The detention of the Shi’ite leader is wrong and unlawful
The continued detention of Sheikh Ibraheem el-Zakzaky, the leader of Shi’ite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) by the federal government in defiance of court order constitutes grave threat to the country. El-Zakzaky was arrested and detained on December 14, 2015 following a violent clash by his group and the Nigerian Army during the group’s procession in Zaria, Kaduna State. During the clash, 347 followers of el-Zakzaky including one of his wives, Zeenat and his son, Aliy, were killed by the troop. Earlier in July, 2015, the troop had killed four of his sons.

Notwithstanding these killings, the federal government has continued to exhibit a penchant for lawlessness on the matter. It is instructive to note that on December 2, 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja had ordered the release of el-Zakzaky and his wife, pointing out that their perpetual detention was not only a violation of the law but also portended huge danger for the country. He warned that “if the applicant dies in custody…it could result in many needless deaths.”

Against this backdrop, the judge ordered their release within 45 days. He equally ordered the Department of State Services (DSS) to pay a fine of N25 million each to el-Zakzaky and his wife. But the same federal government that is prosecuting many alleged looters and wanting culprits to be punished in accordance to the law, has since opted to ignore this court order and thus prompting the same court on January 20, 2017, to hold 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.

However, almost one and half years after, el-Zakzaky and his wife are still being held even in the face of local and international cries against it. For instance, the Amnesty international has not minced words in highlighting the danger of the government action. Makmid Kamara, Interim Director of Amnesty International (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.”

That this government has scant regard for the rule of law is not only exemplified by the continued detention of el-Zakzaky, but in the long incarceration of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), who is being tried for alleged diversion of $2.1billion meant for arms’ purchase since 2015. The government is not only disobedient to Nigerian courts, it has also wilfully ignored the orders of the Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which had on October 4, 2016, declared the arrest and detention of Dasuki unlawful and arbitrary. The court also declared his re-arrest after an initial release in 2015 as mockery of democracy. But despite these rulings, the government has remained recalcitrant.

However, given that el-Zakzaky’s continued detention has given rise to repeated protests in Abuja in recent weeks, the federal government must be mindful of the security implications of such a man dying in illegal incarceration. Since the buck stops on his desk, President Muhammadu Buhari must be told that we are in a democracy and the flagrant disregard to court orders that has become the hallmark of his administration is dangerous for the health of our society.