A human rights advocacy group, Access to Justice, has demanded the immediate release of Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, who has been in detention since December 2015.
In a statement on Monday, the group called on the Nigerian government to obey a federal court’s decision declaring Mr. El-Zakzaky’s continued detention as illegal and unconstitutional.
“The government had no legitimate reasons to detain El-Zakzaky in the first place and ought to have released him immediately the court decision was announced but it has not yet done so,” said Joseph Otteh, Director, Access to Justice.
“Any further delay in releasing El-Zakzaky will represent a direct and serious affront to the rule of law, a hardening of dictatorship behaviour in a democratic government and a dangerous abuse of power.”
The group’s demand came just as the Kaduna State Government released a White Paper officially labelling the IMN as an insurgent group.
Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, have been in detention since a violent confrontation between his Shiite sect and the Nigerian Army in Kaduna in December last year.
More than 300 members of the sect and one soldier died in the violence which began after the sect members allegedly blocked the passage of the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
Last Friday, an Abuja Division of the Federal High Court ordered the release of Mr. El-Zakzaky, despite the submission by the State Security Service that the Shiite leader was kept in protective custody of the SSS.
“The arrest and detention of El-Zakzaky was completely absurd in the first place,” said Mr. Otteh, adding that while over 259 members of the sect had been charged to court for the murder of one soldier, no soldier had been charged for the killing of over 348 IMN members.
“It is a major vilification of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy that those who ordered and perpetrated the attacks that resulted in these killings are still in office and exercising state authority till this time.
“It is also regrettable that the federal government could not be bothered to investigate the atrocities committed against the IMN group by its military forces.
“On the contrary, the government proceeded to detain and imprison El-Zakzaky and his spouse since December 2015, without charge.
“This irony beggars belief and greatly diminishes any claims of this government to respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights.”
The group also called on the government to investigate the report by Amnesty International showing how the Nigerian army is engaging in summary and extrajudicial executions of members of the Indigenous People of Biafra.
“The Buhari government is steadily emboldening a climate of impunity in governance and strengthening the hands of those who unleash brutal force against protesters,” Mr. Otteh said.
“We urge the Buhari administration to walk back this culture of impunity and lawlessness that is hardening in its security institutions, bring those who have whimsically killed innocent Nigerians to justice, and show more respect for the rights of the people who have voted it into power.”