Three persons were confirmed killed last week when the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), also called the Shi’ites, tried to carry their protests into the National Assembly and had to be stopped by the Police. The Shi’ites were protesting the continued detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, who were forcefully removed from their home on December 14, 2015 by security agents who had a rather bloody confrontation with the Shi’ites that weekend.
Two policemen were allegedly shot in the leg and were rushed to the National Assembly Clinic. Clubs, stones were used to inflict injuries on six other police men. The number of Shi’ites arrested was put at between 40 and 70. On Tuesday, the Shi’ites protesters returned to Abuja streets and took their agitation to the Human Rights Commission and the Public Complaints Commission.
Nigerians have lost count of the number of Shi’ites protests for the freedom of their leader El Zakzaky. But, last week, the National Assembly held a passionate debate on the issue and there was something of a consensus that the continued detention of the IMN leader, though indefensible since December 2016 when he was ordered freed by a court of competent jurisdiction, was a blatant disregard of the rule of law.
The continued festering dispute with the Shi’ites was beginning to look like a potential tinderbox that could metamorphose into another revolt. Given the precarious security situation in the country, most members of the National Assembly seem to think that the continued detention of Sheikh El-Zakzaky was like fighting a battle on too many fronts.
The protest by Shi’ites was almost always bloody and regular. In recent times, it has assumed the character of a monthly event. In all these protests, the IMN members feel oppressed. The IMN spokesman for Academic Forum, Mr. Abdullahi Musa, has vowed that the Shi’ites would continue the protests till their leader is freed. The Shi’ites members are displaying all the signs of an organisation with a persecution complex.
Ever since that fateful week in December 2015 in which they were subjected to what Justice Gabriel Kolawole described as “rather gory and blood chilling” incidents, the Shi’ites have gone through a lot of tribulations.
We join millions of Nigerians of goodwill in urging the Buhari administration to free the Shi’ites leader so that he can have the freedom to look after his health. His continued detention has been judged unconstitutional, his rights have been grossly violated and failure to implement the Federal High Court Judgment delivered on December 2, 2016, is an affront on the rule of law.
For instance, Section 35 (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that “Any person who is arrested or detained in accordance with subsection (1) (c) of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time, and if he is not tried with a period of-(a) two months from the date of his arrest and detention in the case of a person who is in custody or is not entitled to bail; or (b) three months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who has been released on bail, he shall (without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be brought against him) be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears for trial at a later date.”
Based on this constitutional provision, the Federal Government should release the Shi’ites leader and allow peace to reign. The government can also explore the option advanced by the judge of an amicable settlement because at the bottom of the crisis beginning from 12th December, 2015, was the very sensitive issue of religion. The Shi’ites matter should not be allowed to degenerate to another insurgency.
Therefore, we enjoin the Federal Government to let reason prevail, spare the country further loss of lives, and settle this painful matter once and for all. It is one of those issues that make us look bad in the eyes of the international community.