Few people realise the iconic role of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Shaikh Ibraheem Zakzaky in fostering national unity through building of bridges across both tribal and sectional divides. The venerated leader has shown the way in bridging tribal and sectional divides in many respects that are not quite appreciated.

Not many people even know that his wife, Malama Zeenat Zakzaky, who is currently being detained along with him is a pure bred Yoruba lady from Ibadan, Oyo state. The Sheikh being a Hausa man from Zaria getting married to a Yoruba lady alone tells us how he has purged himself of tribal sentiments and tribal bias right from the outset and thereby helped in building bridges across tribal and sectional divides. There union produced nine children, seven sons and two daughters. They lost six of the sons to the wicked barrel of the gun of Nigerian Army within a period of eighteen months. They are left with a son and two daughters, who certainly are at home in Western Nigeria as they are in Northern Nigeria.

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A social activist, Ndi Kato (R) with Suhaila Ibraheem Zakzaky

In the same vein, Sheikh Zakzaky-led Movement finds acceptance among different people irrespective of tribe or geopolitical region. This is evident even from reports of the series of campaigns being embarked upon since this incident of brutal attack on his person as can be seen below:

Free Zakzaky’ Protest held by Christians & Muslims in Abia and Rivers StatesFree Zakzaky’ Protest held by Christians & Muslims in Abia and Rivers States

Members of the Islamic movement in Nigeria have staged a peaceful protest in Port Hacourt, Rivers state of Nigeria on 15/2/2016 demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the leader of the Islamic movement in Nigeria Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky (H), his wife and other detained members of the movement including women and children. A press conference was held after the procession. A similar protest held in Abia state by some Christian faithfuls.

Similarly, the Igbo Mandate Congress, IMC also condoled with families of the massacred members of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN over the genocidal attack in Zaria, where an estimated one thousand Shiite Muslims met their untimely death. In a message signed by Rev Obinna Akukwe, the IMC stated:

Igbo Mandate Congress, IMC had previously condemned the massacre especially when it was suspected that the death toll was ninety. Reports have shown that an estimated one thousand persons were victims of the massacre, including the three children of Sheikh Zakzaky, leader of the sect.

Igbo Mandate Congress views with outrage a situation whereby out of eight children of a religious leader, six were killed by the Nigerian Army over incidences which patience and dialogue could have resolved.

IMC also noted that even the wounded were abducted from the hospitals and their whereabouts still unknown while the leader of the sect is still in military custody, instead of getting the best of medical attention.

IMC wishes to state that the officers and men of the Nigerian Army should be taught the modern rules of dealing with civilian altercations, and should know that the frequent release  of bullets is now outdated.

IMC demands that the military should accept that they reacted over the issue and take corrective actions to avoid a future repeat of this ugly incidence.

IMC also demands that President Buhari should also accept responsibility for these military excesses as Commander-in Chief of Nigerian Armed Forces and lead a delegation that should apologize to the sect [Zakzaky and Islamic Movement] for the excesses of his men.

Igbo Mandate Congress wishes to convey deep felt sympathy for this endangered sect in Nigeria, especially the family of the sect leader who have lost six out of eight children to the excesses of the military. and demands the release of Sheikh Zakzaky  and other detained sect members for proper medical treatment. Igbo Mandate Congress advises the Sunni Muslims in Nigeria to live at peace with their Shiite brothers and not emulate the schisms and dissension which had polarized the Middle East, turning it into a constant war zone.

Igbo Mandate Congress had earlier on Saturday in a joint statement with Christian Association of Nigeria, South East, called for the release of detained Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, especially after the courts have granted him reprieve. IMC finds it disturbing that a fresh charge has been preferred against him, and asks the security authorities to release him without delay.

IMC once again seeks justice over 20 murdered IPOB protesters at Onitsha and demands that abducted corpses be released to their relatives for proper burial.

The fact that Christian Igbos and other tribes would identify and associate with him and the Movement even in this critical moment would only suggest that they had a good relationship with him earlier and considered him a peaceful man.

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Igbo Muslim converts and their scholars do participate in activities organised by the Movement such as Maulud (birthday of the Prophet) and also the unity week activities.

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Some members of the Islamic Movement visiting Eze Ndi Igbo in Bauchi

Everyone knows the role Sheikh Zakzaky plays at times of crises, when he opens his gate so that Christian and other minority groups could enter for safety. He provides all the necessary safety and protection for the displaced, feeds them until the crises abated and provides transport money to their destinations. The strong Igbo delegations that afterwards severally visited the Shaikh to thank him for providing shelter for them and other minority tribes in times of crises could not have been a fluke. This we have seen severally.

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Sheikh Zakzaky hosted Igbo leaders in Zaria

Many delegations trooped to his now demolished residence to either pay a courtesy call in recognition of his commendable charity and peaceful disposition or to show appreciation for favours done to them without consideration for their tribes or religion. We also saw many other strong minority tribes  who paid him solidarity visit when his three children and 31 other members were brutally killed by the military in 2014.

South Kaduna Peoples’ union delegation in a visit to Sheikh Zakzaky

All these would not have been possible had there not been a good understanding between Zakzaky and these minority tribes.

This commendable act of fostering understanding between tribes and communities is strongly believed to further the cause of peaceful coexistence in the country. It is therefore baffling when you see the Nigerian authorities battling to malign this icon of peaceful coexistence or sweating to portray him as an extremist terrorist or a dangerous threat to National security, with whom nobody wants to be neighbour!

Credit must be given to Shaikh Zakzaky in being a leading light in that direction.