- Time for government’s obedience of court orders on El-Zakzaky and speedy trial of the Shiite leader
Despite the legion challenges facing the country, one challenge that could have been avoided is the periodic protest by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) under the leadership of Sheikh Ibrahim Yaqoub El-Zakzaky. The most recent of such protests turned bloody again last week during attempts by IMN members to enter the National Assembly.
Trouble arose when the IMN members in their hundreds attempted to storm the National Assembly complex. There was commotion after the Shiite members were stopped by security agents at the third gate to the complex. The protesters allegedly burned the property of the Directorate of State Services (DSS), wounded one police officer after allegedly seizing weapons from other policemen. During the protest, 40 members of the sect were reportedly arrested.
Protests are inevitable in a democratic society. Given that the conflict between IMN and the government became pronounced in 2015 when El-Zakzaky and his followers in the Shiite movement were arrested and detained for alleged attempts to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff, there is no good reason that this matter had not been brought to a judicial closure before 2015.
Without justifying attempts by IMN members to take their protest to the National Assembly in an illegal manner, it should be recognised that many actions that do not reflect methods of civilised conflict resolution or prosecution for criminal acts have taken place for four years. For crimes alleged to have been committed in 2015, the first appearance of detained members of the sect came up towards the end of 2018 for hearing and is still pending. Court orders in December 2016 that El-Zakzaky, his wife, and others be released and transferred to police custody, while awaiting trial, have not been obeyed by the Federal Government.
Such disregard for judicial orders erodes confidence or trust in a rule of law polity and has the potential to spark periodic lawlessness, such as the mayhem around the National Assembly illustrates. Granted that the executive branch of government may have special reasons for wanting to hold on toEl-Zakzaky and his spouse, it should present such reasons to the court, instead of discountenancing court orders. For example, it is incomprehensible that it took about three years for the government to bring El-Zakzaky and his supporters to court to answer to charges of alleged homicide, unlawful assembly, and disturbance of public peace.
However, members of the Shiite group ought not take the law into their hands. There are proper procedures for individuals and groups to take their grievances before the lawmakers. An organisation seeking justice ought not to bulldoze its way into the National Assembly as members of the Islamic Movement did.
We, however, believe that the ball of the search for proper closure to the four-year old crisis is for the executive branch of government to respect existing court orders in respect of the case of the Shiite leader and his supporters. If the government has genuine reasons why it should continue to hold the Shiite leader, it ought to convince the courts afresh. We deplore the impunity on the side of the government that disregards the court and the sect members that ignore proper procedures for taking their grouse to the legislature.
However, all parties need to remember that justice delayed is justice denied. We, therefore, join members of the National Assembly and all lovers of the rule of law to urge the Federal Government to release El-Zakzaky and his supporters immediately, while putting in place all processes for a speedy trial for whatever crime they might have allegedly committed.