By Sunday Adaji Esq.
Sometime ago, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that national security should supercede the rule of law, a statement that attracted lambasting from some quarters. Perhaps, President Buhari’s statement is being played out in El-zakzaky’s case.
It would be recalled that in December 2014, Sheikh Ibrahim Yaqoub El-Zakzaky was arrested alongside his wife and others over his group’s clash with some members of the Nigerian Army. And on May 15, 2015, the outspoken and foremost Shi’a Muslim cleric in Nigeria, who doubles as the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria – IMN – (a group he formed when he was in the school), was first arraigned before the Kaduna State High Court. The court did not grant him bail, but the Federal High Court, Abuja, did, declaring his continuous detention as unlawful and unconstitutional. Despite being granted bail, the DSS (Department of State Security) still continues to detain him. They did not border to appeal against the decision of the Federal High Court which granted bail to El-zakzaky, which is what the DSS should have done instead of blatantly disobeying the court’s order.
El-zakzaky is being prosecuted on the allegation of Culpable Homicide, Unlawful Assembly, Disruption of the Public Peace and other charges filed against him alongside Zeenat, his wife.
It is said that El-zakzaky is being detained on grounds of national security. Since December 14 2015 till date, El-zakzaky’s devotees have continued to protest against his detention but it appears the Federal Government is adamant and does not see any reason why El-zakzaky and his wife should be released.
On July 18, 2019, Femi Falana (SAN), lawyer to El-zakzaky brought application before the High Court of Justice, Kaduna, praying the court to grant El-zakzaky permission to travel abroad for medical treatment. In his application, Falana informed the court that El-zakzaky’s condition of health is getting worse by the day, that he lost one of his eyes while in DSS’s custody, that both he and his wife were not given adequate medical care since December 2015 when they were detained and that they needed medical attention. The prosecutor objected to the grant of the application on the grounds that Nigerian doctors have not yet confirmed if El-zakzaky should be treated in Nigeria or abroad. The Presiding Judge, Honourable Justice Darius Khobo, adjourned ruling on the application to July 29, 2019.
Meanwhile, El-zakzaky’s devotees are restive. In the FCT (Federal Capital Territory) recently, his devotees went on rampage, set ablaze two vehicles belonging to NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) and shot several persons, including a senior police officer and a female Corper with Channels TV.
Law enforcement agents, including members of the Nigerian Army have positioned themselves at strategic places in the FCT to grapple with the rampaging devotees of the IMN.
Amnesty International has condemned the continuous detention of El-zakzaky and the manner the law enforcement agents are grappling with the situation, and urging Nigerian authorities to adhere to the rule of law and respect the right to peaceful protest when policing these events.
Professor Itse Sagay, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), whom critics have lambasted that he was always passive in criticising Buhari’s administration, has advised the Federal Government to obey court orders and release El-zakzaky.
Human Rights’ Perspective
The questions that readily come to mind regarding El-zakzaky’s detention and the imbroglio surrounding his detention are: Can an accused person be detained indefinitely without being tried in the court of law? Where a court grants an accused person bail, can the executive (Federal Government) disobey the order of the court? Should national security override the rule of law? Is it right for devotees of IMN to go on rampage in their demand for the release of their leader?
To start with, the constitution is explicit on citizens’ right to liberty, hence no person should be detained beyond 48 hours without being arraigned in court for trial. Where, in the case of El-zakzaky, he is detained for four years, it is a violation of his right to liberty. Where a court grants an accused person bail, the executive (Federal Government) must not and ought not to disobey the order of the court. Perhaps, there may be an Executive Order empowering the Executive to detain a citizen on grounds of national security. If there exists such an order, the order is inconsistent with the provision of Nigeria’s constitution and should be declared null and void. It is not right for devotees of IMN to go on rampage in their demand for the release of their leader. What the Nigeria’s constitution guarantees is the right to peaceful assembly.
In view of the foregoing, Lawyers Alert is of the view that the DSS should not continue to detain El-zakzaky and his wife indefinitely. They should obey the court’s order and release them forthwith. National security should not be the grounds for continuously detaining El-zakzaky. The solution is to release him UNCONDITIONALLY and if need be, he should be placed under surveillance. When this is done, it will go a long way in dousing the tension arising from the agitation of El-zakzaky’s devotees.