5 years of Zaria Massacre, Sheikh Zakzaky still awaits justice



As we mark the 5th anniversary of Zaria massacre on 12-15th December, 2020, where Nigerian security forces killed over a thousand of civilians, most of them supporters of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria under the leadership of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky – including men, women and children, it is pertinent we revisit briefly what happened during those black days, its aftermath and the way forward in preventing this genocide into spiraling to another catastrophic security problem for the country.

It was in those two cruel days that many infants and babies that knew nothing about the crimes their parents were allegedly accused of were mercilessly killed. It was during that black period too that even the elderly were not spared. The seventy-year-old elder sister of Sheikh Zakzaky was gruesomely thrown in a raging blaze while still alive, as she cried for water to quench her thirst. It was during that period that many families were completely wiped out of existence. It was during that period that not less than 193 children were butchered without any pity. Over 297 women, 548 men and 23 pregnant women were all killed within those two eventful days in December 2015. Valuable properties worth millions of Naira were torched and vandalized.

Within those terrifying days, graves of martyrs, earlier killed by the same Nigerian Army extra judicially, were desecrated and bodies were exhumed. In those same petrifying days, they secretly buried their victims in mass graves at a location several kilometres away from the crime scene. It was during those days that worship and educational centres, graveyard and the residence of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky were razed and completely demolished.

Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife, Muallima Zeenah, were shot during that deadly raid at their home by the Nigerian authorities, in which three of their children were mowed down in front of their eyes. As of today a total of six of their sons have been killed by the Nigerian Army. The first three were killed by the former regime during the July, 2014 Quds day international protest in Zaria.

Sheikh Zakzaky and wife Zeenat

The lopsided Judicial Commission of Inquiry (JCI) they instituted to cover their tracks could not entirely cover up the gravity of these crimes. The Commission had observed the highhandedness of the military, which was not in consonance with their rules of engagement or any known international best practices, and therefore had recommended the trial of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Army’s 1st Division Kaduna, Gen. Oyebade, who led the operation and all other officers who participated in the operation, “before a court of competent jurisdiction.” Years after, none of these Army officers has been arrested for these heinous crimes and atrocities.

In April 2016, a Kaduna state government official admitted before the JCI that 347 members of the Islamic Movement were dumped in a mass grave near Mando, an area of approximately 1000 square metres. This information should be an important lead for the government to investigate the killings and ensure all those suspected of criminal responsibility are held to account. But until now, the shocking lack of accountability for these deaths has served only to bolster a climate of impunity.

In July 2016, the Kaduna State Commission of Inquiry, set up to investigate the killings, presented its report to the state government indicting the Nigerian military for unlawful killings. In December same year, the Kaduna state government published its white paper on the report, which rejected most of the Commission’s recommendations.


Coincidently this month marks the fifth anniversary of the historic judgement delivered by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on the enforcement of the fundamental Rights of the illegally detained leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah Ibrahim. Failure to obey that judgement by President Muhammadu Buhari three years on, and counting, makes it one of the worst violations of the rule of law and a monumental abuse of the rights of the couple.

The learned Jurist had rule that the continued detention of the duo violates their rights under Section 35 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution and the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Consequently, he ordered the release of the ailing Sheikh and his wife within 45 days of the judgement and that both must be provided with a suitable accommodation and security. The court further ordered the payment of 50 million Naira by the federal government to both.

The judge had warned the government in that judgement that holding the Sheikh for so long amounted to great danger, insisting that “If the applicant dies in custody, which I do not pray for, it could result in many needless deaths.” However, Buhari has stubbornly kept deaf ears to that and contemptuously continued to detain them. Instead of releasing them, Buhari opted to file bogus charges against the Sheikh and his wife through Kaduna state government.

This stunning disregard for the rule of law and human rights does not come to the Islamic Movement as a great surprise because Buhari’s utter disregard for court judgements is legendary, and statistics has it that he has disregarded courts in at least 40 occasions since the inception of his government.  In the case of Sheikh Zakzaky, the government has at various times proffered different contradictory reasons for its flagrant contempt of court. One of the most absurd of such was the statement attributed to the President himself that national security is over and above the rule of law. By this his warped belief, he has stirred the country towards the path of dictatorship, to which all other well-meaning Nigerians must stand and fight against.

Failure to obey court orders by the government is an open invitation to anarchy as observed by a Professor of law, and this is at variance with the democratic principles it claims to be running. Before arriving at any decision to release any individual or grant him bail, the courts must have first reviewed the facts presented by all parties and listened to arguments from both the government and such citizens. It is therefore totally unacceptable for a government to choose the judgements it would follow and those it will ignore. In the same vein, Senior Advocate of Nigeria once said: “What is national interest that rule of law must be sacrificed for? Rather, it is in the national interest of any government to obey and subject Nigeria to the rule of law. Where there is the rule of law, every interest, including that of the nation is safeguarded. A country without the rule of law is a lawless jungle.”


As if the blood of the innocent people shed by the Buhari administration in December, 2015 was not enough, the Islamic Movement witnessed further brutal clampdown by the government. The Nigerian authorities have consistently sent in the military to respond to protests or marches by the Islamic Movement. This strategy appears to be at least partly to blame for the bloodshed witnessed these five tortuous years.

Let us briefly remind the public of the killings by this regime since then:

1) On Tuesday 15-12-15 Mobile police opened fire upon members of the Islamic movement who were staging a peaceful protest demanding the release of Sheikh Zakzaky. On the spot 4 people died, while additional 9 died later due to the gunshot wounds they sustained. Some of them were even electrocuted and stabbed severally while in custody.

2) In August, 2016 a combined team of security agents and vigilantes razed and burned the Islamic centre of members of the Islamic Movement in Jos, Plateau state, and destruction of properties worth millions of Naira.

3) Again on Saturday, 16th October, 2016, a joint force of Police and thugs attacked peaceful members of the Islamic Movement at T/Wada, and Centres of the Islamic Movement in U/Mu’azu, Kinkinau areas. A Muslim brother was gruesomely killed by the thugs.

4) Ten people were killed by police in Funtua, Katsina state on 12/10/2016 while on Ashura procession.

5) 34 people were confirmed killed by the police in Kano on 14/11/2016 while on Arbaeen trek to Zaria from Kano.

6) Two people were killed by police in Kano as Arbaeen trek to Zaria began on 05/11/17

7) Police attacked another peaceful procession with teargas and live bullets that kicked off from Leventis round about along Ahmadu Bello Way, Kaduna, in the evening calling for the release of  Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, on Sunday, 7th of January, 2018. They killed 2 persons and injured many.

8) Shaikh Qasimu Umar Sokoto was shot in Abuja during a free Zakzaky protest on 9th January, 2018, but died on 5th February 2018 of the wounds. So also were 2 others killed during a free Zakzaky protest on 9th January, 2018.

9) 2 people were also killed during free Zakzaky protest in Kaduna on 21 June, 2018

10) Between 27-30th October, 2018 50 members of the Islamic Movement were gunned down by the Army in Abuja.

11) Eleven people have been confirmed killed and at least 30 others seriously injured as the police attack a peaceful Free Zakzaky protest march in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja on 22/07/2019

12) The Islamic Movement in Nigeria has confirmed the killing of at least a dozen of Ashura mourners from Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe, Katsina and Sokoto states

13) On 15/11/2019, the Islamic Movement buried one of its members Muhammad Salis who was shot dead by a team of policemen shortly after the yearly Maulud procession that took place in Zaria city to commemorate the birthday anniversary of Prophet Muhammad.

14) The Islamic Movement in Nigeria petitioned the Inspector general of Police over the unwarranted brigandage exhibited by the police command in Kaduna on Saturday 22/08/2020, when policemen were caught on video deliberately burning their vehicle during an unprovoked attack they launched on a gathering of Ashura mourners, ostensibly to put blame on their victims. Not only that they fired live ammunition on the unarmed assembly that included women and children killing 3 people on the spot and injuring at least a dozen and in the middle of the night they burnt 3 houses occupied by members of the Islamic Movement in Hayin Malam Bello neighborhood where they earlier on attacked.

15) Provocative attacks by the police occurred in Zaria and Kaduna after the completion of Ashura processions on 30/08/2020) as heavily-armed security forces came and started shooting at mourners with live ammunition killing two in Kaduna, and injuring many others.

In summary, we believe close to 2000 members of the Islamic Movement have been killed by the Buhari administration since December, 2015.


Worse still, Sheikh Zakzaky has been denied medical treatment, putting his life at risk as a result of grave injuries sustained from previous attacks, in which he also lost sight in one eye and the use of one arm. For nine days in April 2019, a team of doctors were allowed, for the first time, to visit and undertake independent medical examinations of Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife. The medical examinations showed extreme health concerns that require immediate medical treatment, including treatment most likely not available in Nigeria. A series of tests were also undertaken that revealed the Sheikh’s health is deteriorating and he has dangerous levels of lead toxicity in his body.

As a result the Kaduna state high court found the medical conditions of both Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife were severe and required immediate medical attention, and it ordered they should be flown to India for the recommended medical treatment. The court also granted Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife permit to travel to India to seek treatment from the doctors who had undertaken the medical examinations and produced the medical report. As part of the court conditions, Nigerian security was granted permission to supervise the trip.

However on arrival in India, terms of the court order were violated by Nigerian security services. Instead of observing, they began a regime of harassment and effective detention of the Sheikh and his wife in their hospital room, removing their legal documents from. It appeared this was with the help of their Indian counterparts. Most significantly, Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife were denied consultation on the medical treatment they would receive, nor were they permitted to consult with their own doctors. As a result of this blatant mistreatment by the Indian authorities, Sheikh Zakzaky lost complete confidence in any treatment that was offered and became understandably suspicious that any such medical intervention that was subsequently offered would be intentionally detrimental to his health and endanger the life of himself and his wife. Given the level of harassment and ultimatums presented by both the Nigerian and Indian authorities, Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife felt they had no option but to return to Nigeria.

The denial of access to essential medical treatment required by Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife by the governments of Nigeria and India, in defiance of the high court ruling, jeopardised their health, which continues to deteriorate. As such, this amounts to torture and inhumane and degrading treatment in violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).


It is shameful that after the commission of inquiry, set up by the Kaduna State government, indicted Major General Oyebade and other senior army officers for the attack on Sheikh Zakzaky and the Islamic Movement, three years after, they are yet to be apprehended and tried in a competent court of law. The attacks were never condemned by the army hierarchy or the Muhammadu Buhari administration. After his initial silence, President Buhari later suggested during a televised interview on December 30 that the victims invited the wrath of the military upon themselves by “hitting the chest of generals”.

The panel said it established that the invasion of the Islamic Centre, Husainiyya Baqiyyatullah compound was carried out strictly on Mr. Oyebade’s order and without any rules of engagement, an action the commission said was at variance with the provisions of the Armed Forces Act, 1994, and the 1999 Constitution, both of which vested such authorities strictly in the president of the federal republic. “There was no evidence that there was the requisite delegation by the president to the officer who issued oral order for the deployment of the officers and men of the Nigerian Army for the cordon and search operation,” the report said.

“All the officers who testified were not forthcoming in providing full disclosure on the number of the dead, wounded and missing persons,” the report said. Similarly, the medical examiner in charge of the bodies kept at Nigerian Army medical facility in Kaduna also withheld support for the judicial panel. “It is unfortunate that the medical officer in charge of the Nigerian Army Depot Health Centre who took custody of some of the corpses was not forthcoming in giving evidence that would have enabled the commission to ascertain the actual number of people killed,” the report said. “The officer said he didn’t even ascertain the gender of both the adult and children corpses that were deposited in his medical centre.” The panel concluded that the burial of all corpses of male and female Muslims in one grave violated Islamic traditions and other relevant burial laws of Kaduna State and Rule 115 of the Geneva Convention.

From the foregoing it is crystal clear that the trial of Sheikh Zakzaky currently going on at a Kaduna state high court is shambolic to say the least, since the Army officers recommended by the Kaduna state commission of inquiry to be tried are not in the dock waiting for prosecution. The Elrufa’i government of Kaduna state, by so doing, has exposed itself to ridicule in the eyes of the world. It has demonstrated to the Nigerians and the international community that it is after selective justice and looking for a vendetta against Sheikh Zakzaky and the Islamic Movement.


In the meantime, four years on, the government has never been able to prove any of their allegations against Sheikh Zakzaky or any of his supporters in any court of law. The Sheikh has remained unlawfully detained in spite of a judgement by an Abuja Federal High Court that his continued detention is a breach of the constitution and his fundamental rights, and indeed all known laws.

Since the persecution of the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria led by Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky (H) commenced, the High Courts in Kaduna and Sokoto, as well as the Court of Appeal have discharged and acquitted 309 members of the Islamic Movement and dismissed the frivolous charges brought against them. On 2nd July of 2015 the Sokoto Judicial Division – Court of Appeal – has discharged and acquitted 112 members of the Islamic Movement of any offense.

On Tuesday 30/07/2018 Justice David Shiri Wyom at the Kaduna State High Court cleared over 80 Shiite supporters of the Islamic Movement of criminal charges linked to a violent protest in 2015. He ruled in favour of the defence’s no case submission, saying that the state did not present enough evidence to go ahead with proceedings.

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria has on Friday, 21/2/2020 again secured a favourable judgement in the case brought before the Kaduna State High Court against the last batch of its members detained since December 2015 following the heinous attacks by the Nigerian Army in Zaria. The court discharged and acquitted all the 100 remaining accused members and vindicated the Islamic Movement, thereby absolving both the leadership and membership of any blame in the events leading up to the Zaria massacre.

On Friday, 24th July, 2020 the Kaduna State High Court presided over by Hon. Justice M.L. Mohammed again delivered a favourable judgement in the “no case submission” filed by the defense lawyers on the case brought against 12 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria.


In view of the above submission it can be clearly seen that the Nigeria Army operation was preplanned and executed accordingly. There were no such things as plans to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff, or deliberate blockage of the entourage of the COAS. It was only an oppressive act of impunity displayed by the Army with an already planned intention of genocide against the over 20 million members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria by the government. And the recent announcement by the Saudi crown prince that they masterminded the attack in an interview with Time magazine is there for all to verify.

Despite the relentless oppression unleashed on Sheikh and his followers in recent years, the international community has collectively and shockingly failed to hold the Nigerian government accountable for its crimes, be it the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the corporate mainstream media in countries that raise the hue and cry over ‘human rights’. However since the ICC has vowed to begin full blown investigations into the many atrocities committed by the Nigerian Army, we hope it will include Zaria massacre among the many unlawful killings, rape, vandalisation and enforced disappearance the Army perpetrated in Zaria and other places against the Islamic Movement.

Islamic Movement in Nigeria, since its establishment around 4 decades ago, has been raising the banner of justice and resistance in all spheres, which is why it is deemed as a threat by the Nigerian regime, which has been demonstrated by the brutal crackdown on multiple occasions. Surely, the nature of oppression Shiekh Zakzaky and his followers have had to face shows the strength and relevance of such a movement, particularly since oppressors are the corrupt powers.

The Islamic Movement has been known to be a non-violent, non-sectarian for decades, having organised peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrations on an annual basis across Nigeria for over 33 years, primarily in the state of Kaduna, of which the movement’s gatherings have been attacked several times by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian army.

The Nigerian authorities’ failure to hold anyone to account for the killing of hundreds of women, men and children by soldiers in Zaria, shows the acceptance of a culture of impunity for violations for human rights in the country. It is a shame that it has failed to publicly condemn the unlawful killings that took place in Zaria.

Finally, as we mark the fifth anniversary of this Zaria Genocide Memorial, we unequivocally reiterate that enough of this systematic oppression of Sheikh Zakzaky and members of the Islamic Movement. We hereby call on peace lovers in Nigeria and the international community to rise against this form of tyranny and terrorism perpetrated by the Nigerian government on its citizens. In view of all the above, we hereby call on all peace lovers and the International Community to join us in condemning the act for what it is – Genocide. In addition, we demand that:

(1)        Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife Malama Zeenah Ibrahim should be released unconditionally as a means of controlling the situation from further escalation.

(2)        All corpses of slain brothers and sisters still with the authorities must be handed over to us for proper Islamic burial.

(3)        All detainees must be released together with the injured for medical attention.

(4)        We call on the International community, especially the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague and the UN to expedite action to hold the Nigerian government accountable for its crimes, and help uphold the inviolable human rights of the people of Nigeria. 

(5)        Compensation must be paid for properties destroyed and lives lost and those who committed the genocide must be made to face the wrath of the law.





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