Omoyele Sowore, one of Nigeria’s 2019 presidential hopefuls, has guaranteed immediate freedom for Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, if he’s elected president in 2019.
Mr. Sowore also said he will sign an executive order for expedited investigation into the 2015 Zaria massacre of Shiites widely blamed on the Nigerian Army.
“Our first act in office would be to release El-Zakzaky,” Mr Sowore told a packed audience of youth during a town hall event in Abuja Friday night..
He also vowed to sign executive orders to unravel those behind the deadly assault in which soldiers were indicted for killing nearly 400 civilian members of the Shiites movement.
“Everyone must get justice,” Mr Sowore said when he expanded the killings to the prevalent cases of abuses linked to state actors.
Mr Zakzaky has been kept in custody by the State Security Service (SSS) since December 2015 when the killings occurred. He was terribly injured at the time, but the SSS later paraded him before the media as a proof of his recovery.
His wife was also detained since then, despite several court rulings for their release.
In July 2016, a judicial panel of inquiry that looked into the massacre indicted a Nigerian Army general, Adeniyi Oyebade, for his role and recommended his prosecution.
Nearly two years on, however, no action has been taken to bring Mr Oyebade and other principal actors to justice.
The dithering might not entirely be a surprise since President Muhammadu Buhari condemned members of the movement for standing in the ways military generals which provoked the attack. This has been widely deemed an indication that the president had no interest in prosecuting those responsible.
The Nigerian Army has strongly denied wrongdoing in the massacre, accusing Mr Zakzaky and his members of being a national security threat by stockpiling arms.
Mr Sowore’s town hall, which comes a day after Mr Buhari unveiled plans to seek re-election, was a gathering of youth activists and public policy experts.
Auwal Rafsanjani, an anti-corruption crusader, said the time has come for lucid minds like Mr Sowore to take over leadership of the country.
It’s time to “believe in our comrade,” Mr Rafsanji said of Mr Sowore, with whom he had been active first as students union activists and later pro-democracy and anti-corruption voices for nearly three decades. “Let’s join hands together because it’s time to take our country back.”
“We’re tired of giving advocacy to criminals. Its time to set an agenda that will liberate this country from backward and analogue people. This is the only broken a have to get out of the artificial poverty.”
Mr Sowore has repeatedly reasserted his ability to defeat Mr Buhari since he entered the race for president last month, but has yet to decide on which political party he would run as required by the Nigerian Constitution and extant electoral regulations.
Asked the question last night, Mr Sowore, who has led Sahara Reporters as its fiery publisher for more than a decade, said he was still consulting with other progressive minds to identify a proper coalition that would help actualise the objectives of his ‘Take Nigeria Back’ movement.”