Faced with a growing resolve of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria to maintain the tempo in the campaign to free Sheikh Zakzaky, and the way so many people and groups are coming out to show support for the struggle, the Federal government has lately being beating about the bush in looking for a face saving strategy to address the issue.
In January this year, when the campaign escalated to free the ailing Sheikh in Abuja, they were forced to parade him before the media for the first time in two years. It was the first time he was seen in public since that heinous attack on his residence in December, 2018 when he was fatally shot and taken into custody.
Since that time, the government was equally forced to move on with the appeal process, thinking that it would buy them more time. However, at the first sitting of the Appeal Court over the matter, the judges frowned at the refusal of the federal government to obey the judgement of the High court.
Thus, the government has had to face an increased invigoration of the campaign to free Zakzaky. There was a daily sit out at the Unity fountain, that has attracted many activists from all walks of life across the country. There was the ever growing free Zakzaky processions with thousands participating.
The government became uncomfortable. Attempts at infiltrating and diverting the campaign to make it look chaotic had proved abortive. Then they used a combined team of police and military men to forcibly stop the sit out at the Unity fountain. They also harassed and arrested some individuals belonging to groups sympathetic to the cause of free Zakzaky like Prince Deji Adeyanju and Theophillus Ogar. It was not sufficient to break the will of members of the Movement.
As pressure mounted from home and abroad, the government continued to beat about the bush. Since the Ministers of information and justice became discredited by their infamous attempts at explaining why Sheikh Zakzaky would not be allowed to walk free, the Minister of interior was pushed into the fray.
In the wake of escalating police brutality against peaceful protesters, the Minister, Danbazau, himself a former military chief, had gone on air to suggest that the federal government has opened negotiations with the “Shi’ites group” as he said. Besides the fact that it was not clear with whom Danbazau and the government are talking, even more baffling is the question of what is negotiable about the freedom of the Sheikh?
The government has continued to behave contemptuously of a court order setting him free. He has not been charged of any crime and the government is insisting that they are holding him in “protective custody,” which he has challenged in court.
There was rumour that governor El-Rufai of Kaduna state was given the go ahead to frame up charges against the Sheikh, and he might have done so. This, along with the desire to stop the Abuja free Zakzaky campaigns, might have informed yet another consideration to move the Sheikh to Kaduna. Whatever be the case, these will totally negate the principle of a serious government in negotiations.
Apart from all these somersaults by the government, the biggest joke of all came this evening when it emerged that the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo had given audience to a “Shi’ah cleric” known to be diametrically opposed to Sheikh Zakzaky and the Islamic Movement. The man, Ustaz Hamza Lawal, didn’t leave anyone in doubt that he met the Vice President. He posted pictures to prove that they were together, and that they discussed the issue of Sheikh Zakzaky.
It was not the first time that Hamza Lawal was being in contact with top government officials over the Islamic Movement. Earlier in the pogrom by the government, he severally met the governor of Kaduna state, Nasiru El-Rufai. That meeting had continued to hold sway. He appeared at the El-Rufai Judicial Commission pretending to be sympathetic to the Sheikh. He told the Commission that he was a “Spiritual son” of the Sheikh then, thinking that would be the game changer that would make members of the Movement get closer to him.
Hamza lawal was in jubilant mood as his benefactor, El-Rufai, allegedly banned the Islamic Movement in Kaduna. He categorically declared “war” with members of the Movement and spent several hours in verbal insults recorded in audio and widely circulated. His insults weren’t limited to only Sheikh Zakzaky or his Movement, it extended to include insults on the parents of the Sheikh. He on several occasions opined that Sheikh Zakzaky was not going to be released anytime soon.
For all his tirades, he was ignored as noisy agent provocateur by the Islamic Movement members. That he reappeared in the scene on a larger stage at a point when the government is facing pressure from all angles will suggest that either the government is looking for a face saving strategy or it wants to elevate his status.
In the former strategy, the government secretly knows they are wrong all along but they are not prepared to admit that they are wrong and they don’t want to admit they made mistakes in the attacks and the continued detention of Sheikh Zakzaky. Worst of all, they don’t want to make it obvious that they were pressed to release the Sheikh. Thus, they would require a Hamza Lawal and people like him to “intervene” or “plead” with them for that purpose. In that case it won’t be obvious that it was the global free Zakzaky activities forcing them to retrace their steps should they eventually yield to these pressures.
On the other hand, they would massage the ego of the grandiose delusional man, and project him as a “superhero” of a sort, whose intervention yielded immediate results. They would then make it look as if it pays to betray. With a massaged ego, the traitor will be thinking that the massive support the Sheikh enjoys will be entirely at his disposal. The betrayer had forgotten he was assured earlier that Sheikh would never again walk a free man and he obtusely stated so.