Protesting Shiites

By Taiwo Okanlawon

Femi Falana, Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist has sounded a note of warning to the Buhari government on the implications of detaining Shiite leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, along with his wife, despite court orders for his release.

The legal luminary said the nation risks another insurgency, should El Zakzaky die in detention, just like it happened with Boko Haram after the leader, Mohammed Yusuf was killed by Nigerian policemen, while in detention in Maiduguri in 2009.

“El-Zakzaky must not be allowed to die due to medical neglect as it may provoke a crisis of monumental proportions. Therefore, the federal government should implement the unanimous resolution of the House of Representatives for the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife without any further delay”, Falana warned in a lengthy statement on Tuesday.

Sheik-Ibrahim-El-Zakzaky

He warned the Federal Government of Nigeria against its violent approach to handling members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria who are protesting the detention of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, despite numerous court orders for his release.

Falana expressed concerns over the method the Federal Government had adopted in a statement on Tuesday. The legal luminary said the continuous detention of El-Zakzaky and killing of peaceful Shiite protesters by security forces could lead the country into another bloody war that it could not afford.

“This nation cannot afford another war of insurgency which is being provoked by the contemptuous conduct of the Federal Government in the handling of the case of the El-Zakzakys,” Falana said.

Speaking on the arrest and detention of El-Zakzaky and his wife Malama Zeinab on December 12, 2015, Falana said over 1,000 Shiites were reportedly massacred by soldiers on the orders of the Nigerian Army high command and given mass burial in an unmarked grave in Mango village, Kaduna State over allegations of attempt to assassinate Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai.

“Even though the leader of the Shiites, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, was not at the scene of the attack, his residence was invaded by the rampaging troops two days later. The troops set the house ablaze, shot at El-Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeinab El-Zakzaky and killed three of their sons in cold blood in their presence. As if such barbaric assault was not enough, the army arrested and held El-Zakzaky and his wife in custody before handing them over to the Department of State Services. At that stage, the houses of El-Zakzaky and other leaders in Zaria were demolished by the Kaduna state government on the orders of Governor Nasir El-Rufai.

“After the massacre of the Shiites and the demolition of the houses of their leaders, the Kaduna state government instituted a judicial commission of inquiry to probe the violent attack.

“The detained El-Zakzaky was prevented from responding to the allegations made against him and his group at the inquiry. But the judicial commission found that there was no plan by the Shiites to assassinate General Buratai. It was also revealed at the panel that the 347 Shiites were massacred by the army in violations of the Army Rules of Engagement and the Geneva Conventions.

“Apart from condemning the brutal massacre of the Shiites, the judicial commission recommended that the culprits be prosecuted.

“Instead of implementing the recommendation by prosecuting the well-known murderers the Kaduna state government turned round to charge over 300 Shiites with the culpable homicide of a soldier who was killed by his colleagues during the attack. But the defence team convinced the Kaduna state high court to free the Shiites as they were not involved in the commission of the offence.

“Accordingly, the charge was dismissed for want of evidence while the trial court proceeded to discharge and acquit all the defendants. Meanwhile, the suit challenging the illegal detention of El-Zakzaky and his wife was decided in their favour by the federal high court on December 2, 2016.

“The presiding judge, Kolawole J. (as he then was) directed the Federal Government to release the couple from unlawful custody, pay them N50 million reparation and provide them with a temporary house since the army had burnt down their residence. But the Buhari regime has characteristically treated the court orders with arrogant contempt.

Curiously, the Court of Appeal has refused to hear the application to commit the Director-General of the State Security Service for contempt of court! Upon our legal advice, the Shiites approached three separate high courts to challenge the violation of their right to assemble and protect peacefully.”

He added that despite the orderly nature in which the Shiites had conducted themselves, the Federal Government, through the army, was operating with impunity to disrupt the group’s peaceful protests.

“The Shiites won the cases against the Federal Government as the courts upheld their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. But out of sheer impunity, the army has killed about 50 Shiites at Abuja for protesting against the continued detention of El-Zakzaky and his wife.

“As the federal government could no longer justify the illegal detention of El-Zakzaky and his wife it directed the Kaduna state government to file a charge against them. Hence, they have been charged with culpable homicide at the Kaduna state high court for the death of the same soldiers.

“Pending the trial, the team of local and international physicians who examined El-Zakzaky and his wife on the orders of the trial court confirmed that their health has deteriorated and recommended that they are allowed to travel abroad for urgent medical treatment. In particular, El-Zakzaky has lost an eye while he is the process of losing the other one.

“The wife can no longer walk as a result of the gun wounds inflicted on her during the military attack of December 2015. Without adducing any reason whatsoever the federal government has ignored the recommendation of the physicians.

“The Shiites are currently protesting the refusal of the Buhari regime to release El-Zakzaky and his wife from custody to enable them to travel abroad to receive urgent medical treatment at their own expense.

“El-Zakzaky must not be allowed to die due to medical neglect as it may provoke a crisis of monumental proportions. Therefore, the federal government should implement the unanimous resolution of the House of Representatives for the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife without any further delay.

“Finally, it would be recalled that the Boko Haram sect declared war on the people of Nigeria in 2009 following the cold murder of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf by the Police. Since then the nation has known no peace. This nation cannot afford another war of insurgency which is being provoked by the contemptuous conduct of the federal government in the handling of the case of the El-Zakzaky.”