‘Many Were Buried Alive In The Zaria Mass Grave’

Mass graves discovered in Kaduna after massacre


As the Kaduna state government has finally confessed the level of atrocities perpetuated in the bloody days of last December, there are more uneasy and quite painful questions that are prompted.

According to the narration of events in Monday’s “panel” revelations, 191 bodies were picked up from the military and added to 156 bodies allegedly picked up from ABU Teaching hospital. There had been reports of over 300 bodies deposited at the teaching hospital’s four wards, though where the remaining bodies are is not yet revealed and is still queried.

The bodies were allegedly loaded in six Mercedes tippers and conveyed to the Mando burial ground where they were buried in a single grave in a span of about 6 hours. This process occurred on December 14th and 15th, within hours to a day of the massacres.

As the revelations come in, a very pertinent and perturbing question to ask is: who certified the 191 bodies picked up from the Army depot as being truly dead?

Indeed, from the testimonies of Kaduna state government officials and the Deputy Head of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital  (ABUTH) at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry  (JCI), a total of 222 “dead bodies” were brought to the ABU Teaching Hospital by the Nigerian Army but the hospital staff discovered that 66 of them were wounded but still ALIVE. The Hospital staff removed the 66 from the piles of the dead bodies and admitted them for treatment. This was not the case with the 191 bodies already loaded in three Mercedes tipper trucks at the Army depot that were taken directly to Mando without being first deposited at the hospital for death certification.

A late victim 'missing' and possibly one of the Mando mass grave buried
A late victim ‘missing’ and possibly one of the Mando mass grave buried

As a Medical Doctor, I know the complexity and protocol involved in determining a corpse as dead, legally and ethically. There have been numerous instances when persons have been certified dead and have later recovered; and these are even instances where Medical professionals did the certification; unlike if it was done by military officers and on the scale of the Zaria massacre and within the limited ‘rush’ time frame.

As an example in recent public record, after the deadly stampede during the 2015 Saudi hajj, it was stated that “some –pilgrims– were still alive and were merely knocked out, but –the– Saudis did not pay attention to their condition and piled up all bodies,” and this made the number of deaths rise over the days following. There have been tons more instances across the world where people have been assumed dead and buried while yet alive.

Professionally and as a research scientist, I can confidently categorically state that several massacre victims were buried alive at Mando.

Knocked out persons in Zaria could have been believed to have been dead while they were only comatose in a state called “apparent death” and could have or did revive later only to die of shock, heart attack or asphyxiation due to inhalation and swallowing of sand in the mass grave or/and died of hypoxia.

A tonic immobility state would very possibly have happened in many of the victims which would have led to an erroneous assumption of death by the untrained military personnel in a hurry to bury the dozens of victims. Extreme fear as was a certain feature in the climate of the pommelling rocket, rapid fire, demolition and incendiary attacks that killed the hundreds of victims is a typical cause of tonic immobility ‘apparent death’ appearing state where the patient’s muscles are in (motor) inhibition and he or she appears dead. Sexual assault and other episodes of disasters, natural and artificial lead to tonic immobility states. The Zaria massacre which was predominated by these severe stressors would have been prime for many such tonic immobility occurrences on a large scale.

More troubling is the very likely possibility that many may have moved, groaned and even talked while being transported or being dumped, but considering the level of apparent disdain for the Islamic Movement and Shia Muslims exhibited by the Nigerian Military and Kaduna government, eager to ‘bury’ all evidence, without entertaining the thought of inviting the IMN or the families to come for their corpses, it can only be reasoned that those with life still in them were either snuffed off or buried alive knowingly.

Mando mass graves
Mando mass graves

In February this year when we discovered the mass graves at Mando, we wrote urgent articles begging the Nigerian authorities to immediately investigate the site, exhume the bodies and ascertain the state and nature of the victims. See: “Who Is Investigating The Mass Graves Found In Kaduna?,” February 9, 2016. There was no response from the Kaduna government, military or Presidency.

As Amnesty has made the urgent call to President Muhammadu Buhari to mark the Mando burial ground a crime scene and has called on the Military to come clean on the massacre, revealing if there are any other sites and how many and where all victims are and other relevant matters, we believe when the bodies are exhumed it will be possible to determine if and how many of them might have been buried alive. This can be found for instance with the finding of sand and related elements in their respiratory passages, lungs and blood vessels and many other methods available to forensic medicine.

There is much that will be revealed as this horrific tragedy Nigeria witnessed slowly unravels. This is one more stain on the heart of Nigeria that we must pray the Good Lord forgives the nation of and has mercy on Nigeria for.

We empathize with the victims and pray they have some form of relief, knowing where their loved ones may be resting and that no matter how long it takes and how long delayed, we will continue to fight for justice and justice will be.

Dr. Peregrino Brimah; @EveryNigerian