*Tells Buhari to release IMN leader for peace to reign

Professor Ango Abdullahi, former Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the leader of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) in this encounter speaks on the recent Shi’ites protests that claimed lives in Abuja and opined that the Federal Government is playing politics with the continued detention of the leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, Sheik Ibraheem El Zakzaky because of Saudi Arabia. He blamed what he called the rubber stamp House of Representatives for not living up to expectation as the custodian of rule of law but supported the President by advising that El Zakzaky should not be released.

By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features

Nigeria has been going from one problem to the other: from herdsmen menace to banditry, kidnapping and just recently, the Shi’ites were in the news for protesting the continued detention of their leader. Innocent people lost their lives in the protest…

Prof. Ango Abdullahi

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We have laws in this country. Nigerian citizens are to be treated within the ambit of the laws of this country. Innocent people are losing their lives and currently, what is happening with the Shi’ites is that they don’t seem to be treated as Nigerians. They have rights and their rights should be recognised and given to them. We have been watching this thing for a long time. Their matter has been in court for years and their leader has been granted bail for three, four, five years. Why are court rulings not being respected?

Of course, it is not only the Shi’ites who are denied their basic rights and fair hearing. Even Dasuki has been in detention after the court granted him bail to go for his medicals. They refused to release him. Are we now a lawless country? Why are we not obeying court orders?

The case of the Shi’ites is even different. It is a religious group. Why are they treated differently within the laws of Nigeria? These are the kind of things that produced a resistance group we have today as Boko Haram. When it started, they were not treated like human beings. Rather, they started killing them left, right and centre. Of course they organised themselves and started fighting back and they have been fighting back till today.

So, if they are not careful and they keep pushing these boys, they will have problem. These boys even have an ideology unlike Boko Haram which had none until much later when they linked up with other international groups. If they push these ones, I think they would be surprised. So, basically, the way they are treating them is wrong. They have rights. If they have misbehaved, they should be treated according to the laws of the country. There were court rulings, so many court rulings in their own case that are being ignored by government.

The federal government tried to explain why El-Zakzaky was not released after the court ordered so…

They have no explanation for this. They have no justification. This man was granted bail. Judgement was given against the government in terms of how they treated them. They were supposed to be given compensation but they decided that a man who was attacked in his house with his wife will be charged for committing arson outside. These are fabrications. Politically, I don’t know why their issues are being politicised. They are not the only Islamic sect in the country; they are not the only religious sect. So, why are they being treated differently from the laws of Nigeria?

What is it about El-Zakzaky that even Christians are saying, leave this man?

Is it not common sense? It is our laws that are being bastardized. The courts have made a pronouncement for his release, why is he not released? This is a country, where as far as I’m concerned, the rule of law doesn’t exist, because if it does, there is no reason anybody, government or otherwise should ignore court decisions.

Is there something else about this group that is making government afraid, something else people don’t know?

It is all about inter-sectarian rivalry and government has decided to be against them in favour of the sect that is against them. There are Islamic sects that are against the Shi’ites group and apparently these other groups have the ears of the authorities and that is why the authorities are virtually against Shi’ites because other sects are against them and that is very shameful.

Will proscribing the group bring peace?

It is a religious organisation that exists in every part of the world. The whole thing now is international. You know Iran is a Shi’ites country and Iran is not friendly with many countries around the world particularly Saudi Arabia, United States and so on. It is this international politics that is playing out here. But you cannot deny people their right to religion and worship. People should worship the way they want. What is this bitterness all about? To me, it is sheer bitterness.

The leader of the Shi’ites was my student in Ahmadu Bello University where he studied Economics. The Shi’ites sect in Islam has been in existence for over 1,000 years and there are Shi’ites groups around the world and countries that are virtually Shi’ites countries. Iran is one of them. Iraq is one of them. Syria is one of them. So, what is the problem?

To me, the authorities are clearly biased in favour of other Islamic sects.

But you are aware the House of Representatives supported the President’s action that El-Zakzaky should not be released?

The House of Representatives is supposed to be the custodian of the laws of this country. Should they deny people their rights? What is playing out is politics and I can understand that because the relationship between this government and the new National Assembly is different from that of the other assembly. This is a rubber-stamp National Assembly. It is up to them to manage the country as they wish but they should also be prepared for the consequences.

Around this time in 1966, the problem that led to the civil war was building up. Today, we have all manner of things happening; kidnapping, banditry, herdsmen menace and people are beginning to mention war again…

I was aware of things when the civil war was fought. I was a presiding officer in 1959 general elections. I have been very much part of the system for a long time. In my mind, I have never seen a country that is in a kind of chaos that Nigeria is in now. There have never been a time in this country we had this kind of confusion like we have now and it is not a good omen at all.

And another thing is that you journalists are part of the crisis we are having in this country today.

How?

Journalists are taking asides in their reports and they are not honest. Journalists should insist that the laws of this country be obeyed at any time. But if people for selfish and biased reasons take sides that are obviously unjust and unfair like in the case of Shi’ites, things can only get worse. I don’t know the population of Shi’ites in this country but they must be in large number. If the Journalists sit down and objectively analyse these things, they’ll discover that a lot of things go wrong because people decide not to obey the rule of law or the court rulings in this country.

You cannot be anxious to say that people should go to court and yet, you don’t obey court orders. What sort of thing is this?

Would you say some advisers of the government are not doing their job?

It is not just that. You people know what has been going on in the past four years. The list of ministers has been released for instance, but is there any change? We’re back to square one. The media is part of the problem. The editorial policies of newspapers are part of the problems. Your employers have friends in government and therefore you are restricted. This is a problem because there is no free press in Nigeria. You only have the press that dances to the whims of those that finance the establishments. It is not like this in other countries.

But Nigeria has groups of elders that need to be advising government from time to time…

Nigerians don’t respect elders. Are we not the ones being abused all over the place? Afenifere is being abused, Ohanaeze is being abused and Northern Elders and ACF are being abused. They are abusing elders all over the place and nobody wants to hear the truth.

Your group, Northern Elders Forum were abused maybe because you asked the Fulani in the South to return home…

That is exactly what I was saying. I was the person that made the statement but the reporter published a different thing by removing an important word from my statement. I said ‘if’ the Fulani living in the South, wherever it is in the South feel threatened in their environment and they don’t think they have protection of the constituted authorities, they should find safer grounds. That was all I said. But that reporter removed the ‘if’, twisted the statement by saying NEF gave the order. That was bad. Why should my statement be distorted to create tension in the polity?

The president has ordered the Inspector General of Police to arrest the ugly situation of insecurity in the country and protect citizens. Your take

They have been talking about protecting Nigerians for many years-but things are only getting worse. So, you people should find the solution.

If El Zakzaky was your student, then, there must be something you know which is perhaps why the government is afraid of releasing him…

I think the government should tell us what they are afraid of. If one commits an offence, he should be taken to court. The court decides their guilt and if the court says, no, they are not guilty, they should be released on bail and the court order should be obeyed. If they know something, they should appear before the court to say what they know. Government should convince the court why the man should not be granted bail. But if the court has issued an order, it should be obeyed. Otherwise, you are denying the fundamental right of the person you are holding.

How do we avoid a major breakdown of law and order because of these many problems in the country?

You should go and ask the leaders you have chosen. Ask them.

Vanguard

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