Killing of Islamic Shi’a Movement Protesters and attacks against Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky by the Nigerian Army: Access to Justice Demands an Impartial, Independent and Competent Inquiry
Access to Justice Public Statement – Access to Justice [AJ] condemns in the strongest terms the attack on Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Shiite Sect) in Zaria on Saturday 12thDecember, 2015 by a detachment of the Nigerian Army accompanying the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai.
The attacks are reported to have claimed several lives whose exact number is not yet known. The day following the attacks, the Nigerian Army officers proceeded to raid the residence of Sheik Ibrahim and, in the process, reportedly injured or killed other citizens and destroyed properties.
The Nigerian Army has given conflicting accounts of what happened or the day in question. At first, the Army said the Chief of Army Staff was the target of an assassination plot.
However, in another statement, Army spokesperson Col. Usman Sani claimed the members of the Sect were blocking the passage of the COAS convoy on the road which necessitated their use of lethal weapons against them.
Access to Justice demands that a thorough, independent and impartial inquiry be carried out by the Federal Government over this incident. It should be noted that this is not the first time the Nigerian Army has attacked members of the sect.
In July 2014 scores of members of this group, including two sons of Sheik El Zakzaky were killed by officers of the Nigeria Army as they were holding a peaceful procession along a road. Up till this time, the Nigerian government has yet to investigate the incident neither has anyone been brought to account over the attacks.
The failure of the Nigerian government to investigate the 2014 killings may have contributed indirectly to the killings of Dec 2o15 because where governments do not show serious concern for the safety and integrity of human life and allow security or law enforcement agents to act with impunity, this strengthens the hands and minds of abusers.
This is why the government needs to draw a line in the sand and begin to take its national and international obligations to protect human rights more resolutely.
We have had the opportunity of viewing footage of the events preceding the shootings on Dec 12th 2015, and, without prejudging any investigations, we can make the following observations:
1. The convoy of the Chief of Army Staff could have, in order not to escalate an already volatile situation that was unravelling along Zaria road, chosen another route into Kaduna: this would have been a course of action you would expect from a very senior official of government who wants to avoid possible, in fact, likely repercussions of engaging in a violent confrontation with the protesters.
It was reasonably foreseeable that violence can further inflame religious passions which were already very high among members of the Islamic Movement who had already lost many members to military attacks last year, and previous years.
Such confrontation could also trigger a violent backlash and radicalize members of the group in the same way that Boko Haram was transformed after security and law enforcement officials attacked their members and extra-judicially executed many of them.
This history should have figured in how the military chooses to respond to protesters. The people of Nigeria have a right to assemble freely, even on public streets. Where protests offend against traffic laws, the protesters should be managed or restrained and if necessary, prosecuted.
2. The convoy of COAS could also have requested the police, who are by law, empowered to control protesters to come in and disperse the crowds. It is the duty of the Police to clear the roads of obstructions constituted by protesters, and not the Army, Air Force, Navy or DSS.
The police have the training to do so. It is patently wrong to shoot and kill one’s way out of such obstructions as the military has done in this case.
3. In the worst case scenario, the convoy of the COAS could have even chosen to shoot in the air to scare away the protesters, made up of men, women and children as it is also often done in instances where a need arises to disperse crowds. Given the scale of deaths witnessed, it is not in doubt that this was not so.
On the whole, from what we can gather so far, we do not think the Nigerian Army acted with the level of restraint, care and responsibility that the occasion demanded.
We understand that the Nigerian Army has sent a petition to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to conduct an inquiry/investigation into this ugly incident. We have also written a petition to the NHRC as well, to ask for full investigation into the incident.
We urge the NHRC to conduct these inquiries as thoroughly and impartially as possible and request that the inquiry be open to the public. We also request that the NHRC also investigates the killing of Shi’ites in 2014 by officers of the Nigerian Army.
Nigeria’s international obligations to undertake investigations into allegations of extra-judicial killings without a doubt, require such investigations to be prompt, credible, effective, impartial and independent.
Article 9 of The United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions also provide that: “There shall be thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances”.
But we think it will be difficult to conduct an investigation or hold officers responsible while the people who ordered and shot the Islamic Movement protesters are still in office.
While we are not unmindful of the fact that Nigeria is engaged in a long-drawn out war with Boko Haram, we nevertheless think it will be more helpful if the Federal government requests, or the Chief of Army Staff of his own volition, steps aside for the period of the investigation.
This will create a better environment for a credible, more impartial, unimpeded investigation to take place and prevent, to some degree, interference or obstruction with it.
We also condemn the subsequent arrest and detention of the leader of the Islamic Shi’a sect his spouse and other members of the Islamic Sect. These arrests are further provocative, illegal and unconstitutional.
The army has no powers to hold civilians in “protective custody” against their will or consent. The Nigerian Army should immediately release those arrested and lift its siege of the premises and houses of the sect.
Finally, this is a government has defined itself by change. The continuing silence of the federal government or more precisely, the executive arm of government on this matter is sending the wrong message to the military. This is worrisome considering that the Federal Government or Kaduna State Government has reportedly not offered any relief or medical assistance to the members of the Sect currently in the hospital.
The Federal Government is also silent over reports that the Nigerian Army are reportedly still besieging the residence of Sheikh and the Centre of the Sect and refusing aid agencies and the Sect from providing medical and food supplies to the wounded trapped in the locations of the incidents.
The Buhari government must break from the legacy of the past if it truly represents change for Nigeria. This administration must lead the charge for a change in the way military authorities conduct themselves as agencies of the Nigerian State. Killing the people you are established to defend and serve characterizes the behaviour of an occupying force, not a democratic military.