HUNDREDS of youths of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), also known as the Shiite Islamic sect, converged on Abuja on Thursday to protest the continued detention of the leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaki, by the federal government.
Kitted in black apron-like garments, with scarves of varying colours tied around their heads, and chanting on the top of their voices, the youths said they would not leave the Abuja City Centre without their leader.
“We are ready to die, we will never surrender, Allah is our defender, Zakzaki is more than a father to us, we will not leave Abuja without Zakzaki”, they chanted as they marched around the Three Arms Zone in Abuja.
The weather temperature in the Abuja City Centre on Thursday afternoon was 28 degrees Celsius, but the youths cared less about the scorching sun. They sat along the major road leading into the National Secretariat, chanting their demands.
El-Zakzaky has been in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS) since December 2015, following an incident in Zaria, Kaduna State, where members of the IMN clashed with the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai. Over 300 Shiites were reportedly killed by Nigerian soldiers during that clash, according to official records, while one soldier was killed.
Subsequently, Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, proscribed the IMN, declaring it an outlawed group, which means that members risk a lengthy jail sentence.
For his part, El-Zakzaky and his wife have remained in detention for almost three years. Six of his sons, according to a spokesman of the IMN who spoke to The ICIR on Thursday, had been killed in two separate attacks on the sect by the Nigerian soldiers.
“The Nigerian Army killed three [of Zakzaki’s sons] during Goodluck Jonathan’s regime. They opened fire on us during a peaceful procession. The remaining three were shot in front of their father, at Gelesu, Zaria, on 12 December, 2015,” said Abdulrahman Muhammad, one of the protesters who spoke to The ICIR.
There have been court judgements ordering the Nigerian government not only to release El-Zakzaky, but also to pay him monetary compensation, as well as provide comfortable accommodation for him and his wife in any state of his choice in Northern Nigeria.
“We want the government to release the Sheikh (Zakzaky) as God had ordered since last year. He is in danger, his health is in danger. He was shot by the Nigerian army, in several places, up till now, he has bullets in his body. He has lost one of his eyes, and the other eye is also endangered.”
Muhammad said they conwould continue to occupy the streets of Abuja until President Muhammadu Buhari orders El-Zazaky’s release.
“We don’t have a specific time. If they release our leader now, we will leave this place, but as far as they didn’t release our leader, we are here. They either kill us all here or they release our leader,” he said.
Security agents, including the Police, Army and Civil Defence, were seen all around the protest area, but none of them tried to stop the protesters, unlike what obtained during previous free-Zakzaky protests.
Even when the youths chanted anti-Buhari songs saying “death to Buhari, death to America”, the security personnel still maintained commendable decorum.
In January this year, El-Zakzaky made his first public appearance since his arrest in December 2015; the DSS allowed him to briefly address journalists. This followed widespread reports that the Muslim cleric had died in detention. During the brief interaction with the media, El-Zakzaky, who wore a neck brace, said he was getting better and thanked Nigerians for their prayers.
Later, in May, El-Zakzaky and his wife were arraigned before a Kaduna State High Court, to face charges of culpable homicide in the killing of one Dankaduna, a soldier, in the convoy of the chief of army staff and for unlawful assembly.