Zaria massacre: Justice still elusive
December 12 2017 makes it two years since the military took the law into its hands and massacred over 347 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) who allegedly blocked the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai. Although the military has used several lies to justify the killings, a panel set up by the Kaduna state government to investigate the killings indicted the Nigerian army for the Zaria massacre. Specifically, the panel indicted Maj. General Adeniyi Oyebade, the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army’s 1st Division in Kaduna for authorising the operation. The Panel stopped short of indicting the Chief of Army Staff General Burutai who also bears responsibility for, and has defended, the killings on several occasions. From the videos of the encounter between the Army Chief’s convoy and the sect members, it was clear the situation does not require the use of lethal force and teargas, at worse, could have dislodged members of the sect. But the army chose to massacre members of the sect, destroyed its premises and have continued to detain its leader and his wife illegally (even after the courts have ordered their release) for having the effrontery to stand in its way.
Like a staff of Amnesty International wrote recently, “The Nigerian authorities’ failure to hold anyone to account for the killing of hundreds of women, men and children by soldiers in Zaria, shows the acceptance of a culture of impunity for violations for human rights in the country.” This is unacceptable. The killings are a crime against humanity and those responsible must be brought to justice.
Sadly, the sect has continued to be persecuted and denied its religious rights these two years by various arms of the Nigerian government. From Kaduna to Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Plateau and the federal capital territory, Abuja, the sect members have been subjected to attacks, arrests and needless killings during their annual religious treks. Their schools are being demolished and their plots of lands illegally trespassed by government and its agencies.
We note the increasing crackdown on Shia Islam in Nigeria since the ascension to the president of Mohammadu Buhari, a Sunni Muslim. Last year, President Buhari confirmed Nigeria’s membership in the Islamic Coalition against terrorism formed in 2015 by Islamic countries following the order of Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni nation. Iran was conspicuously left out of the coalition. On the surface, it appears an innocuous move, but underneath the move is a pandering towards Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries that have never hidden their hostility towards Shia Islam.
We join our voices to those demanding justice for those killed during the Zaria massacre. We demand that Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice should order that the bodies in the mass graves are exhumed, and that those responsible for the deaths – confirmed to be members of the Nigerian armed forces – be prosecuted in fair trails
We also demand the unconditional release of their leader, Shiek ElZakzaky, his wife and other members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria who had been in detention unlawfully since their arrest in 2015. We cannot claim to be a democracy and yet tolerate and even entertain the terrible treatment of the Shias in Nigeria.
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