Protest in London against El-Zakzaky’s detention

• Why IMN was proscribed, by presidency
• Shiites’ group urges aggrieved sect to seek justice legally
• Yakasai, Junaid, others differ on government’s ban

Dozens of Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) members held a solidarity demonstration against the continued incarceration of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, in London yesterday.

The protest, which came ahead of today’s court ruling on El-Zakzaky’s bail application, took place outside the Nigerian High Commission by Trafalgar Square. It also followed Friday’s order by the Federal High Court in Abuja proscribing IMN.

Justice Darius Khobo of the Kaduna State High Court on July 18, 2019 adjourned ruling on the application filed by the leader seeking permission to undergo medical treatment abroad.

Although the demonstration marked the end of the 18-day 24-hour action they had embarked upon, the organisers said they were ready to “escalate” matters if he’s not granted bail accordingly. “We will march outside Nigerian companies and the bank at Shepherd’s Bush and other places,” one of the speakers told The Guardian.

In an exclusive interview after the protest, which ended shortly after 4:00 p.m., IHRC Chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “El-Zakzaky needs to travel outside Nigeria to get treatment. There’s no way they can treat him in Nigeria.”

According to Shadjareh, there is a division among government’s officials about El-Zakzaky’s continued detention. According to him, “Some of the officials want him out, but others don’t want.”

Asked if he thought there was any external factor at play on El-Zakzaky’s incarceration, he alleged: “Saudis. It’s Saudi Arabia. They don’t want him out. They’ve given the government millions of dollars.”

Reacting to the proscription yesterday, IMN, also known as Shiites, said: “We are in consultations with our lawyers. We would, as a peaceful people who have been victims of Buhari’s government-sponsored terror attacks throughout his first term and continuing, give an appropriate response.”

A statement released by the president of IMN Media Forum, Mallam Ibrahim Musa, said: “We want to assure the general public and the international community that we will not be pushed into taking any rash decision no matter the provocation.

“This order, we believe, was hastily obtained to sweep under the carpet the glaring human rights abuses suffered by the Islamic Movement at the hands of Buhari’s administration since the Zaria genocide of December, 2015.

“We reject any false flag terror attacks that the authorities would be plotting in our name, and by this assure the general public that we have never contemplated the use of terror tactics in our ways. This is not about to change.”

This came as another Shiites’ group yesterday issued a clarification on the Federal Government’s action, saying only IMN and not the entire Shiites community in Nigeria was affected by the ban.

Sale Sani Zaria, the secretary general of Rasulul Aazam Foundation (RAAF) told reporters in Gombe, Gombe State: “The attention of our organisation has been drawn to news making the rounds that the Nigerian government placed a ban on the activities of Shiites across the country. The government didn’t ban Shiites’ activities but the activities of IMN.”

According to him, there are about nine other organisations that subscribe to the Shiites’ Islamic ideology besides IMN.

“We are law-abiding citizens and our foundation is building schools and a society where everybody can live in peace. We believe in the Nigerian system. That was why we publicly encouraged our members to get registered and participate in the 2019 general elections.”

The RAAF scribe urged IMN members to seek justice the legal way, even as he enjoined government to resolve the matter professionally.

The presidency equally issued a statement saying the proscription does not affect the larger number of peaceful and law-abiding Shiites in the country.

Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu said: “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, consistently defying authority of the state.

“Having defied appeals to operate peacefully, and given their seeming determination to destabilise 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 perpetrate 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, including taking innocent lives.”

The news of the proscription meanwhile has continued to generate mixed reactions with a group, Access to Justice, faulting the court’s order.

“The court sacrificed the constitutional and due process rights of IMN in the very flawed process it followed to arrive at its decision. The court, contrary to longstanding judicial practice, allowed and used a decidedly one-sided account of a case to frame its final ruling and orders on the case.

“A legitimate judicial process takes account of, and hears the cases and defences of everyone accused of misconduct and/or whose interests would be affected by a court decision and orders,” the group said in a statement by Convener Joseph Otteh and Programme Officer Daniel Igiekhumhe.

Besides, Tanko Yakasai, a founding member of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), warned: “Some years ago, I offered advice to government that Shiites should not be treated in the way the Boko Haram group was treated. In fact, I appealed to the government to learn a lesson from what happened after the killing of the leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, and the consequences of that ill-advised action.

“Boko Haram is a local group but the Shiites are not. They are an international organisation. They have government in places. They are also very strong in many countries even where they are not in government. So they have supporters and allies all over the world. I don’t see very serious wisdom in proscribing the organisation.”

But Second Republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed, differed. He said: “We must not compromise the wellbeing of Nigerians due to the strategic interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran. And clearly, if there is an additional pronouncement about the nature of the group, the finances they get, and some other backing, the government has the responsibility to act appropriately. But I have noticed that some people are trying to make political gain, especially from outside the north, by saying the decisive action against the group is immoral and illegal.”

The group, Save Humanity Advocacy Centre (SHAC), also praised the proscription in a statement by Director of Research Helen Akanji yesterday.

It said: “SHAC is pleased that the Federal Government has finally heeded its appeal and those of other conscientious individuals and groups to designate IMN as a terrorist group.

“SHAC is even more pleased by the approach adopted by the Federal Government to properly approach a competent court to order the proscription of IMN, which is in accordance with extant legislation that concern terrorism.

“The ex parte order granted by Justice Nkeonye Maha of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday, proscribing the activities of IMN in any part of the country, is a relief to millions of Nigerians that are being terrorised by members of the terrorist group across the country.”

It further said: “While SHAC had always appealed to the Federal Government to follow in the steps of the Kaduna State government, which earlier outlawed the group on account of its being violent and militarised, the recent killing spree of police officers by IMN militants under the pretext of protesting the detention of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky, was a further reason to stop terrorism in its track.

“It is our belief that those who were misled to join the group and its violent protests, who are not far gone in being radicalised, can now be jolted back to reality and renounce all affiliations with IMN while seeking rehabilitation and reintegration into the contemporary society.”

However, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) in a statement by National Publicity Secretary Henry Peter Ekine said: “The continued detention of El-Zakzaky, despite court orders for his release, is clearly illegal. The supporters of his faith have the inviolable right to demand his unconditional release and stage a peaceful protest against his continued detention, without unjustifiable violence.

“The Abuja protest, which led to casualties, loss of lives and destruction of property was unfortunate. The police have a greater responsibility in quelling riotous protests and preventing the maddening and senseless deaths of innocent citizens and wilful destruction of property.” (THE GUARDIAN).