These photos were taken during a Shia procession in the north of Nigeria last summer. Showing the glorification of Hezbollah and the Islamic revolution, the images suggest a shift towards the extreme in Islamic support in Sub-Saharan Africa
The photos were circulated through the Lebanese expat community by email and were then printed by the Middle East Times, who admitted to not knowing where they came from. We contacted one of our Nigeria-specialised Observers, who helped us to track the photos and put them into context. We found out that they were taken on 30 August last year in the Northern city of Zaria. The marchers were commemorating the death of Mehdi, a central figure in the history of Islam.
"I don't think there's a direct influence coming from Lebanon"
Hassane Souley is a researcher at the university of Poitiers. He specialises in the study of Islamic revival in Niger and Nigeria.This kind of event has been going on for 15 years in Nigeria. It started taking place, when the country re-established democracy in 1992, after being banned under the dictatorial regimes of the eighties.
What's interesting is the change in Shia symbolism which has been taken from Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic Revolution Guards in Iran.
However, just because we find people waving portraits of Hasssan Nasrallah and Khamenei in the middle of a procession doesn't mean we can say there's a direct link between the Hausa Shia in Nigeria and the Shia militia groups in the Middle East. It's what I call "tropical Shia'ism". The men we see in these photos are not armed. The Nigerian government wouldn't allow it. They do allow these "Muslim Brothers" to wear special uniforms (probably made in China) and attach specific symbols to mark their religious choice: colours, flags, posters etc, but that's as far as it goes.
We can talk about an unarmed militant revolutionary group here. There are around two million of them and they're funded entirely from donations. It would be very difficult for them to be financed by Iran since the Nigerian government is very strict about the transfer of money. And I don't think there's a direct influence coming from Lebanon. You have to remember that most Lebanese people living in this part of Africa are Christian.
Shia movements have always been suppressed by Sunni regimes, so they're completely against anything that comes from the government that's Sunni, and they try to assert a Shia state. It's the head of this movement, Sheikh Zakzaky (see the last two photos), who's at the root of this idolism. He spent a lot of time in Iran, which cost him years in prison during the Sunni dictatorships in the eighties."
The Shia followers wear special uniforms to illustrate their faith.
Iran's past and present supreme leaders Ali Khamenei and Ayatollah Khomeini, and Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah, carried through the march.
Sheikh Zakzaky, the leader of the movement, who spent time in Iran.