The decision by the Department of State Security (DSS) to obey an order by Justice Darius Khobo of Kaduna State High Court which granted medical leave to Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenatudeen, is commendable. There have been reports that the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and his wife had been suffering from diverse health challenges while in the custody of the DSS since 2015. Justice Khobo, in granting their application for medical trip to India, warned Zakzaky to return to the country to face his trial after their discharge from hospital.
In complying with the court order, the DSS, through its spokesman, Dr Peter Afunanya, told journalists that “the Department of State Services has received the order granting Ibrahim Zakzaky leave to travel to India for medical treatment. Consequently, the Service is liaising with relevant stakeholders to ensure compliance. Conformity with the order is in line with the Service’s avowed commitment to the rule of law inherent in a democracy.”
Though this is technically not a bail, the fact that the DSS has decided to obey the order of Justice Khobo is a positive development. Since 2015 when Zakzaky was arrested over a clash between members of his sect and the military, the judiciary has asked the authorities to grant him bail several times. Each of those bail orders were ignored. On December 2, 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of Abuja Federal High Court ordered government to set free Zakzaky and his wife. In January of 2017, the same court ordered the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and the then Director of the Department of State Security Service (DSS), Lawal Daura, to set Zakzaky free or risk jail terms themselves. That, too, never happened.
The reprieve for Zakzaky and his wife came a week after members of the IMN suspended their regular protest for his release. His followers had been protesting his continued detention by government. The protests, at some points, degenerated to violence and death of dozens of persons. The group announced a halt to their protests following the proscription of IMN by government last week.
IMN spokesperson Ibrahim Musa, explained that “the move [to suspend the protests] was taken in good faith out of respect for some eminent people and groups, whose input in the resolution of the problems appears genuine and we sincerely hope an amicable way could be found to solve the crises surrounding the illegal detention of our leader for almost four years now. If at all any protests occur anywhere in the country, it might be this notice hasn’t reached those in the field or this message is misunderstood or it is some security agents who are mischievously behind it.”
To a great extent, these moves have reduced the tension in the country. We call on the sect to keep to the terms and conditions of the medical leave so as to avoid any face-off with government. We, therefore, urge them to use available judicial means in seeking any form of redress against perceived injustice. From previous pronouncements by the judiciary, it is clear that the judges handling this case are impartial and keen about dispensing justice. The sect should leverage on this and put forward their case instead of returning to protests.
We call on government to, on its part, ensure that the trial of Zakzaky over whatever offences he has committed should be done with dispatch. The delay in the judicial process gave members of the sect the opportunity to allege mischief and injustice. The prosecutors of this case should carry out a thorough investigation and provide the kind of evidence (if any) that would facilitate the work of judges. We call on all parties to cooperate with the judiciary and ensure a free and fair handling of this case to its logical conclusion.