By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

According to Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President of the United States of America), “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him”.

President Muhammadu Buhari

There is no gain saying the fact that failure to learn from history spells doom, often with unwanted consequences.

One would have thought that the over 10 years sustained effort to suppress the Boko Haram sect would have provided enough experiences from whence valuable lessons could be drawn.

Since 2009 when arrest of the then leader of the dissident sect, Mohammed Yusuf, was mismanaged by the government, resulting to his death in detention, no fewer than 10, 000 citizens have since paid the supreme price, with about 1.8m persons currently displaced.

July 26, this year marks exactly ten years since the sect launched its first attack against the government of Nigeria.

Recently, it has been a gale of one week, one trouble for Abuja residents, following recurring clashes between security agents and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria also known as Shi’ite group.

Members of the group have continued to march round the Federal Capital Territory to protest the prolonged detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.

The Shi’ite leader has been in detention since December 14, 2015.

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He was arrested after a bloody clash between members of the sect and the Nigerian Army,   on December 12, 2015.

The clash, which resulted in the instant death of many members of the sect,  with others seriously wounded, happened while the group were having their religious procession in Zaria, Kaduna state.

It occurred after the Chief of Army Staff,  Lieutenant General Yusuf Buratai, who was on his way from Dutse to pay homage on the Emir of Zazzau before proceeding to Depot NA Passing Out Parade of 73 Regular Recruit Intake, was denied passage by members of sect.

The incident was investigated by the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, which in a report it issue on September 21, 2016, asked the Federal Government and Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, to compensate and pay medical bill of   victims.

The Commission indicted both the Nigerian Army and the Shi’ite group, even as it called for speedy trial of their detained leader.

The Rights body maintained that the leadership and members of the sect “were responsible for the abuse of right to freedom of movement of the convoy of the COAS and other members of the public by blocking the public highway on December 12, 2015”.

It said its findings revealed that members of the sect had on that ill-fated day, turned out en mass and blocked the public highway with arms, “becoming riotous and constituting an obstruction on the road and placing stones and bonfire to prevent passage of the convoy of the COAS”.

However, the Commission said there was no evidence before it to indicate that action of the sect was pre-planned or pre-meditated.

“The panel found that the people killed during the incident were given mass burial without first establishing their identities or autopsy or medical report indicating the cause of death”.

As part of its recommendations, the commission said compensation computed in a fair manner by experts should be paid by the Kaduna State Government to victims of properties that were demolished after the clash.

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“The Federal Government and Kaduna State Government should be responsible for the medical care and bills of all those that were injured during the incident including IMN leader, El-Zakzaky and his family members”.

While it urged speedy trial of member of the sect that were arrested after the incident, the commission, insisted that persons who lost their lives unjustifiably during the incident, including members of the armed forces, are entitled to compensation from the Federal Government.

“The appropriate criminal prosecution for blocking the public highway by member of the IMN should be applied to the members and leadership of the IMN for failing to obey lawful directives when requested to do so by law enforcement officials.

“The blockage of public highways or roads for religious purposes or other activities like tax collections should be banned by the Federal, State and Local Governments”.

The group had abandoned the public hearing half-way, alleging bias.

Meanwhile, on December 2, 2016, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, ordered the unconditional release of detained leader of the sect and his wife, Malami Zeenat, within 45 days.

Justice Gabriel Kolawole made the order while delivering judgment on a fundamental right enforcement suit El-Zakzaky filed against FG.

The court held that the continued detention of the applicant without trial amounted to a gross violation of his constitutionally guaranteed rights.

It went ahead and awarded N50m damages against the FG, even as it ordered the construction of a new accommodation for El-Zakzaky’s family in any part of Kaduna State or the Northern region.

The court dismissed FG’s position that the applicant and his wife were under “protective custody”, saying such protection was “unknown to any law in Nigeria”.

Justice Kolawole also noted that FG failed to, by way of evidence, substantiate its claim that the defendant constituted a threat.

“I am unable to accept the view that the applicant was being detained with his consent”, the Judge held, adding that FG’s claim that it expended over N5million to treat the applicant did not in any way justify his continued detention without trial.

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He held that FG was only carrying out its constitutional obligation by providing medical assistance to the defendant considering the circumstance that led to his arrest and subsequent detention in custody of the Department of State Service, DSS.

El-Zakzaky

Justice Kolawole also decried the unwillingness of the government to explore an amicable settlement of the matter even after the court had provided it with an opportunity to do so.

He said that the federal government was taking dangerous risk by keeping the defendant in custody.

The Judge said the country would be exposed to a major crisis should El-Zakzaky die while in the supposed protective custody, saying it was under a similar circumstance that leader of the Boko Haram sect, Mohammed Yusuf died.

He called for religious tolerance between members of the Sunni Muslim sect who are majority in the country and the Shiite sect, stressing that the Constitution accommodated all believe systems.

The court said it was imperative that FG handled the situation cautiously in view of the global attention it was capable of generating.

It ordered that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, should within 45 days, ensure the provision of a befitting accommodation for El-Zakzaky, whose house was demolished by Soldiers, in any part of his choice in Kaduna or the Northern region.

The court, while directing the DSS to unconditionally release the defendant and his wife, ordered that the Inspector General of Police should convey them to their new home and provide them with protective security 24 hours and seven days of the week.

It based the order on FG’s claim that the defendants were at risk, hence its decision to place them on protective custody.

Specifically, the Shi’ite leader had applied for the enforcement of his fundamental rights to life, personal liberty, dignity of human person, right to private and family life and private property.

The suit marked FHC/CS/128/2016, was predicated on sections 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40, 41 and 46 (1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, as well as on Articles 4, 5, 6, 11 and 12(1) of the African Charter on Human & Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, LFN, 2010.

The applicant had through his lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, prayed the court to among other thing, declare that “the detention of the applicant at Abuja by the respondents since December 14, 2015, is illegal and unconstitutional as it violates his fundamental rights to personal liberty as enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP A10), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004″.

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Falana contended that the continued detention of his client without being charged before a competent court was in violation of his right to fair hearing as enshrined in section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

He said that his client had since lost one of his eye owing to the treatment meted out to him by security agents acting on behalf of the federal government, adding that the detained Sh’ite leader was denied access to his medical doctors, family members and relatives.

While planned massive protest by the group was simmering, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, in its 2017 Democracy Day Statement, urged FG to respect the rule of law and release those under illegal detention.

Speaking through its then National President, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, NBA, which is the umbrella body of legal practitioners in the country, said: “Amongst these individuals are Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife and also Colonel Sambo Dasuki the former National Security Adviser.

“Whilst we recognise the seriousness of the charges on which these individuals are held, we nevertheless view their continued detention as unjustified and contrary to the express court orders.

“We call on the government to without further delay respect these orders. The NBA wishes to use this opportunity to call on the Federal Government to continually demonstrate religious adherence to the tenets of constitutional democracy”.

Similarly, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on November 20, 2017, tackled President Muhammadu Buhari at the opening session of the 2017 All Nigeria Judges’ conference, saying there was need for the Executive arm of government to learn to obey court judgements and orders.

Onnoghen who spoke at the event that was personally attended by President Buhari, maintained that obedience to court orders ought to be considered by the Executive arm of government, “as a strong motivation for the fight against corruption and the entrenchment of the Rule of Law in our country”.

He said: “Closely linked to the independence of the Judiciary is the need for governments and institutions to obey court orders and judgments.

“Today, Nigerians easily refer to the recent Supreme Court judgment in Kenya and some Court Orders in the United States of America and conclude that the judiciaries in those countries are doing better than ours.

“They, however, forget to mention that President Uhuru Kenyatta promptly accepted the judgment annulling his victory in the August 8, 2017 Presidential election and agreed to a re-run against his opponent.

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“In similar fashion, the United States Department of Immigration did not wait for a presidential directive to allow immigrants from seven Muslim countries continued access to the US as soon as a court struck down President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning citizens of these countries from entering America.

“That is the Rule of Law in practice and I urge the other arms of government, especially the Executive, to consider the obedience of court judgments and orders as a strong motivation for the fight against corruption and the entrenchment of the Rule of Law in our country”.

When it was his turn to declare the conference open, President Buhari who listened to the CJN with rapt attention, also tackled the Judiciary for allowing cases in court to drag for “sometimes decades” without resolution.

He said the public expects fairness, impartiality and speed in the administration of justice.

“Regrettably court cases can drag on for years and years, sometimes decades without resolution. I need only mention land cases in Lagos to illustrate my point.

“Furthermore, there are huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dispensed especially at the Appellate levels. Reform of the judiciary should start at eliminating these seemingly endless delays in settling what to the layman are apparently simple cases”, President Buhari stated.

Shortly afterwards, the sect, stormed Abuja in their thousands to stage an unprecedented protest that led to total blockade of major points within the city center.

As aftermath of the protest that turned violent, the Nigerian Police Force,   on November 1, 2018, arraigned 130 members of the Shi’ites sect before an Abuja Chief Magistrate Court sitting at Wuse Zone 2.

They were among 400 persons that were arrested after a two-day violent clash that reportedly resulted to the death of no fewer than 30 persons.

Among those that were brought before the Court for trial included eleven women, some of whom were nursing mothers.

In the First Information Report, Police, alleged that they committed a joint act, “by joining or continuing in unlawful assembly, knowing it has been commanded to disperse, disturbance of public peace, rioting and causing hurt”.

They were said to have by their actions, committed criminal offences contrary to section 79, 104, 113, 106 and 242 of the Penal Code”.

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Subsequently, the Kaduna State government, preferred an eight-count charge against the Shi’ite leader, his wife and two others.

They were charged for offences that bordered on alleged conspiracy and abating culpable homicide.

The defendants had since pleaded not guilty to the charge pending against them before the Kaduna State High Court, even as the court will on July 29, hear an application asking for El-Zakzakky and his wife to be allowed to travel to Medanta Hospital in India for urgent medical treatment.

FG had said it would not free the detained Shi’ite leader since its appeal against the high court judgement that ordered his release, is still pending.

Vanguard

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