…Nigerians blame FG for El-Zakzaki’s detention
…FG has no hand in his detention- lawyer
…As Lagosians express fear over proposed protest in Lagos
By Evelyn Usman &Josphe Eruke
Until Saturday, December 12, 2015, barely six months after President Muhammadu Buhari took over the helm of affairs of Nigeria from his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, not many in Nigeria outside the north knew about the activities of Shiites otherwise known as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria.
But the religious group which has its administrative headquarters in Zaria, Kaduna State, was well known by residents of Kaduna State. Only travelers to Kaduna and Kano states who might have encountered its members during processions that usually take over large portions of the major highway knew the group before 2015.
The movement began with a Shia Muslim university activist, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, who is said to have become so impressed with the 1979 Iranian Revolution that he wanted one at home. Later, Zakzaky went to Iran, ultimately becoming a Shia cleric. At home he became the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria and turned it into a vehicle for proselytizing and gaining followers in the 1990s. As a result of his activities, millions have converted to Shia Islam in a country where they were rarely known before.
The movement is said to incorporate both Shia and Sunni Muslims and to hold processions to mark anniversary of religious rites and also to raise awareness about itself and to advocate the liberation of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.
It conducts most of its spiritual activities in Husainiyya Baqiyatullah, located in Zaria and had organised peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrations on an annual basis across Nigeria for over 33 years, primarily in the state of Kaduna.
But the signal of trouble which later snowballed into colossal loss of human lives as well as destruction of valuables that brought the group to public glare, began with what is popularly referred to as the Zaria Massacre, in December 2015, following an encounter between members of the group and personnel of the Nigerian Army.
This followed report that the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai clashed with members of the Shiites Muslim sect, who allegedly blocked his convoy on Sokoto road in Zaria city, on December 12, 2019.The resultant confrontation left scores of Shi’ites dead. Among them was Sheik El-Zakzaki’s son, Aliy. Many were injured.
Consequently, the group’s leader, El-Zakzaky, his wife Zeenat and several of his followers were arrested and detained by the Federal Government on the ground that he was a security risk to the Nigerian state.
Since the December 2015 incident, El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, have been in detention; first without trial for about a year, until they were eventually charged with murder for the death of a soldier during the December 2015 incident.
On December 2, 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja had ordered the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife, saying their continued detention was not only a violation of the law but that it also portrayed great danger for the country. He noted that “if the applicant dies in custody, it could result in many needless deaths.”
He therefore, ordered their release within 45 days even as he ordered the Department of State Services, DSS, to pay a fine of N25 million each to El-Zakzaky and his wife.
Following the disobedience of the court order by the federal government, the same court on January 20, 2017, held that the trio of the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, would be guilty of contempt of court and be liable to imprisonment if they continued to disregard its order of December 2, 2016.
There have also been calls, at home and abroad, for the release of the detained couple . One of these calls was from Amnesty International, where its Interim Director, (AI) Nigeria, had on January 16, 2017, lamented that “if the government deliberately disregards the orders of its own courts, it will demonstrate a flagrant – and dangerous – contempt for the rule of law.”
The continued detention of the group’s leader led to protests by his teeming followers both in Abuja, the nation’s federal capital city and Kaduna, the administrative headquarters of the sect.
The initial phase of the protests embarked upon by the group in agitation for the release of its leader, was void of violence, until Saturday, October 27, 2018, when it mounted a road block at Zuba bridge, Abuja, and a clash with a convoy of Army troops carrying ammunition resulted in the killing of three Shiites members.
The Commander Army Headquarters Garrison, Major General James Myam, had explained then, “Troops of Army Headquarters Garrison on official duty, escorting ammunition and missiles from Abuja to Army Central Ammunition Depot in Kaduna State were attacked by some members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN sect at Zuba bridge, of the Federal Capital Territory at about 3.00pm”. The Shiites denied this, saying that their members were attacked.
Barely four days later, the group, organized a march to commemorate the death of a grandson of Prophet Muhammad and further demanded for the release of its leader who had been in custody for nearly three years.
A bloody violence erupted between its members and personnel of the Nigerian Army, at Karu Bridge, Abuja, at the end of which life was reportedly snuffed out of at 21 members of the group.
Since then, there have been many processions by the sect in Abuja. The most recent were the ones at the National Assembly and at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja.
During the protest to the National Assembly,the protesters clashed with security operatives while trying to gain access to the parliament. Two policemen were shot while several cars were damaged during the clash.
Also, in the July 22, 2019 protest within the Central Business District of Abuja, many lives were lost on both ends.
One of them was Deputy Commissioner of Police in Charge of Operations in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT Police Command, DCP Usman Umar and a member of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC , Precious Owolabi, who was deployed to Channels Television, for his primary assignment. Two Assistant Superintendent of Police were seriously wounded while 13 members of the IMN also died.
Reactions – RULAAC
Reactions have since begun to trail the loss of human lives during protests by members of Shi’ites ,with some respondents blaming members of the group for attempting to take laws into their hands and others blaming the Federal Government as the cause for the deaths.
Executive Director, The Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Mr Okechukwu Nwanguma, who condemned what he described as unprovoked killing of the senior Police officer and NYSC member, during the latest Shi’ites protest, said, “ It is a matter for grave concern that members of the Movement have now taken to arms and are now attacking police officers.
“Considering that this is happening at a time when the Nigeria government has shown incapacity or will to deal with the seemingly intractable menace of Boko Haram and the increasingly deteriorating state of security in the country, complicated by the murderous activities and banditry of Fulani herdsmen, the resort to armed violence by the hitherto relatively peaceful Shi’ites, is a serious cause for concern.
“It is very unfortunate that the continued disregard for the rule of law and stubborn refusal by the Buhari government to heed voices of reason constantly calling on it to comply with court orders to release the leader of the group has led to this tragic and frightening turn of events. The use of disproportionate force and violence by the military which led to the murder of hundreds of members of the group and the subsequent resort to violent repression of the group’s peaceful expression has radicalised its members who have all along displayed unmistakable determination to continue to agitate for the release of their leader who has been in prolonged detention in utter contempt for court orders.
“It is unfortunate that this government has refused to learn from history in order to avert the emergence of another terror group. It is unfortunate that an innocent and fine Police officer has to pay the price for the indiscretion of a hard-hearted government.
“The President should prioritize the safety and security of citizens, abide by the rule of law and strengthen our security agencies. President Buhari should immediately release the leader of the Shi’ites, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky ,in obedience to the orders of Nigerian courts to avoid further break down of law and order and the fallen officer should be immortalized and his family adequately compensated”.
Blame FG for the killings – Police man
A senior Police Officer who did not want his name in print, also blamed the Federal Government for the cause of the killings, particularly those of policemen.
He said, “ If only the Federal Government can release El-Zakzaki , in compliance with orders of court it will save the Police all these avoidable deaths. If only the military that started this fracas will take over the operation. If only they will provide the Police with appropriate riot equipment it will be better.
“A simple water canon could have saved the life of the DCP. If only we can be more proactive in crisis management and stop treating issues with ethnic and religious lenses”….
He added that with the foregoing, policemen might be forced to withdraw from attending to distress calls during protest by such groups, adding that if that happens, “ the casualty will be alarming”.
FG not responsible for Elzakzaki’s detention— lawyer/journalist
But another Nigerian, a female lawyer/journalist, who simply gave her name as Bucky,frowned at the assertion by some Nigerians that the Federal Government was the cause of El-Zakzaki’s detention .
Describing the assertion as a misconception , she said that the matter was at the moment before a Kaduna State court.
She said, “I have read some reports stating that El-Zakzaky should be released because the courts had previously ordered his release when he was in the custody of the FG. FG appealed those rulings up to the Appeal court, and only stopped fighting the case when El-Zakzaky was transferred to the custody of the Kaduna State Govt on the charges he is currently standing trial for.
“His trial, on charges brought by the Kaduna State government, began on May 15, 2018, in a Kaduna High Court”.
Providing what she termed ‘Timetable of El-Zakzaky’s trial, she highlighted:
* May 15th 2018: El-Zakzaky and his wife Zinat, were arraigned in a Kaduna High Court, before Judge Gideon Kurada, on charges of culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, and disruption of public peace, among other charges. The charges were filed by the Kaduna State Govt.
*On July 11 2018: Court adjourned trial to August 2nd.
*Aug 2 2018: Court adjourned El-Zakzaky’s bail application to Oct 4th
*Oct 4th 2018: At the hearing, the judge adjourned his ruling on El Zakzaky’s bail application to Nov 17th 2018.
* Nov 17 2018: The court rejected the application for bail, ruling there is no medical evidence from medical professionals, to back up the bail application on medical grounds.
* Jan 22 2019: Judge Gideon Kurada, ordered that El Zakzaky and his wife Zinat, should remain in the custody of the DSS, while being granted access to medical treatment in custody.
*March 25 2019: Judge Gideon Kurada adjourned the trial indefinitely as he is due to sit on the Presidential and National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal in Yobe.
* June 29 2019: El Zakzaky and his wife apply for permission to travel to Metanta Hospital, New Delhi, India for medical treatment and to return to Nigeria for the continuation of their trial once treatment is concluded.
*July 18 2019: Justice D.H Khobo presided over the hearing and adjourned it until July 29, 2019.
She said, “ It is important to note that the FG is no longer holding Zakzaky as his trial is now at the state level. Murder suspects are usually not granted bail which is why El-Zakzaky and his wife are applying on medical grounds.
“El Zakzaky is now in the custody of the Kaduna State government (held by the DSS), and is on trial on serious legal charges. No judge has granted him bail on the Kaduna State charges”.
Demand for treatment abroad
Last week, Elzakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, sought the permission of the Kaduna High Court, to travel to India for medical attention, revealing that they were battling heavy metal poisoning caused by gunshot pellets in their body system, that could result in sudden death , if urgent steps were not taken.
The application, was filed by Counsel to the couple, Mr Femi Falana, (SAN). But the presiding Judge, Justice Darius Khobo adjourned sitting on the matter to July 29, 2019, to rule on the application.
At the moment, Lagosians are gripped with fear over another planned protest by members of the Shi’ites group in Lagos State. A resident of Ikoyi, Mr Nwandu Ogbona, said, “ why won’t we be afraid? Didn’t you see what happened in Abuja? We just hope that the Police, Army and other security agents would mobilize to ensure that the protest does not turn bloody”.
Another resident of Ikeja, Mrs Modinat Shonibare, said, “ I am indeed afraid of the planned protest. I wonder why they planned coming to Lagos, after all the seat of power is in Abuja. They should go to President Buhari and leave us alone in Lagos”.
But information at Saturday Vanguard’s disposal revealed that security meeting had been ongoing on the need to put modalities in place to forestall a repeat of the Abuja case where a DCP was killed.
With the reaction of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on the death of the senior Police officer, where he was quoted to have warned the protesting followers that enough was enough, no one is sure of the dimension the Police may want to take to address further protests.
However, given that el-Zakzaky’s continued detention has given rise to repeated protests, there is an urgent need for the court as well as the Federal Government to consider the security implications of the subject matter and the need to follow it up, accordingly before it gets out of control.