Elzakzaky‘s acquittal: The Imperative of counter-narratives

The news of Elzakzaky’s acquittal by the Kaduna State High Court and his subsequent release greeted people in different ways. While IMN adherents and some other self-proclaimed human rights and justice advocates welcomed the news with felicity, others who are majorly former victims of Elzakzaky’s IMN’s terror and people in ground zero (Gyallesu community and Zaria at large) received the news with mixed feelings.

In 2018, I wrote a treatise which compared the rise of Shi’ite authority in both Iran and Nigeria. The article dissected the events that predated the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the events that saw to the rise of IMN as an outlaw organisation under Nigerian authority up till the events of December 2015.

The article, having established some aligning points between the Iranian and Nigerian events, concluded with an inference that IMN might be testing grounds for the feasibility of a replication of the Iranian-like revolution in Nigeria. It also called on the government to pursue the case rigorously leaving no loophole that could attract undue sympathy or propaganda to falsely portray Elzakzaky’s supposed innocence, especially, in circumstances where he is not.

Sadly, the government did not do well in that regard. Its mismanagement of the situation especially in terms of inadequate mass communication gave room for the rise to eminence of many misconstrued, misrepresented and misleading information and analyses usually brought forth by IMN supporters, apologists and IMN friendly international media, which lent credence to the campaign that sought to portray his innocence. Such information and analyses eventually overshadowed the many civil testimonies of atrocities meted to the people by IMN members.

Such biased reports painted Elzakzaky as a saint and revered philanthropist and his IMN as a non-violent congregation of Shiite Muslims being persecuted for the sole reason of being Shi’ite — a case for minority persecution. The government at a point in time lost its grip on the narrative which became largely one-sided and this resultantly portrayed the government in a very bad image to the not well informed Nigerians and the international community.

For example, hardly do you hear from those prevailing narratives the fact that Elzakzaky was arrested by various heads of state during their regimes, from Shagari to Buhari to IBB to Abacha and finally Buhari again. Most of such arrests were usually accompanied by charges including those of sedition and treason as in the arrest of 1996.

Moreover, the prevailing biased narratives peddled by those that side with the IMN usually conceal the fact the IMN do not recognise the Nigerian State and other symbols that prove her sovereign authority (including the constitution, national anthem, etc) and its first point of allegiance is the Iranian theocracy modeled around the doctrines of Wilayatul Faqih (The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) and that their major ideological objective is the creation of an Islamic State.

These narratives which were left largely without befitting factual counters also almost completely clouded the IMN’s culpability (especially its para-military arm called the “HURRAHS”) in the defiance of rule of law and constituted authority as in the many cases of violence against the populace some of which led to death (including that of a police officer at some point) and major injuries; violent attacks on members of other sects as in the case of Mallam Musa Sahabi who was stabbed in the head by IMN members and many more of such cases; forceful annexation of mosques that belong to other sects; building on lands without statutory title and building permits as in the case of Hussainiyyah Baqiyatillah building and others; infringement of human rights and freedoms, especially of movement during their various annual processions; illegal mounting of roadblocks and checkpoints leading to tremendous inconveniences, etc.

Their rule of law defiant tendencies at a point in time saw to their metamorphosis into full outlaws capable of attacking convoys of first class chiefs like the Emir of Zazzau and blocking a governor’s convoy from accessing the streets of Elzakzaky’s host community, Gyallesu.

People do not also know that IMN operated for more than four decades without duly registering the with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), a contravention of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA). Various sources have submitted that the IMN is a huge beneficiary of financial support from international entities, especially, from Iran. However, due the fact that as a non- registered organisation, IMN does not have an official bank account it is usually hard to trace financial flows both from within and outside Nigeria. Its connections to international organisations some of which are notorious for terrorism and are captured in the list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) like Hezbollah have been established by some sources.

These and many more form the other side of the story but hardly did the government and other victims make sustained efforts in providing counter-narratives to the prevailing one-sided narrative portrayed by IMN and its apologists.

The bloody December 2015 event was a sad event which resulted in the death of almost 350 people. The fracas happened as a result of some group’s efforts to prevent the convoy of the then Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Buratai from passing through a road that led to Depot Nigeria Army. It could be seen in the widely circulated video that the then Nigeria Army PRO embarked on an on-the-spot dialogue with this random IMN group begging them in the name of God to clear the road for the passage of the COAS but they refused. Even phone calls to the IMN leader Elzakzaky to persuade his followers to remove the blockade proved abortive.

The NA claimed the situation reached a threatening extent especially to the safety of the COAS and they “shot their way” killing seven people and injuring 10 people on the spot as revealed by the then acting provost marshal.

The prevailing narrative suggests in some quarters that the killing of almost all the 347 people happened immediately and in reaction the convoy blockage scenario. However, there seem to be omission of some facts. It was not until after a threat assessment and aggregation of intelligence reports (of influx of IMN members from all over the country into Zaria and other factors which have not be declassified) was done that the General Officer Commanding Div 1 gave a “Cordon & Search order” which as submitted by the Nigeria Army was necessitated by the threat level. Weapons including IEDs were confiscated from the IMN members, according some reports.
While majority stand by the fact that extrajudicial killings of such nature should always be condemned, others hold the opinion that it is not within our rights and jurisdiction as citizens to also conclude that Nigeria Army operated arbitrarily because we are not privy to the level of threat established and the gravity of the intelligence gathered which necessitated the operation. This ought to be investigated rigorously and the public deserves to know the parts that can be declassified.

Elzakzaky (and his wife) have since then been in detention even after a court verdict that ordered their release in 2016. The government quoted public interest, national security and other issues including the fact that their was another case between him and Kaduna state as reasons they were not released in 2016. A High Court in Kaduna however acquitted him and ordered his release on July 28, 2021 and the court order has been respected this time around as Elzakzaky is currently out to seek medical intervention. Some people hold the opinion that the acquittal and release was not entirely based on the judicial proceedings but had diplomatic undertones. However, that is yet to be confirmed.

The mixed feelings emanating from this new court order and his subsequent release is not unconnected to the fact that the narratives that majorly prevailed during the six years period of this case which is seen to be aligned to the bias and propaganda sponsored by the IMN and its friends within Nigeria and abroad completely suppressed other narratives that sought to explain the ordeals people had to go through for decades in the hands of the IMN. Some people believe that justice has not even been served yet.

Hence, the call by some concerned stakeholders for massively publicised testimonies; a concerted campaign aimed at telling the other side of the story by victims and release of declassified reports by Nigerian authorities to serve as counter-narratives and inform others of the many reasons a lot of people especially in ground zero (Zaria) do not welcome this recent court order. It could even be heard from some quarters that Zaria people are ready to staunchly resist Elzakzaky if he tries to come back to Zaria and victims are ready to start instituting individual legal actions against him for the many atrocities his men have perpetrated over the years.

While the call for counter-narratives have continued to take shape, the news that fresh charges of terrorism and treasonable felony have been filed against Elzakzaky have sparked mixed feelings as well! It is our hope that justice(for all) and sustainable peace prevail.

Ringim, a political/public affairs analyst, writes from Zaria via [email protected]