Protesters in Abuja hold banners showing the picture of Shaikh Zakzaky on February 14, 2017. (IMN website)

Track Persia – Feb 19, 2017

Supporters of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria IMN have been holding protests across major cities to call for the release of their leader Shaikh Ibraheem Zakzaky.

“We are deeply worried about the present health condition of Shaikh Zakzaky, holding him hostage is a clear violation of court order as well as his basic right and therefore unacceptable,” IMN said in a statement on February 14 when it took to the streets in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

“We are calling on the acting President of our country Nigeria, a legal luminary, professor Yemi Osinbajo to release Shaikh Zakzaky and other innocent Nigerians, Immediately and unconditionally. It is mandatory for the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) to mount pressure on the Federal Government to obey the court and release Shaikh Zakzaky.”

At a commercial motorcycle park in Lagos, this photo shows ‘Free Zakzaky’ painted on an abandoned trading shed behind two boys selling soft drinks on February 3, 2017. (Track Persia)

Shaikh Zakzaky was remanded in custody after Shi’i Muslims on December 12, 2014 in Kaduna embarked on an annual procession that culminated in a faceoff with a convoy of personnel from the Nigerian army.

A court issued deadline for his release elapsed on January 15th. But he has remained in custody with authorities citing security concerns.

“Al Zakzaky is a security threat,” Yinka Salam, a current affairs analyst, a Sunni Muslim, told Track Persia. “There is nobody who lives in Kaduna who does not know that he is a government on his own.”

But Shi’i Muslims in the country  describe such criticisms as baseless. They see their leader’s continued detention as a form of persecution from authorities dominated by Sunnis who they say fail to respect their rights to religious freedom.

“It’s a clear violation of rights,” Shuaib Ahmad, a member of the academic forum of  IMN, told Track Persia. ” The Shia school of thought is a very good ideology that promotes peace.”

From student activist to IMN leader

Shaikh Zakzaky founded the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in the late 1970s when he was a student at the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaira in Kaduna.

He attained a degree in Economics, but the authorities denied him the degree due to his Islamic activities.

During his study at the university days, he was active and became the secretary general of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria. He later became Vice President of the national body in 1979.

Shaikh Zakzaky, according to a documentary on IMN’s website, converted from Sunnism to Shiism. A few years later, many of his followers also converted. Over 10 million people have reportedly flocked to Shi’i Islam.

“Many of us now see him as a spiritual and also political leader,” a respondent said in the documentary. “Somebody who has come to salvage the country like Imam Khomeini did in Iran and like Shayke Faudi did in Nigeria 200 years ago.

The IMN leader had been propagating Islam around 1979 at the same time of Iran’s Islamic Revolution inspired by Iran’s later Supreme leader Khomeini.

After the success of the Iranian Revolution, Shayke Zakzaky travelled to Iran where he met with Khomeini. Despite the latter was ill at that time, Zakzaky got permission to meet him in the hospital. Khomeini and Shaikh Zakzaky along with his visiting group had a talk. The IMN leader recorded Khomeinie’s speech. After that visit, Zkzaky returned to the university in Lagos where he started to give speeches.

“After that, news about Imam Khomeini would reach us,” Zakzaki told an audience at the Holy City of Qom where students and researchers were working on producing of a documentary. “We had read in newspapers that there were very large scale protests taking place in Iran and people have the pictures of Imam in their hands”

Same scenario appears to be happening with Zazkaki himself as protesters march on streets across major cities carrying his  picture, underpinning how Shaikh Zakzaky’s influence mirrors that of Khomeinie.

IMN draws its funding from brethren who Shuibu describes as very cooperative and caring.

”It’s a mass movement with various kinds of people including business men and women, lecturers, medical practitioners and even some soldiers. They make daily or monthly contributions anytime they gather and no matter little it is meaningful because of the large number of contributors.”

But Ganiyu Shittu, a Sunni Muslim and former student of ABU believes funds come from a more diversified source. “Some senior Nigerian Shi’i politicians also contribute and support also comes from Iran.”

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.