•The Federal Govt should respect court orders and release el-Zakzaky
On April 24, 2019, members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the umbrella body of Nigeria ‘s Shiite Muslims made their presence felt, once again, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, as they protested the continued detention of their leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky and his wife, and demanded for their immediate release. Massing at the gate of the National Assembly complex, the Shiites, numbering about 2,000, reportedly overwhelmed the security on duty and gained access into the premises chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and singing solidarity songs. This development forced the members of the House of Representatives who were sitting in plenary, to abruptly adjourn proceedings.
It is instructive that despite the ban on the so-called unlawful public processions and the imposition of heavy security measures, it has been impossible to suppress the persistent demonstrations by members of the IMN demanding what they perceive as justice for their embattled leader. The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command of the Nigeria Police Force must be commended for successfully bringing the situation under control without any arrests or casualties.
Several other protests of the group in the FCT had been curtailed only after the use of massive force, with disastrous consequences. For example, in October, last year, about 45 lives were reportedly lost in clashes between the Shiites and the security agencies in the FCT and neighbouring Nasarawa State. In another incidence in January, 2019, the protesters massed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, taking advantage of a meeting between the minister and the diplomatic community on the 2019 polls to draw attention to their cause.
It is of course obvious that these frequent protests in the country’s federal capital severely harm the image of Nigeria in a globalised world when such occurrences are lavishly projected in the global media. Those opposed to the theology and methods of the Shiites movement in Nigeria condemn what they perceive as its intolerance, overzealousness, as well as a seeming penchant for lawlessness in an alleged bid to create a state within a state. Surely, no serious government will tolerate that. Even then, the disproportionate show of force by the Nigerian military, leading to the alleged massacre of hundreds of Shiites, during a clash in Zaria, Kaduna State, in 2015, is inexcusable.
That incident led to the clampdown on the Shiites and the indefinite detention of their leader and his wife. Ironically, it is the supposedly lawless Shiites who are now standing on the platform of adherence to the rule of law and due process to demand the release of el-Zakzaky. This is because of the government’s continued defiance of at least three court orders to release the IMN leader. Government can certainly not afford to be seen fighting lawlessness with lawlessness, thus vitiating its moral authority.
The Shiites have grown more intense and daring in their protests the longer El-Zakzaky has been kept in detention. This is partly because of reports of the preacher’s ill health in prison and his need for urgent medical attention that he is unlikely to get in detention. It is important, in this regard, for the government to be reminded of how the fledgling Boko Haram was allowed to fester into today’s monster, following the extra-judicial killing of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, by the police authorities. El-Zakzaky should not be allowed to become a martyr in prison. The consequences could be disastrous, particularly for a country currently struggling to contain diverse forms of extremist violence.
We urge the Federal Government to quickly return to the path of lawfulness by respecting subsisting court orders for the release, not just of El-Zakzaky and his wife, but also former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) who has also been languishing in indefinite detention, as a result of government’s continued violation of court orders.
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