The acquittal of El-Zakzaky – Thisday

Government should obey the court’s ruling

Last Thursday, the Kaduna State High Court ordered the release of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, after almost six years in “protective custody” and a controversial trial. However, following the acquittal of the duo on grounds that the charges preferred against them lack merit, the Kaduna State government has filed fresh charges at the Federal High Court. The new charges, according to the state Director of Public Prosecution, Daris Bayero, relate to terrorism and treasonable felony. He said that the allegations contained in these new charges predate 2015 and that the court will have to issue an order for the arrest of El-Zakzaky for him to answer them. We find this troubling as we urge the federal government to prevail on Governor Nasir el-Rufai not to embark on an action that can only further aggravate the precarious situation in his state.

The unfortunate drama started with the 12th December 2015 violent clash between members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and troops deployed by then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai from the Nigerian Army Depot in Zaria. In the aftermath of the bloodbath, the Kaduna State government constituted a judicial commission of inquiry to unravel the immediate and remote cause of the crisis. Even though the Shiites had no voice in the report, having insisted that they would not testify unless granted access to their boss, a request that was never granted, the commission confirmed that no fewer than 347 Shi’ites were killed, and scores of others injured.

The federal government never acted, especially since the report blamed the army for using excessive force and not complying with the rules of engagement during the clash. On top of that, members of the group were banned from practicing their faith. In October 2016, an Abuja Federal High Court, presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, ordered the release of El-Zakzaky within 45 days. The judgement was never obeyed. These decisions were justified by Governor Nasir el-Rufai who expressed worry that if the El-Zakzaky-led group was allowed to exist, it could threaten the corporate existence of Nigeria. “The IMN does not recognise the constitution of Nigeria; they do not recognise Buhari as President of Nigeria. They do not recognise me as governor of Kaduna State,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Kaduna government white paper accepted the report of the judicial commission of inquiry which tagged the Shiites as an “insurgent group.” The white paper laid the blame of the unfortunate clash in Zaria squarely at the feet of El-Zakzaky, maintaining that he refused to call his members to order when required to do so.

As we have had to warn during this long-drawn tragic drama, anyone who has studied the root cause of inter-Arab conflicts in the Middle East is likely to locate them in the Shiite versus Sunni historic confrontation that seems to be playing out in this crisis. That violence and death have become a daily staple in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iran, a bit of Turkey, are traceable to the mismanagement of these differences in beliefs. We do not need such in Nigeria. Yet, the manner the IMN issue has been handled by the authorities in both Kaduna and Abuja has been troubling.

While we hope the Shiites have learnt their lesson on the need to respect constituted authority, the greater lesson is for the Kaduna State government. Going after the IMN leader after his acquittal by the court is unfortunate and dangerous.

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