The Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Kaduna State Government to investigate the December 12-14, 2015 clash between the Nigerian Army and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), also known as Shiite or Shia sect, has indicted the leader of the group, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, for alleged acts of lawlessness by his members.
The 13-member panel headed by Justice Mohammed Garba Lawal, in its reported submitted recently to Governor Nasir el-Rufai which was made public in Kaduna Sunday night, said El-Zakzaky and his members should be held responsible for the bloody clash with the Nigerian Army last December, which led to the deaths of 349 people, including one soldier.
The report also accused the Nigerian Army of “disproportionate use of force contrary to its rules of engagement”, declaring that soldiers and officers of the Nigerian Army who were involved in the killing of 348 members of the Shiite sect should be prosecuted.
The panel’s findings contained in the report said 349 people – including one soldier – were killed. “Out of the said 349 dead persons, 347 (excluding the soldier) were buried in a mass grave,” said the report.
The commission said it had received 3,578 memoranda – 132 letters and 3,446 emails – along with 39 exhibits and 87 witnesses’ testimonies in the course of the inquiry and the writing of the 193-page report.
“Members of the IMN owe absolute loyalty to Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky. He therefore bears responsibility for all acts of lawlessness committed by the organisation and should therefore be held responsible, fully investigated and prosecuted,” the panel said in its report.
Members of the sect and the army clashed in the Zaria when the latter blocked a major highway during one of its religious processions, in the process blocking access to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, who was attending the passing out parade of the army depot in the area on December 12, 2015.
The commission noted that “the number of casualities recorded during the incident was too high and cannot be justified”, stressing that “members of the Nigerian Army found to have been involved in the killings should be brought to trial before a court of competent jurisdiction”.
The panel also recommended that members of the IMN found to have been involved in the killing of one army corporal, Dan Kaduna Yakubu, during the incident should also be prosecuted.
It also advised the Nigerian Army to “intensify efforts in ensuring compliance with the rules of engagement and other legal standards” at all times during operations.
The panel in the report also challenged the government and law enforcement agencies to be alive to their responsibilities by investigating all persons allegedly breaking the law, even when such persons belong to powerful religious groups.
The report added: “The IMN is notorious for engaging in hate and dangerous speech that provoke other Muslims,” adding that “the National Assembly should initiate the establishment of a law against hate and dangerous speech, and once enacted, the law should be enforced”.
According to the report, efforts by the Kaduna State governor to get the Shiite leader order his members to remove the barricades for the chief of army staff fell on deaf ears.
“The Kaduna State governor’s personal call to the IMN leader in which he asked Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky to call upon his followers to remove barricades on Sokoto Road and allow the chief of army staff access fell on deaf ears.
“Though it was not necessary for the governor to have to do that, it was however commendable, appropriate and sufficient in the circumstances.”
The report however declared that it was inappropriate for the Kaduna State Government to have buried 347 dead persons without a proper inquest, noting, however, that the mass burial was “necessary due to the health risk it posed if they were not buried”.
The panel blamed both the state and the federal governments for the absence of political will to check the menace of the IMN over the years.
On the demolition of the property of the IMN leader, the panel maintained that “the demolition of the Foudiyya School and the Jushi graveyard of El-Zakzaky’s mother and sister, which did not pose any danger to the public, was unnecessary and inappropriate”.
The panel further noted that federal government has the overall responsibility for the well being of every Nigerian.
According to the report, “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees certain fundamental rights of every citizen and it is the duty of the federal government to protect these rights.
“The activities of any person, group or community that poses a serious threat to national security, the unity and peaceful co-existence and curtails the rights of the other members of the society should be of more than passing interest to the government.
“From the testimonies of the State Security Service (SSS), the Nigeria Police, groups such as the Jamaatu Nasril Islam (JNI), communities such as Gyallesu Community, Sabon-Gari community and a host of others, including individuals, it is clear that the menace of the IMN activities had been going on (seemingly unchallenged) for quite a long time.
“Its external relationship with other countries, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and Lebanon, has also been touted. In all these, the government was silent…
“The Constitution of Nigeria protects the rights of all citizens to religious freedom, belief and proselytization and these rights must be respected and protected bearing in mind that the same Constitution has placed limitations.
“When however certain religious organisations and movements abuse these rights by engaging in criminal and illegal acts, the state has a responsibility to investigate and prosecute those who infringe the law.
“The state is effective if it has legitimacy and state legitimacy is itself a function of the state carrying out its responsibility of providing for the security and welfare of citizens.”
The report also showed that considerable evidence was presented against the sect before the commission on the very many infractions of the law that had been committed by its members, adding that most of the cases had not been investigated or prosecuted by the police.
In this regard, the report asked the federal government to “direct the Inspector General of Police to set up task forces in state commands to compile, investigate and prosecute lawless acts committed by the IMN”.
“Considering the nature and organisational structure of the IMN, where the leader has total control over the members, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky should be personally held responsible for all acts of commission and omission of the entire membership of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in its clashes with the Nigerian Army for refusing to call his members to order when required to do so.
“All incidents of violence and aggression by the members of the IMN against individuals, groups or communities, which have resulted in grievous bodily harm, destruction of properties and deaths, should be fully investigated and the culprits brought to book. Where appropriate, compensations should be paid,” the report stated.
Members of the Shiite sect had initially appeared before the panel but later backed out, alleging that some members of the panel were opposed to the group.
They had also demanded for access to their leader who is currently in detention as a condition for appearing before the panel.
As of press time the reaction of the sect to the recommendations of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry was still being awaited.
However, a civil society organisation, Access to Justice, yesterday called on the Kaduna State Government to bring criminal charges against the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 1 Division of the Nigerian Army in Kaduna, Major General Adeniyi Oyebade, and Colonel A.K. Ibraheem as well as others whom the Justice Garba Panel indicted following the deaths of hundreds of Shiite members.
Saying that this is the only path to justice, the group said failure to prosecute the military officers implicated in Shiite killings would be grave and atrocious injustice.
In a statement signed yesterday by its Executive Director, Mr. Joseph Otteh, the group said Nigeria cannot adopt an “apartheid” system of justice in a constitutional democracy.
It stated that by prosecuting only members of the Shiite movement for the death of one soldier and remaining taciturn over the countervailing claims of justice for the deaths of hundreds of Shiite members showed that the state government had taken sides, not only in the conflict, but in how to account for the horrendous loss of lives in that conflict.
The group said the use of the criminal justice system by the government to express and reflect bias was “deeply unfortunate.”
“The Kaduna State Government must begin the prosecution of all the military officers indicted by the Justice Garba report now, and do so with the same vigour and spirit with which it is prosecuting members of the Shiite movement for the murder of one soldier.
“It is extremely disquieting that the Kaduna government would rather arrest and prosecute over 200 persons for the death of one soldier, than charge one soldier for the death of well over 348 residents of Kaduna State.
“The lives of hundreds of IMN members who were brutally killed by Nigerian soldiers are worth protecting the same way the life of one soldier is worth protecting.
“A democratic, constitutional government means that the government is not at liberty to prefer one life above another, or to make judgments on the value of each person’s life based on ethnicity, faith, status or institutional affiliations, but must offer equal protection to Nigerian citizens.
“It means that the government must provide equal protection of the law to all citizens and, therefore, hold accountable in equal measure, any persons who have caused or contributed to the loss of any life. The government cannot determine which life is worthy of protection and whose life is not!
“It means the government is not at liberty to let some citizens live above the law and outside of it, and compel others to live under it. It means that there are no second class citizens of Nigeria. It means that justice must be equally and evenly rationed to all citizens alike, whether they are soldiers or civilians.”
According to Reuters, how the authorities respond to the inquiry’s findings may indicate the extent to which reform is being implemented under a drive by President Muhammadu Buhari, to root out human rights violations by soldiers.
The report published on Sunday confirms claims by human rights groups such as Amnesty International that the army killed hundreds of Shi’ite Muslims during three days of clashes in the northern city of Zaria. The army has repeatedly denied this.
Reacting to the report, Nigerian Army spokesman, Col. Sani Umar said: “We are aware that the report has been made public and we are studying it.
Africa’s most populous nation has around 180 million people, including several thousand Shi’ite Muslims whose movement was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Shiite Iran.
The majority of the country’s tens of millions of Muslims are Sunni – including the Boko Haram jihadist militants who have killed thousands in bombings and shootings mainly in the North-east since 2009.