It is easy to say Ibraheem El Zakzaky played a fast one on the Buhari administration. With both legal and medical feints, the man wove out of detention, flew first-class to India, asked for a first-class hotel, evaded a pre-test with a pretext, roped both the Nigerian and Indian government in a conspiracy charge, decided the whole sojourn was a dud, and returned to Nigeria.
As he touched down on his home soil, he was back where he began his travail: in jail. The rigmarole could have been funny, except that on both sides, we have witnessed a theatre snap the ribs with laughter. But so absurd was the drama that anyone who laughs should be laughed at. It is what Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett designated as Risus purus, a laugh laughing at itself.
But at the bottom of it all is the concept of the original sin. The federal government thinks El Zakzaky ate the forbidden fruit first. The Islamic Movement of Nigeria thinks Buhari’s men, especially the army, played Adam and Eve. Some observers may think the sins coeval. The forbidden fruit is the breaking of the Edenic purity of the rule of law.
Buhari’s men time the sins differently. They say the group has been an outlaw forever. They have been predators predating Buhari’s ascent to power. In its flashback, The IMN dates it to a scene in the early days of the Buhari administration when soldiers rammed into their rampart in bursts of gunshots that snuffed out quite a few. It was a revenge action at an earlier act of bravado. The IMN fomented a standoff when its men defied the chief of army staff and his convoy and would not allow them a right of way on a major national artery.
The IMN thought in the language of Prophet Isaiah. They saw the road as not only a highway but their way of holiness. The army was unclean and should not pass over it. But it belonged to them, El Zakzaky and his faithful, though regarded as fools by those who err.
The original sin, in other quarters, is more recent. It tracks from the decision of the federal government not to release the IMN leader when the court gave the order. The order has hung over the Buhari administration like Banquo’s ghost. They charged the man to court. They refused to obey court order. It is, in the eyes of many, the original sin that cancels other sins.
So when El Zakzaky acted defiant in India he was acting under the cover of absolution from his own original sin. He probably believes his sins have been forgiven, and the federal government’s sins have washed away his. After all, without the washing of blood, there is no remission of sin. The soldiers have shed some of their blood. He may even believe he has not committed any sins at all.
If the law court says to unlock him, then when he went to India, he acted as the law’s free man. When he sought his own doctors, he did it as a free man. He exercised that liberty when he demanded the luxury of a five-star hotel. It’s because that is what an IMN leader deserves when he is receiving treatment. He sees himself as a sort of national leader like the president of Nigeria. So, if Buhari could receive five-star treatment when crippled by an ailment, then EL Zakzaky feels entitled to the same honour and languor of comfort. He was acting in defiance of the administration but in obedience of the court. He has capsized the tale: the jailbird has made an outlaw of the jailer. Like Asa’s immortal song Jailer, in which she says of the jailer, “you are a victim, too.” The Sheikh was saying in earnest, if the DSS would not obey the court order, he (El Zakzaky) would. He felt a triumph at it. He felt he had made his statement. He returned satisfied he had titillated the DSS into a tizzy.
The DSS did not know the mind of the reticent mystic. They probably thought him naïve. A man who reigns over the minds of men and women? For him they would make an abattoir of themselves, overthrow the system, wrack the National Assembly, pelt stones at the president, throw fear in the hearts of governors and dread in the populace. Such a mystic is cunning, a craft master of the mind. He conned the government and coddled his followers. He slighted the DSS with his sleight of hand. It is a case of counter-intelligence.
Reports confirm that the man is, in fact, ill. The diagnoses unveiled a raft of afflictions. But the political one was that pellets of bullets had not dissolved in his mystical blood. That is an accusation that the soldiers indeed shot at him and his wife. His followers must believe he is a living miracle. That inspires their hatred and invigorates their rage.
So if the man took his illness seriously, why did he not forget the politics and accept to be treated? Obviously, the mystic wanted to grandstand more than he wanted to live. He did not want any treatment. He is a mournful comedian, playing a game in which laughter is possible but not permitted, a theatre where he fires his followers with his sense of martyrdom and sways the neutral public his way. The government, too, should have obliged him the doctors he sought under close observation.
Even if the Sheikh was clever, it was the DSS who made him so. His aura has provoked a lack of cheer in most of the north. He had been a rogue presence on northern highways, a big, irritant gadfly, a cenacle of unrelieved devotees, and an omen around law and order. The law was going to eventually catch up with the fellow. But the DSS lionised him, just as they did the phony revolutionary. He has looked more blessed than he is. He has turned the moral raft upside down. He now looks like the prophet wronged by a profane system.
He has committed the original sin of culture and faith. He has prosecuted his belief with the reckless conviction of a zealot and subvert. The Sheikh and his group also offended against the law in its original sin with the episodes of brigandage and street disruptions. But on his matter, the federal government has executed a protracted fest of flying in the face of the law by being the law giver in a democracy.
An original sin is an inlet into other sins. Since this standoff wears on with both sides priming its arsenal and soldiers, we cannot guarantee how this will end. For now, El Zakzaky claims a moral victory with his sect members while the federal government wears the badge of a taskmaster. To Nigerians, the best each side can claim is what the Roman general said after a victory that seemed like a defeat. Pyrrhus said glumly: “Another victory and we are done for.” We seek no further victories, just justice.
– Omatseye is a respected columnist with The Nation