A Kaduna State High court presided over by Justice Gideon Kurada, has discharged and acquitted leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) also known as the Shiite group, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, after over five years in detention.
Addressing journalists shortly after the court session on Wednesday, a counsel to El-Zakzaky, Marshal Abubakar, said the court upheld their no-case submission filed by the defence counsel and agreed that, the case lacked merit.
He said, “The trial of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeenat Ibraheem, has come to an end today. The court has upheld our no-case submission. The court found that the charges that were filed in the year 2018 pursuant to a penal law enacted by the Kaduna State government in 2017 over offences allegedly committed in 2015 is ab-initio.
“The court ruled that the charge ought not to be in the first place, because you cannot arraign a man for an offence that was already committed as at the time the said crime was not an offence. And the Court was very emphatic on that,” he explained.
He agreed that though the Kaduna State government has powers to enact laws, “they cannot enact law to prosecute an offence prospectively. That is the first ground on which the court held that, that charge was incompetent.
“On another footing, the no-case-submission we filed in court, the court agreed with us that the trial lacked merits, that the prosecution only came to court to tell stories that are at cross variance with the offences that were alleged in the charges.
“The court agreed with us that, El-Zakzaky and his wife have committed no offence. The Court, however, discharged and acquitted El-Zakzaky and his wife. It said there should not have been any charge against El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat in the first place,” he said.
But the prosecuting counsel, Dari Bayero, did not address journalists as he left immediately after the court session.
Since the commencement of the trial to the end, journalists were barred from covering the proceedings and had to wait outside the court premises for briefings from both the prosecution and defence counsel.
Meanwhile, the IMN leader, along with his lead counsel, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), were seen in the same vehicle as they drove out of the court premises.
El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested in December 2015, following a bloody clash between his followers and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Over 347 people, said to be members of the Shiite group were allegedly killed during the incident and buried in a mass grave at Mando area of Kaduna metropolis.
The IMN leader and his wife were being prosecuted by the Kaduna State government following the recommendation of a judicial panel that was set up in 2016 to investigate the clash.
The IMN leader and his wife stood trial on eight count charge of culpable homicide, disruption of public peace and unlawful assembly among others.
The IMN, in a statement yesterday while reacting to the judgement, stated it was a victory for perseverance in the face of extreme persecution by the Nigerian government.
According to the the statement signed by Ibrahim Musa, spokesman of the Islamic body, “The judgement has not only vindicated our leader and all members of the movement in Nigeria, but a victory for perseverance in the face of extreme persecution by the Nigerian government. It is a victory for truth and justice against tyranny and impunity”.
Musa said, with the court victory, “the false charges filed against them has finally been punctured for good after almost five years of excruciating illegal detention.”
According to the statement, the Kaduna State government filed charges against Zakzaky and his wife as an afterthought a year and a half after a Federal High Court in Abuja had ruled that their continued detention was unconstitutional, illegal and a breach of their fundamental rights and ordered for their release and compensation.
The statement noted that, despite the ruling of the Abuja Federal High Court, “The government however remained in contempt until they decided to frame these spurious false charges in an attempt to perpetually keep them in their illegal custody.
“We, therefore, give praises to the Almighty for yet another successful outing, which further proves to the world that the Islamic Movement and its leader, are only victims of impunity and mischievous plots by both the Buhari-led federal government and the El-Rufai-led Kaduna State government.
“Since both governments have again failed in court after a fair trial, we expect them to respect the judgement of this honourable court and the course of justice to release them with immediate effect.
“We wish to use this opportunity to also say a big thank you to all people of conscience, human rights activists and organisations, journalists and all those that joined in our dogged campaign for justice for the victims of Zaria genocide for the past five years”, the statement said.
In December 2015, IMN members, who were said to be observing a religious ritual, allegedly blocked the road, preventing the convoy of the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, who was in Zaria for the Passing Out Parade of the military school in the area.
The incident snowballed into a serious clash between the IMN members and soldiers the following day, leading to massive killings.
Since the detention of Zakzaky, his followers have been protesting in major cities, like Abuja, Kaduna and Kano, Sokoto, demanding for his release.
Some of their protests often resulted in deaths, following violent confrontations with security agencies, especially, the police.
An Abuja Federal High Court presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole had in December 2016, ordered the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife from detention on the grounds that their continuous incarceration was unconstitutional and an infringement on their fundamental human rights.
The court had also awarded a N50 million compensation to the duo and ordered the federal government to provide a new accommodation for them in Zaria or any northern town of their choice.