by Daily Trust
The report of investigation by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the clash in Zaria between the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), popularly known as Shiites, and the Nigerian Army, between December 12 and 14, 2015 has been submitted.
The 14-member panel, headed by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, tendered the recommendations to Governor Nasir el-Rufai on July 15, 2016. From every indication, the report possesses ingredients that can potentially nip the incessant sectarian conflicts in the country in the bud.
The panel’s findings on the roles played by the Army in the bloodbath include the following:
1. Disproportionate use of force contrary to the Army’s own Rules of Engagement and International Standard of Proportionality.
2. The high number of casualties cannot be justified.
3. Conducting such operation totally based on oral orders is unacceptable. Such orders should have subsequently been confirmed in writing so as to ensure compliance with the Rules of Engagement and higher commander’s intentions.
4. No evidence has been shown to substantiate the notion that the Army followed its own Rules of Engagement.
5. The Army failed to keep record of recovered casualties on the side of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria; even as it kept accurate record of its own.
6. Knowing that the Chief of Army Staff was to attend the Passing out Parade at the Depot on that day, there was an indication of intelligence failure in the assessment of the threat posed by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria to national security as epitomized by the blockade of the road the COAS was to pass through in Zaria township.
The commission also indicted the Shi’ite group for the following:
1) Unprovoked attacks on other citizens, illegal occupation of mosques, public and private buildings. Examples of such attacks and illegal occupation of mosques and other private and public buildings abound.
2) The observations about the Army’s roles do not mean the judicial commission ignored the roles played by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. The panel noted the following concerning the Shiites and the mayhem, saying they carried out: Total disregard to constituted authorities such as contempt towards the Rule of Law and Security Forces-Police, Army, NSCDC, FRSC, etc.
3) They illegally mounted road blocks, check-points and unjustifiably restricting the movement of innocent citizens thereby creating serious inconveniences and tension in the communities during their processions and other activities. The blocking of the Sokoto Road in Sabon Gari, Zaria by the IMN members precipitated the current incident the commission is enquiring into.
4) Illegal possession of dangerous weapons, and threatening or breaching public peace and security at will.
Based on these findings, the commission made far-reaching recommendations. The panel’s report is in symmetry with public opinion on the unacceptable bombardment of the Husseiniyya headquarters of the Movement on the night of December 12, 2015, after youths who blocked the Chief of Army Staff’s convoy had been removed through the Army’s superior fire power.
It was in the midnight offensive that mass deaths, the exact figures that even the committee could not establish, took place. As the panel noted, action contravened the Rules of Engagement of the Army, which requires that a presidential approval or a directive in the form of an Act of the National Assembly should precede such action.
We believe that even if the Army had obtained the statutory approval, the death toll, put between 342 and 1,000, is grossly unacceptable. The use of excessive force on Nigerian citizens in the guise of quelling obstinacy by members of a religious sect cannot be justified, especially when the force used by members of the group was disproportionate to that of the Army.
We would ask the Federal Government to step up the investigation into the action of the Army and bring all those who authorised and carried out the massacre at Husseiniyya on the night of December 12, 2015 to book.
Apart from Syria where there has been a complex sectarian war, there is no other part of the world where a standing army has carried out such gruesome killings of its citizens in recent history. We call on the Army to ensure that this abuse of the right to life of members of the sect is not swept under the carpet.
It is instructive that the panel was not blinded by the casualties suffered by the Shiites, because it hit the nail on the head, by highlighting, with evidence, the various accusations against the sect over the years.
Section 38 (1) of the 1999 constitution provides for freedom of religion thus: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
However, one cannot observe this freedom by contravening the law. It is unfortunate that the Shiites had operated like a sect that is above the law, causing panic and chaos among Nigerians whenever they engaged in their activities.
Most disturbing is a section of the panel’s report which says the leader of the sect does not recognise the legitimate authority of Nigeria. It says, “In his Funtua declaration in 1980, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky repudiated his allegiance to the Nigerian constitution and called upon his followers to follow suit…The IMN leadership and followership have continued to pursue their activities in total disregard to constituted authorities and defiance to all lawful instructions. The IMN exists as an association not recognised in law but has continued to conduct activities, including owning properties, running businesses and carrying out sundry social and economic services, contrary to Nigerian laws.”
If this is true, under what law has the organisation been operating in Nigeria? Is it not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as a religious movement? If IMN is not registered and has been operating with reckless abandon in Nigeria, why have law enforcement agencies looked the other way instead of bringing them to order?
Perhaps, it is as a result of the ineffectiveness in invoking the law that youths summoned the foolish effrontery to block the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff on December 12, 2015. It amounts to deception for any religious leader to impart on his followers a doctrine that gives them an air of superiority over the authorities of the State. From all indications, security agencies would need to carry out further investigations into these issues and ensure that the law takes its course.
In spite of these allegations, we call on the Federal Government to either release Shiekh Al-Zakzaky from questionable detention or drag him to a competent court of law to face trial, if he is accused of any criminal act. Shiite members have launched a campaign for Al-Zakzaky’s release, but the Army, Police and the Department of Security Service (DSS) have not come forth with a genuine reason for his continued incarceration. If it is for the purpose of investigation, we would state that the eight months in which he has been out of circulation is enough for the agencies to carry out a thorough investigation and take him to court, if necessary.
However, while making their demands for Al-Zakzaky’s release, we encourage Shiite members to use instruments provided by the judiciary, and not take the law into their hands.
We commend the members of the judicial panel for a job well done, and call on the Kaduna State Government to publish a White Paper on the mayhem as soon as possible. After that is done, government should implement its recommendations to ensure that justice is done and to serve as a deterrent to security personnel and religious groups.
They must be made to realise that in carrying out their activities, they must do so within the borders of the Nigerian Law.
Source: Daily Trust