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Ominous signs as harmony remains elusive in Shi’ites-Kaduna government relations

By Godwin Dunia, Yetunde Ayobami, Lagos and Segun Olaniyi, Abuja,
02 January 2017   |   4:14 am
When members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as Shi’ites, filed out in multiples last week jubilating over the Federal High Court, Abuja’s order that the Federal Government...
Nasir El-Rufai

Nasir El-Rufai

Almost one year after the violent confrontation between the Shi’ites group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and the military claimed many lives and led to the incarceration of the organisation’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, subsequent developments so far appear to have endangered the peace and harmony of Kaduna State. SAXONE AKHAINE, Northern Bureau Chief, reports, with additional report from SEGUN OLANIYI in Abuja and GODWIN DUNIA and YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO in Lagos.

When members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as Shi’ites, filed out in multiples last week jubilating over the Federal High Court, Abuja’s order that the Federal Government should release its leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife on the ground of breach of fundamental human rights and infringement on their liberty, little did they know that their celebration would be short lived.

Kaduna State Government neutralised that court order by simply declaring the IMN an insurgency organization. The implication of the declaration is explicit. Henceforth, it becomes legitimate to use military force against the activities of the Shiites in the same sense Boko Haram insurgents are being engaged in the North-east.

Besides, the judgment by the Federal High Court which declared null and void the incarceration of El-Zakzaky and his wife in solitary custody since the aftermath of the bloody clash between the Shiites and soldiers in Zaria did not go down well with Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s administration in Kaduna State which immediately released the official white paper on the Shiites, soldiers clash and declaring the former an insurgent group.

But the members of the IMN, after the Court judgment came out to jubilate in Kaduna, saying they have been vindicated of all accusations by Government against them.

The Shiites spokesman, Mallam Ibrahim Musa who has been declared wanted by the Kaduna State Government, immediately after the court judgment issued a statement exonerating the Islamic group from the allegations levied against them by Governor El-Rufai after the bloody clash in Zaria, pointing out that after all, the decision of the Court acknowledging the infringement of the fundamental rights of El-Zakzaky and his wife has washed the Shiites clean.

Musa said:  “We therefore call on the federal government to respect the rule of law and obey the court order of the federal High court in Abuja. We believe Obedience to this court order will be a strong indication from the federal government of its intent to do justice to the Zaria pogrom of December 12, 2015. “It should not listen to the hawks in government who are bent on executing a foreign sectarian agenda against the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. We wish to assure the general public and the international community of our determination not to be intimidated to take the path of violence as our detractors would want us to.

“Our leader, Sheikh Zakzaky has been a man of peace for almost four decades as Islam preaches, and we will not deviate from that path. As we thank all the good people of Nigeria and human right activists here in Nigeria and beyond that have stood by us in our demand for justice, we wish to call on them to prevail on the federal government to release Sheikh Zakzaky, his wife and others in detention without further delay”.

Musa who reiterated the judgment by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, said that the court rejected the submission of the counsel to the State Security Service, Tijjani Gazali, that Sheikh El-Zakzaky was kept in protective custody of the SSS, saying that Judge affirmed that “the decision to hold the Islamic scholar and his wife for their safety was not based on law.

“Justice Kolawole said the government should within 45 days release the applicant and his family to the police, who shall within 24 hours take them, guarded by escort, to a safe place of his choice in Kaduna state. He added that the SSS would pay a fine of N25 million each to Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his wife, making N50 million.”

However, two days after the judgment, the Kaduna State Government released the White Paper on the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Zaria clashes of December 2015 between members of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Shiites, and the Nigerian Army.

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry which examined, among other issues, the immediate and remote causes of the clashes between the Nigerian Army and the IMN which was outlawed, submitted its report in July 2016.

Following the receipt of the report, the Kaduna State Government made the report public within 10 days, and set up a committee of senior public servants to prepare a draft White Paper.

Briefing journalists on the position of the Government’s white paper, Governor El-Rufai’s media aide, Samuel Aruwan said the White Paper sets out the views and decisions of the Government on all the recommendations that have been made to it by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

According to him, “after deliberations on the draft White Paper by the Kaduna State Security Council, it was subjected to further review by the Kaduna State Executive Council which amended and approved the White Paper”, while pointing out that “regarding the clashes in the Gyallesu area of Zaria where the Nigerian Army mounted a cordon and search operation, the White Paper observed that many civilians were evacuated from Gyallesu, but that IMN members rejected the opportunity to vacate the area.”

“The White Paper also acknowledged that the Nigerian Army abided by its Rules of Engagement and further observed that: the Judicial Commission of Inquiry failed to take into account the years during which the activities of the IMN in Gyallesu had threatened peace and security; for all intent and purpose, the IMN is an insurgent group and ought to be treated as such.”

Aruwan argued:  “the sheer numbers of IMN members congregating in Zaria from across the country that night, with many bearing arms, was such that the Nigerian Army was in no position to accurately determine how armed and organised they were and had to be concerned on what their intention for Zaria was.

“With regards to the findings of the Commission on the conduct of the Nigerian Army, the State Government noted the recommendation that members of the Nigerian Army that may have been involved in the unlawful killing of 347 citizens should be brought to trial before a Court of competent jurisdiction.

Part of the white paper read: “The Kaduna State Government is assured that the Federal Government will not condone unlawful killing of any citizen and that this conduct will be further investigated and any culprits identified will first be subjected to court martial by the federal authorities, followed by civil prosecution by the state government.”

The leader of Islamic Movement of  nigeria otherwise known as Shi''te, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky

The leader of Islamic Movement of nigeria otherwise known as Shi”te, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky

“The Kaduna State Government accepted the following recommendations, among others; the IMN is an unregistered organisation that cannot be sued. Therefore, all IMN members and its leadership are jointly and severally liable for all violations of the law in the last 30 years, and are therefore responsible for the clashes and its consequences.

“Members of the IMN owe absolute loyalty to Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky. He therefore bears responsibility for all the acts of lawlessness committed by the organisation and should therefore be held responsible, fully investigated and prosecuted.

“The evidence before the Commission, from the testimonies and memoranda submitted to it by the various interest groups and stakeholders, clearly shows that IMN has become a law unto itself; disregarding the authority of the Nigerian State as vested in the police and other security agencies which many a times lead to several confrontations such as the one of 12th to 14th December, 2015 between it and the Nigerian Army.

“All incidents of violence and aggression by the members of the IMN against individuals, groups or communities, which have resulted in grievous bodily harm, destruction of properties and deaths, should be fully investigated and culprits brought to book. Where appropriate, compensations should be paid.

“The State Government should investigate and repossess all illegally acquired public lands from IMN and utilize same for Public Interest. Without any hesitance, government must demonstrate the necessary political will to proscribe the existing IMN as an unregistered and unlawful association.”

The report further stated, “the IMN has been steadfast and deliberate in refusing to recognise the legitimacy, authority and the Constitution of the Nigerian State. They have operated outside the laws of the State and the Funtua Declaration is their flagship enunciation of the ideology of confrontation with the Nigerian State, its legal system and its security agencies. The result has been a long tradition of IMN refusal to respect, observe and comply with the laws of the country.”

The Commission of Inquiry also highlighted the IMN’s allegiance to a foreign power and its pattern of conduct which suggests that the IMN is an insurgent group, the Government white paper added.

“Two groups in the Shia tradition are active in Kaduna State, with their adherents freely observing their faith. Both groups, Al-Thaqalayn and RasulA’azam, gave testimony to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, affirming that the Shia faith “can be observed and ought to be protected within the boundaries set and permitted by the Nigerian constitution and other laws.”

“The allegiance of these Shia groups to the Nigerian state, their conformity with the laws of the land and their non-involvement in acts of blocking roads, occupying schools and other acts that infringe on the rights of other citizens stand in marked contrast to the IMN’s utter disregard for laws and the rights of citizens.

“The Kaduna State Government has already acted on some of the recommendations, and will now take steps to implement the others. Those recommendations that are solely within the powers and competence of the Federal Government have been appropriately referred for further necessary action.

“Government has already acted to declare the IMN an unlawful society and is prosecuting the IMN members alleged to be involved in the killing of Corporal Dan Kaduna Yakubu. Government has also ensured that property destroyed in the clashes have been valued to ascertain reasonable compensation to circumstantial victims.

“The Attorney-General of Kaduna State will be liaising with the police and other law enforcement agencies to ensure that there is accountability for the murders and other crimes committed by leaders and members of the IMN in the last three decades.”

The White Paper rejected any suggestion that the burial of the victims did not conform to the law, stressing, “Government observes that its officials complied with the Burial Law of the State. Section 7 sub-section 1 of the Burial Law Cap 20 Laws of Kaduna State Government 1991 requires the burial of persons who die in this type of circumstances within 24hrs. The Interpretation section of Rule 115 Geneva Convention also states that in circumstances of this nature, dead bodies could be buried in a mass grave.”

The White Paper also rejected the Judicial Commission of Inquiry’s view on actions taken to clear structures at the scenes of the clashes, affirming that  “The debris at the Hussainiyya Baqiyatillah and at the residence of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky were removed on the grounds of Public Health and safety; all the IMN buildings that were demolished were constructed without statutory title and building permit as required by the Land Use Act and Section 26 of the KASUPDA Law No.12 of 2015.

“The said Laws empower the Agency (KASUPDA) under Sections 46 and 48(2) to demolish any building which did not comply with the legal provisions. All the structures so removed violated either the provisions of the Land Use Act or the KASUPDA Law or both.

“The sad events of 12-14 December 2015 led to needless and avoidable casualties. They are the product of a legacy of lawlessness, and must never be allowed to recur. Decades of neglect by governments and the security agencies of their obligations for vigorous law enforcement and the protection of constitutional rights have bred a dangerous sense of impunity and disregard for citizens and lawful authority.

“The Kaduna State Government wishes to reiterate that it will not foreclose engagement with any of its citizens. But it will do its duty to enforce the law and will not compromise the prerogative of the state to defend the rights and liberties of all its citizens.

“The right to freedom of worship is a cherished constitutional right. But the constitution did not bestow on anyone or group the right to curtail
the rights of others or to apply the right to faith in a way that diminishes or inconveniences others.”

El-Rufai had earlier corroborated the white paper released by government when he told a selected group of journalists at a media parley that the Shi’ites which is on the Government ban list should henceforth be regarded as a deadly insurgency group.

But concerned individuals and groups in the state are however, wondering why the romance by the governor with the Shi’ites leader, El-Zakzaky during his electioneering campaign period was suddenly short-lived.
It is really contradictory to note that the Shi’ites leader and his large followers whom the governor visited during the campaign for 2015 elections to solicit their support for his governorship ambition has suddenly become an insurgent group.

However, during the media parley fortnight ago, El-Rufai had explained why the government decided to place a ban on the activities of the Islamic group. According to him, Kaduna State government decided to declare the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) an unlawful society because its activities posed an insurgency that was waiting for explosion.

“The intention of El Zakzaky was to gather enough followers to effect an Iranian-type revolution in Nigeria. Nigeria is not a 100 percent Muslim country that you can do that kind of revolution,’’ El-Rufai had noted. The governor alleged further that Sheikh Ibraheem El Zakzaky was not practicing the doctrine of Shiism as provided by the holy book, stressing that he neither banned Shiite sect nor Shiism in Kaduna state but merely invoked the powers conferred on him by the penal code which was enacted in 1963, to declare IMN an unlawful society.

But prominent Nigerians have waded into the feud urging Governor El-Rufai to handle the situation with care and tactics in order not to plunge the nation into another religious crisis.

For example, members of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), while criticizing Governor El-Rufai on the toga of “insurgent group” used to depict the Shiites said that they “reject this new label for an otherwise pacific organization”.

The Director of MURIC, Professor Ishaq Akintola explained in a statement, “the new declaration is nothing short of calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Kaduna State government is being economical with the truth, killing a fly with a sledge hammer and engaging in executive tyranny.

“This is a very dangerous dimension. Coming shortly after a competent court of law ordered the release of the IMN leader, Shaykh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky from detention, this stigmatization is just another attempt by the state government to jump the gun. The declaration is short in equity, long in injustice. But we must remember Martin Luther’s warning that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

“Kaduna government is pregnant with ingredients of all the five evils which Chamberlain spoke about, viz, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution. Why is it that the only thing men learn from history is that they learn nothing from history? Kaduna has not learnt anything from the Boko Haram phenomenon. Kaduna has chosen to prove both Hegel and Karl Marx right in their postulate that history always repeats itself.

“MURIC is however constrained to remind all stakeholders of the divine warning contained in Qur’an 8:25 ‘Fear a tumult which will affect those who caused it as well as the innocent ones’. Was this not how Boko Haram started? Police brutality and extra-judicial killing of the group’s leader caused its metamorphosis into a terror machine. But is it the police alone that are facing the consequences today?”

“MURIC calls on well-meaning Nigerians to speak out. It was the great Shaykh Uthman Bin Fudi (Uthman Dan Fodio) who said, ‘In an unjust society, silence is a crime…’ Let us speak up now before it is too late.”

The rights body also has a piece of advice for the IMN. MURIC asked the movement to undertake self-assessment, noting that “something must be wrong with a system against which so many neighbours testify.

“Several people (including Muslims) confirm that they had had bitter encounters with members of the IMN. They complain about the group’s open display of arrogance. All those people could not have been lying. Something must be wrong with a doctrine which embarrasses the rest of the Muslim Ummah and from which they dissociate themselves.”

Meanwhile, MURIC commended “the leadership of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) for its efforts in resolving the IMN debacle and the maturity it has manifested in handling the matter. Due to the sensitive nature of the issue, NSCIA has engaged in quiet diplomatic shuttling between governments and the IMN from the beginning. We urge the NSCIA to continue the dialogue.”

Similar appeal for the government to handle the issue with care had also come from Senator David Iornem, calling on government to “rescind the law outlawing the Shiite group, and settle the rift between the Government with the Islamic group for peace to reign in the State and Nigeria in general.”

Members of the IMN had stormed the National Assembly to protest against the continued detention of El-Zakzaky and demand his immediate release.

The protesters led by the Secretary of the Academic Forum in Nigeria, Abdullahi Musa, said they had submitted a series of documents to the National Assembly, saying their gathering was to know the position of the Senate regarding the continued detention of their leader.
Musa said: “This is the third time we are coming here. We submitted a lot of documents to the National Assembly but we are yet to get any response.

“We submitted the third batch of documents yesterday and we came here today to hear from them.”

He added that government had said they were keeping him in protective custody and no member of the movement believed he is being protected.

He also stated that they were at the National Assembly to know what the Senate would do and if government plans any action regarding their members who he said were killed by security operatives during peaceful protests across the country.

According to him: “We do not believe in the so called protective custody. We want him freed so that he can go for his treatment. They have inflicted several injuries on him. What we ask for is that justice prevails.

“They killed our member and government has been silent. We want to know what their position is.”

The Divisional Crimes Officer at the National Assembly, Frances Anebi, addressed the protesters, urging them to remain calm.

El-Zakzaky was arrested in December 2015 where over 300 members of his group were killed for blocking a road in Kaduna.

The soldiers also accused the IMN members of plotting to kill the Army Chief, Tukur Buratai, although no evidence was provided for the allegation which the IMN denied.

Also, at least eight members of the movement were confirmed dead in Kano, alongside a police sergeant on November 14 this year after police officers tried to stop the IMN protesters

An application for El-Zakzaky’s bail by his lawyer, Femi Falana, is expected to be determined by an Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Friday.

Following the court ruling declaring El-Zakzaky’s detention as illegal, human rights group, Access to Justice, has called on the Federal Government to obey the order and release him.

The group also called on President Buhari “to walk back the culture of impunity and lawlessness that is hardening in its security institutions, bring those who have whimsically killed innocent Nigerians to justice, and show more respect for the rights of the people.”

The group’s executive director, Joseph Otteh, disclosed this in a statement, saying that further delay in releasing El-Zakzaky will represent a direct and serious affront to the rule of law in a democratic government and a dangerous abuse of power.

Access to Justice also alleged: “Summary, arbitrary and extrajudicial executions of members of the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).”

It added: “It is a major vilification of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy that those who     ordered and perpetrated the attacks that resulted in these killings are still in office and exercising state authority till this time. It is also regrettable that the federal government could not be bothered to investigate the atrocities committed against the IMN group by its military forces.

“On the contrary, the government proceeded to detain and imprison El-Zakzaky and his spouse since December 2015, without charge. This irony beggars belief and greatly diminishes any claims of this government to respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights.

“The continuing silence from the government, coming on the heels of several      other ‘silences’, is non-the-less quite audible in its meaning, and proclaims that human rights are expendable platitudes for the Buhari government.

“The Buhari government is steadily emboldening a climate of impunity in governance, and strengthening the hands of those who unleash brutal force against protesters.

“However, impunity will not “change” Nigeria for the better. Impunity breeds and feeds resentment and division, political and military conflict, radicalism and extremism and represents a revolving door for infinite cycles of violence.

“Impunity will change Nigeria for the worse! We urge the Buhari administration to walk back this culture of impunity and lawlessness that is hardening in its security institutions, bring those who have whimsically killed innocent Nigerians to justice, and show more respect for the rights of the people who have voted it into power.”