Even with all its lapses, government may do well to implement the report
The Kaduna State Government last week released the full report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the December 12-14, 2015 violent clash between soldiers and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), in Zaria. We commend Governor Nasir el-Rufai for the transparent manner in which his government has handled the crisis and for releasing the report without delay.
The report has confirmed that indeed no fewer than 348 IMN members, also known as Shi’ites, were killed and scores of others injured when soldiers, drawn from the Nigerian Army Depot in Zaria, Kaduna State, unleashed their might on the sect for allegedly attempting to “assassinate” the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Tukur Buratai, who was in the town on official engagements. What is now left is for the federal government to take action, especially since the report blamed it for allowing the army to use excessive force and for not complying with the rules of engagement during the clash. Instructively, the report also blamed the leader of IMN, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who is presently in “protective custody”, for not having absolute control over his members and for not calling them to order when required to do so.
In a recent editorial, we raised several questions begging for answers on this tragic incident: Who exactly were these people whose corpses were brought from the army barracks and how did they die, especially in such large numbers? Were the identities of the dead bodies ascertained before they were given a mass burial in a single grave? If they were buried on December 15, 2015 as revealed by the Kaduna State officials, and the clash between the Shiites and the army occurred between December 12 and 14, at what point did these people die?
Now that the report of the commission is out, it is evident that there is a gaping hole because answers for many of these questions are still lacking, especially since the Shiites had no voice in the report, having insisted that they would not testify unless granted access to their boss who remains in protective custody. Besides, given the international interest in the matter, we do not believe that the federal government handled the issue very well.
We recall that when in January, Governor el-Rufai announced the composition of the commission of inquiry, made up of respectable people in the society, there was a heated argument as to whether their assignment could be successfully completed if the central figure in the crisis was in the protective custody of Department of Security Service (DSS) without the benefit of interaction with some of his followers who were being invited to give testimony. We also argued that national security, which the DSS pleaded for not allowing members of the group have access to El-Zakzaky, was a weak reason for denying the Shiite leader his fundamental rights to fair treatment. That excuse became even more untenable in the light of a haunting photograph published in an online media outlet at the time indicating that the cleric was not in the best of health.
While many fine points of the bloody incident are still vague, the Kaduna judicial report is nonetheless useful. But we believe that the demand of the Shiites and El-Zakzaky’s family that he and his wife be availed the best medical care, even if that would necessitate them travelling outside the country, is not unreasonable in the circumstance.