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NIGERIAN government attempted to stop the release of leader of the proscribed Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and wife, Zeenat, by filing fresh charges against the duo on July 27, checks by The ICIR have revealed.
A Kaduna High Court presided by Justice Gideon Kurada discharged and acquitted El-Zakzaky and Zeenat on July 28 while ruling on the no-case submission application filed by the couple.
El-Zakzaky and his wife were subsequently released after about five years in detention. They were arrested since December 2015 following clashes between IMN members and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State.
However The ICIR learnt that the government made a last-minute attempt to continue to keep El-Zakzaky in detention.
A source close to the El-Zakzaky family informed The ICIR that the government filed fresh charges against El-Zakzaky on July 27 ahead of the scheduled July 28 ruling on the no-case-submission.
But the government didn’t succeed in serving the charges on El-Zakzaky because the prison authorities did not agree to collect the charges and instead asked the prosecution to serve the process on El-Zakzaky’s lawyers.
The source, who did not wish to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, disclosed that El-Zakzaky’s lawyers also refused to be served with the fresh charges.
The content of the fresh charges is not yet known but El-Zakzaky has not been served.
El-Zakzaky’s lawyers rushed to file a release warrant to ensure he was released after the court discharged and acquitted him.
“After today’s acquittal, his lawyers immediately filed a release warrant which they served on the prison authorities, who at that point had no legal reason to continue to hold him,” the source said.
The ICIR further learnt that El-Zakzaky’s family is afraid that the government could still move to re-arrest him with the fresh charges filed on July 27.
El-Zakzaky’s lead counsel Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), did not comment on the fresh charges when contacted by The ICIR on July 28.
Falana told The ICIR to direct the enquiries to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
But Falana confirmed El-Zakzaky’s release from detention.
“The El-Zakzakys have been released,” he said in a WhatsApp message sent to The ICIR’s correspondent.
But Special Adviser on Media to the Attorney General of the Federation Bashir Gwandu, when contacted by The ICIR, said questions concerning the fresh charges should be directed to the Kaduna State government.
“Let it be known that he (El-Zakzaky) was charged ab initio before a state court, not Federal High Court. If you have any inquiries you may forward to the Attorney General of Kaduna State. Thank you,” Gwandu said.
El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat have been standing trial in court for about four years after the Kaduna State government arraigned them on an eight-count charge bordering on alleged culpable homicide, unlawful assembly and disruption of public peace, among other offenses.
They were accused of being responsible for the death of a soldier when troops of the Nigerian Army killed over 300 protesting Shiites in Zaria, Kaduna, in December 2015.
The Shiites had clashed with soldiers in the entourage of the immediate past Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai.
El-Zakzaky and his wife pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The government had, in the past, refused to comply with court orders directing it to release El-Zakzaky.
On December 2, 2016, an Abuja Federal High Court presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole had ordered the unconditional release of El-Zakzaky and his wife within 45 days. The court made the pronouncement while ruling on a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by the IMN leader.
The court also ordered the government to pay the sum of N50 million as compensation to the Shiite leader.
The government had argued that it was keeping El-Zakzaky in detention for his own protection but the court ruled that the claim was not sufficient.
The court order was ignored.
Also, in August 2019, a court sitting in Kaduna State granted El-Zakzaky and his wife bail to enable them travel abroad to receive medical treatment in India.
But the couple returned to Nigeria after three days, citing unfair treatment and tough restrictions imposed on them by security operatives sent by the Nigerian government to monitor them in the hospital.
Several IMN members were killed by security agents during protests for El-Zakzaky’s release.