In a democracy, the citizens, including the members of the IMN, have the right to protest. Sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) are clear on the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of the citizenry. Specifically, Section 39 (1) of the constitution under reference states that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
In the same vein, Section 40 of the same constitution states that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.” The security agencies should always respect these rights as provided in the constitution.
It will be recalled that El-Zakzaky was arrested and detained in September 1996, for his extreme religious and political views. He was later charged with treason in August 1998 and was released in December 1998, following the death of the late Nigerian leader, General Sani Abacha. He was arrested again in December 2015, following the clash between the group and the military, which led to the death of over 300 of his followers, including three of his children.
Since then, El-Zakzaky and his wife have been in detention. The Kaduna State government set up a judicial panel of enquiry, which indicted the military and demanded that those involved in the killings be prosecuted. It also recommended the proscription of the group. His followers, who have continued to express their readiness to die in order to secure the release of their leader, have not relented in demanding for his unconditional release.
The Federal Government should, in obedience to court orders, release their detained leader. We believe that this is the right step to end the recurring clashes between the group and security agencies. It will also stop the avoidable shedding of blood of Nigerians.
While we acknowledge the right of the members of the group to protest, we condemn any protest that could lead to the breakdown of law and order. In carrying out their protest, therefore, members of the group must not go against the laws of the land. We urge the IMN members and the security agencies to always obey the laws and respect the supremacy of the Nigerian Constitution.
Let the security agencies respect the right of every Nigerian to protest. At the same time, the Federal Government should endeavour to obey all court orders, whether they are in its favour or not. It is never its duty to choose the ones it should obey or not. The Federal Government’s refusal to obey the order of courts in respect of the IMN leader is apparently precipitating the recurring clashes. The people and the government must obey the rule of law. Nobody or institution should be above the law. We, therefore, implore the government and members of the IMN to give peace a chance.