It all started like an action movie on that fateful Saturday of December 12, 2015, when members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), also known as the Shi’ites group, tried to block the passage of a convoy carrying the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, who was on his way to Zaria from Kaduna State. But, no one ever thought the issue would get out of hand to the extent that it would linger on four years after.
The Muslim sect was said to be conducting its annual Hussainiyyah Baqiyyatullah (Changing of Flags) ritual and was in a procession, when Buratai’s covoy surfaced.
The clash between the Army and the group later led to the killing of some members of the group after they purportedly prevented Buratai’s convoy from having a thoroughfare.
However, an Army spokesman, Col. Sani Usman, later alleged that the Shi’ites members were trying to assassinate Buratai, which forced the security details of the COAS to shoot in defence when the sect members refused to move out of the convoy’s way and became violent.
“The sect, numbering hundreds and carrying dangerous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tires. They refused all entreaties to disperse and then started firing and pelting the convoy with dangerous objects,” Usman alleged.
The altercation, which was said to have continued throughout the night into Sunday morning, resulted to sporadic gunfire, which created panic among residents of Zaria.
Later, leader of the group, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, asserted that his group had no intention of killing Buratai, as claimed by the Army.
According to him, “We learnt that Buratai was visiting the newly graduated recruits and that coincided with our day of changing of flags, which we do annually. We had no intention of doing anything as claimed by the soldiers.”
Ibrahim Usman, a spokesman for the Shi’ites group, alleged that during the clash between them and the Army, about seven people were killed and their bodies taken away by the military. Zakzaky, on his part, claimed that 30 of his followers and three of his children were killed.
Later, the military secured the arrest of El-Zakzaky, his wives and some members of his group and they were detained for months in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS), without being charged to court.
This prompted El-Zakzaky’s lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) to approach the court and demanded the release of his client.
And on December 2, 2016, an Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Friday ordered the release of the leader of the Shi’ites sect, who was arrested by the military on December 14, 2015.
Falana asked the court to declare that the arrest and continued detention of his client violated his fundamental rights.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, rejected the submission of the counsel to the DSS, Tijjani Gazali that El- Zakzaky was kept in protective custody of the security outfit, adding that the decision to hold the Islamic cleric and his wife for their safety was not based on law.
He said the decision of the government to hold the applicant for so long amounted to great danger. Citing the death of former leader of the Boko Haram sect, Mohammed Yusuf, the judge said, “If the applicant dies in custody, which I do not pray for, it could result in many needless deaths.”
And over two years after this judgment was given, the Federal Government had continued to hold on the Islamic leader on the claim that his release could threaten the nation’s security.
Due to the refusal of the federal government to relelase El- Zakzaky on bail as order by the court, the group has continued to stage protests on the streets of Abuja and some of these protests have led to loss of lives and destruction of individual and government properties.
Recently, the group became very adamant, invaded the National Assembly complex, attacked the security on ground and damaged vehicles. The group allegedly shot at some police officers. Later that day, members of the House of Representatives called on President Muhammadu Buhari to release the leader of the group, as ordered by the court.
Many other individuals have also beckoned on the Federal Government to follow the rule of law by releasing the Shi’ites leader.
“For me, it is not about the man, it is about our constitution. If the court has given a ruling that the man should be released, then why are we still holding on to him? If you want to continue holding on to him, go back to court and challenge that decision. I see no reason why we should flout court orders, there is an order that says he should be released, then let us release him. If you think releasing him will be a threat to the nation’s security, then go back to the court and present this claim,” said Olanrewaju Oshun, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
In an interview with our correspondent, a member of the House of Representatives, Mufutau Egberongbe, said: “All over the world, agitations are part of politicking and even the way of life and socialisation as well and I think the Shiites group has a right to agitate. The reason in question is that their leader, and I think there was a court judgment that says the man should be released; we should be a respecter of the law and not a lawbreaker.
“If by chance or perhaps they see him as a threat, they could put searchlight on him and I believe we have enough security apparatus and intelligent that could be put around him. We should respect the law and ensure he is released. As lawmakers, we expect the Federal Government to respect the rule of law.
“God forbids that the man dies in detention; it will be more dangerous if he dies in detention, by then things may become more chaotic. If you see him as a threat, build intelligence around him and not to continue detaining him. We have demanded his release and we expect the Federal Government to do the needful.
However, the Presidency has insisted that no amount of pressure will force it to release El-Zakzaky, and this also has forced members of the group to remain resolute and keep staging protests until the Federal Government obeys the pending court order.
On Monday, July 22, the group again took to the street in a protest, which eventually turned bloody and later resulted in the killing of a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Usman Umar and a staff of Channels Television, Precious Owolabi.
The group also set ablaze a structure belonging to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and also destroyed other government facilities.
The Police later came out to accuse the group of being responsible for the killing of its officer and the Channels TV reporter. In reaction to the police claim, the group maintained that its members do not carry arms.
Frank Mba, Police Spokesperson, alleged, “The heavily armed protesters, defying all sense of decency violently attacked innocent citizens and police personnel on duty. In the process, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, FCT Command, DCP Usman A.K Umar, was shot and fatally injured by the protesters. The officer, who was immediately rushed to the hospital died moments later while receiving treatment.”
The group’s action on Monday, forced the House of Representatives to take another decision on the release of El-Zakzaky. Members became divided on whether the Shi’ites leader should be released or not. Later, a unanimous decision was reached and members agreed that El-Zakzaky should not be released.
On Tuesday, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, briefed President Buhari over the protests by Shiites in Abuja.
At the end of the meeting, the IGP told journalists: “We came this morning to brief Mr. President on the security situation in the country, especially the activities of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN). Just to give him an update of what is happening in the country vis-a-vis their activities.
“Specifically, we briefed him of the incessant act coming out of this group of people, protesting here and there. We briefed him on the fact that we have been able to curtail their excesses and to let him understand that everything is under control.
“The president asked us to make sure we provide security for every citizen of this country and not to leave any space that some group of people will create breakdown of law and order.
“So, the charge by Mr. President is that we must provide security for every Nigerian.” he stated
Falana, El-Zakzaky’s lawyer, has however, warned the Federal Government against its violent approach in handling members of the IMN who are protesting the continued detention of their leader, despite numerous court orders issued for his release.
The legal luminary said the continuous detention of his client and killing of his members by security forces could lead the country into another bloody war that it could not afford.
According to Falana, “This nation cannot afford another war of insurgency which is being provoked by the contemptuous conduct of the Federal Government in the handling of the case of the El-Zakzaky.
“It would be recalled that the Boko Haram sect declared war on the people of Nigeria in 2009 following the cold murder of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf by the Police. Since then, the nation has known no peace. This nation cannot afford another war of insurgency which is being provoked by the contemptuous conduct of the Federal Government in the handling of the case of the El- Zakzaky,” Falana said.
Giving explanations on why the Federal Government was still holding on to the Shi’ites leader, Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, explained that the government has appealed Justice Gabriel Kolawole’s order on his release.
Adesina, who stated this on Tuesday while featuring as a guest on Channels Television’s morning show, Sunrise Daily, explained that the then Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, might have had his reasons for doing so since the government had the right to appeal the bail.
According to him, “I know that the immediate past AGF in whose purview it was to make pronouncements on that, addressed the issue. If bail is granted and another case subsists and there is an immediate filing of appeal, you have to wait till it is dispensed with.
“So, that is a legal matter which is outside my purview. But, as a layman, an unlearned man, as lawyers would call us, we know that until all cases are dispensed with, you don’t say that it has been concluded,” he said.
While maintaining that the matter had since been brought before a court in Kaduna State and the bail hearing would come up next Monday, the President’s aide called on Shi’ites members to wait for the court to make its ruling.
Responding to allegations that the police ought not to have fired live bullets into the protesters last Monday, the President’s spokesman said the police deserve to be commended, adding that, “the death toll would have been much higher if the police did not show some restraint. I tell you, despite what happened yesterday, if the police had responded with greater force, you know we would not be talking about what we are talking now.”
Despite the killing of their members, members of the group, have vowed to continue their protest. A statement by Abdullahi Muhammad Musa of the Academic Forum of the Islamic Movement, said: “Police carnage against followers of Sheikh Zakzaky continues senselessly. Senseless killing as this can never put off a conceptual cause as the Islamic movement is, and the struggle continues.
“Free El-Zakzaky protests will continue nonstop unless our leader regain his freedom to go and tend for his seriously deteriorating health condition.
“Trigger-happy security personnel should know that senseless killing can never put us off the streets of Abuja, it only adds more power to our elbow; no amount of cruelty and inhumanity will deter us. Our leader should just be released. Tomorrow is another day for us, and protests continue,” the statement read in part.
The issue has become a case of ‘No retreat, no surrender’. Both the Federal Government and the group have chosen to remain adamant. But, observers are waiting to see where the matter will end. (Daily Independent)