The President of Nigeria is also its commander-in-chief by virtue of which he is the protector-in-chief. He cannot be dis- obeyed by any officer in the armed forces or the police. When he gives an order, any sensible officer can only salute and do as he’s been told. There is no room for argument. He cannot be second-guessed or doubted or ignored. That he was elected by the generality of the Nigerian people implies that he can be trusted to be fair and just to every Nigerian, hence he is the President of every Nigerian including those who refused to vote for him or who opposed him or campaigned against him.
He is required to have enough generosity of spirit to be fair and just and firm and impartial in disputes, as the ultimate arbiter. Thus the weak, the poor, minorities, the forgotten and the ignored are entitled to expect just and equal and fair treatment from him. He is not expected to look away in the face of conflicts or side one party against the other. He cannot pretend to be indifferent or away, even when he is actually away.
He cannot shift his responsibilities or contract them out or abdicate them or postpone them. He cannot be on vacation, even when he is. He is the ultimate godfather, and as Mr. J.K. Randle described in his inimitable book, “the godfather never sleeps.” To be commander-in-chief is a very strict business indeed because there is no room for mistakes or indecision or hesitation. He cannot be AWOL because when he is, bad things happen.
And, so, the tragedy could not be lost on anyone present when the Nigerian Army testified in Kaduna a few weeks ago at the Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba Commission of Inquiry that it handed over a “few corpses” to the Kaduna State Government for burial. And those “few corpses,” by the admission of the Kaduna State Government, were actually 347 bodies of defenseless, unarmed, religious minority Shi’ite Nigerian Muslims massacred by the Nigerian Army in an orgy of violence and destruction on 12th December last year. The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) is incredulous, and has not wavered in its claim that roughly 1,000 of its members have been killed by the Army between the 12th and 14th December 2015. And it would never have happened were the commander-in-chief not been absent without official leave (AWOL).
Among the victims was the Deputy National leader of the IMN, Sheikh Muhammad Mahmud Turi, who was also the leader of the Kano Shi’ite Center. The Army also killed the movement’s medical director, Dr. Mustapha Sa’eed. Killed also was the national spokesman of the Shi’ites, Malam Ibrahim Usman, who wrote a weekly column on Islam for the Leadership newspaper. The movement’s top female leader, Jummai Gilima was also killed.
The carnage began when the Shi’ites who were on a religious procession, failed to clear out of the way of the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Buratai, and the general’s convoy rather than take an alternative route decided to bulldoze its way through a throng of Shi’ites, mowing down hundreds of Nigerian citizens as if they were blades of grass.
How was this possible? In most countries of the world, no army chief’s convoy would contemplate such a conflagration just to create a thoroughfare for a convoy. But the Buhari administration in its body language, and by implicit postures, leaves the impression that it is a quasi-military government, where the military could do no wrong. A 73-year old former military dictator does not change his attitude simply because he went through an election. Everyone could see that President Buhari still had a preference for one-man rule, which informed his putting off the appointment of ministers for as long as possible. The ministers were a distraction and to him they were, as he told the press, just “noise makers.”
The Army has tried to explain the slaughter: the Shi’ites had seized the highway and had blocked the army chief; the Shi’ites had displayed hostility towards the army chief; the Shi’ites wanted to assassinate the army chief. In the Army’s own words, “On noticing the high profile convoy, they (Shi’ites) quickly used stones, logs, tyres and bonfires to block the road. All entreaties to pacify and warn the sect fell on deaf ears. On the contrary they became more emboldened and demanded martyrdom with gun shots and pelting of the convoy with whatever was available to them This left immediate security personnel of Chief of Army Staff with no choice than take necessary action in line with Nigerian Army rules of engagements to clear the attack and extricate the entire convoy.”
Even if all these allegations were true, and there is no proof that any of them is, the Nigerian public by experience has learnt not take the Army’s version of events as the Gospel truth.
The fate of the leader of the Islamic movement, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky is another matter. He was nowhere near the scene of the confrontation between his disciples and the army chief. Yet a few hours after that confrontation, the Army attacked his house. The sheikh was shot and wounded, many Shi’ites were killed in his house, including his three sons, in addition to his other sons killed two years ago by the Army. Ever since, he has been incarcerated. No charges have been filed against him. Appar- ently no one can see him except his captors.
A heart-rending account of the Army’s siege on Sheikh Zakzaky’s house was rendered by Bukhari Bello Jega whose Facebook posting from 11 p.m. on 12th December ended at 4.24 a.m. 13th December when he was eventually killed with his wife and young child in the Sheikh’s house. Those who knew Mr. Jega describe him as one of Nigeria’s brightest individuals, a young man “known among members of the development community as an honest and dedicated person committed to progress in the country.”
At 11.06 p.m. he posted: “If the Nigerian soldiers decide to turn their weapons on innocent and harmless civilians we say this is unfortunate…It is carnage here in Zaria…Soldiers are killing civilians in Gyellesu area and home town of revered leader Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky. They destroyed all the shops…several bodies of civilians are just piling up here…”
At 12.17 a.m. Jega posted “Brothers and sisters are seriously offering prayers not because we are afraid of death. We are praying to Allah to give us courage, bravery, faith and patience… for the gift of martyrdom just like our brothers and sisters who just departed this night from the bullets and explosives of the people who are paid to protect the people…”
At 4.24 a.m. Jega made his last posting at which time his battery was running out: “…Whatever the situation please do forgive us, we are not perfect but just trying to see what we can contribute so that we can have excuses before Allah when he asks us about the state of affairs about Islam…We can say: Ya Rabbi, we did our best and we were martyred in the process.”
And, so, that illustrious young man perished with many like him in the Army’s siege of the house of Sheikh Zakzaky in a totally avoidable carnage which happened because the commander-in-chief was asleep at the switch.
First published May 26, 2016.