Nigeria: Why We Can't Speak On Shiites' Travail - MURIC

Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.

The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has in a press statement explained why it has not been making comments on the ongoing faceoff between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), (Shiites) and the Nigerian government.

The group, whose principal duty is to ensure the protection of the rights of every Muslim in Nigeria, said it cannot discharge such function concerning the IMN controversy due to patriotic concerns.

The MURIC statement, signed by its Director, Ishaq Akintola, was made in response to the secretary general of IMN, Abdulmumin Giwa's allegations who accused all sister Islamic sects and the right groups of abandoning them to their fate and allegedly taking sides with the federal government.

Last week, the members of the IMN had a bloody faceoff with the police in Abuja, during a protest staged to press their demand for the release of their detained leader, Sheik Al-Zakzaky who was arrested in December 2015, following a clash his members had with the soldiers.

It was on record that following an ambush on the convoy of the chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, soldiers moved to attack and demolish the Zaria house of Sheik Al-Zakzaky, which use to be the spiritual headquarters of the Shiite sect. During the raid, the Shiite leader and his wife were arrested.

Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah Ibraheem, have been in detention without charge for more than two years.

A judicial commission of enquiry set up by the Kaduna state government had confirmed that more than 300 persons who were members of the IMN were killed during the face-off in Zaria. The corpses of the deceased were confirmed to have been buried in a secret mass grave.

According to Amnesty International's research, more than 350 IMN members were killed by security forces between 12 and 14 December 2015 in Zaria, Kaduna State.

On December 2, 2016, the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled that Mr. El-Zakzaky and Zeenah Ibraheem should be released within 45 days. The court described their detention, which began in December 2015, as illegal and unconstitutional. The deadline for the court order had expired since 16 January 2017.

The authorities claim, Mr. Al-Zakzaky and his wife are being held in "protective custody."

Early this year, rumors went wild that the IMN leader may have died in the custody of the security agency, which prompted the Directorate of Security Services (DSS) to make a public presentation of the Shiite leader.

Since then, members of the IMN have continued to stage peaceful protest rallies in Abuja and other parts of the country where they have large members demanding for the release of their members.

Following last week's clash with the police, the IMN leadership accused members of the Islamic community as well as rights groups like MURIC in Nigeria of according conspiracy of silence to their plight.

In response to such accusation MURIC said its silence was more of national interest any other interest. The group however wished IMN well in its quest to seek the release of their leader

"Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria have been staging daily protests in Abuja for more than a week now over the continued detention of their leader, Shaykh Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky since the military clampdown on the group about two years ago" MURIC's statement reads..

"The Secretary of the IMN media team, AbdulMumin Giwa, on Saturday, 21st April, 2018, also accused other Islamic organizations of keeping mute over the group's plight. He said other groups see the IMN as rivals. Apart from this allegation, a section of the media has also recently bombarded the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) with questions over its presumed 'silence' on the plight of the Shiites.

"While we would not like to drag issues with the IMN and we wish them well, we wish to state clearly and categorically that MURIC has not commented on the group's recent protests because we are being cautious. We see the need for us to exercise caution because there is more to the matter than meets the eye. We do not see IMN as our rival.

Protesters at berger area. Close to Utako market during Wednesday's IMN protest.

"Whereas it is natural for us as a human rights organization to frown upon the continued detention of the IMN leader, responsible advocacy and love for our dear country Nigeria has compelled us to remain cautious. The embarrassment not withstanding, this issue is complicated, particularly as it has serious security implication for Nigeria.

"Our solace lies in the fact that MURIC actually spoke out ab initio. We condemned the military's attack on the Al-Zakzaky group when it first occurred two years ago or so. Then we went into investigations. We contacted our members and members of the public living in Zaria. That was when the narrative changed," MURIC said.

MURIC's grievance against IMN

MURIC said people who live in the same neighbourhood with members of the IMN volunteered information indicting the group. They accuse IMN members of excesses. They claim IMN infringes on their rights, particularly in Zaria.

"We have no reason to doubt them. The evidence is overwhelming. These complainants are the eye-witnesses. They see it everyday. Who feels it knows it. So why wont we believe them? What can we do as a Muslim rights organization when hundreds of Muslims express fears and reservations about a particular group? What can we do when fellow Muslims narrate their harrowing encounters with the same group?"

"What can we do when Muslims who are very close neighbours of an Islamic group submit pictures and written testimonies of harassments, intimidation and outright attacks on their persons by another Islamic group? How can we now come out publicly to defend such a group? We realize that those complainants are also Muslims whose rights must be protected by us. We court the anger of Muslim complainants if we rise publicly in defense of an Islamic group which they see as a bully.

"That is why we have opted for tactical diplomacy. On one side are the Muslims and other members of the public who complain bitterly that they are being harassed. On the other side are the followers of Al-Zakzaky who have been accused of intimidating ordinary Nigerians including their fellow Muslims. Then you find the government in-between. The latter has a constitutional responsibility to secure lives and properties. It has a duty to ensure law and order and Nigerians will waste no time to condemn government for failing in this duty. This explains government's crackdown on the group.

"It is not an easy task for us. Silence is not in our character. We have to critically examine the case at hand. Nigerians who are neighbours of the Al-Zakzaky group have the right to live in peace. The Muslims who complain against the Al-Zakzaky group have the right to live in peace. Government also has a duty to ensure peace, law and order. There is little choice in rotten apples. MURIC found itself between Chylla and Charibdis. This is a mess and noise will only make it messier.

"Nigerian Muslim leaders and other Islamic organizations are in the same situation. We are priviledged to know that Nigerian Muslim leaders are concerned about Al-Zakzaky's well-being. They are worried about his health, his freedom. They are working quietly behind the scene and they have made a lot of progress in this regard.

"This is what Muslim leaders are working on and MURIC endorses this process: quiet, behind-the-scene moves. We have absolute confidence in the leadership of Nigerian Muslims. We cannot go into the nitty-gritties for security reasons but we can assure Nigerians that our leaders are not folding their hands. They are doing their best in the present circumstances. The issue is highly volatile and needs to be handled with extreme care in order not to create scenarios like we have in some other countries.

"MURIC is determined to continue playing the role of a responsible human rights organization. While we love to promote respect for Allah-given fundamental human rights of citizens, we will not encourage lawlessness or chaos. To turn a blind eye to the sufferings and complaints of a large number of people to cases of high-handedness and lawlessness on the part of the Al-Zakzaky group will be against the principles of natural justice, fairness and equity. We stand to gain nothing by playing to the gallery.

"We affirm that the continued detention of Shaykh Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky has been a difficult and painful experience for us but we also understand that national security may sometimes override fundamental human right and court pronouncements. Patriotic Nigerians will not want a situation whereby the country suddenly goes up in flames. That is the last thing MURIC wants.

"Nigeria has enough security challenges at the moment and we should not aggravate the situation. The example of the leader of an ethnic group who was granted bail but whose freedom became a catalyst for nationwide tupsy-turvy about a year ago is too didactic to forget. Nigeria is bigger than any single person" the group said.

Way Forward

The way forward, according to MURIC, is to "adopt conflict resolution tactics. It is not a matter for the courts. Nigerian courts hardly consider security implications. That is why the law is an ass. MURIC advises government to bring leaders of the Al-Zakzaky group to a round table. The Nigerian Muslim leadership must be involved in the dialogue. The round table should aim at securing the release of Shaykh Al-Zakzaky, an assurance of respect for peace, law and order by the Al-Zakzaky group, a written commitment that members of the group will stop intimidating their neighbours and a halt to the group's endless long-distance walks on express ways which cause hardship to innocent citizens".

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