It is a fact that on Friday December 2, 2016, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja , ordered the release of the leader of the Shi’a Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. It is equally a fact that even as this newspaper went to the press, that court order has not been obeyed. Mr. El-Zakzaky was arrested by the military on December 14, 2015, after a clash between the Movement and officers of the Nigerian army.
Related to the El-Zakzaky’s case is the detention of Director of Radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu. Yet, his case is more odious because he was placed under lock and key since 2015. And he has been kept there despite the indisputable fact that he too was ordered to be immediately released from prison custody by a Federal High Court, Abuja, on December 15, 2015. This ruling came after the DSS has had the IPOB leader incarcerated for at least 90 days despite an order granting him bail in October. It had sought an order of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to keep Kanu in detention – when the court ruled against the DSS.
El-Zakzaky leads an Islamic set that may not actually recognize the Nigerian state and its leadership as it is alleged that the set wishes for a leadership that would emerge according to Islamic tenets and rule by Islamic laws. Just like Kanu, he may actually be opposed to the State Called Nigeria, as Kanu is a leading members of one of several Biafran separatist organizations, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and he is also the director of London-based radio station Radio Biafra, that was at a time been making inflammatory announcements. Specifically, on 5 September 2015, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was a guest speaker at the World Igbo Congress which was held in Los Angeles, California where he demanded for guns and bullets as video depiction of his speech showed.
So, the truth is that The AUTHORITY is not calling for the discontinuation of their trials or the lessoning of their charges or even the lessening of the punishment that could be visited on them if they are found guilty. No. Instead, this newspaper demands that despite what the alleged crimes of any Nigerian could be, that Nigerian is first of all assumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. Also, that only a court of law and that alone should decide whether such a person is given a bail while the trial lasts or the person may even be denied bail by the court. But such decisions must be made by the court and the law court alone.
Such things should not depend on the whims and caprices of any person or state organization – like the President or the DSS. For instance, the Magistrate Court 1 sitting in Abuja on November 18, 2015 ordered the DSS to produce Kanu, at the court on November 23, 2015, and many of Kanu’s supporters thought his release was imminent. However, it was reported the DSS obtained a “secret court order” to detain Nnamdi Kanu. Though many people questioned the idea of secret court orders, they raised no hell because a court order is valid in the eyes of the law.
Kanu’s Biafran agitation was still on the fringes of the society when Kanu was finally arraigned on November 23, 2015 in an Abuja Magistrate Court for the first time - for charges of “criminal conspiracy, intimidation and membership of an illegal organization” by the DSS. But when the DSS failed to produce Kanu in court on two consecutive times that the matter came up before the court, and Chief Magistrate S. Usman had to berate the DSS for this, Kanu began to assume freedom fighter status.
Kanu’s supporters then stormed Abuja in luxury buses on a peaceful protest for their leader who was arraigned before the Wuse Zone 2 Magistrate Court, Abuja on November 23, 2015. Pro-Biafra protesters with placards sang and danced outside the court premises whilst hearing proceeded. Protesters wore T-shirts and caps with inscriptions like “Biafra Now or Never”, “Buhari Release Kanu For Us”, “On Biafra We Stand”.
More protests by IPOB members numbering over 15,000 grounded vehicular movements in the southeastern key economic city of Onitsha concurrently. It was the same by over 20,000 protesters in Aba, Abia State on the same day. A full-fledged agitation was on. February 28 this year, the Kanu case was brought again to the front burner when Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo, Dr. Pat Utomi and other personalities visited Kanu in Kuje prisons on behalf of their Nzuko Umunna internet-based group and called attention to the man’s continued incarceration. Such calls for the release of El-Zakzaky has been going on also.
The AUTHORITY hereby calls on the Federal Government to respect the rule of law to the fullest in its dealings with every Nigerian citizen. Thus, court judgments must be obeyed even if they favour persons or groups that have issues with the government. The rule of law cannot be replaced with the rule of individuals. The world has gone beyond that stage. The Government is at liberty to appeal to the highest court in the jurisdiction if need be. But it must realize that even the government itself is subject to same rule of law.
This helps give more life to the polity and enhance civil behaviour in the land – even as it reduces tension and strengthens the idea that the court is the last hope of the common man and is there to dispense justice to all and sundry. For government to do otherwise is to invite citizens to enforce their rights in any way they deem fit – including by force of arms and any act of dissidence no matter how heinous. And if care is not taken, they would soon become political prisoners and may graduate from there to prisoners of conscience and further darken Nigeria’s image.