The incessant clashes between security agencies and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), reached a crescendo on Monday at the Abuja city center when a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Usman Umar, was killed in an attack by followers of the Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky led sect.
The IMN members, who were protesting the continued detention of their leader, were prevented by the Nigeria Police from passing through the federal government secretariat for security reasons when the protest turned violent, resulting in loss of life and property.
It all started in December 2015 when El-Zakzaky followers during their annual festival had a bloody clash with the Nigeria Army which accused the IMN members of attacking the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai on a major road in Zaria, Kaduna State.
During the clash, hundreds of the IMN members were alleged to have been shot dead by the Army and buried in mass graves while El-Zakzaky who was seriously wounded and reportedly loss three sons, was arrested with his wife. The two have been in detention since then.
El-Zakzaky has been standing trial for almost four years and has been granted bail by courts of competent jurisdiction.
But each time he was granted bail, for enforcement of his right on a particular charge, the federal government had re-arrested him to stand trial on different charges.
Former Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had reportedly defended the continued detention of Sheikh El-Zakzaky. He was quoted to have said “there is a lot of deliberate misunderstanding on these issues.
Number one, if a judgment is given and that judgment is appealed, you cannot accuse the government of violating that order if the appeal has not been decided.
“Two, in the case of El-Zakzaky, how many Nigerians know that El-Zakzaky is neither in prison custody, police custody nor DSS custody? El-Zakzaky is in a house with his family. This is the honest truth.
“He is in what is called protective custody. The court ruled that he be released after his house has been rebuilt but nobody wants to accept El-Zakzaky as a neighbour.
So, we have been unable to build the house. So, where do we release him to?”, he questioned.
But while the government appeared to be deploying legal and security technicalities to ensure continued detention of El-Zakzaky, agitation by his restive followers has taken a new dimension in the past two years.
Only last year, thousands of IMN members massed around the exit highways of the nation’s federal capital city in Zuba. In the process, they confronted soldiers who were escorting armaments to the battle fields of the anti-terror war. Many were feared killed in the ensuring clash.
Since December 2018, IMN members have made a routine of daily mass protest on the streets of Abuja metropolis and occasionally in the premises of the national Mosque.
They have made abortive attempts to also invade major official complexes including the three arms of government.
However barely two weeks ago, the another protest by IMN turned bloody when the members attempted to forcefully gain access to the National Assembly but were prevented by the Police and other security agencies.
At least five Police officers reportedly sustained various degrees of injuries following the attack while vehicles belong to the Police and other citizens were burnt or damaged.
The latest confrontation between El-Zakzaky followers and security agents Monday was one too many as the IMN members attempted to torch public infrastructures around the Federal Secretariat, especially the Tafawa Balewa House complex of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
As the police averted the arson, the protesters suddenly moved to burn the highway emergency shed belonging to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and adjacent the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
There is no doubt that members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria are taking laws into their hands by unleashing violence on security forces to draw attention to the continued detention of their leader.
However, it is equally wrong and tantamount to abuse of the fundamental rights of El-ZakZaky for government to put him and members of his family in perpetual detention.
The federal government has to guide against anything that could turn the IMN members into another version of the Boko Haram insurgency.
What is required is application of wisdom and tact in ensuring that Sheikh El-Zakzaky does not become another case of Mohammed Yusuf, the Boko Haram leader who died in custody of security forces.
Government must be seen to be upholding the rule of law in dealing with all cases of criminality irrespective of the personal interest of anyone in government.
That is why the Daily Times believes El-Zakzaky should be allowed to face his trial strictly in accordance to the rule of law. But if the government is unable to prosecute the case diligently and fairly, then we advise that El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, be released immediately.