Noah Ebije, Kaduna
The mood of the people in Zaria and Kaduna State, who are believed to have borne the brunt of the infamous activities of the adherents of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) popularly known as Shi’ites, has changed from that of jubilation to sympathy in recent years each time the leader of the disbanded sect, Sheikh Ibraheem EL-Zakzaky was taken to court for alleged culpable homicide.
On normal days, the people are seen going about their businesses without fear of molestation by the Shiites, but not so on the days that El-Zakzaky is billed to appear in court.
Members of the IMN, Shiites, had in December 2015 clashed with the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Tukur Buratai, and many people killed in Zaria in the process.
The army allegedly went on defensive rampage and demolished EL-Zakzaky’s house and arrested him in Gylesu area of Zaria. Residents of the community were said to have heaved a sigh of relief from alleged harassment by the Shiite members after their leaders were arrested.
The 2015 incident, which culminated in the sect leader’s arrest was the last straw that broke the camel’s back after years of reprehensible activities of the members of the movement.
Since 2015, the movement has been staging Free El-Zakzaky street protests, which in most cases led to bloody clash with security operatives in major cities across the country.
However, when Sunday Sun spoke to some residents in Zaria and Kaduna, many of them called for the release of the group’s leader, saying his continuous detention and court appearances are taking negative toll on their businesses, as tension and close of shops and offices often became the order of the day each time the embattled Shiites leader is taken to court in Kaduna.
Major towns in Kaduna State are always guarded while roadblocks are mounted on major streets by security agents to prevent break down of law and order by his followers.
According to a Zaria-based resident who simply identified himself as Lawal, “honestly speaking, people are tired of this tense atmosphere each time they take him to court. I think they should release him now. People are mindful of their businesses, they don’t want to lose a kobo a day, but any day court is sitting, people hardly go out because of fear of the unknown”.
Another resident who simply gave his name as Ibrahim, said: “I am surprised that government has refused to grant him bail after an Abuja High Court granted him bail two years ago, and long before he was arraigned in Kaduna, but they chose to disobey the court order. Now they want us to believe a different story.”
Also, a Kaduna resident who did not want his name in print said: “For me, the government or whoever is holding Zakzaky in detention from 2015 to date has likened the Shiites leader’s situation to that of a proverbial tortoise who stole something in his In-law’s house, but was tied to a tree along public road as punishment. Early passers-by mocked the tortoise and urged his in-law to take back their daughter and call it quit with marriage with their daughter.
“The same passers-by turned their anger against tortoise’s in-law when later in the evening the tortoise was still serving the punishment. They said release him, did he steal human being, do you want to kill him by tying him to a tree from morning till evening?
“So, you can see that the initial sympathy for the in-law has later shifted to tortoise who committed an offence because he was over punished. It is the same scenario we are all witnessing in the case of Zakzaky. In 2015, most Nigerians, particularly Gylesu residents in Zaria were happy over his arrest and detention, but today sympathy seems to have shifted to the same man they were jubilating over his arrest. I think he should be released to allow peace to reign, he must have learnt his lesson”.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, had earlier stated that the government refused to obey the order on the release of El-Zakzakky because it appealed the ruling.
But in a twist, the Federal Government last week announced the proscription of the movement, tagging it a terrorist group.
The Presidency said the proscription of the movement has nothing to do with banning of the larger numbers of peaceful and law-abiding Shiites in the country from practicing their religion, instead it was to discourage wanton violence, murder and willful destruction of public and private property.
According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), Garba Shehu, the IMN is deliberately changing the narrative in order to gain sympathy and divert the attention of the world from its terrorist activities, including attacking soldiers, killing policemen and a youth corps member, destroying government ambulances and public property, and consistently defying authority of the state.
Shehu said: “The Presidency notes that the banned organization was taken over by extremists who didn’t believe in peaceful protests and instead employed violence and arson, driving fear and undermining the rights of others and constituted authority.
“The Presidency agrees that the constitution protects freedom of worship, but not to the detriment of the society, especially where such freedom harms others, and breaks law and order.
“The Presidency insists that such criminal behaviour and disregard for rights of others and human life will not be tolerated by any responsible government, explaining that everywhere in the world protesters operate within legal boundaries and conduct themselves peacefully without molesting others, or engaging in murder and killing of security personnel or destroying public and private property.
“The Presidency regrets that despite all efforts by the government and other well-meaning Nigerians to make the IMN militants to see reason and abandon violence, such appeals fell on deaf ears as they killed, maimed and destroyed willfully, constituting daily nuisance to workers, commuters and other innocent citizens.
“Having defied appeals to operate peacefully, and given their seeming determination to destabilize the country, the government had to act before the situation goes out of control, after admonishing many times over that people should not use religion to perpetuate lawlessness.
“We are fighting lawlessness and criminality and not pursuing a policy of discrimination against any group. You cannot be in court while at the same time engaging in violent protests, molesting people and inflicting pains on others, which includes taking innocent lives.’’
Meanwhile, the Secretary General of Al-Thaqalayn Cultural Foundation, a Kaduna-based Shi’te non-governmental organization, Sheikh Hamza Lawal, has described IMN as a fake organisation and misrepresentation of Shiism, an arm of Islam headquartered in Iran.
However, the acclaimed factional leader of Shia in Nigeria also called on the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, to withdraw the case against the leader of IMN, Sheikh El-Zakzaky, from Kaduna State high court, and see the possibility of a dialogue to put the issue to rest.
Sheikh Hamza, who addressed a press conference in Kaduna penultimate Tuesday, told newsmen that it was important for his organisation to state the obvious in order to set the record straight and clarify the misunderstanding Nigerians have on IMN and Shiism to guide against the fallacy of generalisation.
His words: “I was a member of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) between 1981 and 2000, one year I returned home from Islamic Republic of Iran where I had studied theology.
“IMN started in the late 1970s as a Socio-cultural and political religious revivalist movement drawing it’s inspiration and taking its clue from essentially Sunni activism from countries like Egypt and Pakistan. It was an offshoot of Muslim Students Society.
“When the leader of IMN, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky became a Shi’ite afterwards, he fell into the dilemma of abandoning his Sunnite revivalist movement and risking the possibility of losing his followers or continuing with the movement with all the Sunni’s contents, but with a Shi’ite face. He chose the latter and that has been his undoing”.
The Islamic Movement has announced that it has temporarily suspended its ‘Free Zakzaky’ street protests to allow for resolution of the problems.
This was contained in a statement issued by spokesman of IMN, Ibrahim Musa.
The statement read in part: “The Islamic Movement in Nigeria do hereby announce to the general public and the international community that it has temporarily suspended its Free Zakzaky street protests to allow for some new openings into the resolution of the problems, especially the court case instituted by our lawyers on the proscription order made by the Federal Government this week.
“It has taken this step in good faith out of respect for some eminent people and groups, whose input in the resolution of the problems appears genuine and we sincerely hope an amicable way could be found to solve the crises surrounding the illegal detention of our leader for almost four years now.”
But El-Zakzaky’s daughter, Suhaila has countered Musa, saying that the street protests by the sect would continue, saying that Musa cannot speak for the group.