This piece first appeared in ThisDayLive on November 12, 2017
The continuous detention of the leader of Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenat, for almost two years without trial is a sour point in the human rights rating of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, writes John Shiklam
By December 14, it would be two years since the Muhammadu Buhari administration detained the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat without trial even against court orders. Unfortunately, the case of El-Zakzaky and wife has however become one of the worst cases of human right abuses being recorded against the administration of President Buhari.
Zakzaky and Zeenat had been in detention since December 14, 2015, following a clash between his followers and the Nigerian Army in Zaria, Kaduna State. Many of his followers, who were equally arrested during the incident, are also in prison custody facing different charges.
By next month, the Islamic leader and his wife would have spent two years in detention without trial despite a court order for their release.
An Abuja Federal High Court had on December 2, 2016, declared their continuous detention without trial illegal. Counsel to the Shiite leader, Femi Falana, had approached the court to demand the release of the duo several months after their arrest without being charged to Court, arguing that their continuous detention was unlawful and a violation of their fundamental rights.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole, who presided over the case, had rejected submissions of the counsel to the State Security Service (SSS), Tijjani Gazali, that El-Zakzaky was being held in protective custody of the SSS, noting that, “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 neigbourhood,” as claimed by the SSS.
The judge had declared that the decision of the government to hold the Shiite leader for so long amounted to great danger.
Citing the death of a former leader of the Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, the judge had observed that, “If the applicant dies in custody which I do not pray for, it could result in many needless deaths.”
He however ruled that the continued detention of the couple violated their rights under Section 35 (1) of the Constitution and provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
Consequently, he ordered that the Shi’ite leader and his wife be released within 45 days and must be provided with a suitable accommodation and security. The court also ordered the federal government to pay a fine of 50 million to El-Zakzaky and his wife.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the court, the federal government filed an appeal on January 27, 2017, on the grounds that the trial judge erred when he ordered that a suitable accommodation and security be provided for the duo.
The government also challenged the jurisdiction of the Abuja court, saying the alleged destruction of the Shi’ite’s leader’s property occurred in Kaduna.
The appellant stated further that the judge erred in law when he lumped two cases together in his judgment stressing, that two separate judgments ought to have been delivered by the trial judge.
Almost one year after the appeal, it is still pending as the Islamic leader languishes in detention. Several human rights groups had condemned El-Zakzaky’s detention without trial and described it as one of the worst human rights abuses. His followers have also not relented in demanding for his unconditional release.
Ibrahim Musa, President of IMN media forum, in a recent statement said the federal government’s refusal to release El-Zakzaky despite the court order is the “height of impunity that had ever been committed by a democratic government in this country. It is even worse when a court has ordered the release of such a person, and the government contemptuously holds him.
“Even previously under a military dictatorship headed by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, nobody was detained without an order made, pursuant to a decree, the States Security Detention of Persons Decree Number 2 of 1984.
“Nobody was detained without an order made by the detaining authority. Today, there is no such law. So, our case cannot be worse under a democratic dispensation as against what occurred in that military junta.
How can you detain somebody for about two years, without trial! This is illegal and undemocratic,” Musa said.
Falana has also written many letters to President Muhammadu Buhari, demanding the release of the IMN leader. The latest of such letters was dated November 6, (last Tuesday), in which he urged the president to stop the physical and mental agony that has been inflicted on the duo by releasing them to travel abroad for urgent medical attention.
He noted that the refusal of the federal government to release them, despite the order of an Abuja Federal High Court has created a “dangerous impression that the federal government does not operate under the rule of law.
“We urge Your Excellency to terminate forthwith the physical and mental agony that has been inflicted on our clients by releasing them from illegal custody and allowing them to travel abroad for urgent medical attention,” Falana wrote.
The human right lawyer also lamented the deteriorating health condition of El-Zakzaky, who, according to him, “was at a risk of total blindness” while his wife is still going through “excruciating pain and agony” as a result of bullets still lodged in her body.
“In case the federal government is not prepared to direct the State Security Service to comply with the orders of the Federal High Court, we are compelled to urge Your Excellency to order the release of the couple on health grounds.
“Although Sheikh El-Zakzaky lost his left eye while he is on the verge of losing the right eye sequel to the brutal treatment meted out to him by the armed soldiers, the State Security Service has denied him foreign medical treatment recommended by the local specialists, who had attended to him.
“Even the alternative arrangement put in place by the family of the Sheikh to bring eye specialists from abroad to treat him in custody has equally been rejected without any legal justification. It may interest Your Excellency to know that the medical condition of Mrs, Zeenat Elzakzaky is by far worse than that of her husband.
“For reasons best known to the State Security Service, some of the bullets lodged in her body during the brutal attack of December 14, 2015 have not been extracted up till now. In the circumstances, she has been subjected to excruciating pain and agony on a daily basis. Her life which is currently in danger may be saved and prolonged if she is allowed to receive adequate medical attention without any further delay,” the letter read.
El-Zakzaky’s travails started on December 12 and 14, 2015, when his followers clashed with the Nigerian Army in Zaria. The IMN members, were reported to be conducting a “hoisting of flag ceremony” at their Hussainiyya Baqiyyatillah centre and decided to block strategic locations on the highway from Samaru and at PZ railway junctions.
Incidentally, the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, who was in Zaria to attend the Passing out Parade (PoP) ceremony of the Army Depot, was caught up in the blockade.
Senior army officers on the COAS entourage were said to have made frantic efforts to persuade the IMN members to remove the barricade for the convoy to pass, but they allegedly refused to open the road, which led to the forceful clearance of the roadblocks by soldiers as they allegedly opened fire to disperse the crowd.
Unfortunately, this led to the clashes that claimed the lives of 349 members of the IMN, who were buried in a mass grave in Mando area of Kaduna metropolis.
Suffice it to say that the IMN members had always been accused of lawlessness and lack of respect to constituted authorities, including the Nigerian state. They have been accused on many occasions of operating a state within a state.
In Zaria and elsewhere, residents accused IMN members of illegal road blocks, imposition of illegal curfews and checkpoints in and around Gyallesu area, where El-Zakzaky resides. They were alleged to have once stopped the convoy of the former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Mukhtar Yero, and ordered him out of his car to walk.
The IMN worship places and other structures in Zaria including Zakzaky’s Gyelesu residence were demolished by the Kaduna State government on the grounds that they were constructed without due process and in contravention of the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency (KASUPDA) Law.
A judicial commission of inquiry set up by the state government to look into the remote and immediate causes of the crisis, said “the IMN members should primarily be responsible for the clash and its liabilities”.
The commission also said the group was as an illegal organisation as it was not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Though the group refused to appear before the panel, it dismissed the report, describing it as a sham.
But acting on the pronouncement of the panel, the Kaduna State, government, declared the group an illegal association and banned it from operating in the state.
According to the report of the panel headed by Hon. Mohammed Lawal Garba, Justice of the Court of Appeal (JCA), the commission conducted a research and discovered that the IMN was not registered with the CAC.
“In view of this, one can safely come to the conclusion that IMN is not a registered entity under the Nigerian laws. The conclusion above should not be surprising because of the oral and documentary evidence that abound before the commission that the leadership of IMN treats the Nigerian Constitution, its laws and authorities with disdain and lack of recognition.
“It is therefore the conclusion of the commission that the IMN is an unregistered body under the law and cannot legally sue or be sued nor be proceeded against in that name. The Nigerian Constitution however allows citizens the freedom of association and movement and members of IMN are free to associate as long as they respect the laws of the country and do not infringe on the rights of others,” the report said.
Nevertheless, El-Zakzaky’s long detention without trial and similar other cases like the one involving the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, are a serious minus to the human rights record of the Buhari government, which it must consider a challenge to be addressed, indeed with urgency.