The outline of the bloody encounter between the Nigerian Army and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria is emerging

The Kaduna State Government last week announced that 347 persons were killed during the clash last December between the Nigerian Army and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), popularly called Shiites, in Zaria. According to the Director-General, Kaduna State Interfaith Agency, Mr Namadi Musa, it took the officials about six hours to complete their mass burial in a single grave.

While we find the revelation, made at the public hearing of the judicial commission of inquiry probing the crisis very disturbing, Amnesty International (AI) has also joined other human rights groups both at home and around the world in demanding investigation into the bloody affair. AI in a statement in Abuja said that the “horrific revelation by the state government that hundreds of Shiites were gunned down and dumped in mass graves is an important first step to bringing all those suspected of criminal responsibility for this atrocity to trial.” The statement added that “it is now imperative that the mass grave sites are protected in order that a full independent forensic investigation can begin.”

Last week the counsels to the Islamic sect disclosed that the leader of the sect, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky who is being detained at Department of State Security (DSS) Headquarters in Abuja, lost his left eye to the attack, adding: “his left hand has lost its motion function.” Even though the report simply confirmed earlier reports that El-Zakzaky and wife were not in the best of health, it was essential that one of the counsels to the Islamic sect was finally allowed to see them in detention.

In a recent editorial, we had expressed serious misgivings about the manner the Nigerian authorities have handled this tragedy. We also admonished that while many fine points of the bloody incident were still vague, it was necessary that all sides, especially the federal and Kaduna State governments as well as the DSS, refrained from actions that could only compound the situation. At the end of the day, we took the position that anyone or group found liable for the violence must be brought to justice.

However, in the light of the new revelations about the number of corpses brought from the army barracks, all of them buried in one day and in a single grave, we feel very worried about an evidently a shooting rampage in Zaria. And so are many people across the world who cannot understand the lack of importance we attached to human lives in Nigeria.There are several questions begging for answers here: Who exactly were these people whose corpses were brought from the army barracks and how did they die, especially in such a large number? Were the identities of the dead bodies ascertained before they were given a mass burial? If they were buried on December 15, as revealed by the Kaduna State officials, and the clash between the Shiites and the army occurred December 12 -13, at what point did these people die? And were the right protocols observed in conducting the burial?

These and many other questions we believe the commission of inquiry set up by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, should help to unravel before they round off their investigations. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, there are too many things that are simply bewildering about this tragedy.