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Government Releases El Zakzaky for Treatment

The Federal Government agrees to obey court order and release the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria for medical treatment in India.

The Department of State Security Service, DSS, has at last bowed to the rule of law by agreeing to obey a ruling of the Federal high Court in Kaduna, which on Monday ordered that leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Malama Zeenat, be released for medical treatment in India. 

In a statement in Abuja, Monday night, Peter Afunnaya, spokesman of the Service, said they would comply with the court ruling, which was served on the Service late Monday. 

“This is to inform the public that the Department of State Services has received the order granting Ibrahim El-Zakzaky leave to travel to India for medical treatment. Consequently, the Service is liaising with relevant stakeholders to ensure compliance. Conformity with the order is in line with the service’s avowed commitment to the rule of law inherent in a democracy,” said the statement.

Lead counsel for the detained Shiite leader, Femi Falana, SAN, explained that the order was specifically for medical treatment, not bail. This means that after the treatment, which is to extract bullet pellets allegedly lodged in the body of El-Zakzaky since the 2015 encounter with soldiers, he may be returned to Nigeria for his trial to continue. 

The application which was filed July 18 may have been granted following the widespread reactions of Nigeria and the international community to the bloody encounter between protesting Shiites and the Nigeria Police in Abuja which led to loss of lives on both sides, including a deputy commissioner of Police, Umar, and Precious Owolabi, a National Youth Service Corps member serving with Channels Television.

Falana, whose clients were not in court on July 29, when the application was first heard, had told Justice Darius Khobo their health condition were deteriorating daily and that it would take a foreign medical intervention to save their lives and enable them to face trial. He argued that El-Zakzaky did not necessarily need a bail to travel for medical treatment.

On the other hand, Debris Bayero, Kaduna State director of public prosecutions and prosecuting counsel, had opposed the application, arguing that El-Zakzaky’s medical condition could be treated in Nigeria.

Justice Khobo ruled that the travel would be under the strict supervision of state officials and that the trial will resume once he has been certified fit and returns to the country. He also ruled that the treatment must be in the hospital the court was told he was referred to in India.

Bayero explained the ruling to journalists: “The context of the court ruling is that Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife are granted leave to travel out for urgent medical attention. But this is not a bail but a leave to travel… Once he is discharged by the hospital he is referred to and he returns to the country, his trial will resume. The court has ruled and we are bound by the ruling.”

El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested on December 13, 2015 after a bloody clash between the Shiites in a procession and soldiers in the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai in Zaria, Kaduna State. About 340 Shiites were alleged to have been killed by soldiers in that clash, which Army headquarters has consistently denied. 

A high court ruled on December 2, 2016 that his continued detention without trial was illegal and ordered that he be released from Department of State Services detention to police custody within 45 days. The Court also ordered that the State pay El Zakzaky and his wife N50 million compensation.

According to the judge, the DSS could not justify “holding him for his own protection” as sufficient reason for his detention without trial.

In May 2018, the Kaduna State government finally filed an eight-count charge of culpable homicide, unlawful assembly and disturbance of public peace against the Shiite leader. 

Ibraheem El-Zakzaky Photo
Ibraheem El-Zakzaky

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Since 2015 various courts in Nigeria had granted El-Zakzaky bail but the federal government refused to obey the orders, arguing that national security takes precedence over the rule of law. Consequently, the Shiites began regular peaceful protests in Abuja to press for his release. They stepped up the protests in 2018 and many of the protesters were killed in Abuja and neighbouring states. Their spokesman, Shuaibu Musa, had reaffirmed on a radio programme in Abuja that they would not stop their protest until they achieve their aim of getting their leader released.

As peaceful protests did not yield the expected results, the Shiites turned violent leading to the July 22 bloody protest in Abuja. After that, it was apparent that the government would review its strategy of engagement with the Shiites or have another Boko Haram in their hands. 

The group celebrated the ruling. Abdurrahman Abubakar, chairman, Free El-Zakzaky Campaign Committee, described the ruling as “a victory for truth and justice over tyranny and impunity.”

In a statement in Kaduna on Monday, he said: “Today we obtained a favourable ruling on the application seeking for the court’s permission to allow Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeenat Ibrahim to seek urgent medical treatment outside this country. This ruling is a victory for our dogged determination, patience, and perseverance in the face of extreme persecution. It is a victory for truth and justice; it’s a victory against tyranny and impunity.“We wish to use this opportunity to also say a big thank you to all people of conscience, particularly some very senior citizens, diplomats, human rights activists and organizations, journalists and the general public who doggedly stood by us in the campaign for justice for the victims of the Zaria genocide.”

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