By Rafiu Ajakaye
LAGOS, (AA): A court on Friday ordered the release of Nigeria’s top Shia leader and his wife, saying that government holding them in a protective custody for nearly a year is contrary to the nation’s laws.
Ibrahim El-Zakzaky El-Zakzaky’s attorneys had challenged the couple’s detention since December 13, 2015 following the army’s crackdown on the Shia in the group’s northwestern Zaria headquarters.
The crackdown, precipitated by what army claimed to be the group’s assassination attempt on army chief Tukur Buratai, led to the brutal killing of at least 343 Shia members and the demolition of their religious headquarters along with El-Zakzaky’s residence.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole dismissed the government’s objections to the suit and ordered that El-Zakzaky and his wife be freed and handed to the police “within the next 45 days.” He also ordered that they be paid over $80,000 apiece as compensation while government provides them with a home until their house is fixed.
“I have not been shown any report or complaints lodged by residents from the applicant’s neighborhood to show he has become a nuisance to them,” the judge ruled, rejecting the government’s claim of the Shia chief being a security risk.
In what seemed a tacit reference to how Boko Haram went from a clerical movement to a full-blown violent group, the judge said keeping El-Zakzaky in custody could result in his death and his group wanting to avenge the loss.
Shia faithful hailed the ruling, which is open to appeal up to the Supreme Court, as a triumph of the rule of law. The government has yet to comment.
The December 2015 incident led to the northwestern Kaduna state, home to Shia headquarters, banning the group. A few other northern states have also outlawed any procession linked to the group.
[Photo: Protest held in Beirut, Lebanon, for release of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. Photographer: Ratib Al-Safadi/AA]