The federal government and the Kaduna State Government are clearly not being advised appropriately on the Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky case. I am still struggling to recover from the shock of the decision to drag the Shitte cleric/leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, and his wife to a court in Kaduna this week on charges bordering on culpable homicide and unlawful assembly. Of course, the federal government is a party to this dangerous game. El-Zakzaky was to be formally charged on Tuesday but because other defendants were not present, the case was adjourned to June 21. The pro-Iranian cleric has been in the custody of the DSS since 2015 after clashes between soldiers and his followers, left 347 of his followers dead.
The court appearance on Tuesday was El-Zakzaky’s second public appearance since he was taken into custody despite multiple court rulings approving his freedom. On December 6, 2016, a Federal High Court presided over by Justice G. O. Kolawole ordered the release of El-zakzaky and his wife and awarded them N50 million damages. The Nigerian Army and the Kaduna State Government had demolished and set their residence on fire on 15 December 2015. As a result, the Federal High Court also ordered the federal government to provide them with a suitable accommodation. These orders have been ignored by the Buhari administration.
For me, this government should be thinking more about a political solution to this El-Zakzaky quagmire instead of charging him to court. His supporters have been causing chaos on the streets of Abuja in the last six months. It could explode into something more dangerous if El-Zakzaky is convicted. This is because he could face the death penalty. I share the sentiments of the former Ambassador of the United States of America to Nigeria, John Campbell, who few weeks back cautioned the federal government to thread carefully in the way it was handling the case of El-Zakzaky, warning that his ongoing trial could worsen the nation’s security.
In his piece posted on the website of the American think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, Campbell said: “El-Zakzaky has claimed to have followers ranging from a few hundred thousand to three million. Whatever IMN’s numbers, it has demonstrated the ability to shut down Abuja, if only for a few days at a time. Were El-Zakzaky to be tried, convicted, and executed-the worst-case scenario – Abuja could very well face the ‘black swan’ of an insurrection.” The former envoy also pointed out alleged similarities between the way the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, was treated and the manner el-Zakzaky’s case was being handled, cautioning that Nigeria could have something similar to Boko Haram insurrection.
El-Zakzaky’s health should be of concern to genuine patriots. He is in his mid-sixties and has lost one eye, following the 2015 clash. If he dies in detention, the consequences will be horrendous for this country. “His health has been fading and if you had an opportunity to see him today, it is obvious and clear. He needed a stick to get around. El-Zakzaky’s eyesight is poor. His wife walks with a stick; she was shot severely on her leg,” his lawyer, Maxwell Kyon, remarked on Tuesday after his appearance in court.
Kyon said that this was the first time he had been able to talk to El-Zakzaky after the court ordered that the cleric should have access to his legal team: “We were only able to speak with him and his wife for a period of five to ten minutes.”
Clearly, President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Nasir el-Rufai must have been listening to the counsel of the forces of darkness on this El-Zakzaki case. These evil forces care less if the country is plunged into another insurgency. This country can’t afford another insurrection. It is not too late for Buhari and el-rufai to retrace their steps and embrace a political solution to this issue.