The Islamic Movement in Nigeria has recorded a formidable number of victories in various courts across the country since the Federal Governments’ persecution of its members began four years ago with the infamous genocide in Zaria by the murderous Buhari Army. While the Buhari government’s main strategy was to use its might and its monopoly of violence through its Army and police to inflict a maximal lethal blow on the leadership and membership of the Islamic Movement, the later’s main focus was hinged on the dual approach of civil protests and seeking redress in the country’s legal system. That way, the Movement defeated the government hands-down.
It is quite obvious that some persons in some quarters are increasingly showing signs of discomfort with the successes achieved by the legal team of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria led by Barrister Femi Falana SAN, especially as it concerns the legal tussle involving the leader of the Movement, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky.
Signs of unease with the team put up by the Movement appeared early in the government-sponsored pogrom against the leader and members of the Islamic Movement, when the Islamic Movement made a smart move in assembling a formidable legal team being led by a renowned foremost human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
That move by the Movement pulled the rug off the feet of the government and their agents, who had expected a knee jerk response, especially with their moles planted within the Movement ready to wreak mayhem if given an inch. They had hoped that the Movement was going to respond in kind to their use of force. They were disappointed that the Movement chose a totally different path. Neither the government nor their moles within could establish the false label of “Terror Group” they had so dearly wanted to pin on the Movement.
When however that failed, they resorted to spreading wild rumours against the Legal team and started to make manoeuvres to try to change it and replace it with a weakened or even a compromised team.
They started with threats and intimidation of the individual members of the team. For instance, after the team’s first meeting with the Sheikh, Mr. Falana was threatened via a letter written to him by the Department of State Security (DSS). The letter spelt out what the DSS would accept from him as the counsel to the Sheikh and what wouldn’t be acceptable. The DSS went further to threaten that failing to heed their warnings, they would count him as the enemy of the state. That too wasn’t successful. As a person of Falana’s calibre would not yield at all to cheap threats.
Next was their attempt at divide and rule among the legal team. During the early days of the sittings of the Kaduna Judicial Commission of Inquiry, the Kangaroo Commission had told the press that Falana had assured them he was going to appear before them contrary to an earlier position taken by the Movement and the other lawyers, in accordance to the wishes and instructions of Sheikh Zakzaky. The legal team had taken a firm decision not to appear before the sham Judicial Commission following the brief given to them by the Sheikh during their meeting with him in April 2016. Again, that wasn’t successful either at causing a rift within the legal team.
Even in the course of the case before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the then Federal High Court in Abuja, for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights of the Sheikh and his spouse, the counsel of the government had alleged that the legal team had overshot their briefings, and that the Sheikh never authorized the institution of the action. It took the expert decision of Justice Kolawole to suggest that he would compel the DSS to bring the Sheikh to appear in person before him to confirm whether or not he indeed authorized the legal team to institute the case. Then the DSS reneged as the Judge called their bluff.
Earlier, the DSS had also sought, albeit unsuccessfully, to use some two lawyers, whom they “allowed” unhindered access to the Sheikh in detention, to try to claim that they were counsels to the Sheikh and that they were acting on the Sheikh’s instructions that the Sheikh was in fact very appreciative of the role DSS played in saving his life and that as a mark of appreciation, he has instructed that the case against the DSS be dropped. Laughable as it sounds, it also failed woefully. One of those lawyers still poses as a counsel of the Sheikh.
That was the situation until the twin victories, first at Kaduna State High Court in November 2016, setting members of the Islamic Movement free and the legal victory handed over by the landmark judgement of Justice Kolawole, ordering for the unconditional release of the Sheikh and his wife in December 2016.
The same scenario also played out earlier in the year when they used their agents to again spread rumours that Sheikh Zakzaky had said he was appreciative of what the DSS was doing. This the Sheikh debunked clearly in a telephone conversation with his only surviving son earlier in the year when the DSS was forced to allow access to him when he suffered a mild stroke.
In the meantime, more successes were recorded in the courtrooms in Kaduna by the legal team. First was a case of about a dozen members of the Movement, who were earlier arrested in the early days of the pogrom in Kaduna and charged to court. The Kaduna state high court discharged and acquitted them all following a “no case” submission filed by the legal team at the end of the prosecutions’ submissions.
Falana: Intimidation and threats have failed to break the resolve of the legal team
The same scenario again played out when about a hundred members of the Movement were again discharged and acquitted by the Kaduna High court of all charges against them, including that of alleged culpable homicide, following a spirited legal battle by the legal team.
Meanwhile, as the government tried to unjustifiably maintain the Sheikh in detention, they fathomed a case against him, including that of abetting culpable homicide (yes, the very one that the same Kaduna High court had discharged and acquitted nearly a hundred members). What is more was the inclusion of two other members of the Movement in the charge sheet, who were never in Zaria when the alleged offences took place in the first place. In fact, one of them was not even in the country at all at the time.
The bait here is to delay the case as much as possible while continuing to detain the Sheikh since according to the Nigerian criminal justice administration codes, all accused persons must be physically present in court before the case would progress. With no attempt whatsoever to serve the duo who continue to be outside, the potential to stall the case and hold on to Sheikh Zakzaky and claim it isn’t their fault was limitless.
Even more intriguing is the wild rumour being peddled around that the Sheikh had said the duo should keep away from the court, a rumour unsubstantiated since the Sheikh was being held incommunicado since his arraignment in Kaduna. Besides, the Sheikh never told his lawyers either in court or during their meeting with him for further briefing. Nevertheless, there was no attempt by the government to bring the others to court and it is as if they have technically shifted the blame of lack of progress in the case and put it on the Sheikh or the other two or even both. That worked for almost a year, until the court forced the prosecution to either produce the other two or severe the cases or risk being dismissed. The cases were severed but the Sheikh’s has stalled since then, sometimes on very flimsy excuse.
Sheikh Zakzaky: Why should I thank the DSS for all that they have done against us?
Now about a year and six months since the start of the case, there hasn’t been any real progress. When the court granted the Sheikh and his wife “leave” to seek treatment in India, the government had other ideas, as they attempted to assassinate the Sheikh through a complex plot engineered by the NIA. The Sheikh opted to return without getting the medical attention he went to seek. Since his return, he has been kept largely incommunicado without access to his lawyers. A date for continuation of hearing in that case has been fixed, to come up in the next three days. What a way to frustrate the legal team?
When it is increasingly becoming clearer that the lack of progress in the Sheikh’s case notwithstanding, there were more successes in courts in Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja and Jos and there is a great possibility of yet another victory at the Kaduna High court when the court rules on the final case against members of the Islamic Movement remaining in custody since the Zaria massacre due for judgement in the next few days, they have intensified their intrigues and diversionary tactics, including rumours of changing the legal team yet again and picking yet another legal counsel for some of the other persons in the case. The question is who changes a winning team?
It seems fairly certain that some persons are uncomfortable with the winning legal team and they are intent on dragging them down. As they plot, Allah plots as well, and Allah is the best of plotters.