The situation has forced followers of the Shi’ites sect leader to often take to the streets in major cities of the North, particularly Kaduna, demanding his and his wife’s unconditional release. They have been in custody since December 2015.
Members of the Islamic sect clashed with the men of the Nigerian Army in December 2015. The clash left many people dead, while the sect leader, Sheikh Zakzaky was later arrested during the soldiers’ raid on his house in Zaria two days later and handed over to the Department of State Service (DSS).
However, after several protests and litigation, Justice Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja in December 2016 ordered his release and 24-hour police protection for El- Zakzaky and his wife when they are released from custody.
Apart from their release, the court ordered the authorities to provide them a decent accommodation alongside their family. Respondents in the suit with number FHC/ABJ/CS/281/2016 are the DSS, the Nigeria Police Force and the Attorney General of the Federation.
Lagos lawyer and activist Femi Falana (SAN) had approached the court for the release of the religious leader and his wife from detention.
The court held: “The Respondents shall within 45 days of this judgement make proper and decent arrangement of a residential abode for the applicant and his family in Kaduna State or anywhere of their choice within the northern region, where the applicant and his wife and their children can relocate when released upon the expiration of 45 days from today, that is December 2, 2016.”
Justice Kolawole said further; “Let me state clearly and for the avoidance of doubt that the failure of the government to effect the release of the applicant and his wife from its custody or any illegal custody whatsoever, upon the expiration of the 45th day from December 2, 2016, such failure shall not only constitute a deliberate act of disobedience of these orders, but it will crystallise into fresh cause of action of infraction of the Applicant’s rights and his wife to personal liberty guaranteed by the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, as amended.
“The Inspector General of Police or any of its subordinate officers not below the rank of Assistant Inspector General when he received the applicant and his wife as ordered, shall take immediate steps within 24 hours, convey the applicant and his wife under necessary security escort to their place of abode as would have been provided by the 1st Respondent, DSS, working in conjunction with the third Respondent, AGF.
“The 2nd Respondent, Police, shall then provide the applicant and his wife police protection which shall operate round the clock until the alleged threats which were not provided by any admissible evidence but left in the realm of speculation are moved or significantly diminished,” the Judge said.
Eight months after, Zakzaky’s followers have been left with no alternative but to the continue protests, as the authorities have refused to release their leader.
During one of the protests in Kaduna, the protesting Shi’ites asked the government to immediately release their leader or exterminate all of them. They also vowed never to rest until federal government releases their leader, who has been in DSS custody since December 2015.
The angry protesters, who temporarily blocked major highways in Kaduna metropolis were seen with placards with varying inscriptions such as, “Free Zakzaky”, “We demand justice”, “We are Nigerians”, “Release El-zakzaky or kill us all,” among others.
Addressing newsmen, spokesperson for the protesters, Mallam Nuhu Mafara said they were out in large numbers to agitate for the unconditional release of their leader who has been in detention since the December 2015 clash between the members of the Islamic sect and men of Nigerian Army in Zaria, Kaduna State.
“The protest was a joint action against the illegal detention of our leader Ibrahim El-zakzaky and all members from Kano Jigawa, Niger, Bauchi, Zamfara and other northern states are here today to demand the unconditional release of our leader.
“Today also marks over 250 days since a court of the land set him (El-Zakzaky) free, but the cabals holding Nigerians to ransom have stubbornly refused to obey court orders”, he added.
Also, a statement signed by one of the group’s top members Sheikh Abdulhamid Bello, read in part “while there are known figures in Nigeria today, agitating for the breakup of the country into pieces, with some even issueing ultimatum, to the government. But here is Sheikh Zakzaky, who has never committed any treasonable offence languishing in jail.
“Precisely the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky has clocked 612 days today in the gulag of Buhari administration illegally. It is today well over 250 days when an honorable court of the land set him free from detention, but the cabals holding Nigerians to ransom have stubbornly refused to obey the courts orders”.
The statement described what happened in Zaria in 2015 as ugly incidences, saying, “during the pogrom that included incessant killing of over 1000 unarmed members of the Movement, burning of some of them alive, looting of their property and demolishing their buildings all perpetrated by the Nigerian Army and the Kaduna state Governor Nasir El-Rufai.
“The worst part of all this oppression against Sheikh Zakzaky who enjoys millions of followership in Nigeria and beyond, is that to date none of the perpetrators of the genocidal crime in the Army and Kaduna state government has been brought to book. Some have even been rewarded with promotion in their various places of work. These and many more instances of cruelty against the Sheikh made him to be the most oppressed person in Nigeria of today.”