It’s about time the federal government sought closure to the case of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, writes John Shiklam
The reasons given by the federal government for refusing to release the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat, have not only been considered flimsy, but also unconvincing.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Mallami (SAN), had amid wide condemnation for not releasing El-Zakzaky, after Sambo Dasuki, a former National Security Adviser and Omoyele Sowore, Convener of #RevolutionNow protest were released, claimed El-Zakzaky could not be released, because he was being persecuted by the Kaduna state government.
El-Zakzaky and wife, Zeenat, had been in detention since December 2015, when IMN members clashed with the Nigerian Army in Zaria, Kaduna State, leading to the death of many people.
Although the federal government claimed to be operating under the rule of law, the case of the Shiites is presumed to be being treated without recourse to the rule of law especially, the outright disregard to court orders granting their bail with the payment of N50 million as compensation.
This outright disobedience to court order had been one of the reasons behind the persistent protests by Shiite members across some northern states and Abuja, demanding the release of their leader.
Many of them had died in the protests, which often resulted in bloody clashes with security personnel. In Abuja alone, about 50 IMN were reported to have lost their lives in the protests.
Members of the group held the view that the authorities were not justly treating them and had remained unrelenting in their quest to ensure freedom and justice for their leader.
They had equally insisted that there should be justice for the 348 of their members allegedly killed by soldiers
during the clash, a development that also followed allegations that some of their worship centres particularly, in Zaria as well as the residence of El-Zakzaky had been demolished by the Kaduna State government.
Note that the state government was prosecuting the IMN leader and his wife at the state high court for alleged culpable homicide and incitement among others. The homicide charge involved the killing of a soldier, Corporal Dan Kaduna Yakubu, which occurred during some of the clashes in Zaria.
However, while the IMN leader is being tried for the death of the soldier, the federal government seemed to have turned deaf ear to calls by the Shiites to bring the soldiers, who allegedly killed IMN members to book.
The judicial panel set up by the government in 2016, to investigate the clashes, in its report, established the fact that, at least 348 members of the IMN were killed, while one Cpl. Dan Kaduna Yakubu was also killed.
The panel headed by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, noted that the force used by the army, resulting in deaths, was “disproportionate” and recommended the prosecution of IMN members involved in the killing of Cpl. Yakubu as well as army officers, who led the operation that resulted in the deaths of the 348 IMN members.
The Kaduna State government, which implemented some parts of the panel’s recommendations, it was learnt, is yet to commence the prosecution of the military officers allegedly involved in the killing of the Shiite members as recommended by the panel.
Indeed it was the state government that buried the 348 Shiite members in a mass grave at the Mando area of Kaduna metropolis. About 270 Shiite members were also charged with culpable homicide over the killing of the soldier.
According to Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), counsel to the IMN, about 180 them had been discharged and acquitted last year. But the pertinent questions to be asked include whether the lives of the 348 Shiite members killed are not as important as the life of the one soldier that died in the melee?
Thus, when will the government prosecute the military officers involved in the killing of the Shiite members as recommended by the judicial panel? Why are the Shiites being treated as if they don’t have a right to exist?
What really does the federal government have against them? It must be noted that where people are not treated justly and fairly, they are likely to resort to self-help. When the system fails them, they seek alternative ways of achieving self-determination.
On the other hand, there are allegations that the IMN has no allegiance to Nigeria; that they operate a state within a state; that they have no respect for the Nigerian Constitution and constituted authorities; that they owe their allegiance to Iran.
These are allegations that the group has consistently denied. However, this should not be the justification for treating them the way they are being treated or for the continuous detention of their leader and his wife.
The federal government seems to be playing with another time bomb, as history seems to be repeating itself. The deadly Boko Haram insurgent that has caused so much havoc to the country started after their leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was extra-judicially killed while in custody of the Nigeria Police Force.
This is why the government must handle the Shiite case by adhering to the due process of the law before the Islamic group becomes frustrated and go mad again, their proscription notwithstanding.
The current confrontation between the United States and Iran could pose serious challenge for Nigeria, following recent protest by the Shiites against the killings in Iran.
The Shiite are likely to return to the streets again in the days ahead should the confrontation between United States and Iran, persist and should government continue to detain their leader.
Last week Monday, they staged a protest in Abuja, where they condemned the killing of the Iranian military commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in a drone by the United States.
They burnt American flags, chanting slogans such as ‘“Death To America” and demanded the release of Zakzaky and wife.
The government must not, either by omission or commission, push them to the wall with seeming impunity, which has been going on for too long. It is time, therefore, to dialogue and chart the way forward.
Pix: Shi’ites members rescue one of their own in the heat of the clash with security operatives.jpg