El-Zakzaky’s long walk to freedom

July 29, 2021
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A Kaduna State High Court Wednesday set free leader of the Shiite group, Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) after a long detention and trials in Abuja and Kaduna.

After five years in detention, a Kaduna State High Court on Wednesday discharged and acquitted the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat.

The duo had been standing trial on eight counts charges bordering on alleged criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide punishable with death, wrongful restraint, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace, voluntarily causing grievous hurt, inciting disturbance and breach of peace.

They were brought to court on Wednesday morning by officials of the Nigerian Correctional Service amidst tight security as some members of the IMN were observed gathered at a spot within the court premises.

However, deliverign his judgement, Justice Gideon Kurada said the prosecution did not prove its case.

Counsel to the defendants, Marshal Abubakar who represented the lead counsel in the case, Femi Falana SAN, told reporters shortly after the judgement that “the trial of Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat has come to an end as the court found them not guilty of the alleged crimes filed against them by the Kaduna State Government.”

He added, the court found that the charges were filed in 2018 pursuant to the penal law enacted by the State Government in 2017 over an alleged offence committed in 2015.

“The court presided by Justice Gideon Kurada, ruled that the charge was not supposed to be filed in the first place, as the government cannot arraign someone for a crime that was not an offence at the time.”

He then noted that the court ruled that the charge was incompetent as the court agreed that El-Zakzaky and his wife had committed no offence saying, “The court also ruled that the event of December 12th and 15th, 2015 was not an offence and the court was emphatic that none of the events in December 12th 2015 can be attributed to the defendants for an offence.

“The court, thereby, discharged and acquitted the defendants as there should have been no charge in the first place. No party asked for the cost of the fine,” Abubakar told reporters.

The lead prosecution counsel, Dari Bayero, however, declined comments on the ruling as he drove out of the court premises. Our correspondent also reported that the leader of the IMN and his wife were moments later led out of the court premises in a white Toyota Hilux vehicle.

Daily Trust gathered that the court had made available a discharge warrant for El-Zakzaky and his wife before they were whisked out of the court premises following rumours of a re-arrest order.

Daily Trust reports that lead counsel to Zakzaky, Femi Falana SAN, had in the last sitting on July 1, 2021, prayed the court to rule in favour of his clients and dismiss the charges levelled against them as there was no criminal case that has been established against them by the Kaduna State Government.

The prosecuting counsel, Dari Bayero, presented 15 witnesses who testified against the defendants, among them two army officers, a retired director of State Security Service, police officers and a medical doctor.

A file photo of Zakzaky during one of his court appearances

A file photo of Zakzaky during one of his court appearances

A 2015 bloody clash and the loss of 340 Shi’ites

Over 340 civilians, largely members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) lost their lives in a bloody clash with soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State in December 2015. The members of the IMN, however, dispute this figure claiming that about 1,000 people have remained missing since the clash with the military.

The 69-year-old El-Zakzaky and his wife were injured and arrested in what has come to be known as the ‘Zaria massacre’ while one of his sons was killed. Prior to that, three other children of El-Zakzaky had also lost their lives in a similar clash with soldiers in 2014.

The 2015 incident occurred while the convoy of the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, was coming from Dutse, Jigawa State to attend the passing out parade (PoP) of the 73rd regular recruits at the Nigerian Army Depot in Zaria. The convoy was caught up by a blockade by a procession of hundreds of IMN members. Officers on the entourage of the army chief were said to have made attempts to get the members of the IMN to lift the barricade but to no avail.

Witnesses said a forceful clearance by soldiers led to a clash between the two groups which was followed by an invasion of Hussainiyya and Gyellesu, the residence of the IMN leader as well as Darul Rahma at Dambo village by the military for a search operation.

The Kaduna State Government had later confirmed that the clashes resulted in the demolition of the Hussainiyya in Sabon Gari LGA and the residence of El-Zakzaky at Gyellesu in Zaria LGA, adding that a number of buildings around the vicinity of Hussainiyya and residence were affected.

Freedom at last

El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat, have been standing trial in Kaduna for the past four years after a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered their release within 45 days of trail on December 2, 2016. The Abuja court had ordered the payment of N50m damages and building of a new house for them in the North.

But in June 2018, the Kaduna State government arraigned Zakzaky and his wife before a Kaduna High Court on eight count charges of culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disturbance of public peace, and others.

The decision of the state government had then followed the recommendation of a 13-member Judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by Hon. Mohammed Lawal Garba and inaugurated by Governor Nasir El-Rufai on January 29, 2016 to investigate the December 2015 clash between IMN and the Nigerian Army.

The commission had recommended compensation for victims of the clash with the Nigerian Army and also stressed that members of the Nigerian Army found to have been involved in the killings should be brought to trial before a court of competent jurisdiction.

The report also recommended that members of the IMN found to have been involved in the killing of soldiers be tried before a court of competent jurisdiction and that the state and its law enforcement agencies should investigate all persons allegedly breaking the law even when such persons belong to powerful religious groups.

Following the recommendation of the commission, the state government had in October 2016 proscribed IMN when it released a gazette stating that while government upholds religious freedoms and all constitutional rights of every resident to practice the religion of their choice, government has a fundamental obligation to preserve security and uphold the rights of all citizens to practice their faith and not to be imperilled or distressed by the way others exercised their faith.

Zakzaky’s discharge and acquittal by a Kaduna State High Court yesterday was greeted with a lot of jubilation by mostly members of the IMN many of whom have visited the state for the judgement.

Shi’ites jubilate in Kaduna

Members of the IMN otherwise known as Shi’ites are jubilating in Kaduna State over the release of their leader by the court. Some of them told Daily Trust that the judgement was long overdue but thanked Nigerians and members of civil society organisations for standing by them.

A senior Shi’ite member in Kaduna said their leader and his wife have been moved to an undisclosed location, adding that their major concern is now to ensure they get adequate medical care.

A statement by the President of the Media Forum of the movement, Ibrahim Musa, the IMN also described the judgement as favourable and a vindication of members.

“This judgement has not only vindicated them and all members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, but it is certainly a victory for perseverance in the face of extreme persecution by the Nigerian government. It is a victory for truth and justice against tyranny and impunity,” he said.

According to the statement, on “Wednesday, 28/07/2021 the Kaduna State High Court presided by Justice Gideon Kurada delivered a favourable judgement in the “no case submission” filed by the defence lawyers on the case brought against the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeenat, who were standing trial for sundry trumped-up charges, including that of aiding and abetting culpable homicide punishable by death.

“With this victory in court today, the false charges filed against us have finally been punctured for good after almost five years of excruciating illegal detention.

“It will be recalled that the Kaduna State Government filed charges against Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife as an afterthought a year and a half after a federal high court in Abuja had ruled that their continued detention was unconstitutional, illegal and a severe breach of their fundamental rights and thereby must be set free and compensated.

“The government however remained in contempt until they decided to frame these spurious false charges in an attempt to perpetually keep them in their illegal custody.

“We, therefore, give praises to the Almighty for yet another successful outing, which further proves to the world that the Islamic Movement and its leader, are only victims of impunity and mischievous plots by both the Buhari-led federal government and the El-Rufai-led Kaduna State Government.

“Since both governments have again failed in court after a fair trial, we expect them to respect the judgement of this honourable court and the course of justice to release them with immediate effect.

“We wish to use this opportunity to also say a big thank you to all people of conscience, human rights activists and organisations, journalists and all those that joined in our dogged campaign for justice for the victims of Zaria genocide for the past five years. Thank you and God bless,” the statement added.

Lami Sadiq and Maryam Ahmadu-Suka, Kaduna

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