‘Save Zakzaky’s Life Group of Nigeria’, the new creation of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) has threatened to overwhelm Abuja, the nation’s capital with protests if their leader, Mr Ibraheem El-Zakyzaky is not released from the custody. National Coordinator of the IMN subsidiary, Bashir Marafa hinted that millions would be attending the protests.
As a background, El-Zakyzaky was taken into custody in the aftermath of a military operation in Zaria, Kaduna state after extremists in the IMN made an attempt on the life of the Chief of Army Staff. He reportedly sustained injuries from that operation for which he has been treated. Going by the account of the military, that operation led to the recovery of caches of weapons that could have potentially been enough to destabilize the country.
The operation also led to widespread condemnation because of the human toll reportedly recorded. The consequence of this was the several probes and investigations that were launched in its aftermath. Three reports on the incidence stand out by reason of what they prescribed.
First was the report of Amnesty International, which came out in record time thereby casting doubt on its thoroughness especially when it mostly spoke with the extremists and recourse to the military as a last resort. Its report wants the military punished as it made light of the aggression put up by IMN members.
Secondly is the report of the Kaduna State Judicial Commission of Inquiry that was set up by the Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. That commission found the IMN and its leadership culpable in precipitating the situation that led to the operation. Its recommendation included trying and punishing those that were responsible for instigating the IMN youths to go to war with the army.
Thirdly, the report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) directly indicted EL-Zakyzaky. The Commission consequently called for the speedy trial of El-Zakzaky after it found that the leadership and members of the sect “were responsible for the abuse of right to freedom of movement of the convoy of the COAS and other members of the public by blocking the public highway on December 12, 2015.”
It is therefore cofounding that the Federal Government is yet to act on any of these reports to take decisive steps that will ensure that Nigerians do not have to live in fear and read of IMN members oppressing them and denying them of their rights on daily basis.
The delay in acting on the recommendations to put El-Zakyzaky and other IMN leaders on trial is that they are now playing reversed psychology game on the state. Instead of retreating as the indicted party, the one in the wrong, they have whipped up propaganda that accuses the Nigerian government and its institutions of being the aggressors.
In total insensitivity and regards for the historical fact that their penchant for terrorizing other citizens with processions that seal off public roads was a factor in the clashes they have had with security agencies, IMN members have take to the streets of major cities in attempt to stage crippling protests. Fortunately, those protests fell flat as the group’s notoriety preceded it. They then resorted to declaring a provocative trek from Zaria to Abuja, which also failed as several critics were quick to point out that the trek could be a cover for wanted IMN fanatics to flee their known location to establish new cells in other cities. They were also reportedly looking to use the trek and its associated protests to trigger a faceoff with security agencies.
This latest threat of grounding Abuja with protests is the latest in the series of baiting that IMN has been involved in to make the federal government and organizations like the police and army look bad. Somewhere in the wing there is Amnesty International waiting, possibly to launch a report that will criminalize any response to the provocative protests.
We should at this point begin to ask ourselves how as a country we got to this point where an extremist group backed by an Islamic country became a law unto itself. We must interrogate why IMN and its leadership have arrogated to themselves the status of not being bound by the laws by which other groups and persons are bound. If we follow the precedence being sought by IMN authorities would have to release any captured Boko Haram commander without trial even though these terrorists and IMN leadership have a lot in common in that they promote extremism, radicalize youths and commit acts of violence against state and citizens alike. By what token are they then demanding that El-Zakyzaky be released?
The fanatical zeal with which they are demanding the release of a man who several reports have recommended for trial lends credence to speculations that some of his followers and backer, Iran are not interested in his wellbeing but only want him released to them so that they can finish him off and then blame his demise on the Nigerian state. The thinking is that as a “martyr” he would be able to provoke an “earth shaking crisis” that his entire vitriolic cannot achieve while in the land of the living. As farfetched as this speculation is, the government must be wary not to make the mistake of caving in to blackmail.
Should El-Zakyzaky be released on the basis of the blackmail protests then it would amount to setting bad precedence that will come back to haunt the nation. Extremists groups will simply proliferate and no one would be able to hold their leaders responsible for anything. The ugly suggestion of the plan by some IMN members with Iran is further proof that everything must continued to be done according to the book – the courts should be allowed to decide the man’s fate in accordance of whatever the government would charge him for and how well the charges are marshaled.
This leaves the federal government with a clear option: they should begin El-Zakzakky’s prosecution on the strength of the Kaduna State Judicial Commission of Inquiry and the NHRC reports, which have strongly indicted him.
Kolawole PHD is a University lecturer and contributed this piece from Keffi