The United States (U.S.), last week Friday, raised the alarm about impending protests by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) otherwise known as Shi’ites in Lagos and Abuja. The U.S. government therefore warned its citizens in both cities to be wary and avoid possible areas of such protests.
The message was contained in a travel advisory issued by the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Nigeria. It warned that judging from the violent turn of such protests last week in Abuja and Lagos, there was therefore a great need for caution by its citizens.
Since December 2015 when the leader of the group, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, was arrested and detained by the Federal Government, members of IMN have been protesting in Kaduna, their base and Abuja, the nation’s capital, calling for the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife.
But mum has been the word from the Federal Government, who has ignored several court orders that granted bail to the religious leader. His case is not far from that of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, who has been incarcerated since 2015 by government, despite several court orders granting him bail. Perhaps, because Dasuki is not a religious or political leader, his case has not attracted wide protests like that of the IMN leader.
We recall that last year in Abuja and Kaduna, tens of IMN members were killed during protests that turned violent over the release of their leader. At a time, tension grew high when rumour made the rounds that the IMN leader had died in detention. What the Federal Government did was to bring him out, show him on national television networks to prove that he is still alive. Since then, Elzakzaky’s lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has shouted himself hoarse, calling for the release of his client.
His cries have only hit the brick wall with government bent on holding the IMN leader in detention. But last week, after a lull in their activities, the Shi’ites regrouped in Abuja, took the National Assembly by storm and wreaked havoc.
In the process, some people lost their lives and some security agents were left injured. The protest extended to Lagos on Thursday. The message of the protesters remained the same: Free our leader, obey court order on El-Zakzaky.
The response from the National Assembly was the tough talks by lawmakers and the stoic stand of the Police and other security agencies on their readiness to crush the rebellion being cooked by the IMN members.
The Senate, for example, condemned the action of the Islamic group and called on the police to fish out the perpetrators.They lamented the desecration of a sacred institution of government, which must be respected by every Nigerian, irrespective of status.
The House of Representatives was more pointed in its submission, asking the executive arm to release the detained leader to avoid violence by his followers. But the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mohammed Adamu, warned the Shi’ites against testing the will of the Force, insisting that right to public protest must be done lawfully, without threatening the peace and security of others. “We are ready for them.
We will not explain our strategy, but we will make sure we don’t allow them disrupt the peace of the city,” Adamu said. We believe very strongly that the IMN case is not one to be treated with the highhandedness of the Police and other security agencies. We know for a fact that if the crimes committed by El-Zakzaky and his wife were not bailable offences, the courts would not grant him bail. Much as we do not subscribe to violence of any sort, we do not believe that his followers’ agitations are wrong in any way.
But what is wrong is the way and manner they have organised the protests, resorting to violence at the least provocation. It is important to point out at this juncture that the Federal Government has a duty not to allow IMN and its members degenerate into another Boko Haram in the North- West.
We recall that it was the highhandedness of security agencies in the North-East in the death of Mohammed Yusuf that led to the transformation of Boko Haram into a violent sect. Perhaps, if Yusuf was not killed by the police, the sect would have remained at the level it operated before that unfortunate incident. Granted that some bad guys have taken the insurgents’ initial intention beyond the normal, we believe that if nothing is done by the Federal Government to stem the tide of protests by IMN members, some bad guys can also take over the group and turn it into another violent group. What we believe is that in a democracy, all key stakeholders must allow the rule of law to prevail. In this case, the rule of law is to release El-Zakzaky.
The matter is already in court. That is the right place to settle the dispute. But the refusal of the Federal Government to release him is not serving the country any good. Rather, it is generating unnecessary tension for a country that is currently overstretched by all manner of security issues, ranging from Boko Haram to herdsmen, kidnapping, armed robbery and other vices. We therefore call on the Federal Government to do the right thing and save the country from another orgy of violence.