The Nigerian government, whether at the behest of some of its more powerful allies or acting on a fatal misconception, is continuing to enact a campaign of deadly dehumanization against the country’s Muslim religious icon and his thousands-strong followers.
The acts of brazen oppression that have been visited upon Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, who is the head of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), as well as his long-suffering next of kin, and supporters, comprise a litany, which is found atrocious by even those who have no sympathy for the subjugated community’s faith, race or nationality.
Back in 2015, a convoy carrying Nigeria’s defense minister positioned itself right amidst a religious mourning procession, which was being conducted by Muslims in the northern city of Zaria. Accusing the mourners of attacking the motorcade, Nigerian forces then unleashed indiscriminate naked violence against the attendees, and went as far attacking Zakzaky’s residence and whoever IMN supporter, whom they would cross paths with.
Unbridled as the force used to confront the Muslims was, it killed some 350 of the movement’s members, including three of Zakzaky’s sons. The army also apprehended Zakzaky and his wife, using such brutality that blinded the cleric in one eye, and left the other one in a deteriorating condition.
Hundreds more of the Muslims have been killed at the hands of the forces ever since the state-authorized conflagration on various occasions, including recurrent religious events or commemorations of the Zaria bloodbath.
Sheikh Ahmad Abdullahi Zango, a notable religious figure with the IMN, has called the crackdown a calculated undertaking under direct instruction of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Zakzaky and his wife have been kept in detention ever since, suffering continually from a seemingly intentional refusal of proper medical care.
Back in August, the couple were allowed to travel to India to receive medical treatment as his condition was worsening. But he returned to Nigeria a few days later, citing a push by the Nigerian government to “obstruct” his treatment. Abuja then took the two to a dilapidated “detention” prison in the northwestern Kaduna State, and has been kept there so far in squalid confinement conditions.
Hospital sources have reportedly cited continued existence of dozens of shrapnel pieces in Zakzaky’s body.
His family has described the overall treatment as a drive aimed at killing the cleric in detention.
In 2016, UK-based rights body Amnesty International decried the Muslims’ massacre and called, a year later, for Zakzaky’s release from detention.
Also in 2016, Nigeria’s federal high court ordered Zakzaky’s unconditional release from jail following a trial.
Despite the ruling and preponderance of verified evidence pointing to state-organized draconian treatment of the cleric and his followers, Abuja charged Zakaky in April 2018 with murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace, and other accusations. He has pleaded not guilty.
The central government has also branded his movement as a “terrorist” entity, banning all of its activities.
Mohammed Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, one of the cleric’s sons and a survivor of Abuja’s bloodletting, once famously championed his father and the movement’s peaceful practices, saying, “I was born of a father who could never ever condone the path of wrath, even at the cost of his sight.”