The continued detention of El-Zakzaky is unlawful
Despite the recent sensational claim by the federal government that it spends about N3.5 million monthly to feed Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Shi’ite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), detained since December 2015, his supporters continue to hold repeated protests in Abuja, demanding his release. As we have argued in the past, the government must be mindful of the security implications of such a man, illegally detained, dying in confinement.
The cleric 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 including one of his wives, Zeenat and his son, Aliy, were killed by the troop. Earlier in July, 2015, the troop killed also four of his sons. Notwithstanding these killings, the government has continued to exhibit a penchant for lawlessness on the matter.
It is indeed instructive 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.
However, more than two years after that judgement, 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 this government’s action: “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 said. 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.
But the government’s scant regard for rule of law is not only exemplified by the continued detention of El-Zakzaky. 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, is still being confined despite courts pronouncement to the contrary. 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 4th October 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.
The federal government cannot continue to hide under the nebulous ‘’national security’’ to perpetrate what amounts to an illegal and unconstitutional act which the continued detention of El – Zakzaky and his wife represents. We therefore urge President Buhari who is under oath to protect and defend the constitution to obey the courts and order their release. The federal government cannot continue to detain in perpetuity a couple that has not been convicted of any offence.