The Shi’ite Conundrum
THE Chambers of the National Assembly is the shrine of liberty. Whoever enters it is protected from the molestations of power. That is why, by law, every elected legislator has immunity from arrests or retribution within the grounds of the parliamentary building, and cannot be prosecuted for slander or libel or for any utterance of defamation made in the course of debate within the parliament.
IN the French system, the privilege is called the parliamentary right of “irresponsibility” and “inviolability.” Citizens who seek sanctuary in the grounds of the National Assembly, unless expressly authorized by the siting Assembly for removal, and only by the Sergeant-At-Arms, such citizens are protected from arrest.
THIS right was last Tuesday grossly abused following its invasion by members of an Islamic sect, Shi’ites, who were protesting the Federal Government’s continued detention of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, despite a court order for his release. Reports had it that the members seized the service gun of one of the police officers at the gate which was used to shoot two officers, vandalised the gate, burnt two vehicles and smashed several others
THIS was not the first time members of the IMN would storm the Federal Capital Territory or exude such violent tendency to press for their leader’s release. A clash with a Nigerian Army convoy in Abuja in October 2018 was ghastly. They smashed civilian vehicles windscreens and windows and also attempted to overrun the escorts to cart away the ammunition and missiles the troops were escorting.
BEFORE the Tuesday’s invasion, members of the sect had on July 2, marched to the parliament demanding for the release of their leader, el-Zakzaky. They were received by a member of the House of Representatives, Ado Doguwa on behalf of the leadership of the National assembly. Doguwa was said to have addressed them and promised to get to them, “even before they could get to their destination”. A statement from Abdullahi Musa disclosed that 148 hours after the visit, there had been no response either from the legislator or his colleagues. They thus returned last week Tuesday and unleashed violence and terror on the assembly.
EL-ZAKZAKY had been in detention since December 2015 when the sect members blocked the Kaduna-Zaria Road during one of their religious treks and held the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, TukurBuratai, hostage.
TO enforce his fundamental human right the Islamic cleric, through his lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, had approached an Abuja Federal High Court, presided over by Gabriel Kolawole. He urged it to declare that his continued detention without trial was unlawful and demanded his release. The court on December 2, 2016 ordered his release within 45 days to the police and awarded N25million damage in his favour and that of his wife Zeenah Ibrahim . For over a year now the order has not been honoured, they are still in detention.
WE however condemned the invasion of the national assembly by the Islamic sect. The sect, by that action have over-reached their privilege and abused their right to free assembly or protest as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution. We call for the prosecution of the perpetrators to serve as a deterrent and forestall any future occurrence.
NO doubt, the breach has highlighted the security lapses prevalent at the National Assembly. We thus advise that porous areas identified be blocked and improved upon so as to guarantee security of the legislators and visitors to the assembly.
ALSO, government’s refusal to honour court judgment is the height of impunity in a democracy, it is a flagrant violation of the Constitution and abuse of the rule of law. It is an action that should be alien to democracy and civil order. Such should no longer be tolerated. Our law prescribes that no citizen should be held for more than 48 hours without being charged and tried for an alleged offence.
THE argument of the State Security Service that the cleric is “being kept under a protective custody” is untenable. . If the government believes that El-Zakzaky poses any threat to public peace, he can be released but put under strict surveillance, without necessarily tampering with his basic human rights or flouting court orders. This errant conduct does not bode well for good governance and survival of democracy. Obeying a court order is fundamental to the reign of the rule of law, orderly society and deepening of democracy globally.
THE action of the sect last week Tuesday is a red flag warning that the country may be having another radical group to contend with it if it is not properly handled. With the unfinished Boko Haram war and the ominous presence of the Islamic State, the country already has formidable enemies. The human and material costs of the confrontations with these non-state actors have become so huge that government should not compound the present security challenges by inadvertently driving the Shi’ites underground.