Following the 2015 clash which led to the killing of over 300 of his followers, El-Zakzaky, his wife and hundreds of followers were arrested by the military
“If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it; he is
obligated to do so.” –Thomas Jefferson
The detained leader of the Shi’ites group in Nigeria otherwise known as Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, is in the news again for the same old reason – his followers clashing with security operatives.
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Before last week’s clash in Abuja, the group had never recorded any major encounter with either the military or other security agents outside the northern states.
El-Zakzaky was first arrested and detained in September 1996, following his declaration that there was no government worthy of being obeyed, except that of Islam. He was later charged with treason in August 1998, before his eventual release in December, 1998, after the death of General Sani Abacha.
However, throughout the period of his incarceration, members of his group engaged in fierce battles with security operatives, with Kaduna residents, bearing the brunt of the battles as they lasted.
But since the return to democratic rule in 1999, apart from the allegation of stockpiling of arms made against his group by the police, and occasional minor skirmishes between the group and other communities in Zaria, the Friday, July 25, 2014 clash between the group and the military, has remained the group’s major encounter with security operatives, after the group’s leader’s return from the gulag in 1999. He lost three of his children in that encounter.
The next major clash occurred in December 2015. And in that encounter too, El-Zakzaky, again lost three of his children, thus making it six that had so far died out of his nine children.
Following the 2015 clash, which led to the killing of over 300 of his followers, El-Zakzaky, his wife and hundreds of his followers were arrested by the military. After the arrest, the Kaduna State government set up a judicial panel of enquiry, which indicted the military and demanded that all those involved in the killing be prosecuted, as well as recommending for the proscription of the group.
While the state government has since outlawed the group, nothing has been done concerning the other leg of the recommendations.
While in detention without trial, the group’s counsel filed a case in both Kaduna and Abuja, to enforce their fundamental human rights.
And in November 2016, the presiding judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, advised the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, to find a way of resolving the matter before the next adjourned date, failing which, he would be forced to deliver his verdict.
But at the adjourned date, December 2, 2016 to be precise, Justice Kolawole, declined the submission of the counsel to the DSS, Tijjani Gazali, that El-Zakzaky was kept in “protective custody” of the DSS, adding that the decision to hold the Islamic cleric and his wife for their safety was not based on law.
The trial Judge, further said: “I have not been shown any incident report or any complaint lodged by residents around the neighbourhood that the applicant has become a nuisance to his neighbourhood.”
While citing the death of former leader of the Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, the judge said: “If the applicant dies in custody which I do not pray for, it could result in many needless deaths”.
To this end, he ordered the government to release within 45 days the applicant and his family to the police, who shall within 24 hours take them, guarded by escort, to a safe place.
He also ordered the DSS to pay a fine of N25 million each to El-Zakzaky and his wife, totalling N50 million.
But rather than carry out the order, the government hurriedly arraigned him in court for murder, barely four days after the court ordered his release.
Since then, his followers who have continued to express their readiness to die if need be to secure the release of their leader have not relented in pressing for the unconditional release of El-Zakzaky.
Last Sunday, they pushed their way through barricades mounted by security agents as they marched through Abuja in protest, wielding portraits of El-Zakzaky. Efforts by a combined detachment of armed policemen and soldiers to prevent them from proceeding with the protest proved ineffective.
Also defying a downpour, they chanted: ‘Free Zakzaky’; ‘Free Our Leader’. And like in previous encounters, this latest one also recorded some casualties on the side of the group.
Born May 5, 1953, El-Zakzaky founded his group in the late 1970s, as a student at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, during the time of the Iranian revolution. Although he earned a first-class bachelor’s degree in Economics, he was denied the certificate by the university authorities, apparently due to his propagation of Shia ideals and beliefs on campus and its environs.