also possible in Nigeria, and has grown increasingly confident it can build a permanent Islamic state within the country. Suddenly we have Zakzaki building schools, mosques and Islamic centres. Suddenly we are beginning to have a state within a state, with hundreds of thousands of members. Where is the money coming from?
In 2013 we begin to see thousands of his followers embark on drills, military drills. Now, when you embark on military drills, you are drilling with some sort of anticipation. Some form of expectations. Why is that? There are also reports of Zakzaki having his members recruited into the army, the police force, he has people working for him in the state security service.
If the campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency is taking Nigeria over a decade, imagine another parallel Islamic conflict with the Shiite Islamic sect. We would be faced with a violence that’s a million times more than Boko Haram because the Shiite Islamic movement’s well organised and educated members and potential funding from Iran.
It is imperative for the Nigerian government to start rebuilding and modernizing the nation’s armed forces and be prepared for potential armed confrontation with an external power or an externally inspired armed conflict parallel to Boko Haram.
With a greater allegiance to external powers such as Iran, a clear hatred for Nigeria’s circular government and bellicose rhetorics from Iran, Nigeria is potentially sitting on a keg of gunpowder.