It is in the nation’s interest to release El-Zakzaky from detention

Given that the continued detention of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, leader of the Shi’ite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) has given rise to repeated protests in Abuja, the federal government should be held responsible for the violence in which innocent bystanders are getting caught. That lives are now being lost in what started as a civil action to compel respect for the rule of law is an indication that the crisis is getting out of hand. That also signposts the security implications of a situation in which El-Zakzaky is allowed to die in incarceration that has been deemed illegal by our courts.

While we deplore all attempts to take the laws into their own hands by the Shi’ite, it is also important to stress that both the military and the police must understand the nature of the crisis they are dealing with. Issuing threats of force is meaningless in the circumstance while the authorities must work to de-escalate the growing tension in Abuja.

If there is anything that the crisis has proved, it is that without justice, there can be no peace and that the flagrant disregard to court orders which has become the hallmark of this administration is dangerous for the health of our society.

El-zakzaky was arrested and detained on 14th December 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 of his followers were killed by the military. Earlier in July of the same 2015, four of his sons had been killed by the military. Notwithstanding these tragic episodes, the federal government has continued to exhibit a penchant for lawlessness by disobeying all the court orders compelling El- Zakzaky release from detention.

It is indeed instructive to note that on 2nd December 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 federal government has since opted to ignore this court order thus prompting the same court on 20th January 2017, to hold that the trio of the Inspector- General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and the then Director-General of DSS, Lawal Daura, would be guilty of contempt of court and be liable to imprisonment if they continued to disregard its order of 2nd December, 2016.

However, almost two years after that ruling, El-Zakzaky and his wife are still being held even in the face of local and international cries against their unlawful detention. For instance, the Amnesty International has not minced words in highlighting the danger of this government’s action. Makmid Kamara, Interim Director of Amnesty International (AI) Nigeria had on 16th January 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.”

It is against this background that we should situate the protests by the IMN members that have practically rendered Abuja unsafe for residents. We therefore call on the government to comply with the court order by releasing El-Zakzaky from detention.


If there is anything that the crisis has proved, it is that without justice, there can be no peace and that flagrant disregard to court orders is dangerous for the health of our society