Fresh facts have emerged that the Federal Government may not grant the request of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, be released for medical treatment in Tehran, the Iranian capital.
A reliable government source told Saturday PUNCH that powerful forces within the government were not favourably disposed to the request.
The source also gave details of a high-level security meeting held in Katsina on Thursday of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and governors from 11 states in the North.
Although the meeting, on the surface, was concerned about the general security challenges facing the country, the source, who is a senior intelligence operative, told one of our correspondents that the Shiite situation dominated the discussion.
However, because of the sensitive nature of the subject, the details of the discussion were not made public.
Although the meeting was held behind closed doors, the source revealed that the governors and the IGP felt that releasing El-Zakzaky to Iran for medical treatment could cause a major security problem for Nigeria in the near future.
“It was concluded at that meeting that the idea of granting Iran’s request that El-Zakzaky should be sent to them for treatment would never happen. And even if he was released, allowing him to travel out of the country would never happen because that would be like giving him a passport to go and rearm,” the source said.
However, Saturday PUNCH learnt that talks were ongoing between the Federal Government and Iran over the release of the Shiite leader while findings also showed that the IMN was not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
Recall that the Prosecutor-General (Attorney-General) of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammed Montazeri, had penultimate Friday written a letter to the Federal Government of Nigeria asking the government to allow El-Zakzaky to come to Iran for medical treatment.
Montazeri, who also criticised the Federal Government’s handling of the crisis, said El-Zakzaky’s current medical condition had become a source of worry.
The letter read in part, “I, as the prosecutor general of the Islamic Republic of Iran, urge the Nigerian judicial authorities (to take steps) in line with their judicial independence and support for a captive citizen, and provide the ground for his release and transfer him to the Islamic Republic of Iran for treatment.”
But stakeholders at the security meeting believed that if allowed to go to Iran on medical grounds, the IMN leader could become very powerful and begin to foment trouble from overseas while causing security problems for Nigeria back home.
According to them, such a decision can also undermine the government’s efforts to clip the wings of the Shiites who have become violent over the Federal Government’s continued detention of El-Zakzaky.
“He would amass so much influence before ever returning; he could even seek asylum there and start fomenting trouble here. These are based on the intelligence that the Department of State Services gathered,” the source stated.
One of the governors present at the meeting, who is from the North-West, according to the source, specifically said at the meeting that as long as he remained the governor and the chief security officer of his state, he would never support the Federal Government to grant Iran’s request.
The governor, who has a very significant number of Shiites living in his state, said he would never tolerate a situation where IMN members would continue to live as if they were in Iran, adding that they could go to Iran to practise their religion if they wanted the freedom of worship.
The meeting, which had the Commissioners of Police from the 11 states in attendance, also had in attendance a Presidency representative from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
The source added, “They (Shiites) have been proscribed. So, there is a possibility for them to resort to violence like Boko Haram. Naturally, it is expected that the northern governors, as chief security officers of their states, have to rub minds as to what measure can be put in place to nip the issue in the bud, so that the situation at hand does not degenerate to the level of the Boko Haram insurgency.
“(Governors of) Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Bornu, Sokoto, Zamfara, and Adamawa were there (at the meeting). Not all the northern states are flashpoints of insecurity. A chunk of those Shiites are from Kaduna, Kano, and Katsina.”
He added, “The SGF’s representative was there. It was the IGP that actually chaired the meeting; Governors Nasir el-Rufai, Aminu Tambuwal and Abdullahi Ganduje were there.
“One of the governors, who is believed to be very outspoken about the IMN issue, advised that everything should be done to ensure that the Shiite movement does not degenerate into another Boko Haram. He said that they had curtailed their activities in Kaduna State and that they (Shiites) said that they didn’t recognise the Constitution, the President and the governor of the state, but were only loyal to the Quran, they should go to Iran to so that they can practise that 100 per cent.”
FG, Tehran in talks over IMN leader’s release
The source, who revealed that the Federal Government was currently negotiating with some people with a view to releasing the IMN leader, noted that Iran was also involved in the process.
“Unofficially, they are actually negotiating that (El-Zakzaky’s release). The Federal Government is speaking with the leadership of the Shiites in Nigeria; Iran is also part of the negotiation. The reason is to strike a balance and get an assurance that if this action (release) is taken, they (Iran) will not go against whatever agreement or condition given for his release,” the source added.
El-Zakzaky, who is in his mid-60s, lost his left eye when the Nigerian government forces raided the northern town of Zaria more than three years ago.
The raid started after Shiites refused to allow the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, to ply a road.
His wife also sustained serious wounds while more than 300 of his followers and three of his sons were killed in the violence that ensued.
The cleric has been kept in custody along with his wife and a large number of his followers ever since.
El-Zakzaky’s followers had for the last two years been holding protests mainly in Abuja, calling for his immediate release.
In recent time, the protests have become more aggressive leading to the deaths of Shiites, security officials and innocent Nigerians caught in the crossfire.
The development forced the government to, through the court, proscribe IMN and declare it a terrorist organisation
Iran, which is the stronghold of the Shi’a Muslim faith, has been demanding the release of El-Zakzaky for over three years despite reports that the Office of the National Security Adviser has asked for Iran to withdraw support for the Shiite leader.
Back in 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of a Federal High Court ordered his unconditional release from jail following a trial but the government has so far refused to set him free.
El-Zakzaky’s legal team has long called for his release, saying he is suffering from health issues that require urgent medical care abroad but the state high court in Kaduna has denied the request.
IMN not registered with CAC –Findings
Meanwhile, IMN is not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission and is, therefore, not recognised as a legal entity neither is it a juristic body, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
A search on the CAC portal showed that the IMN does not exist on the commission’s database.
Also, its other names – Muslim Brotherhood and Ikhwan al-Muslimin – were not found in the database of the CAC.
A spokesman for the IMN, Abdurrahman Abubakar, confirmed to our correspondent on the telephone that the IMN was not registered with the CAC.
Abubakar said the IMN was a movement like Catholicism, Protestantism and Pentecostalism hence it needed not be registered.
He, however, explained that the IMN had schools, foundations and other institutions which were duly registered with the commission.
The IMN spokesman said, “The IMN is a movement, it is an idea so it cannot be registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission but we have organs that are registered like schools and foundations. These ones are registered with the commission.
“We also have associations that are registered with the CAC. The IMN is a concept, an idea that cannot be registered. You cannot register something that is not a substance.
“Do you register Catholicism or Protestantism? No. But they can have churches or organisations that are registered with the CAC. We remain a law-abiding movement and we have the right under the constitution to worship freely.”
FG can’t proscribe, outlaw a religion – Shiite prof
A Professor of History at the Bayero University in Kano, Dahiru Yahya, disclosed that the IMN was not a legal body and as such could not be outlawed.
He disclosed further that Shiite was a religion, adding that the Federal Government lacked the power to proscribe religion.
He said, “The proscription is illegal. We are going to appeal against the proscription order. We would be going to court on Monday. The whole thing will be ready by then and I know that by Monday we would have gone to the court.
“The IMN does not exist as a group. You cannot in any way outlaw religion, you cannot proscribe a religion. The IMN had never been a legal body.”
The professor of history also disagreed that events leading to the proscription of IMN, which culminated in the deaths of several persons, were carried out by members of Shiites, whom he claimed were not violent.
Those who were killed during the protest included the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, FCT Command, Usman Umar, a Channels Television journalist, Precious Owolabi, and several Shiites.
“The violence that they are talking about was from the Federal Government itself, and not from the Shiites’ peaceful protest. The violence was perpetrated by the police and not members of the group. Shiites are never known to be violent in this country. In any case, we are appealing against the proscription,” he added.
Speaking on the possibility of the Iranian government intervening to find a lasting solution to the group’s situation in Nigeria, the university don said, “As a policy, the Iranian government will not interfere in the policies of other countries. Of course, they are aware of what is happening here. They had said those injured should be brought to Iran for treatment.”
Shiites movement asks court to set aside proscription order
Meanwhile, the IMN on Friday, filed a suit to challenge the order of proscription issued against it by the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The IMN filed the motion on notice before Justice Nkeonye Maha of the Federal High Court in Abuja, who issued the proscription order and designated it a terrorist group in a ruling delivered on July 26.
The group in the application filed on behalf of the group by Mr Femi Falana (SAN), alleged as part of the grounds for seeking the reversal of the proscription order, that the order was made without jurisdiction.
It contended that the court lacked the jurisdiction to issue the ex parte order against a non-juristic body like IMN which is not an incorporated entity.
It also alleged that the order breached the fundamental right of all its members to a fair hearing, guaranteed by section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution.
It also alleged that the ex parte order violated its members’ right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as freedom of assembly and association as guaranteed by various sections of the Constitution.
Their lawyers, added, “There was no urgency warranting the grant of the order ex parte. No Motion-on-Notice was filed together with the motion ex parte.
“The ex parte order made by the honourable court has determined the fundamental right of the respondent/applicant without affording it fair hearing.
“No undertaking was made as to damages. The order ex parte constitutes a gross abuse of the process of this honourable court.”
In its supporting affidavit deposed to by a lawyer and member of the group, Haruna Magashi, the group said the order of proscription was issued by the court without affording the members fair hearing.
He also alleged that the Federal Government “suppressed and misrepresented material facts” in obtaining the said order.
Magashi maintained that members of IMN “are non-violent but peaceful and they have been in existence since the 1970s in Nigeria as a Muslim body.”
He added that contrary to the government’s claim in the said affidavit, it was the security agencies that had allegedly at all times provoked IMN members, violently attacking them and destroying their properties and killing them across the states.
He alleged the Federal Government’s agents and the Nigerian Army had “killed three sons of El Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in 2014.”
He added, “That the current governor of Kaduna State, Mr Nasir El Rufai, paid a condolence visit to Sheik El ZakZaky at the material time.
“That el-Rufai condemned the military attack and described the murderers as ‘Jonathan Genocidal Army’.”