The handling by the Nigerian State of the criminal allegation and trial of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat, leaves much to be desired in so far as justice administration is concerned. In fact, the matter that kept the couple in confinement for about six years, only for the charges against them to be found unsustainable, is a classic example of how not to embrace the rule of law.
The Police and the Kaduna State Government ought to bow their heads in shame for their clear mishandling of the El-Zakzaky affair, and for being evidently shoddy in their investigation and prosecution
In this circumstance, it is heartening that the court has finally discharged and acquitted the accused persons; and they have been released. Subsequent threat by the Kaduna State government to bring further charges bordering on terrorism and treasonable felony against El-Zakzaky and his wife is not impressive, as this is exactly what the state could not substantiate for more than five years.
It is instructive that prior to El-Zakzaky’s discharge, a Federal High Court in Abuja had in 2016 ordered his release and payment of N50 million compensation for detention that was described as illegal and unconstitutional. The order was ignored, with the government claiming that his continued detention was for fresh charges for which bail had not been granted.
Amongst the grounds upon which the Court (presided over by Justice Gideon Kurada of the Kaduna State High Court) upheld the no-case submission, and acquitted the accused persons is that the offence for which they were charged was retroactive and unknown to law at the time it was allegedly committed; that while the alleged offence was committed in 2015, the charges were filed in 2018 pursuant to a law enacted in 2017. Going by the Court’s decision, this is a clear violation of the provisions of the nation’s Constitution.
It is damning that in spite of allegations by the authorities on the menace posed by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria which led to the clash with the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff in 2015, the prosecution, after detaining the leader of the Shiite movement and his wife for over five years, could not sustain the accusations. This portrays the Kaduna State government as vindictive, malicious, and desirous more of persecution than prosecution.
The prosecution of El-Zakzaky exemplifies the nation’s justice administration system as one characterized by sloppy investigation devoid of forensics and or proper acquisition of evidence, which often leads to improper charges being preferred against accused persons and culminating in an inept prosecution.
Government has a duty to ensure the safety of law-abiding citizens and, where necessary, prosecute criminal elements with the full might of the justice system. However, this should be done within the bounds of the law. From all indications, these tenets were not observed in the prosecution of Sheikh El-Zakzaky by the government.
While it is undisputable that members of the Shiite movement clashed with the convoy of the Chief of Army staff between the 12th and 14th of December, 2015 as a result of which many people lost their lives, it is curious that the prosecution seemed incapable of even convincing the court that the accused persons had anything to do with the fracas. Government should be circumspect in its decisions else it appears vindictive in its quest for justice, which should not only be done but should manifestly be seen to be done.
Relevant law authorities at both the federal and state levels should revisit the full gamut of the country’s administration of justice system in order to sharpen the processes of crime detection, investigation and prosecution up to remand in the correctional centres.
At a time that the country is bleeding from its worst case of insecurity which bothers on kidnappings, terrorism and banditry, it cannot afford to continue to entertain mediocrity and ineptitude currently on display by officers of the administration of justice system. The Police can do better in the area of crime detection and prevention by employing modern means of, investigation and procurement of evidence as would ensure a speedy trial and conviction of offenders.
Huge taxpayers’ funds are appropriated on a yearly basis for the development of security agencies, which are thus expected to do better. Judges should display the courage of their conviction in the exercise of their authority and not allow politicians to sway their decisions. The reports of conflicting decisions by courts of coordinate jurisdictions on subject matters of the same issues and involving the same parties have become an embarrassment to the Bench and continue to bring the awe with which it is regarded to ridicule.
Government on its part must be concerned that the country is not an island, and is expected to conduct its affairs, including the administration of justice, within acceptable international standard; else the country becomes a subject of ridicule. The practice of democracy to which the country professes is incompatible with abuse of the rule of law, or by a continuous disregard for court orders that do not please officers of the government of the day. No investor gains confidence from a system that does not operate within the bounds of its own laws. The Kaduna State Government in particular and Nigeria in general have a duty to protect the rule of law and democracy.