Muslim Shiite demonstrators march through the streets of the northern Nigerian city of Kano on January 7, 2009 in protest against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. About 30,000 Muslims took part in the peaceful protest, organized by the Nigerian Islamic Movement, a pro-Iranian organization, calling for an end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza


By Dawit Giorgis
Special to CNN Editor’s note
14 June, 2013

Nigerian authorities last month arrested four Lebanese nationals in northern Nigeria on suspicion of having ties with Hezbollah. After a raid on one of their residences yielded a stash of weapons, including anti-tank weapons, rocket propelled grenades, and anti-personnel mines, the Nigerian State Security Services (SSS) announced that the compound was hosting a terrorist cell tied to the Lebanese Shia movement. The four accused have denied the charges, and are suing the government for wrongful detention.

But even if they are found guilty, other Hezbollah nodes may well remain in Nigeria. The truth is that despite the thousands of miles that separate Nigeria from Lebanon, the country is faced with a growing threat from a Hezbollah doppelganger. The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) is a jihadist organization with strong support among the 5 million Shia Muslims, by some estimates, living in Nigeria.

Founded in the early 1980s, it has flourished with cash, training and support from Iran. Indeed, the roots of the IMN can be traced to the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution, when Nigerian students belonging to the Muslim Student Society traveled to the Islamic Republic and were trained with the goal of establishing an Iranian-style revolution in Nigeria. The leader of the student group was Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, a firebrand Sunni turned Shia religious extremist who was first influenced by the works of Sayyd Qutb, the intellectual force behind Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and whose ideas form the basis of al Qaeda’s ideology today.

Remarkably, Zakzaky switched sides and became an adherent of Shia Islam, encouraged by Iranian funding and training, both religious and military.Since becoming the leader of the IMN in the mid-1980s, Zakzaky has had numerous confrontations with the government, including being imprisoned for nine years. From 1981 to 1984, for example, he was jailed for sedition and for declaring he would recognize no governmental laws or authority except those of Islam.

Fast forward three decades, and Zakzaky
is the patriarchal spiritual leader of Shiites in Nigeria, much like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was in Iran. When he addresses his followers, Zakzaky typically sits under a big portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini and wields rhetoric akin to that of Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. The subject of his speeches are what you might expect – heated vitriol aimed at Jews and Israel, in which he portrays Jews as infidels who should be wiped off the map by Allah. In 1998, for example,the Shiites of Nigeria, under Zakzaky’s leadership, observed Jerusalem Day, mirroring Khomeini’s introduction of a day for expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. He also talks about social justice in Nigeria and building support for Iran’s policies in Africa.

“Iran’s objectives are to establish a local power base to exert influence over the national government and to act against Western interests,” argues Abel Assadina, a senior Iranian diplomat who defected in 2003. Certainly, under Zakzaky’s leadership, the IMN has provided Hezbollah-style military training to hundreds of Nigerians in camps throughout Northern Nigeria. And although the group has yet to launch an attack, it is surely not unreasonable to expect an attempt at some point.

As Muhammad Kabir Isa, a senior researcher at Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University, told the BBC: “when you embark on military drills, you are drilling with some sort of anticipation. Some sort of expectation.” And the IMN’s propaganda effort also bears a striking resemblance to that of Hezbollah. The movement has had a thriving newspaper, al-Mizan, for more than two decades. In addition, it has also begun broadcasting its own internet- based Hausa radio station, Shuhada, on the country’s main air waves, similar to Hezbollah’s radio station, Al-Nour. IMN also has plans to start a new TV channel, a move reminiscent of Hezbollah’s al- Manar. Isa has described the movement as “a state within a state.” But this does not mean that IMN is isolated from Nigeria.

Indeed, Zakzaky has reportedly worked to ensure that his members are recruited into the army, the police force and the state security establishment. Of course it is true that however much inspiration he likes to draw from images of Nasrallah, he lacks the Hezbollah leader’s battlefield experience. And he also does not have Nasrallah’s resources – Hezbollah has recently dispatched thousands of fighters to back the al- Assad regime in Syria. Yet the recent arrest of alleged Hezbollah operatives, and a stash of weapons, so far from home raises troubling questions about what Zakzaky’s network might be capable of – and what exactly he has planned.



About beegeagle

BEEG EAGLE -perspectives of an opinionated Nigerian male with a keen interest in Geopolitics, Defence and Strategic Studies
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  1. beegeagle says:


    JAZ, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky’s Izala Movement of Nigeria are firmly the torchbearers of unofficial Iranian-Nigerian relations. The Izala Movement in Nigeria took root around the time of the Iranian Revolution and the group remains the largest pro-Iranian muslim organisation in Nigeria with a membership strength running in the millions.

    One of the features of the Zaria landscape (El Zakzaky lives in GRA, Zaria) is the weekly street procession of his followers after Friday prayers. It is to a lesser extent replicated in Kaduna and it is one reason why cops in Kaduna State have been on red alert every Friday for many, many years before Boko Haram emerged on the scene.

    One more thing. There is a historical link between religious violence and Iran. At Xmas 1980, the defining episode of the Maitatsine Uprising took place in Kano. It claimed 4,177 lives over a two-week period.

    That spell of episodic violence which continued into the mid-1980s was inspired by Mohammed Maroua, a Cameroonian national who first came to Kano from his hometown of Maroua in the Far North of Cameroon in 1945. In 1961, the regional government of Nortthern Nigeria had him deported for heretical and dangerous teaching.

    With the passage of time, Maroua aka Maitatsine sneaked back into Kano around 1978 which coincided with the agitation that ultimately snowballed into the Iranian Revolution of 1979. What is certain is that during his 17-year absence from Nigeria, nobody really knew what he had been up to.

    The Iranian Revolution sought to spread that wave of religious revival to other lands and in tandem, Gaddafi of Libya was espousing his an Islamic Empire encompassing northern Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Niger and Libya. He even created an Islamic Legion populated by mercenaries from these nations.

    It is believed that Maitatsine got financial help from Iran and was supported with Libyan arms and by the mercenaries of Gaddafi’s Islamic Legion. Regardless, that episode of violence was so serious that even as we speak, all the killing by Boko Haram have not matched the number mowed down by Maitatsine vandals.

    Those Maitasine chaps had many strange beliefs and claimed that it was wrong for muslims to bow their heads and face the East when they prayed. To drive home their point, they stormed not a few mosques and shot dead dozens of worshippers praying in that position.

    • CHYDE says:

      To add to your comment, at a point the military was directly involved in policing places of worship on Fridays to make sure everyone went his way immediately after prayers. I remember seeing truck full of armed military men stationed at strategic positions near places of worship. You are very well informed, my Oga at the top

  2. eniola says:

    Y didn’t d sss nd military stop dis training….dis z lik another boko haram dats yet to com out, I pray dey won’t com out violent, wit supporters of more dan a million, I don’t tink d nation wud survive d outbreak of dis sect…. God help us

    • igbi says:

      What you have here is the islamic version of mafia. (No disrespect intended to islam).
      Zakzaky is not a military threat, although he is a security threat, his trained youth can certainly cause havoc in the civilian populace. But such a movement could easilly be infiltrated by intelligence officers (and I think that has already been done), then you can draw a map of who are the captains and then you can either turn them or take them out. By the way, they are not likely to be millions of them, it is just not sustainable, I would rather say some thousands.

  3. agee says:

    My friends actually think I’m paranoid, but I think I’m just extra sensitive to security issues: I have lived in the north all my life, I have always raised questions about some islamic getherings around, a lot have this very violent look about them; I usually asked, am I the only one that see these guys as a threat? Is there any agency monitorring their activities? Why shud one cleric have this amount of Jobless military age youths under him? This are the same peeps dat always maim people during crisis in places like kaduna. The security forces should find a way to put most of these guys under surveilance; they should start from them hate preachers. Also I think there should be a kind of audit for our security personnels, might sound ridiculous, we need to find a way to weed out unpatriotic people in our security forces: I think it should start at the top, use psychologist, lie detectors etc. The audit should be outsourced to avoid some kind of internal manipulation.

  4. freeegulf says:

    the FG had always been wary of the the shite religious movement in zaria and kaduna at large. and i think they should continue to monitor these shia affiliated groups, closely. however, i think there’s a foreign overtone to all these surprise raids, some groups are out there to draw nigeria into this usa/israel vs iran/hezbollah affair. and i think we should be smart enough to to away from all these intrigues.

    we have a healthy relationship with most countries and we should keep it that way, enough of all these hezbollah conspiracy, pls, we shouldnt be dragged into a conflict that we have nothing to gain from.
    nigeria is not a launch pad for israel or the usa, neither are we a harbour centre for iran and hezbollah.

    if they accuse iran of espionage in this country, i believe the umbrella is large enough to cover israeli and american interest in this country too.
    we have friends and we have interests, but definitely not allies. the SSS should continue the good CI and counter espionage work but keep away from mideast politics and ideologies.

    • Number one says:

      How do you propose we do that without endangering national security? We should also keep a close eye on the Qatari’s,the trans-saharan gas pipeline seems to be a threat to them.

  5. freeegulf says:

    we dont have to wave israeli flag to safeguard national security. more work for the counter intelligence and counter espionage teams. be it arab, iranian, or israeli influences, we do not need these actors to turn nigeria into a battleground.
    its best we keep tab on them all. as far the qataris, they ve been punching above their weight since the arab ‘spring’. talk about having too much funds with big ballooned ambitions.

    • Donian007 says:

      Now this isn’t good at all, still trying to picture it features. We must do something fast, intel and surveillance + warning Iran and Lebanon + reporting them to the UN while we do our home guard work.

      • igbi says:

        I think it would be better to fasten the build up of our military than to report some countries to the UN.

      • CHYDE says:

        @ Igbi I am in total agreement with you. The Military, the DSS and other security outfit just like the Immigration and the Customs. If possible make laws that will encourage these outfits to perform better like making it mandatory for the FG to take sole responsibility for the welfare and education of the families of personnel who die in action/ provide free education for the children of living personnel up to secondary school level etc etc. This I think will go a long way to encourage the men and women who put their lives on the line for this great country. While reporting to UN to make sure that diplomatic and lawful channels are exploited.

  6. beegeagle says:

    That is correct, Oga Chyde. Thanks.

    Think about the whole of muslim-dominated Kaduna North beyond the Sultan Bello Mosque/Ex-Ministers Quarters/NDA area.

    Things used to be so tense in Kaduna on Fridays and the spectre of an impending conflagrattion ALWAYS loomed large – between Sunni and Shia(Izala) and between muslims and christians. So much so that the OBJ-led FG actually constructed a military rapid response outpost on the left side of the road near the Old Toll Gate as you head towards Rigachikun-Mararaban Jos area on the road to Jaji.

    So you are right, buddy. NA were always quietly primed and ready in the background, waiting to come to the aid of the Police IF the need arose.

  7. beegeagle says:

    “This is a big liers against sayyed
    zakzaky, He was preaching for over 30
    years. He is man of peace, He help
    many christian during crises
    (presidential election). And his
    followers help patients in different government own hospital during strike”

    IBRAHIM BELLO(Nigeria)

    • ifiok umoeka says:

      The question is what if BH was under thus Zack guy, would we have been able to have been able to chech mate him? The shite have always been better organized.
      As for ganging ip against hezbolla, well I think that that’s nonsense. Iran and any other person for that matter should learn to respect our territorial integrity and stop shipping weapons through our territory.

  8. adickmish says:

    I sometimes find it difficult to understand what these guys want to achieve. FG need to keep 100% surveillance on this guys. We shld have a branch of the armed forces dedicated solely for this.I think Nigeria needs an ally in d middle east not just oil friends.

  9. ifiok umoeka says:

    We do, they are called the DSS aka SSS

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