John Shiklam, in Kaduna, writes on the revelations from the Judicial Commission of Inquiry investigating the December 12, 2015 clashes between the Nigerian Army and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria
Facts about the clashes between the Nigerian Army and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, also known as Shiite, are beginning to emerge at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Kaduna State government to investigate the causes of the incident. The clashes occurred in Zaria from December 12 to 14 last year and led to the death of many people.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, was on his way to the Passing Out Parade of the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, when the IMN, said to have gathered to observe a religious rite, allegedly blocked the road and refused the army chief passage, despite pleas by some army officers. This led to alterations between the two groups, with the army alleging that the Shiite group attempted to assassinate the COAS.
The incident lasted two days following alleged invasion of the Hussainiya headquarters of the IMN and the Gyelesu resident of the leader of the movement, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky.
Many people were killed while others were injured during the fracas, which led to the arrest of the Shiite leader and several of his followers. Official figures about the number of those killed during the incident emerged last Monday. That was when officials of the Kaduna State government, led by the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Balarabe Lawal, who appeared before the 12-man panel headed by Justice Muhammad Garba Lawal, disclosed that 347 people were killed during the clash.
Lawal, who led six government witnesses before the panel, revealed that 191 corpses were taken from the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, while another 156 corpses were also conveyed from Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, and were buried in a single mass grave in Mando area of Kaduna. He added that the mass burial was jointly supervised by officials of the state government and some men of the Nigerian Army, led by a Major.
He added that 189 suspects were being prosecuted for alleged involvement in the Zaria crisis while one suspect died in custody.
Lawal further disclosed that the state government had received several security reports from the Directorate of State Services on the activities of the movement, adding that several measures had been taken to address the situation before it finally escalated into the clash with the Nigerian Army.
Also testifying before the commission, one of the government officials, Alhaji Namadi Musa, who is the director-general of Kaduna State Interfaith Agency, said he personally supervised the mass burial. He explained that the corpses comprised 191 from the Army depot in Zaria and another 156 from ABUTH.
According to him, one Major Ogundare from the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, led three military trucks loaded with corpses from the army depot while five Mercedes Benz trucks loaded the trucks from ABUTH which were taken to a mass grave in Mando area of Kaduna. He said Ogundare was accompanied by 60 soldiers who offloaded the bodies into the mass grave, adding that it took five and a half hours – from 12:30am on December 14 to about 5:30am – to bury all the corpses in one mass grave.
Musa said he used the opportunity of the mass burial to meticulously count the corpses as they were being dropped into the grave, adding that the mass burial was authorised through a warrant of burial obtained from a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Kaduna.
The Kaduna State government blamed the excesses of the Islamic movement on the inability of the previous administrations in the state to take serious actions to curtail their activities.
In his testimony, the Head of Surgery of ABUTH, Professor Adamu Ahmed, narrated how soldiers, along with some policemen in a convoy of trucks, invaded the hospital premises and headed for the mortuary, where they drove all the mortuary workers away on December 13 last year. He said they prevented access to the mortuary and remained there until the following day when they left.
Ahmed said the hospital authorities had no idea what the army and the police came to do at the mortuary, adding that the authorities of the hospital did not see what the soldiers came with and what they left with. But he said there was nothing unusual in the mortuary after they left.
The Nigerian Army, in its submission before the commission, maintained that the situation would have been avoidable if the Shiite members had cooperated and obeyed the army. Testifying before the commission, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Mechanised Division of the Nigerian Army, Kaduna, Major General Adeniyi Oyebade, said the Shiite members rejected all entreaties and efforts by the army to handle the situation in a peaceful manner. He explained that it took three days and many casualties for the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, to be arrested and taken into custody, stressing that after the COAS had passed, there were reports that members of the movement were mobilising to launch an attack.
Oyebade said based on that report, he moved round Zaria town in the evening and discovered that the Shiite members had started gathering around the Gyallesu area and at their Hussainiya headquarters, armed with all sorts of weapons, adding that he quickly ordered his men to go to the locations, which they searched and retrieved deadly weapons from the Shiite members so as to avoid violence.
The GOC further told the commission that his men, including some officers, came under attack from the Shi’ites. He said from the night of December 12, his men had to use public address systems to inform the Shi’ites members of the mission of the army and urged the sect members to submit themselves for the search. He said the effort was not effective, as the Shiites attacked soldiers who came for the search and threw petrol bombs at them.
Oyebade said in the course of explaining to the group why they should submit themselves for the search, the leader of the troop, Col Babayo, was stabbed by a lady member of the group. The GOC said it was at that point that the soldiers took measures to protect themselves while observing the rules of engagement.
Oyebade said on the third day of the incident, having seen the futility of their action, one of the leaders of the sect came out from El-Zakzaky’s residence and said the army could now go in and take the sect leader.
“All these would not have happened if they had allowed us to carry out our search,” he said, explaining that El-Zakzaky injured in the course of the efforts to arrest him and after his arrest, he was taken to a health facility given the best medical attention available there. He was later transferred to other health facilities within and outside Zaria, Oyebade stated.
He added that following the sect’s leader’s arrest, the army withdrew to the outskirts, bringing the cordon and search operation to an end on December 14.
“What we saw were very violent extremist group willing to take on the state and they did that so strongly. I’ve been involved in operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia but I have not seen anything as bloody as what as I saw in Zaria, I have never been involved in anything as bloody as what I saw in Zaria,” he said.
Also testifying, the Director of Administration, Nigerian Army, Maj. General A.B Abubakar, said he had every good reason to believe there was a plan by the Shiite group to eliminate the COAS. He said while others were allowed to pass, immediately it became obvious that the army chief was about to pass, some youths blocked the road. He added that while his men tried to persuade the Shiite members to clear the road, gunshots were heard coming from their Hussainiya headquarters and the soldiers had to act to save the COAS in line with Army Act.
According to him, people died as a result of fire outbreak and the stampede that resulted from trying to avoid the fire.
Testifying also, the Acting Provost Marshal of the Nigeria Army, Brigadier Ayuba Ted Hamman, said it was the Shiites that first attacked the Army after blocking the roads to prevent the COAS from passing through the route.
The Nigeria Police and the State Security Services, in their separate testimonies before the commission, alleged that the Islamic movement had no regard for constituted authority. They alleged that the group was being funded by Iran and Iraq was operating a state within a state with outright disregard for constituted authority.
Testifying on behalf of the Nigerian Police, Kenneth Dika, a Deputy Superintendent of Police and a lawyer, said the IMN did not recognise the police. Responding to questions under cross examination, Dika maintained that the Shiite had become a formidable organisation with arms and had refused to submit themselves to the authorities, adding, “Like the Boko Haram, if you trace the history of the Shiite, you will find that they have become difficult.”
He admitted that the police were aware of the activities of the Islamic group over the years, including complains by some residents of Sabon Gari, Zaria, but said there was nothing much the police could do to check their excesses. He alleged that members of the Islamic group did not honour police invitations and were always in the habit of resisting arrest.
“The usual altercation between the Shiite and police are: Non-recognition of police as a constituted authority, dishonouring of police invitations for whatever reason whenever invited, and resistance of arrest whenever any of them is reported to have committed an offence,” the police alleged in its memorandum to the commission.
It alleged further that the group was being funded by Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Lebanese community in Nigeria.
The police urged the federal government to “control the source of external funds for the sect, especially from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Lebanese community in Nigeria.”
Asked whether the Nigerian Army informed the Police of the COAS’s visit to Zaria, Dika said the army did not inform the police of Buratai’s visit to Zaria on December 12, 2015, until during the face-off that erupted with the Shiites. He said it was during the confrontation with the Shiites that the Army contacted the Inspector General of Police and the IGP contacted the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police who gave directives to the police Area Commander in Zaria.
He stated that the police was not aware of a mass burial given to victims of the incident, adding that investigations were still going on to determine the casualty figure.
Dika disclosed that on December 13, 2015, a total of 270 suspects were handed over to the police by the military out of which 189 were arraigned before Chief Magistrate’s Court 1, Kaduna, for criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, rioting, unlawful possession of fire arms, etc., while 81 others, mostly women and juveniles, were released on bail.
The police said that investigations conducted so far revealed that casualties were recorded on both sides.
“Investigations conducted so far revealed the following: that the clash was caused by the Shiite religious sect in Zaria, headed by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, who blocked the road when the Chief of Army Staff was going to attend the Passing Out Parade of the 73 Regular Recruit Intake (of the Nigerian Army)and also to visit the Emir of Zairia and all appeals made by the military and the police to the Shiite group to allow the military safe passage were not heeded. “That during the blockade, the Shiite religious group threw stones and fired catapult at the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff and some of them were alleged to have fired some explosives at the military.
“That the military in the bid to have safe passage for the Chief of Army Staff, fired some shots to disperse the members of the sect who refused to allow the Chief of Army Staff safe passage.”
Also chronicling various activities of the Shiite, the police said on May 16, 2014, the former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Ramalan Yero, was made to disembark from his vehicle and walk to an associate’s residence because he was stopped by followers of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky who unlawfully blocked the entry gate the former governor was to use.
The police said on May 7 and 8, 2015, violence broke out in Gyellesu community in Zaria when residents of the area insisted on dismantling illegal road blocks that were mounted by Shiite members, adding that in the ensuing fracas, one Mallam Ibrahim Dogo was stabbed to death.
The police disclosed that some of the items recovered from the Shiite members and handed over to the police by the army included one locally made gun, two pieces of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), 70 swords, 21 pieces of arrow, 17 pieces of bows, seven locally made revolver pistols, 40 pieces of catapult, 40 cell phones, 1,200 assorted SIM cards, three pairs of ceremonial uniforms, 57 pieces of white GD belts, 18 pieces of communication handsets, among others.
In his submission before the commission, the Kaduna State Comptroller of Prisons, Alhaji Abubakar Garba, said a total of 191 suspects were brought to the Kaduna prisons for remand from the Chief Magistrate’s Court, Ibrahim Taiwo Road, Kaduna adding that 14 of them were brought with serious injuries.
He said one of the suspects died as a result of the injuries while nine others were granted bail, adding that currently, 182 of the suspects are in prison.
Confirming that the suspects were being tried in prison under cross examination, Garba said the trial had to take place in prison because of logistic challenges and the security implication of trying such a large number of suspects in the open court. He said efforts were being made for the trial to continue in an opened court in the next appearance.
On its part, the SSS officer in charge of Sabon Gari, Zaria, Mohammed Usman, who presented the service’s memo before the commission alleged that the Shiites had no respect for the sovereignty of Nigeria.
“They don’t believe in the sovereignty of Nigeria, they have their flags. IMN is a state within a state. They have strong affiliation with Iraq and Iran due to the fact that these countries have a large population of Shiite members.
“I am aware of complaints of residents of Sabon Gari about them. When people come to complain to me about them, I persuade them to bear the situation because when the IMN officials are invited for a chat, they don’t come,” Gari said.
IMN had declared during the inauguration of the commission that it would not appear before the panel unless certain conditions were met. The group alleged that some members of the panel were clearly anti-Shiite, saying they will not get justice with some people who are known to be against the movement on the panel.
In one of their statements on January 17, they demanded the unconditional release of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, as a condition for appearing before the commission.
The statement signed by its spokesman, Ibrahim Musa, said, “The movement believes in the justness of its cause and the fact that the events that led to the setting up of the judicial commission are premeditated, and will appear before the judicial commission of inquiry only on the following conditions:
“That the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria should be released unconditionally. The Nigerian government is holding the leader of the movement incommunicado knowing that he is the custodian of the documents of the movement and has to give direction to the movement in the preparation of its memorandum and the assembling of its witnesses.
“The Nigerian military and the Nigeria Police must make a full disclosure of the number of persons in their various detention centres and grant lawyers of the movement access to most of them. This is because the movement has credible evidence that a large number of its members are still in detention in military facilities and detention centres.
“The Nigerian military and the Nigeria Police must also make full disclosure of the number of persons they took to the various hospitals and the locations of the hospitals to enable the lawyers of the movement have access to them and interview them preparatory to the inauguration of the commission.
“The commission of inquiry must also give full assurance that the members of the movement that will give evidence will be fully protected.”
Other conditions include that the Kaduna State government and the Kaduna State Police Command must disclose the number of persons they have charged to court and the number of persons in prison custody.
Members of the panel, which is headed by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, the presiding Justice of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, include Professor Salihu Shehu, a lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano; Prof. Umar Labdo, a lecturer at the Northwest University, Kano; Mallam Salihu Abubakar, a former director of the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; and Prof. Auwalu Yadudu, a professor of Law and former special adviser on legal matters to the government of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha; and Mr. Afakirya Gadzama, a commissioner.
Others are Mr. Gadzama, a former director-general of the Department of State Services; Brig-Gen. Aminun-Kano Maude (rtd); Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim; Mrs. Khadijah Hawaja Gambo; Mr. Bilya Bala, Editor-in-Chief of the People’s Daily newspapers; Maj-Gen Alexander Anjili Mshelbwala ( rtd); and Mrs. Desire Deseye Nsirim, a retired Commissioner of Police.
The Director of the Centre for Islamic Legal Studies, Institute of Administration, Zaria, Dr. Bala Babaji, is the secretary to the commission.
Although at the commencement proceedings at the commission, efforts were made by the commission to ensure that counsels to the IMN met with the leader of the movement. But the lawyers eventually withdrew from appearing before the commission when such efforts did not yield any positive results.
But reacting to the insinuations that the panel may not be fair to the Shiites, the chairman,Justice Muhammad Garba Lawal, said the Islamic group could not be compelled to appear before the commission.
In an interview with journalists in Kaduna, Justice Lawal said the commission had been fair to all the parties involved in the clashes by asking them to come and present their stories, stressing that the commission cannot compel anyone who chooses not appear before it.
According to him, the commission is only required to provide the opportunity for the parties to come and present their side of the story, adding that it does not have the power to compel anyone to come.
He said it was the commission that facilitated IMN members’ access to their leader.
On Wednesday, counsels to the IMN announced that the Shiite leader was detained at the headquarters of the DSS in Abuja. At a news conference in Kaduna, the lead counsel, Mr. Festus Okoye, disclosed that they met with El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, in detention, adding that he had lost his left eye while his left hand was partially paralysed following alleged brutality by the army.
Okoye revealed further Zakzaky and his wife were shot by soldiers who raided their Gyallesu residence during the December 12 to 14, 2015 bloody clash, which led to the death of several members of the movement..
He said during the meeting with the Shiite leader, the legal team discussed the on-going panel set up by the Kaduna State government on the Zaria clash with him, saying that Zakzaky was not aware of the commission.
He disclosed that the Shiite leader instructed them to institute a case against the Army, the federal government, and the Kaduna State government as well as against his continued detention at the DSS at the regular court.
Okoye said the IMN leader expressed his reservation about the Shiites putting up appearance before the commission of inquiry considering the composition of members of the commission and the fact that the Nigerian Army is a federal institution not subject to the control of the Kaduna government and its agencies.
“He instructed us to challenge the composition of the commission and its impartiality in the court and also instructed that we file an application to enforce his fundamental rights, which we agreed has been and are being infringed upon by his continued detention without trial and without been informed of the basis upon which he was being detained,” Okoye said.
Okoye said based on the instructions, the IMN has instituted N2 billion suit against the federal government and its institutions for the abuse of the rights of the leader of the sect and the destruction of his residents.
With the doubts by IMN about the commission of inquiry, many believe the Kaduna State and federal governments would need additional strategies to achieve lasting solution to the conflict between the Shiites, on the one hand, and the military and civil authorities, on the other.