Wednesday, March 23, 2016 3:26 pm
The concept of democracy means that apart from having a say in how a government is run, a hand in choosing who governs us (and sending him packing when his performance in office needs much to be desired), Nigerians who are born free must not suffer arbitrary detention. However, the cases of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as the Shiites and Afolabi Akanni, the detained Ekiti lawmaker could, if not well handled, smear the Muhammadu Buhari government’s human rights records and, by extension, render Nigeria a butt of snide remarks in the comity of nations.
Yesterday, members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria withdrew from the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, even as the Commission sat after several adjournments to investigate the December 2015 Zaria clash between the Shi’ites and the Nigerian Army. Chairman of the Commission, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Garba had, last Monday, adjourned till Wednesday to enable the Shiites have access to their leader, Sheikh El-Zakzaky.
This frustration made the leader of the movement’s legal team, Festus Okoye, to address the press on Tuesday. He complained that since they could not get access to the Shiites leader after several adjournments, they had no option than to withdraw completely from appearing before the commission, as they cannot file memorandum without hearing from Zakzaky.
In the words of Okoye: “The legal team has resolved that in the light of the realities of lack of access, briefing and representation for the Movement, the most honourable thing to do is to withdraw completely from appearance before the Commission in whatever form and manner and to cease any form of representation in whatever form or manner for the Movement. The legal team thought it could lend its support to the Movement to tell the Nigerian public and the international community its own version of the events of the 12th to 14th of December 2015 but all efforts aimed at getting proper briefing from the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria met a brick wall.”
Okoye argued that the legal team of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria will not be used and will not allow itself to be used to legitimize a predetermined position and agenda against the leader of the Shiites. He added that the Islamic Movement in Nigeria “believes that the Nigerian people are entitled to know the truth of what happened in Zaria and Kaduna and will explore alternative means and avenues of letting the Nigerian people know the truth of what happened.”
Also on 4 March, men of the Department of State Services (DSS) invaded the Ekiti State House of Assembly and arrested Akanni over an alleged forgery during the Peoples Democratic Party’s House of Representatives primaries held in Ekiti North Federal Constituency and alleged assault on Justice John Adeyeye of the State High Court.
However, the DSS kept Akanni incommunicado. Thus, on 17 March, the Ekiti State government raised alarm that Akanni was dead, but the DSS dispelled the claim by presenting the legislator to newsmen alive. The Service claimed he was “hale and hearty,” but the way the man was doddering all over the place and the fact that he could not seat upright, he was more of a living dead.
It was after this that the DSS released the Ekiti lawmaker on 22 March and hospitalised him at a private health institution in Abuja. According to Vanguard, the lawmaker who was very weak and could barely speak when he was brought out, kept repeating; “I am not well. I am sick. I am sick.” He said he was treated for malaria at the DSS detention facility after he collapsed twice.
The two instances keep right thinking Nigerians and human rights people within and outside Nigeria wondering why such infringements on people’s rights still happen in a democratic dispensation. What really irked Okoye, the Shiite’s lawyer, was that he and his team did not have access to El-Zakzaky on Monday, despite assurances by DSS. Since Okoye could not get access, he kept wondering whether he is dead or alive? Why are they keeping ZakZaky incommunicado in a democratic era? He was arrested since December, along with his wife. At a stage, he was reported to have been shot by soldiers and flown abroad for treatment.
Nigerians deserve to know Zakzaky’s fate. He has not been charged to any court. The people deserve to know. His millions of followers also deserve an answer.
It is our submission that as a civilised member of the international community which willingly advocates human rights and condemns its abuse in far flung places like North Korea, Nigeria should not commit acts that fly against the face of high moral conduct and global standard practice. Doing this will be like reversing the gains Nigeria made since the military blew the bugle of its withdrawal to the barracks in 1999.
Moreover, arbitrarily depriving these individuals of their liberty is strictly prohibited by the United Nations’ division for human rights. Article 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” That is, no individual, regardless of circumstances, is to be deprived of his liberty or “exiled from their country without having first committed an actual criminal offense against a legal statute, and the government cannot deprive an individual of his liberty without proper due process of law.
The relevant sections are: While Article 5 concerns “freedom from torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Article 7 prescribes equality before the law and discrimination. Others are: Article 8, has to do with right to effective remedy for violation of fundamental rights; Article 9, freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; Article 10, Right to fair and public hearing. Article 11 is about right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty. No one shall be charged for any offence at the time when it was committed.
Since Nigeria is a signatory to these sections or the charter generally as a member of the United Nations, it should not disgrace itself by not observing fundamental rules of civilised conduct to which it is a party.