Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise called Shi’ites, and his wife have been in detention since December 2015 after a confrontation between the Islamic group and Nigerian soldiers in Kaduna State, which led to the massacre of no fewer than 300 Shi’ites. Zakzaky is being tried for murder, but a high court once ordered his release. The Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government has refused, and, instead, it has been bringing additional charges against him.

His followers have staged protest marches in Abuja for at least two years now, as they demanded Sheikh Zakzaky’s release. Sometimes, they were peaceful protests; at other times they turned violent. This Monday witnessed the most violent so far: at least 10 Shi’ites were gunned down by soldiers and many more wounded. A deputy commissioner of police in the FCT, Umar Usman Belel, was shot while he was persuading the protesters to spare public property; he later died and was buried on the same day in Abuja according to Islamic rites. The Shi’ites also attacked the Emergency Response and Ambulance Bays (ERABs) of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) located on Ahmadu Bello Way, beside the Federal Secretariat, and burnt down two of its ambulances.

A fortnight earlier, two Shi’ites had been shot dead and two police officers injured as they protested at the National Assembly complex in Abuja. The aggrieved Shi’ites claim that, in October 2018, more than 40 people were killed when the security forces opened fire on crowds on the outskirts of Abuja.

Many concerned Nigerians have advised the Buhari administration to avoid creating another terrorist organisation in the country by finding a way to let Zakzaky, his wife and other Shiite detainees regain freedom. We are equally concerned that court orders have been disobeyed in the case of Zakzaky and other detainees like former national security adviser Ibrahim Dasuki. Already, the nation has been overwhelmed by the activities of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, the Miyetti Allah group of cattle herders, and bandits from other African countries who kidnap, rape and kill innocent Nigerians in different parts of the country. The Shi’ites would be one too many.

President Buhari last week told the protesters to wait for the outcome of Zakzaky’s trial. But how long will it take before the court gives its judgement? We know the speed with which Nigerian courts operate. Detention without trial belongs only in authoritarian regimes. And justice delayed is justice denied.

Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu should pressure the presidency to toe the path of peace and not open new battle frontiers. His usual claims that “everything is under control” appear suspect. Aggrieved people have a right to protest in a peaceful manner; the police should not shoot live bullets at them. It is such attitude that often provokes crowds to turn violent.

While we do not recommend that the course of justice be altered, the courts should be encouraged to expedite their trials. Zakzaky could be taken on bail or put under house arrest as his trial continues. Also, nothing stops the government from negotiating with the sect. After all, it has been negotiating with known terrorist groups. Prevention is always better than cure.

With: TOT


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