Sometimes ago, four years now or thereabout, the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai, was passing by Zaria, a city in Kaduna state, when his convoy ran into a procession by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, (IMN) popularly known as Shiites, led by the incarcerated Sheikh Ibrahim el-Zakzaky. For the Nigerian military high command a motorcade transporting the Army Chief of Staff was blocked by followers of Zakzaky, who began to attack the convoy before troops responded with force. But according to the IMN, unarmed worshippers were attacked by the army while conducting a peaceful procession.
In the military confrontation that followed hundreds of Shiites were killed and scores more wounded! Ever since then there had been no peace for the Shiites. Their charismatic leader and his wife were violently arrested and thrown into detention. Four or five years down the line they are still languishing in prison despite countless court orders granting them conditional bail.
The radical preacher’s lawyer, Femi Falana, had alerted the nation that the Sheikh was sick and dying in the Buhari gulag. It is instructive to note again for purposes of emphasis that many court orders granting temporal feedom to Zak-zaky had been ignored by the Buhari-led federal government.
Since we are not not under a dictatorship like what obtained in the early 80’s it is inconceivable that under a democracy an ‘elected’ government at the centre could afford to disobey court orders flagrantly. Where then is the rule of law in such dictatorial circumstance?
On many occasions the Shiites had, out of frustration, demonstrated violently (especially in Abuja) calling on the ‘dictator’ in Aso Rock to let go their indisposed leader. In one of such demonstrations some months ago President Buhari was ‘mobbed’ outside a mosque in Abuja as he went in for prayers. Recently the Shiites had upped the ante by taking their case to the National Assembly complex in Abuja.
Mohammed Adamu, Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, was sounding like a local king’s bodyguard when he issued warnings against the Shiites as they continued to defy the police and the government despite the ruthless clampdown. If two police officers were fired upon and wounded in the clash at the National Assembly then Lucifer in hell must be notified of more body-bags thrown his way soonest?
What about the casualties of the Shiites? Who mourned them? Who remembered them? Or their lives have no value and therefore count not?
President Buhari appears to have this incomprehensible morbid fear for the Shiites and their anti-Sunni Islamic worldview. The constitution guarantees freedom of faith, worship and association; it is still a secular state. Or has the alleged national ‘Fulanisation’ and ‘Islamisation’ process begun in earnest? Somebody must tell us!
As a military dictator in the early 80’s, it would be recalled, President Buhari had tried to militarily intimidate and take out the Shiites. Many among them took bloody noses home for belonging to the ‘sect’. Today he seems set to annihilate them!
Yet the home truth is that President Buhari and Gen. Buratai must see the ‘enemy’ and battlefields elsewhere other than Zaria. If Buratai had exhibited the same professionalism, the same military ruthlessness deployed against the Shiites then by now we could have finished with the Boko Haram or Fulani herdsmen terrorism. Perhaps we could have moved to the ‘next level’ from “technical defeat” to verifiable defeat.
We must commend the determination of the Shiites to compel the federal government to free their ‘dying’ leader and his wife. They have vowed to maintain the pressure on the streets until their leader and his wife come home to them in Zaria. They could only make themselves heard loud and clear by demonstrating every now and then. By so doing the world are hearing them and their grievances.
Keeping Sheikh Zak-zaky in prison remains an injustice that speaks to our collective conscience! The Shiites are free to practice their religion as long as they go about it peacefully. Intimidating them or trying to wipe them out militarily or para-militarily must be condemned by all and sundry.
Prominent Nigerians have been warning the recalcitrant federal government against radicalizing further the Shiites’ movement thereby turning them into another Boko Haram. The security challenges confronting the nation cannot afford more theatres of war and mini-wars.
If politicians that stole billions of Naira are still walking free (some wining and dining with Mr President and others even ‘graduating’ to higher positions) then Zak-zaky must be allowed to go home to be able to medically take care of himself. If the armed and dangerous Fulani herdsmen could be ‘accommodated’ in the corrupt system after their bloody exploits then the Shiites must be given a break.
We hold that the continued detention of Ibrahim Zak-zaky constitutes an affront to democracy. It is, therefore, time for him and his wife to be freed. Time for freedom ought to be now and no other time.
First appeared in Ripples, an online Newspaper on 13/07/19