* Accuse panel of bias
…As gov el-Rufai moves to douse tension
From NOAH EBIJE, Kaduna
Members of Islamic Movement in Nigeria ( IMN ), Shiites, have expressed bitterness over the report of the judicial commission of inquiry into December 12 to 14, 2015, Zaria clash between them and men of the Nigerian Army.
The panel’s report released by the Kaduna State Government had indicted both parties involved in the bloody conflict that left 349 persons, including a soldier dead.
In reaction, the group warned against any attempt to edit this fact out in the white paper being prepared by the Kaduna State Government, stressing that such move would be “… an exercise in futility, because there is no way this unjustifiable massacre can be justified before the watchful eyes of the international community and good citizens of Nigeria.”
Leader of the IMN, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky had specifically been indicted by the panel for failing to control multitude of his followers from engaging the Army in confrontation when he had the power to do so.
But, media spokesman of IMN, Ibrahim Musa, said in a statement, “We find this assertions totally against the principle of natural justice, which affirms that “No one shall be condemned unheard. This means that the deciding authority must give both parties the opportunity to prepare and present evidence and to respond to arguments presented by the opposite side. However, in our own case, the Kaduna State Government, the Army was given ample opportunities to present its case before the commission, whereas Sheikh Zakzaky and other members of the Islamic movement incarcerated along with him were denied such opportunity.”
The sect further argued that: “The commission should have ordered the DSS holding him hostage in Abuja to produce him to confirm from him whether he had been approached by the Kaduna State Governor in the midst of the crisis, and what his response were. If the Sheikh couldn’t be brought before it, at least the commission should have gone to see him. Up to the time the commission wound up, it did not state why it did not hear from Sheikh Zakzaky.
“Once again we will not relent on our call for the unconditional release of our abducted leader, Sheikh Zakzaky and others held, after languishing in the gulag for the past eight months”.
The report quoted the chairman of the commission of inquiry, Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, as saying that the Shiites be put on watch list by security agencies, particularly when they move in and out of the country.
The panel, in its report, noted that IMN’s lack of respect for constituted authority was unfair, and asked various governments to take serious action on the matter.
The report said, “Considering the nature and organizational structure of the IMN, where the leader has the total control over the members, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky should be personally held responsible for all the acts of commission and omission of the entire membership of the IMN in its clashes with the Nigerian Army for refusing to call his members to order when required to do so. The government should deal with the IMN in accordance with the laws and regulations of the land and be made to conduct its activities and affairs within the ambit of the law at all times.
“Members of IMN should never be allowed to carry any unlicensed weapon under any guise. Whosoever found so doing should be prosecuted immediately.
“The Federal Government should keep a list of IMN members and others who constitute security threats, whenever they are going out and coming back into Nigeria with a view to discovering the sources of their funding, foreign contacts and other relevant and useful information.
“The Federal Government should be proactive in dealing with threats posed by groups such as IMN.
“Intelligence reports by security agencies regarding all threats to security, law and order should be taken seriously and acted upon anxiously to nip in the bud such occurrences.
“The Federal government should not ignore the boast by the IMN that it has its members all across the security services who feed it with counter intelligence”.
The panel, however, blamed the Army for application of excessive force, which, according to the report, led to the high rate of casualties recorded during the incident.
“The commission is of the view that the use of excessive force by the Nigerian Army, which led to the heavy casualties recorded in the cordoned and search operation is an act of commission for which the NA is directly responsible.
“The commission, therefore, recommends that the steps should immediately be taken to identify the members of the NA who participated in the killings of 12th-14th December 2015 incident with a view to prosecuting them.
“The Federal Government should review the adequacy of the existing rules of engagement pertaining to internal security operations and bring them into conformity with constitutional stipulations and in accordance with the democratic norms and humanitarian best practices”.
Recalled that the State government had on the 29th of January 2016 set up a Commission of Inquiry to ascertain the remote and immediate causes, number of persons killed, wounded or missing and property destroyed, among others.
The commission submitted its final report on Friday, July 15, 2016. Governor Nasir El-Rufai promised that his government would make the report transparent in public interest.
IMN media spokesman said: “Even though the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) boycotted the sittings of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Zaria massacre for obvious reasons, we would like to voice out categorical objections to some portions of the report that has been released by the Kaduna State Government recently.
“The commission in its report stated that, the Secretary to Kaduna State said that Governor Nasir El rufai had personally telephoned El Zakzaky to persuade him to prevail on his members to remove the road blockade to no avail.
“It further added that, considering the nature and organizational structure of IMN, where the leader has total control over the members, Sheikh Ibraheem El Zakzaky should be personally held responsible for all acts of commission or omission of the entire membership of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in its clash with the Nigerian Army, for refusing to call his members to order when required to do so.
“If the commission couldn’t approach Sheikh Zakzaky, it should at least have sought audience with the almost 200 members of the Islamic Movement detained at Kaduna prison, who were directly affected by the brutal clampdown of the Army against unarmed people in Zaria. In fact, in one of the court sessions of the trial of the detainees on spurious charges, it was said that they were denied bail because they might appear before the commission, which they never did.
“Also to blame Sheikh Zakzaky for the actions of a few of his followers, as the commission did is a form of collective responsibility and punishment, which we believe does not make any sense. The notion of collective culpability seems to deny individual moral responsibility and fairness. We believe that the judicial commission of inquiry got it all wrong in what it claimed is the organizational structure of the Islamic Movement of which Sheikh Zakzaky is the leader.
“However where it was stated in the leaked report that: ‘The commission observed that the Nigerian Army had not followed its own rules of engagement and its actions would seem to be contrary to international standards, which must be strictly observed in carrying out such internal security operations,’ this we believe is verifiable by still pictures, video clips and eyewitness accounts during the Zaria clash with the Nigerian Army.”
Perhaps, sensing tension in the state over some religious issues, including the Shiites/Army squabble, Governor el-Rufai, early this week made franttic effort to douse the tension by telling traditional rulers not to allow their subjects to use religion and ethnicity to cause disunity and confusion in the state.
Addressing Kaduna State Council of Chiefs and Emirs in Kaduna at their
quarterly meeting, el-Rufai explained that the Religious Bill was central to security and peace, and was to allow everybody to practice his or her faith without any challenge.
The governor said his administration would continue to ensure peace and purposeful integration as a collective resolution.
el-Rufai appealed to traditional rulers to preach peace to their
subjects for development, adding that human life was sacred and that government would do its best to protect lives and property.
He said: “This is our collective resolution and we will continue to ensure peace and purposeful integration. I am here to commend you and to urge you to continue on that path.”
Responding, Deputy Chairman, Kaduna State Council of Chiefs and Emirs and Chief of Kagoro, Ufuwai Bonet, said they would continue to sustain peace in their domains.
Meanwhile, a committee to draft the white paper on the report of the panel has commenced work.
The nine-man committee, chaired by Adamu Mohammed Mansur, the permanent secretary, Ministry of Education, Kaduna State, is expected to submit a draft within two weeks.
According to Special Assistant to the Governor (Media and Publicity), Samuel Aruwan, the terms of reference guiding the committee are: to study the recommendations of the panel’s report as well as make any other recommendation(s) that will assist government in addressing issues raised in the report, among other things. The Sun