by Yusuf Lawal

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Hundreds of Shi’ite members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, led by Sheikh Ibraheem Yaqoob El-Zakzaky were killed in Zaria on December 12. These included one of El-Zakzaky’s wives, his son, deputy and spokesperson of his group. The Sheikh was wounded and has since then been kept in “protective custody” and made inaccessible, including to his lawyers and physicians.

According to Major-General Adeniyi Oyebade, the General Officer Commanding (GOC), I Division Nigerian Army, Kaduna, the army and a team of anti-riot police (MOPOL) the “use of lethal weapons” to disperse including killing the members of IMN “is allowed within the rules of engagement”. This was because, the Shi’ites blocked the convoy of Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff.

General Buratai was in Zaria for the swearing-in of new army recruits and to pay homage to the Emir of Zazzau. The Shi’ites were carrying out their annual rites of “Changing of Flags” to usher in the month of Maulud which is the birth month of the Prophet Mohammed.

While the former progressive Governor of Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa insists that “El-Zakzaky’s brotherhood was provoked, and the government or the Army over-reacted”, Major-General Oyebade justifies the merciless killings. He is reported as saying that “the use of catapults could be deadlier than bullets”.

There have been demonstrations in several towns and cities in the country and across the world against the outrageous massacre, and to demand the immediate release of Sheikh El-Zakzaky and all members of his brotherhood still in incarceration. The IMN has also demanded the release of the corpses of their murdered members, a “formal apology from the Nigerian Army”. and “payment for all movement property that has been destroyed”.

In a press statement, the United Action for Democracy (UAD), which SWL is affiliated to, equally pointed out that the Nigerian state “appears to have learnt nothing from recent history”. The UAD National Convener, Comrade Baba Aye stressed that “the army’s arrest of Sheikh El-Zakzaky and subsequent handing over of the Islamic cleric to the police is reminiscent of the developments in 2009 that led to the lethal phase of Boko Haram’s militancy. Mallam Mohammed Yusuf, the sect’s leader had equally been arrested by the army and was handed over to the police, only to be killed whilst in custody”

In its December 19 editorial, Saturday Sun advised that “unless something urgent is done to secure the release of the group’s lead­er, while government makes adequate plans to compensate the families of the deceased, in accordance with Islamic in­junctions, the havoc being caused by the outlawed Boko Haram group, would be small, compared to the damage the El- Zakzaky group would cause”.

With 3-5million members spread across the country, the size of IMN is about ten times that of Boko Haram when the insurgency started in 2009. It also has a broader spread. But beyond festering the wounds it has inflicted on the group, with likely dire consequences for the security of working class-people’s lives (most of those killed by Boko Haram are poor people), violation of the democratic rights of any group of persons by the state must be condemned by working class activists.

There is absolutely no justification for the continued incarceration of El-Zakzaky and his supporters. Socialist Workers League demands the immediate and unconditional release of these citizens.