Zakzaky is not Thomas Becket; Buhari be Warned

The leader of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, is not the troublesome priest to be gotten rid of by insinuation, writes Arzu Merali.*

One can’t help but wonder whether Buhari’s latest campaign tactic – as claimed across the media in Nigeria today – that Iran is now his and not Sheikh Zakzaky’s avid follower – that his king complex has taken him to the place of Harold II of England.  Said monarch lamented to his circle, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” in reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket.  The result?  An assassinated cleric immediately beatified, and a supposedly penitent but also politically more powerful monarch.

Buhari must understand that there are no such comparisons to be made.  Many observers fear an attempt to provoke some sort of ‘unilateral’ action against Zakzaky by a ‘rogue’ member of the security apparatus to enact the scenario leaked earlier this month to assassinate Zakzaky during the election period is heralded by today’s news stories.  If anything, many see this attempt and media campaign as a sideshow to distract from the likelihood of a Buhari defeat.  Murder to justify defeat is a low even for Buhari but really that does seem to be the desperation he reeks of.  Caught for three years in a bind where releasing Zakzaky and Mallima Zeenah as per the direction of the courts, from illegal detention, will simply strengthen the claims of the Islamic Movement, Buhari has opted for the more dishonourable of the two despicable positions.  When even his long suffering spouse expects no better, why should any of we?

Zakzaky’s position as leader of a movement that acknowledges that change must come through peaceful but seismic structural shift in the way power is dispersed, will not be silenced or curtailed by death or extended imprisonment.  His claims were never personal, nor even based around an idea of ‘church’ and or versus ‘state’.  It’s this type of Islamic Movement that encompasses the plurality of those marginalised in a vision of a future based on justice for all, that challenges the structures and strictures of the failed idea of Nigerian democracy.

This voice for justice gets louder.  It is represented by millions now, not just one.  The choices facing powerful cliques in Nigeria are simply this – bow to change gracefully or become the fulfilment of the worst expectations already accruing around you.  It is never too late.

* First published on the IHRC website here.

Image (c) and courtesy and adapted from Sheikh Zakzaky Office. Image is dated 2024.