Last Monday, there was stampede in Abuja when police dispersed members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as the Shiite Islamic sect, from protesting at the Unity Fountain. During the clash, tear gas and bullets were freely fired and in the end, 115 people were arrested. In this interview with IBRAHEEM MUSA, the President of Media Forum of IMN, Malam Ibrahim Musa, speaks on the clash and how the Islamic Movement plans to continue with its struggles.
Why did members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria(IMN) defy police order by insisting on its sit-ins at the Unity Fountain in Abuja?
It is not true that we defied their order. We were just exercising our right to peaceful assembly as guaranteed by the constitution. Nowhere under the law is it said that we have to even ask for permit before we assemble peacefully.
But instead of protests and confrontations, why has the movement not returned to court to press for the release of your detained leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El Zakzaky?
We are still in courts. It seems the Attorney General of the Federation, Alhaji Abubakar Malami, created a stalemate on the appeal they are claiming to have made on the judgement of the federal high court freeing our leader, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky. They refused to follow all the procedures of the appeal, thereby intentionally delaying the appeal proceedings. So, it is not that we have abandoned the legal path and become confrontational. Remember, justice delayed is justice denied.
Is Deji Adeyanju a member of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria or a consultant to the group?
No, Prince Deji is the Convener of a group, Concerned Nigerians, that is famous in championing just cause across the country. It just happens that the group realized that we have been treated unjustly and badly by the Buhari’s regime, and it felt that, it should also champion our cause. There are other similar human rights organisations that do support our demand for freedom for Sheikh Zakzaky.
Reports indicted Adeyanju as being the brain behind some of your campaigns. How true is this allegation?
The allegation is false. But we started the campaign to free Sheikh Zakzaky before him. Of course, we are working together, and there is no problem with that. If somebody offers you a helping hand in your hour of need, will you refuse him? We appreciate his contribution to our struggle for justice, and we welcome any group or individual that feels we are being victimized in the country.
It is widely believed in some quarters that IMN is being used by the opposition for political reasons, especially to discredit the present administration. Why is IMN in league with politicians when it is supposed to be a non partisan religious body?
The IMN is not in league with any party or politician, and as you rightly said we are a non partisan religious body. Even the brutal clamp down on the Movement is not viewed from partisan lines. We have never accused the APC as a political party, rather we blame the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
If any political party condemns how we are being treated, probably it is aiming for cheap political points, but not that we are in tandem with the political party.
Remember it is not the Islamic Movement that started this crisis, it is the federal government, therefore, it is wrong for somebody to assume we are being used for some sinister motives.
Before the crack down last Monday, there was a video clip that went viral, where some members of your sect allegedly rained abuses on the president. Why should IMN defame the president over the non release of your leader?
Let me correct you, it is not that IMN as a body is defaming the president. But I agree with you some members did defame him. But imagine yourself to be the victim of somebody who killed your parents and detains your religious leader, will you sing his praise?
But Islam forbids a Muslim to abuse his leader. Don’t you think your members who did that video have disobeyed Allah’s law?
I don’t know where you get that ruling that Islam forbids a Muslim to abuse his leader. If you look into the history of Islam, you will come across instances where leaders were abused for injustice here and there. It is when you forget what was done to us in Zaria that you will see the bad side of that video you are talking of. Remember over a thousand people were killed, some burnt alive, including children and women, with many buried in a mass grave.
In the press statement that you issued after the crack down, you alleged that your leader has suffered a stroke in detention. How did you get this information when you have been complaining that you have no access to him?
The authorities detaining our leader Sheikh Zakzaky do allow his family members to visit him from time to time, but we his followers have been denied that opportunity, likewise his lawyers. So it is from his family members that we heard of his deteriorating health condition.
You also alleged that the authorities have been looking for ways to infiltrate your free-El Zakzaky-campaign but you didn’t give evidence to back your allegations?
What is happening is that during our peaceful protests, we observed that some people are doing some things that are detrimental to our cause. As a Movement, for the past four decades we have not been violent, so anybody taking the path of violence is not part of us. In the beginning of the soldiers attack on us in Zaria, December 2015, Sheikh Zakzaky was interviewed by the BBC Hausa service, and was asked why his followers blocked the path of the Chief of Army Staff.
He swore by Allah that they were not part of us, because we don’t normally block that particular road during our programmes. So anybody doing anything inimical to our position cannot be part of us.
But anyone who has visited Zaria during your programmes will attest to the fact that your members do block roads regularly. Why are you denying that now?
I don’t think that visitor is fair to us. It doesn’t make sense even for us to block road just because we are holding a programme in Husainiyya Baqiyyatullah that is along the busy Sokoto road in Zaria. If you say because of our numbers traffic becomes heavy, I agree with that, but we don’t block roads and stop safe passage of vehicles. We have videos of our programmes on the net, if you click them you can see our volunteers controlling movement of vehicles on that busy high way.
How many of your members were arrested during and after last Monday’s attack and how many lost their lives?
No life was lost on Monday. One person was thought to have been killed, however it was realized he went into a coma after a bullet fractured his skull, but Alhamdulillah he is responding to treatment. However, many were injured, and the police confirmed that they have arrested 115 persons, 14 of them are women. There were also some under-aged children.
Given what your members have gone through, will you discontinue your sit-ins at Unity Fountain?
No, we will continue with the struggle until our demand for the freedom of Sheikh Zakzaky is met. There is no justification for keeping him behind bars after killing his children and followers and wounding him critically.
Will the struggle include sit-ins at Unity Fountain?
Yes. It depends on the situation on the ground. But we will keep on going there. We are peaceful; if they choose to disperse us instead of protecting us, it is up to them.