Monday’s Police-Shiites clash in Abuja conjures up a mental image of a theatre of war barely two weeks when the sect’s protest turned violent at the National Assembly complex in Abuja. The Shiites’ agitation was not unexpected. Since December 2015 that Ibraheem El-Zakzaky has been in detention for alleged murder among other accusations, his followers have not relented in their efforts to get him released.
Obviously, if what Shiites described as peaceful protest will be so regarded, there wouldn’t have been reports of violence that day. With the Premium Times report of the protest, it was alleged that the Shiites threw petrol bombs as part of the protest. What this implies is that the Shiite phenomenon is assuming a more dangerous dimension with relentless efforts of members of his sect to secure the release of the leader of the group.
Out of the total casualties recorded during Monday’s Shiites protest, the most devastating was the death of Precious Owolabi, the 23 years old Corps member serving with Channels TV.
The death of this promising young Journalist is a reminder of gory tales of how many brilliant Journalists had lost their lives in the course of performing their professional duties. With the circumstance of this sudden and untimely death of Precious Owolabi, public attention is once again being drawn to the reality that journalism could be hazardous and adventurous.
It is high time the federal government took decisive action to curtail the violent agitation by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria otherwise referred to as Shiites.
Apart from the use of moderate force by the police, the government should think of Psychological measures rather than relying on the use of force alone to cause the Shiites to retreat.
By nature, character and activities of Islamic sects, no serious government would take their threats as empty noise. I am sure that President Muhammed Buhari with his military background understand the psychology of the militants that they would not mind sacrificing their lives in the course of the struggle. This is part of the reasons why Boko Haram survives till now.
It won’t be in our nation’s best interest for the government to allow Shiites crisis to escalate or become another deadly terrorist group like Boko Haram. If care is not taken, Shiite’s crises will become an additional headache for the country already suffering from unending ethnic conflicts, economic crisis and insecurity challenges.
Given the number of security personnel that the nation had lost to restiveness of Shiites in the last three years, I think the government needs a more intelligent approach and proactive strategy to curtail the excesses of the sect.
One other worrisome angle to the whole scenario was the killing of DSP Usman Umar Belel in the course of onslaught between the police and Shiite during the so-called peaceful protest staged by Shiites in Abuja on Monday.
If the account by Mr Frank Mba, the Force Public Relations Officer is anything to go by, the claim by Shiites that their protests were peaceful would be rejected. With the death toll after Mondays’ mayhem and cost implication of NEMA equipment set ablaze and a number of police officers on the danger list, one may tend to believe the Force Public Relations Officer’s press statement that the protesters were fully armed and engaged in an indiscriminate attack on innocent citizens and police officers.
Now that the call for the urgent release of Mallam El-Zakzaky is becoming a popular demand in the country, this will remain wishful thinking in so far as the federal government has already made contrary pronouncement on the issue.
In a way, President Muhammed Buhari may not be wrong after all, giving the fact that there was virtually no valid and subsisting court order to effect the release of IMN leader, El-Zakzaky.
The much talked about the order of Justice Kolawole for the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife was made in 2016 before the culpable homicide charge was filed against him in the High Court of Justice by the Kaduna State Government.
Since he was held on a charge of culpable homicide, the offence of such grievous nature is ordinarily not bailable except on exceptional grounds mostly if the suspect suffers life-threatening ill-health.
Unfortunately, those clamouring for his release seem to be unaware that currently there is no subsisting order for the release of El-Zakazaky upon his arraignment for culpable homicide.
With the current reality, what El-Zakzaky’s legal team can do to assist their client is to ensure that the court expeditiously hear and dispose of the case. Notwithstanding, whether Judgement will be delivered in his favour or otherwise depends on his culpability and the decision should be left to the discretion of the court.
One important point to make clear here is that it is not Buhari/Federal Government that is holding El-Zakzaky for homicide charge and being responsible for his bail refusal. If anybody is to be blamed at all, I think it should be El-Rufai/Kaduna State Government.
Assuming El-ZakZaky was charged for insurrection or terrorism, probably he would have been charged by the Federal Government, instead of Kaduna State Government that is currently holding him on the charge of culpable homicide.
Whatever other extraneous reasons for holding him, the best strategy to ensure his release, for now, is through the Judicial process. On a more serious note, this is likely to be more fruitful than persistent agitations and wanton killing of innocent citizens by the Shiites.
Mr Onike, a public affairs analyst writes from Oyo State, can be reached via Email:firstname.lastname@example.org