■ Buhari can’t silence us –Spokesman
■ They can be as dangerous as Boko
Haram –El-Zakzaky’s brother
■ Don’t force them to take up arms
By: ISMAIL OMIPIDAN, who visited Abuja, Kaduna and Kano
The chain of events in 2009, which laid the foundation for the metamorphosis of the Yussuffiya Sect into the dangerous, ruthless and murderous machine known today as Boko Haram, is still too fresh to be forgotten. A quick recap: on June 11, 2009, late Mohammed Yusuf, leader of the sect led a procession to bury four members of his sect, who died in a motor accident on the Biu-Maiduguri road in Borno State.
While on the procession, they encountered men of the “Operation Flush,” the state’s security outfit, put in place by the then governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, to fight armed robbery. The security operatives questioned the group on why some of the members, who were riding motorcycles did not wear crash helmet.
The members responded that they had nothing to do with the government, and as such, its laws were not binding on them. An argument then ensued; and in the process 14 members of the group were killed by the security operatives.
Expectedly, the security operatives involved in that unfortunate incident said that they acted in self defence, claiming among other things that the Boko Haram members attempted to “snatch” their guns.
In spite of the heavy casualty on the part of the group, it did not fight back immediately. Instead, it wrote to the police and the state government asking for adequate compensation to be paid to the families of the deceased, in accordance with Islamic injunctions. But both the government and the police ignored the demand.
However, in one of his Friday sermons, the late Yusuf publicly announced the intention of the group to avenge the death of its members, if the government failed to act on the demand for compensation. After taking every practical step to seek compensation without any positive response, Yusuf concluded that the only option left to the group was to seek revenge. The quest for revenge led to a three-day uprising that shook Maiduguri from July 26 to 29, 2009, and till date, the country is yet to get over the havoc caused by the group.
Sunday Sun investigations reveal that the country’s experience with the Boko Haram insurgency is the primary reason many Nigerians today, and even the international community are getting apprehensive over the incessant clashes between the Shi’ite group, otherwise known as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, and security operatives, in recent times.
As in the case of Boko Haram’s founder, whose father in-law was opposed to his creed, El-Zakzaky’s blood brother too, cannot understand why his younger brother would be at the forefront of a group like the Shi’ites. Sheikh Muhammad Sani Yakoob is the chairman of Izalatul Bid’ia wa Ikamatus sunna, Zaria Branch, and the elder brother of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, the detained Nigerian Shi’ites leader. He not only justified the ban on the group, but also warned that the group could be as dangerous as Boko Haram, if allowed to fester.
But spokesman of IMN, Ibrahim Musa, believes that the President Muhammad Buhari-led administration wants to crush the group, to please Saudi Arabia. He however declared: “Buhari’s government can’t silence IMN by using force against it. 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 authority adopted strong-arm tactics against Sheikh Zakzaky and his followers, they came out in a position of strength. General Sani Abacha made the last attempt at annihilating the group. Allah intervened, and the rest is history. This time around, Allah will surely intervene, and the Islamic Movement will move on as usual.”
Like Boko Haram, like IMN
Already, like it did to Boko Haram members, the government has also not only banned all activities of IMN, the Kaduna State Government has proscribed the group. The proscription has since been gazetted. Following the proscription, leading members of the group have since gone into hiding in Kaduna State, and its environs.
But counsel to the group, Barrister Festus Okoye, who has lived and operated in Kaduna State, for close to two decades, believes that rather than drive members of the group underground, government should allow it operate in the open, while it closely monitors its activities. He further warned the Kaduna State government in particular and the Nigerian government in general, not to push members of the group into taking up arms against the country.
Okoye told Sunday Sun, in his Kaduna office: “I believe that the members of IMN have exercised exemplary restraint in the face of every intimidation and provocation and as a Nigerian citizen and as someone who believes in the rule of law, as somebody who believes in the existence of this country, as someone who believes in peaceful co-existence, as somebody who believes that people deserve to practice their religion in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, I want to caution 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.”
Diary of the clashes
Again as it happened in the case of Boko Haram, IMN has also had its share of violent confrontations with security operatives, especially during the military era. The group’s leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, was arrested and detained without any charge in September 1996, during the Abacha regime. It was only in 1998 that he was charged with treason in August 1998, after the death of Abacha, before his eventual release in December of the same year.
However, throughout the period of his incarceration, members of the group engaged in fierce battles with security operatives and Kaduna residents bore the brunt of the battles. But since the return to democracy in 1999, apart from allegation of stockpiling arms, made against the 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, was its first major encounter with security operatives, after El-Zakzaky returned from the gulag, in 1999.
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 group’s leader lost his biological children during a clash with security operatives. In that encounter, he lost three promising sons at once. The next major clash occurred in December 2015. In that encounter too, El-Zakzaky, once again, lost three of his children, just as he also lost one eye. And as Okoye claims, he is on the verge of losing the other eye, if he is not given “quick and appropriate medical attention.”
While all the group’s major clashes with security operatives had taken place in Zaria, Kaduna State, the latest one, which incidentally, was with the police, took place in Kano.
The Kano clash
Like every of the group’s clashes with security operatives, there are conflicting reports as to who between security operatives and the group, were the aggressors, in the Kano incident, during which eight members of the group lost their lives.
However, at Kwanar Dawaki, about four kilometers from Kano, where the latest clash took place, residents told Sunday Sun that the atmosphere was peaceful, until the police came to the scene.
The group also claimed that it was the police that began shooting at the trekkers with live bullets, without provocation. But the Kano State Police Commissioner, Alhaji Rabiu Yusuf, while briefing journalists after the clash which took place on Monday, November 14, 2016, claimed that the Shi’ite members obstructed motorists and other road users, thereby denying them access to the Kano-Kaduna Highway.
He further stated that the Shi’ite members, who were armed with bows, arrows, machetes, catapults and metal bolts, attacked a team of policemen, deployed to the area, to maintain law and order, and snatched an AK47 rifle, from a policeman and used same to attack the policeman.
However, a member of the group, a lecturer, who pleaded for anonymity, revealed that he participated in the procession. He also showed video clips of the procession to Sunday Sun, and insisted that the police authorities were being economical with the truth.
His words: “What happened in Kano was that we announced that we were going to hold our usual trek. Right from the onset, it was obvious that the government was planning to launch attacks against us. We hold Buhari responsible for the killing of our members in Kano. We got the intelligence report that they wanted to attack us. We issued press statements; we ran jingles on radio stations in Kano, announcing to the public that IMN was going to hold its trek as usual.
“But because they had already planned to attack us, they didn’t want the trek to hold at all. We tried to avoid any situation they could use as an excuse against us. In Kano, we usually start from the city centre. But this year, to avoid any problem, we started from outside the town. We were moving away from Kano. We never blocked the road. We were trekking on the shoulder of the road. As soon as we started, they came in about 89 vehicles and took positions; some of the vehicles went ahead of us to block the road. I was there. Then some the police began firing teargas canisters at us. Then started shooting at us and killed our members.”
Aftermath of the Kano and Kaduna clashes
The Kano State Police Command has indicated that it would prosecute all the members of the group it arrested following the incident. While the court cases against the group are ongoing in Kaduna State, the state government took executive action and demolished another building belonging to the group on Thursday, November 17, 2016, in Zaria. The building which until then housed the group’s primary and secondary schools, known as Fudiyya Centre, was located at Babban-Dodo, Gangaren-Fadama area of the ancient city of Zaria.
Before then, the Kaduna State Government had, shortly after the December 2015 clash, leveled the headquarters of the group, known as Hussainiyya Baqiyatullah, located in Zaria. It also demolished El-Zakzaky’s family building and several other properties, owned by the group.
Getting government officials to speak on the matter was not easy. All those who agreed to speak, spoke on the condition that they would never be quoted, as they had not been granted the permission to speak on behalf of the government. Sunday Sun gathered that the reason given by the government for the demolition was that the properties in question were acquired through proxies. In fact, one of the officials said: “If they are proud of what they are doing, why didn’t they use their original names to acquire those properties? Besides, you are familiar with the Land Use Act; government action was purely based on overriding public interest.”
Asked why government was selective in its implementation of the recommendations of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry, set up by the state to look into the issues, the official said the recommendations being implemented were those within the powers of the State Government. While acknowledging that the panel indicted the army, the official however submitted that it was not within the powers of the state government to prosecute the indicted army officers, as they acted on behalf of the President of the country.
The official also submitted that the government acted within its powers, to proscribe the group, for the good of the public. In the Declaration Order, a copy of which was made available to Sunday Sun, Kaduna State Government noted that since the December 2015 events in Zaria, which resulted in the death of 347 persons, the group “has overtly continued with unlawful processions, obstruction of public highways, unauthorized occupation of public facilities including schools without regard to the rights of other citizens and the public peace and order of the State,” adding that “these acts, if allowed to go unchecked would constitute danger to the peace, tranquility, harmonious co-existence and good governance of Kaduna State.”
The Declaration Order, which took effect on Friday, October 7, 2016, stated that individuals who breach it would be prosecuted under the provisions of extant Kaduna State laws. Incidentally, Sections 97, A and B of the Penal Code prescribe a prison term of seven years or a fine or both for any person convicted of membership of an unlawful society.
Ironically, Sunday Sun investigations reveal that members of the group, were already being prosecuted in various courts in Kaduna, for offences ranging from criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disturbance of public peace and wrongful restrain, acts punishable under sections 97, 221, 102, 106 and 256 of the Penal Code Law, Laws of Kaduna State, 1991, before the state proscribed the group. So far, about 250 members of the group are currently standing trial.
By next month, it will be exactly one year since El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested and detained, without being charged to court. Although, the group’s counsel has filed cases in Kaduna and Abuja, to enforce their fundamental human rights, at the last adjourned date, the presiding judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, advised the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, to find a way of resolving the matter. All efforts to hear from the minister, proved abortive. His spokesman too, could not be reached as at the time of filing this report. All the SMS sent to the mobile number of the minister and that of his aide, by Sunday Sun, were not responded to.