The Chairman, Resource Forum of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Prof Abdullahi Danladi, talks to ALEXANDER OKERE about the continued detention of the leader of the group, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah
I wouldn’t say I’m not, neither will I say I am because yesterday (Tuesday January 26, 2020), the only surviving son issued a statement that apart from COVID-19, which she contracted in the correctional centre, she has some underlying health challenges, which would require special attention as well.
What are the health challenges?
She has chronic arthritis, then high blood pressure and other complications. Therefore, the prison authorities have cooperated with her doctors and she has been receiving treatment and there are some improvements. So, she is fairly stable and we hope that the situation will continue to improve. As per the sheikh, we are not aware that he has contracted the disease. We thank God and pray that Allah will continue to protect them.
In the first place, I would like to correct an impression. A clash is when there are two groups of people who are equally armed, fighting among themselves. What happened in Abuja, at the human rights centre, was about the continuous, daily free-El-Zakzaky demonstration, which is always peaceful until when there is an attack by the authorities. On Tuesday (January 26, 2021), there was this peaceful protest. The pictures are there. You could see harmless young men in a line, chanting ‘Free Zakzaky’. That was the only thing being said. Nobody was molested. Traffic moved freely. But suddenly, the police appeared and started firing live bullets to the extent that one person was killed. So, you cannot call that a clash. When you are walking on the street, exercising your right to protest against an injustice that has been done to you, as enshrined in the Constitution, and then somebody appears with live bullets and opens fire on you, do you call that a clash?
But the police described your protest as violent. What is your response to that?
How was it violent? What made it violent? We have never carried arms. We will never carry arms. What we do is to come out on the street in a peaceful manner and convey our feelings to society that we have been oppressed, we have been cheated and we have been subjected to various forms of inhuman treatment as if we are not citizens of Nigeria. But we insist that we are Nigerian citizens and we demand our rights and our rights must be protected and respected. Among these rights is our right to peaceful protest. Sometimes, we gather in millions and it is never a story until some 10, 20 people are walking and the police attack and then it is tagged a violent demonstration. So, it is not true that our protests are violent; our protests have never been violent.
They (police) want to make the public, especially those who are far from the scene of the happenings, think that we are a violent group of people. Ask the people around Abuja or at the scene where this thing (protest) happens, they will tell you it was not a clash or a violent demonstration. There are days we hold the procession and the police do not come and everybody will disperse happily. Some may not even know that it (procession) happened. So, they are trying to portray the Islamic Movement (in Nigeria) as a violent organisation and this is exactly what they have been trying to do for the past years, since the attack on Sheik El-Zakzaky and his followers in his house. If we were to be violent, Nigeria wouldn’t have been the same. Mind you, many of us have been killed. That is why our leader is in prison with bullet particles in his body and his eyes and he has been poisoned. His wife is currently suffering from COVID-19 and even when one person was killed today (January 26, 2021) he (deceased) was only carried away, washed and buried. So, if we were to be violent, it would have been a different thing. We have never taken arms. We don’t want to take arms. We are not terrorists. Let people listen to our ideology and let them use their own faculty of reasoning to analyse what we are saying to see whether it tallies with common sense. If yes, well and good; but if no, they have every reason to reject what we are saying. That does not mean we should be castigated and subjected to any kind of media hanging.
Don’t you see your activities as unlawful, especially since the Federal Government said it had proscribed the IMN?
What is IMN? What we stand for is Islamic Movement in Nigeria and it is an ideology that we, as Muslims, want to live our lives according to the teachings of Islam. Therefore, it is a movement towards reviving and re-establishing the divine guidance of Allah as revealed to our Holy Prophet Mohammed, Sallallahu Alehi Wasallam. So, how does this contradict the Nigerian Constitution for them (FG) to have banned us? Ask anybody who is a Muslim what Islam is. It (Islam) is the belief that there is no other god but Allah and that Mohammed is the messenger of Allah, and that is our stand. So, what we are doing, what we are attempting to do and what we want to achieve is the establishment of the divine guidance of Allah, as established by the holy prophet in Medina and as contained in the scriptures. So, for them (FG) to say they want to ban us means they want to ban our ideology and you cannot ban our ideology, unless they are saying that in Nigeria, it is a crime to be a Muslim. In which case, they should come out boldly and readjust the Constitution of Nigeria and say we have no right to be Muslims in Nigeria. In that case, we would decide whether to remain in Nigeria or to go elsewhere and practise our religion. But as long as we are living in this part of the world called Nigeria and we are Muslims, certainly, we will put all efforts into establishing Islam in our individual and collective society. Whether somebody chooses to understand us or not to understand us, whether somebody chooses to come close to us to understand what we are doing or chooses to remain afar and be carried away by the lies being propagated, that is left to them. But what we know is that we are not violent and those that have listened to us know that we are not violent.
Take the case of the 2011 post-election violence in Zaria for an example. In Zaria, particularly in the area where Sheikh resides, the Christians took cover in his house. He sent food, water and medication to those that were able to run to the army barracks. How does that tally with violence, when somebody is trying to save human lives, despite the fact that they are not Muslims?
Are you worried about the danger your activities expose your members to, having lost many of them?
Any struggle will require some sacrifice and we know if you are killed because you stand for the truth, certainly, your life is not wasted. There is this concept of martyrdom; it is for somebody to have a belief, stand by the belief, struggle for the belief and be killed for the belief. Those people (IMN members) that have been killed, it was not because they committed any crime. Check any one of them, you will find out that they were about the best in their society, either intellectually, morally or spiritually. Yet, they were killed. Take the case of El-Zakzaky’s children, for example. One of them was almost getting to be an aeronautical engineer and another was about to become an electrical engineer. They were killed, young men with bright futures. But if you consider the fact that their lives were not lost to robbers, bandits or car accidents but to an ideology, certainly, their blood will never go in vain. Rather, it is this kind of blood being spilled by the arrogant authorities that makes us firm and gives us inspiration towards the fact that by God’s grace, one day, we will attain our goal.
You said El-Zakzaky had been suffering from sleep disorder, recurrent spiking hypertension and other ailments. Do you fear he might die in prison if he is not released?
Certainly, there is that underlying fear. That is the fact. But concerning his age – 67, going to 70 – he is old enough. Look at the psychological torture he is subjected to. Six of his male children were killed. Three of them (were killed) in his presence and he was dragged over their dead bodies with their brains on his face, and then he is having bullet particles in his eyes and suffering from high blood pressure. With these underlying issues, it is just God’s miracle that he has survived (thus far). Just imagine somebody losing three children at a time and another three killed sometime after, and his wife shot. Many people came to defend him and over 1,000 of them were killed. So, much as it is true that we fear for his life, we pray that he will survive this torture. He will survive this imprisonment. He will survive this condition and the future of Nigeria is bright by God’s grace.
We will not continue in this degraded society where human life has no value. Every day, blood is being spilled. All over, people are being killed. Our resources are being taken away by a very few individuals for selfish and personal use. Nigeria has no business being poor, if only our resources can be properly utilised. That is the crime he (El-Zakzaky) has committed, telling them that they should stop stealing our money but use it for the development of society. They are not happy with that and are, thus, attempting to kill him.
Considering that you have made several calls for his unconditional release to no avail, do you suspect that there is an attempt to continue to keep him in prison to the point that he loses his life, in the hope that with his death the activities of his followers will be suppressed?
Certainly, we believe so. They may be capitalising on the fact that he is sick. They have poisoned him. Even when he was shot, the bullets had their poison. During his stay in the hands of the Department of State Services, he was fed poison, which has been established in his body. So, they are capitalising on his poor health condition, hoping that one day, they would just wake up, that he has died and they would just be happy that they were not the ones that killed him directly but his ill health. What will they benefit by killing this man? Now, they are capitalising on his health, thinking that he will die. Insha Allah, that will not happen. He will come out of detention gallantly by God’s grace.
How will the IMN feel if El-Zakzaky does not make it out of prison alive, given his state of health, age and the number of years he has spent in custody?
By God’s grace, he will (make it out alive). In the statement I read on the first anniversary of that ruling by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja, he (judge) said he prayed that this man (El-Zakzaky) should not die in prison because if he does, there will be many deaths.
In October, 2020, the IMN claimed the police had yet to release the bodies of eight of its members, who were allegedly killed during its protest in July, 2019. Have they been released now?
We are aware that some people were taken alive when the attack took place and to the best of our knowledge, we have not received them back, dead or alive. So, we believe that some are still with the state apparatus. We pray that Allah will continue to preserve them and one day, they will come back and join us in the struggle.
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