Members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday called on the Nigerian government to release Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, in accordance with several court rulings.
The House made this call while adopting a motion by the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu.
The lawmakers said the IMN members who have been protesting their leader’s continued detention could wreak more havoc.
Mr El-Zakzaky was arrested in December 2015 after Nigerian soldiers killed about 347 of his supporters during a clash in Zaria, Kaduna State. The soldiers had accused the Shiite group of blocking a major road that was to be used by army chief Tukur Buratai.
That massacre of the Shiites has been condemned by local and international rights groups.
Since the December 2015 incident, Mr El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenah have been in detention; first without trial for about a year. They were eventually charged with murder for the death of a soldier during the December 2015 incident.
Despite several courts granting him bail, the government has insisted on detaining him, thereby agitating his followers to embark on several protests.
The most recent of the clashes was at the National Assembly on Tuesday where the protesters clashed with security operatives while trying to gain access to the parliament.
Two police officers were shot while several cars were damaged during the clash.
This action prompted the motion by Mr. Elumelu in which he called on his colleagues to probe the attempted invasion of the National Assembly and ensure adequate security measures are in place at the legislative chamber.
While some of his colleagues agreed with the need for improved security, others emphasised that they should instead address “the root cause” of the protests which they identified as the continued detention of Mr El-Zakzaky.
They argued that the circumstances surrounding the matter are similar to what led to the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgent group.
Onofiok Luke (PDP, Akwa-Ibom) said it is unfortunate that while the lawmakers are empowered to make laws, the federal government is going against the rule of law in disobedience to the court orders for the release of the IMN leader.
“If the court has given an order for the release of the man, we should call on the government to release him. The discourse should not be on the invasion of the National Assembly alone,” he said.
Bamidele Salam from Osun State said Mr El-Zakzaky’s continued detention is injustice and “injustice to one is an injustice to all.”
“I want to urge the federal government to look into the matter of the leader of this movement and allow the rule of law to take its course … to ensure that Boko Haram is not replicated in Shiites movement,” he said.
“If we are able to secure the national assembly, what happens to the man and woman in the market elsewhere?“
Simon Davou (Plateau, PDP) said rather than detain Mr El-Zakzaky against court orders, the government should release him “and ensure surveillance, with enough security operatives to monitor his activities.”
Last year, Lai Mohammed, former minister of information, in defence of the Islamic leader’s continued detention said that no one wants to accept him as a neighbour.
Dozens of other Shiite members have been killed in different protests mainly in Abuja and Kaduna since the December 2015 incident.
The security agencies often accuse the Shiites of instigating the violence by using various weapons including petrol bombs; allegations the Shiites have denied.