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Nigeria: Between Democracy and Islam
Sheik Zakzaky-led movement seeks to establish an Islamic government
Bala Muhammad Makosa (babanjawad)     Print Article 
Published 2007-05-31 16:53 (KST)   
Sheik Zakzaky (right) with a guest during 2007 Muslim Unity Week in Zaria.
©2007 Bala Muhammad Makosa
Sheik Ibrahim Zakzaky's Islamic Movement of Nigeria is gaining in popularity. Presently, he has over 5 million disciples in the country, and many others in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and other parts of the world. He has established a community with different perceptions from other Nigerians -- and different ideologies.

Since gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria has remained secular without any official religion. It is, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo liked to say, "multi-religious."

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The Islamic Movement has its own schools teaching Islam and Western education. It built a modern Islamic center in Zaria, the headquarters of the movement, and other sub-centers in all parts of Nigeria. The movement's activities are always peaceful, without violence or vandalism.

Zakzaky emerged in 1978 with a call for the establishment of an Islamic government in Nigeria, while still a student at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. He preached at ABU's mosque, especially on Fridays, and often spoke against the then military administration of Obasanjo. The government, he said, was a dictatorship. It was not running its affairs under the Islamic banner. He urged his listeners to rise against any government not established on Islam.

Although he gained hundreds of supporters at ABU, he also aroused the attention of the university's authorities, which alerted Obasanjo's military administration to the movement. Zakzaky was allowed to continue preaching against the government until he led a protest of hundreds of his disciples, who traveled the main roads of Zaria holding signs with anti-government slogans and calling for an Islamic government. He was later arrested and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Sokoto Prison.

In 1981, during the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Zakzaky was released from Sokoto Prison. He soon continued his call for the establishment of an Islamic government. As his popularity increased, gaining him more supporters, especially in the north, where 80 percent of Nigerians are Muslims, the Shagari civilian government too arrested Zakzaky. He was sentenced to two more years' imprisonment in 1982, this time in Enugu Prison in eastern Nigeria.

In 1985, on the heels of his release from Enugu Prison, Zakzaky became the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. He continued to gain in popularity and press his call for the establishment of an Islamic government. To those who didn't think it possible to bring about an Islamic government in a secular country like Nigeria, Zakzaky would respond that nothing was impossible in the sight of God, and cite as an example the Islamic Revolution in Iran as led by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.

That same year, Zakzaky was again arrested, this time by the military administration of Gen. Muhammad Buhari. Charged for declaring that there was no government in Nigeria, he was sentenced to two years at Port Harcourt Prison.

Released in 1987 during the military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Zakzaky continued his movement and continued to gain supporters. Realizing that his movement was a threat to the government, the Babangida administration arrested him that same year and sentenced him to three years at Enugu Prison. He was released in 1990.

At the time of his release, Nigerians were experiencing hardships caused by the Babangida government, which was still in power; thus, his call for an Islamic government that would establish justice, equity and alleviate poverty gained him even more supporters, especially among youths and university students. He was soon arrested by the Babangida government and sentenced to two years at Enugu Prison again, charged for attempting to topple the government.

During the military administration of Gen. Sani Abacha (1996-1998), Zakzaky was re-arrested (September 1996) and put in Port Harcourt Prison. A day after his arrest, thousands of his disciples demonstrated in major Nigerian cities. In Zaria city, the police shot to death 14 of his disciples during a demonstration. Two days later in Kaduna town, his disciples held another demonstration demanding his release -- 24 were shot to death.

After a year in prison without trail, Zakzaky was transferred to Kaduna Prison. In court, he was charged for declaring: "There is no government except that of God."

After the death of Abacha, during the military administration of Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, Zakzaky was released unconditionally. For two years, the government had tried him without success.

Since then, Zakzaky has continued the same call for the establishment of an Islamic Government in Nigeria: "Only Islamic government can rescue Nigerians -- both Muslims and Christians -- from the yoke of the capitalist leaders, because Islamic government is built on the supremacy of God and his justice."

More and more people have come to support the movement because they have lost confidence with the democratic and military governments of the past. As those governments are seen as being responsible for the country's poverty, many government officials having looted the public wealth, the future struggle for leadership in Nigeria will be between democracy and Islam.

Female disciples marching during 2007 Muslim Unity Week in Zaria.
©2007 Bala Muhammad Makosa
Audience listening to Zakzaky speak during 2007 Muslim Unity Week in Zaria.
©2007 Bala Muhammad Makosa
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Bala Muhammad Makosa

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