“Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai, has said that the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky whose followers clashed with the military last weekend (12 December 2015) in Zaria, would be prosecuted for any crimes he may have committed.”
Before then, the governor had in a radio and television broadcast read a litany of offences of the Sheikh from highway obstruction to illegal acquisition of land. It was no surprise that the Governor eventually set up a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the incident of 12th to 14th December in which hundreds of members of the IMN were massacred by the Nigerian Army which gave his pre-conceived views a judicial stamp of authority.
The 13-member panel was headed by the presiding judge of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, Justice Mohammed Lawal. Other members of the commission included Prof. Salihu Shehu a lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano, Prof. Umar Labdo, a lecturer at the Northwest University, Kano, Malam Salihu Abubakar, a former director of the National Agricultural Extension and Research Services, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Auwalu Yadudu a former special adviser on legal matters to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, and Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, former foreign minister and Nigeria’s permanent representative in the United Nations during the Abacha regime.
The judicial commission of inquiry was to identify persons and their actions, determine the immediate causes of the clashes, ascertain the number of persons killed, wounded or missing. Given the governor’s views on the incident, there could be no doubt that the Shi’ites were the culprits. Their leader El-Zakzaky by El-Rufai views must be held responsible for the incident and its consequences.
Given the antecedents of many members of the panel, there was not much hope for justice. When the panel began sitting and the leader of the IMN, El-Zakzaky, was not present, it was a bad sign. The panel postponed its sittings on at least three occasions to enable the lawyer to the Shi’ites to have an audience with Sheikh El-Zakzaky to enable the lawyer write a credible memorandum on behalf of his clients. The Sheikh could not be reached. He was being held since the incident but no charges have been brought against him, and no one has seen him ever since.
The members of the IMN then said they would be unable to participate in the inquiry unless they are able to communicate with their leader. Every appeal by lawyers and the panel chairman to get whoever was holding the Sheikh to grant access so the lawyers can talk to him failed. In the absence of the Shi’ites, the panel proceeded to hear one side of the dispute, which was the beginning of the failure of the panel. It was not the panel’s making. But any panel that values justice would have at that point known that it had a mission impossible.
The panel’s findings stated that 349 people including one soldier were killed. Out of the 349 dead persons, 347 (excluding the soldier) were buried in a mass grave.” The panel had received 3,578 memoranda, 132 letters, and 3,446 e-mails along with 39 exhibits. It also listened to 87 witnesses and submitted a 193-page report.
Governor El-Rufai allowed the report to be published, which reinforces his character as one of Nigeria’s most intrepid politicians, an attribute which cuts both ways. A one-sided report could only be supported by jurists who do not care about justice. Given the antecedents of the Abacha henchmen in the panel, it came as little surprise that the panel was not embarrassed by the travesty it produced and signed.
It says so much for our country that in a democratic dispensation a section of the Army could go on a shooting spree and massacre hundreds of innocent citizens and a judicial panel would turn round and blame the victims. “The number of casualties recorded during the incident was too high and cannot be justified,” the panel said. What number of casualties deserved to die in what for all practical purposes was a traffic dispute the panel did not say. But it said that members of the Nigerian Army found to have been involved in the killings should be brought to trial before a court of competent jurisdiction.” It did not say who should go and find the Army people involved in the killings because all fair-minded people would have expected the panel to identify such people. This is probably the most cowardly panel ever set up in Nigeria, perhaps, second only to the panel that inquired into the destruction of Fela’s African Shrine in 1977 by an “Unknown Soldier.”
The panel took a dig at the IMN which it said was notorious for engaging in hate and dangerous speech that provoke other Muslims,” adding that “the National Assembly should initiate the establishment of a law against hate and dangerous speech, and once enacted, the law should be enforced.” This recommendation apparently informed El-Rufai’s controversial legislation on religious preaching.
The panel members acted like they have no conscience when they made no mention of compensation for the dependants and families of those hundreds killed. Nor did they mention the need to re-bury them according to the rites of their religion with the dignity they deserved.
The hero of the report had to be no other than the governor. “The Kaduna |State governor’s personal call to the IMN leader in which he asked Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky to call upon his followers to remove the barricades on Sokoto Road and allow the chief of army staff access fell on deaf ears. Though it was not necessary for the governor to have to do that, it was however commendable, appropriate and sufficient in the circumstances.”
The panel found that it was inappropriate for the Kaduna State Government to bury 347 dead persons without a proper inquest, but turned round to say that mass burial was “necessary due to the health risk it posed if they were not buried.”
On the demolition of the property of the IMN leader, the panel maintained that “the demolition of the Foudiyya School and the Jushi graveyard of El-Zakzaky’s mother and sister which did not pose any danger to the public was unnecessary and inappropriate.” The panel did not however recommend any compensation for such wanton destruction of property.
The panel’s most outrageous conclusion was that Sheikh “El-Zakzaky should be personally held responsible for all acts of commission and omission of the entire membership of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in its clashes with the Nigerian Army for refusing to call his members to order when required to do so.” The illogic of this assertion is as ridiculous as the fact that the panel did not even addressed its mind to the fact that all that was required to avoid this horrific tragedy was for the chief of army staff to tell his pilot car to “turn.”