Friday, December 11, 1998 is a day the Federal High Court in Kaduna will wish the world would forget in a hurry, but in itself it will never be in a hurry to forget, for on that fateful day it abruptly terminated a two – year – old trial the world so much wanted to see to its conclusion.
It was one fine Friday morning, and surprisingly quite unlike other Fridays when security operatives were seen all over the streets in anticipation of the usual impromptu procession by followers of Sheikh Ibraheem Yaqub Zakzaky, who was detained by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The state had filed a three-count charge against Sheikh Zakzaky and three of his followers, referred to as the Zaria Four, for carrying out the following acts:
- Forming a common intention to excite or attempt to excite a feeling of disaffection against the government.
- To excite or attempt to excite feelings of dissatisfaction against the government.
- Reproducing by mechanical means and on the front pages of magazines “Babu Gwamnati Sai Ta Musulunci” (there is no government except that of Islam), words intended to excite feelings of dissatisfaction against the government of the Federation and Kaduna State.
The day was not slated for Sheikh Zakzaky and the three others to appear before the court, but words were going round that the presiding judge, Adamu Abdul Kafarati was in town. This made me very suspicious that something was going to happen. I quickly headed for the court. Somehow, anyhow, a group of already tipped off journalists were there. There I was informed that Sheikh Zakzaky and the three others were to be quietly released, and the case terminated on that day. On a second thought, the court decided that the release be postponed till after Friday prayers when the Muslim population must have reduced to avoid possible jubilation. It was intended to be a quite affair.
Quietly without the usual siren and heavy security presence, Sheikh Zakzaky and the three others- Alhaji Hamidu Danlami (late), Abubakar Abdullahi (late) and Shittu Muhammad- were silently ushered into the court chambers around 3pm. The journalists to cover the inner chamber secret affair were carefully chosen. Late BBC Hausa reporter, Adamu Yusuf was mandated to do that. I was among the priviledged ones.
As we were ushered in I met Sheikh Zakzaky and the three others standing, while the presiding judge sat with no single paper on his desk. I did not see when the accused arrived the court, I believed they must have been smuggled into the chamber through the back door- all in an effort to make it low key. Only two mobile police men were allowed entry.
Without much hesitation, the then Attorney General of Kaduna State, Mr. Rabo Barde stood up and informed the court that of the state’s decision to discontinue with the case. The press and indeed the policemen present were highly surprised with his statement: “I, Mr. Rabo Barde, the Attorney General of the State, by the powers conferred unto me by section 19(2) of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended by Decree 107 of 1993, move for the discontinuance of the case of a three- count charge filed against Sheikh Ibraheem Yaqub Zakzaky, Alhaji Hamidu Danlami, Abubakar Abduallahi and Shittu Muhammad”.
Having moved the application, Justice Adamu Abdul Kafarati shrugged off his shoulders in total resignation and turned to Sheikh Zakzaky for his response. Those present was highly surprised at Sheikh Zakzaky’s response: “I would have wished that the case be allowed to continue to its logical conclusion till a winner or vanquished emerged. But since the state has decided to withdraw the case in the face of impending defeat, I have no objection”.
The presiding judge, who was moved by the response sat on the edge of his chair and informed Sheikh Zakzaky of the clamor for his release by teeming followers. Shaikh Zakzaky said, he did not make the clamor, and was not aware of any clamor for his release since he has been in prison custody for over two years.
With nothing much to say, the presiding judge turned to the second accused person, Alhaji Hamidu Danlami for his response. Alhaji Danlami associated himself with the submission of Sheikh Zakzaky, and asked that the state government to tender apology to “Mallam”. The other two accused persons, one after the other, made similar statement.
There was a moment silence in the court chamber. Sheikh Zakzaky saved the embarrassing moment: “Since it is over…”, he moved forward to the presiding judge, offered him a hand and gallantly went out followed by his lieutenants under the helpless watchful eyes of the mobile policemen, who were fuming with anger and embarrassment.
As Sheikh Zakzaky stepped out of the court chamber, he was swarmed by journalists, among whom was Director of the Human Rights Monitor, Festus Okoye. I quickly moved in and gave Sheikh Zakzaky the Weekly Trust newspaper of that day which I later found out was in the picture of the release and carried the story. He passed it to Alhaji Hamidu Danlami. “Waiting for El-ZakZaky”, was the front headline story of Weekly Trust that day. It later became obvious to me that, the release was arranged by the government, but meant to be quite.
From nowhere, I saw one Brother prostrating close to the court room when Sheikh Zakzaky and the three others stepped out. An angry looking riot policeman watched with disdain, but he was helpless as people began to flock around Sheikh Zakzaky. They security operatives quickly left the premises.
Two new salon Peugeot Station Wagons were brought by the government to convey Sheikh Zakzaky and the three others, but I heard the Sheikh say: “We have our own car”, and headed for a car parked close to the courtroom. The drivers were perplexed. That was how Sheikh Zakzaky and his convoy left the court premises triumphant.
The release was not coincidental, or even accidental. It is the accumulation of series of defeat suffered by the state in the course of the two – year trial. The array of witnesses paraded by the state had worsened the situation to the extent that some of them were prevented from appearing before the court to avoid disgracing the state. Sheikh Zakzaky outwitted in an outright disgrace prosecution’s witnesses, because they were acting a poorly written script. While the play lasted, the script went beyond the playwright’s control- the state.
Here are some of the major prosecution’s witness disgraced before the court: Musa Abdullahi DSP, Sule Garba Cpl., Ibrahim Yaro Sgt., Ibrahim Adama Cpl., Jimoh Umaru Insp., Christopher Ater Sgt., Joseph Bodunke Omokore, Lt. Shamg Ibrahim and Alhaji Mukhtari Ibrahim ACP- who after his testimony ran after Sheikh Zakzaky pleading: “Wallahi Malam, I did not. They tell you AC Mukhtar did this and that. Wallahi, it wasn’t me…” Sheikh Zakzaky waved him away: “You owes us blankets and Tuwon Sallah”. He kept on pleading. He was making reference to an incident that happened when blankets and Eid feast were brought to Sheikh Zakzaky and the three others, but were confiscated at the prison gate.
To say that Sheikh Zakzaky won the battle is not just enough, he has rendered the state judicial system inept. When the state chewed more than it could swallow, and the drama became more complicated and therefore had to employed the Greek technique of Deus ex Machina of killing a story to save situation.
This is for the record, the state for lack of evidence had to release Shaikh Zakzaky. There was no condition attached to the release, as some of the state-owned media later reported.
IBRAHIM USMAN IS THE SPOKESMAN OF THE ISLAMIC MOVEMENT IN NIGERIA
He can reached on [email protected]