The refusal by the Department of Security Service, DSS, to obey the Abuja Federal High Court, presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, ordering the immediate release of the detained leader of Shiites group in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, may not have come as a surprise to many.
This is because, in the country’s recent history, the DSS has never been known to obey court orders in that regard. Leading persons that have been granted bail by the court, but which DSS refused to let go include: Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and Nnamdi Kanu, among others.
Apart from DSS’ penchant for disobeying court orders, newsmen further gathered that, like Kanu, leader of the IPOB, El-Zakzaky, too, is considered in government quarters, as posing threat, to the sovereignty of Nigeria.
The trial Judge had on Friday, December 2, 2016, given the DSS, 45 days, within which to release El-Zakzaky and the wife. The court also went ahead to order the DSS to pay a fine of N25 million each to El-Zakzaky and his wife, making N50 million. But more than 72 hours after the expiration of the 45 days, the detainees are still in detention.
Counsel to El-Zakzaky, Mr. Festus Okoye, warned the federal government not to push the group against the wall, this is even as the community leader of Gyellesu, where El-Zakzaky, lived, before the crisis, is saying the Shiite leader was no longer welcomed in the community.
Don’t push group against wall, Okoye warns
Human Rights Lawyer and one of the Counsels to Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) Barrister Festus Okoye, faulted the refusal of Federal Government and the Department of Security Service (DSS) to release leader of the Islamic sect, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, 45 days after a court of competent jurisdiction gave the verdict, warning the government and its agents not to create another terrorist group, out of the Shiites.
He told newsmen that “for the avoidance of doubt, the failure (whether by deliberate action or inadvertence) of the 1st and 3rd Respondents to effect the release of the Applicant herein and his wife from the 1st Respondent’s custody or any illegal custody whatsoever, upon the expiration of the 45th day from today (Tuesday, January 17), such failure shall not only constitute a deliberate act of disobedience of these orders, but will crystallise into fresh cause of action of infraction of the Applicants’ rights and of his wife to personal liberty guaranteed by CFRN, 1999 (as amended)”.
The former Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, (NBA) Kaduna State chapter, also described the failure of DSS and the FG to release the applicant and his wife as a “deliberate and regrettable affront on the judiciary, human rights record and standing within the international community,” adding that “our country is founded on the rule of law and due process and obedience to orders of court, guarantees an ordered society and sets out clear parameters for the citizens and the government.”
According to him, “Nigeria is a leader in Africa and cannot be associated with detention without trial and serial disobedience to the orders of its courts. The powers of the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary are the powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not the powers of one organ of government.
“Refusing to obey the orders of a properly constituted court of law is a deliberate sabotage of the judiciary. The judgment of the court is novel, binding and subsisting. No appeal has been lodged against the judgment and that means that the government is happy with the content of the judgment and the parameters for its execution”.
He said further that, “the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), is the fundamental law of the land and all citizens of Nigeria are subject to it and are bound by its provisions. Chapter IV of the Constitution guarantees to every citizens of Nigeria freedom of movement and association. It gives individuals and groups freedom to reside in any part of Nigeria and freedom to own property in any part of Nigeria.
“No individual or group or community can expel a citizen of the federal republic of Nigeria from any community in Nigeria. It is not within the province and powers of anybody to determine the place of abode of the other”, he added.
He however expressed confidence that, the government would obey the judgment of the Federal High Court and release Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky noting that, it will be an international embarrassment if the government fails to release him.
Asked why the court did not bring its weight to bear, by making the order, one that would be carried out immediately, Okoye, further said: “the Hon. Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja could have ordered his immediate release but he carved an architectural time line for his release. He gave the government 45 days to comply with the orders of the Court. He ordered that the Sheikh and his wife should be released to the Inspector General of Police or any of his subordinate officers not below the rank of Assistant Inspector General(AIG) and that the government must provide accommodation for them in any part of the North of their own choice”.
Commenting on implication of DSS and FG’s refusal to obey court order, the leader of the Bar in Kaduna, further said, in a democracy, the rule of law and due process are not matters of optional charity, but that every democratic government was under a constitutional obligation to obey the rule of law and due process.
“The Government of Nigeria must obey the orders of a properly constituted court of law and release the Applicant who has been in custody for one year and one month without trial.
“IMN approached the court to ventilate their grievances. They have an obligation to follow due process in whatever they do. They have stated that the government wants to provoke them to violence and that they will not buy the bait of provocation. I appeal to them to remain within the ambit of the rule of law and due process and the government must be seen to be a government in a democracy and not a government of injustice. I believe that the members of IMN have exercised exemplary restraint in the face of every intimidation and provocation and as a Nigeria citizen and as someone who believe in the rule of law, as somebody who believe in the existence of this country, as someone who believes in peaceful co-existence of Nigeria, as somebody who believes that people deserve to practice their religion in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, that the government should on no account drive members of IMN to a point that they will have no choice than to take up arms against the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
‘We don’t want him back in our community’
But the Secretary of Gyellesu Development Association, Malam Muktari Gambo Gyellesu, faulted Justice Gabriel Kolawole’s judgment, saying that Gyellesu, was better without El-Zakzaky.
Hear him: “I want to say categorically that we don’t want him back in Gyellesu. Since he is a citizen of Nigeria, he has the right to live wherever he wants to live but the people of Gyellesu don’t want him here. Every resident of Gyellesu does not want him back because of what we went through in the hands of Shiites. Zakzaky should return to his birth place, Kwarbai in Zaria city or Justice Kolawole should give him a place in his hometown to stay.
“When he came here in December 1998, after General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s administration released him from detention, many residents were disturbed. Many people had asthma attacks and high blood pressure on the day that he came. He came with his followers and they were abusing just about everybody, including the government. Mobile policemen came and started shooting tear gas in our area. That was on the first day.
“ Afterwards, his members became unruly and hostile to members of their host community. We started seeing some strange faces and from their looks, some of them are not Nigerians. They looked like Chadians and people from Niger republic. With time, they started assembling in front of people’s houses at night and they become hostile when the residents or tenants ask for right of way into their homes. We reported all these to the District Head, the Police and every constituted authority. It reached a stage that when we report to the police, they will tell us to be patient with them or that we should report to where we think that we will get justice. This was how we were living in a state of fear, until when Allah intervened and sent soldiers who arrested him. So, we don’t want that man in our midst again. We are now living in peace,” he said.
Reminded of the claim by the group that El-Zakzaky coming, to the community, had brought peace to Gyellesu, the community’s Secretary, further said: “this is not correct. Everyone that knows Gyellesu will agree that its population is an ethnic mix of almost every tribe of Nigeria. It is the host community of Federal College of Education and the Institute of Administration of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). Most of the staff and students reside here. So, you will find people of different tribes and countries here. So, we have always been peaceful. But when El-Zakzaky came, the community so much changed that many people relocated from it. It became a haven of drug addicts and thieves because security agents themselves are afraid to enter Gyellesu, let alone arrest someone there. As secretary of Gyellesu Community Vigilante Group, El-Zakzaky’s people have always harassed us each time we apprehend a criminal and handed him to the police. In fact, they asked us not to go near El-Zakzaky’s house during our night patrols and we agreed. No uniformed man can enter Gyellesu when El- Zakzaky was holding forte in the last 16 years, he lived in the community. Ask anybody, our Village and District Heads, including the police. Whenever we had disagreements with Shiite members and we report to their leader, El-Zakzaky will always say he didn’t know anything about it but he will not take steps to correct it or call his unruly members to order. The Shiites carried out their activities with impunity.
“This is not just limited to Gyellesu. All the areas from Gyellesu to Polo ground were always inconvenienced whenever El-Zakzaky’s convoy comes out. His Hussainiyya was by Polo ground and one hour before he leaves his residence to the place, his bodyguards will block every junction on the way to Hussainiyya, anyone who comes out, whether he is on foot or on bicycle, he must wait until El-Zakzaky passes. And when he is on the road, you dare not come close or overtake his convoy. Everyone who passes that road from Gyellesu to Hussainiyya, from Bakin Kasuwan Tudun Wada to PZ has a tale of woe to tell. When El-Zakzaky encounters a traffic jam on Ahmed Makarfi way, the road leading up to Hussainiyya, he will just cross over and follow ‘one way’’(that means driving against the traffic),” the community scribe, added.
‘We want unconditional release of our Leader’
The group on its part last Tuesday, addressed a press conference in Abuja, where it called on the FG, to without further delay release their leader, from detention, unconditionally.
At the press conference, addressed by Sheikh Abdulhameed Bello, the group noted that “One thing is clear and that is the fact that it is the Federal Government that is holding our leader. Prior to the judgment of the Court, the Federal Government gave Nigerians the impression that it was the Kaduna State Government that was holding our leader. While the Kaduna State Governor is complicit in the travails of our leader, he has his inspiration and muscle from the Federal Government. We find it difficult to understand why the Government has decided against all international human rights norms and tenets of decency to hold our leader without trial. A few people who do not wish our Movement well claimed that we do not recognise the sovereignty of Nigeria and its institutions, yet we took our grievances to a properly constituted court of law. The government claimed that members of our Movement do not obey the rule of law and due process but it is our leader who has been held in solitary confinement for one year and one month without any charges being filed against him and without the authorities alleging any offence against him.”
To this end, the group said: “we demand and insist that the Federal Government and its agencies must release our leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El- Zakzaky and his wife Malama Zeenatu Ibraheem unconditionally and in accordance with the procedures laid down in the judgment of the Federal High Court delivered on December 2, 2016. “
How it all started
Like Boko Haram, newsmen gathered that the El-Zakzaky-led group, have also had its fare share of violent confrontations with security operatives, especially during the Military era.
It was further gathered that the group’s leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, was arrested and detained without any charge in September 1996. He was only charged with treason in August 1998, before his eventual release in December, 1998, after the death of General Sani Abacha.
However, throughout the period of his incarceration, members of his group engaged in fierce battles with security operatives, with Kaduna residents, bearing the brunt of the battles.
But since the return to democratic rule in 1999, apart from allegation of arms stockpiling, made against his group by the police, and occasional minor skirmishes between the group and other communities in Zaria, the Friday, July 25, 2014 clash between the group and the soldiers, became its first major encounter with security operatives, after the group’s leader’s return from the gulag, in 1998.
Although, the group had lost its members in the past, during clashes with security operatives, the July 2014 clash, it was learnt, was the first time; the leader of the group would be losing his biological children. He lost three promising sons, all at once, in that encounter.
The next major clash occurred in December 2015. In that encounter too, El-Zakzaky, again, lost three of one his children, just as he also lost eye.
While all the group’s major clashes with security operatives had all taken place in Zaria, in Kaduna State, the latest one, which incidentally, was with the Police, this time, around, as the two previous ones had been with the army, occurred in Kano. Interestingly, it was the incessant clashes between Boko Haram and security operatives that emboldened the group, to take up arms against the state.
ADELOVE’s findings revealed that the experiences under the Boko Haram insurgents so far, may perhaps have been responsible for some Nigerians, and even the international community, led by the US government, for getting apprehensive over the incessant clashes between the Shiite group and security operatives, in recent times.
Already, the group’s spokesman, Ibrahim Musa, has said that Muhammadu Buhari-led administration can’t silence it, through force, adding that “it will rather strengthen the Movement. We are victims of Buhari’s oppression, and ultimately natural justice will take its course; the weak will triumph over the powerful. This has been happening in history. Even here in Nigeria, for the past four decades, whenever those in authorities adopted strong-arm tactics against Sheikh Zakzaky and his followers, they come out in a position of strength. Late Dictator, Abacha made the last annihilation attempt. Allah intervened, and the rest is history. This time around, Allah will surely intervene, and the Islamic Movement will move on as usual.”