By Ibidapo Balogun
Lagos-based lawyer and counsel to Sheik Ibrahim Zakzaky, Mr. Femi Falana, has demanded immediate prosecution of the military officers and armed forces engaged in the brutal massacre of 347 citizens in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The massacre was carried out between December 12-14, 2015.
Falana said in the letter: “We are solicitors to the Islamic Movement in Nigeria headed by Sheik Ibraheem Zakzaky who has been detained without trial for about 8 months by the State Security Service in Abuja.
In your interview published in Thisday Newspaper of May 17, 2016 you spoke on the violent attack unleashed on the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria by the Nigerian Army last December. In particular, you said that “… our response was swift which was shown by the numerous arrests made.”
“Having limited the “numerous arrests” to the surviving victims of the violent attack who have since been charged with conspiracy and culpable homicide we hereby request you to use your good offices to ensure that the criminal elements who killed 347 unarmed civilians including women and children and buried their dead bodies are arrested and arraigned in court without any further delay. To facilitate the prosecution we wish to furnish you with the following facts:
(1) In exercise of their fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and expression the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) staged a peaceful rally in Zaria, Kaduna state on July 25, 2014 in solidarity with the Palestinian people. In spite of the peaceful nature of the solidarity rally a band of armed soldiers opened fire on the protesters. Out of the 34 people who were killed in the unprovoked attack 3 were sons of Sheik Zakzaky.
(2) The Federal Government was embarrassed by the unlawful killing of the 34 members of the IMN by the army. In the circumstances, the National Human Rights Commission expressed condolence and tendered a public apology to the bereaved families on behalf of the federal government. But despite the official apology, the Kaduna state government did not prosecute the suspects who perpetrated the unlawful killing. At the material time, Mr. Nasir El Rufai publicly condemned the brutal killing and paid a condolence visit to the IMN leader in his residence.
(3) On December 12, 2015, platoons of the Nigerian army unleashed mayhem on the members of the IMN on the ground that they had plotted to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai Staff. The spurious allegation was not reported to the Police. Equally not brought to the attention of the Police was the allegation that the IMN had blocked a road in Zaria which affected the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff.
(4) Instead of reporting the alleged infractions of the law to the Police, the Chief of Army Staff decided to take the law into his hands by commanding armed troops to open fire on the unarmed civilians in utter violation of sections 33 and 217 of the Constitution, Rules of Engagement for the Nigerian Military and the Geneva Convention.
(5) The violent attack continued for two days. Though, the leader of the IMN was not present at the praying ground, the army invaded his house on December 14, 2014. He and members of his family including his wife and children were shot at close range. During the unprovoked attack, 3 of his children were killed in his presence while grenades were hauled at his house which was subsequently set ablaze by the rampaging soldiers.
(6) On December 15, 2015, 347 people who were killed in the attack were secretly buried in a mass grave in Mando, Kaduna state by the army with the connivance of the Kaduna state government. Before the mass burial, the Kaduna state government did not deem it fit to conduct any autopsy or DNA tests on the bodies.
(7) On the 23rd of December, 2015 officials of the Kaduna State Urban Protection Development Authority (KASUPDA) under the supervision of military authorities demolished the following properties of the IMN: graves of deceased members of the sect at Darur Rahma cemetery, situate 10 miles outside of Zaria; the movement’s newly acquired property adjacent to the Husainiya, a former NTC building; the Fudiyya Islamic Centre; and the family house of Zakzaky at Jushi quarters of Tudunwada ward where his mother was interned.
(8) On January 29, 2016, Governor El Rufai proceeded to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the crisis and make recommendations to the government. The members of the commission were drawn from the army, the police, the State Security Service and some individuals including those who had, through public statements and writings, called for the proscription of the IMN.
(9) Although, section 36 (1) of the Constitution stipulates that a court or tribunal shall be constituted in a manner that its independence and impartiality shall be guaranteed, the Kaduna state government ignored the demand of the human rights community that the commission be reconstituted by removing the members who have always nursed animosity towards the IMN.
(10) Notwithstanding the fact that the commission had invited Sheik Zakzaky to testify on behalf of the IMN, he was prevented from doing so by the State Security Service which has held him in custody since December 14, 2015. Thus, the Commission was only permitted to take evidence from the aggressors and others who have axe to grind with the IMN.
(11) Upon realizing that its findings and recommendations might not enjoy credibility having not been allowed to observe the elementary rule of audi alteram partem, the commission made frantic efforts to persuade the legal team of the IMN to participate in the proceedings. We were unable to accede to the request of the commission since it was unable to direct the authorities to release our clients from custody to tell their own side of the story.
(12) Out of sheer contempt for the judicial commission, the Kaduna state Government has filed charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide against over 250 members of the IMN at the Kaduna state high court. The suspects who are alleged to have caused the death of one Corporal Yakubu Dankaduna during the military invasion are languishing in prison custody while awaiting the legal advice of the Kaduna state Director of Public Prosecution.
(13) Although the Secretary to the Kaduna State Government, Alhaji Lawal Balarabe Abbas has since confirmed the gruesome massacre of the 347 people by the army, you have refused to prosecute the criminal elements who perpetrated the crime and proceeded to bury their dead bodies in a mass grave in a country which loudly proclaims to operate under the rule of law.
In the light of the foregoing we have the instructions of our clients to request you to prosecute the members of the Nigerian Army who took the law into their hands by unleashing mayhem on unarmed civilians in Zaria, Kaduna state from December 12-14, 2015. Specifically, you are requested to charge the suspects with conspiracy, willful damage to property, arson and culpable homicide not later than July 31, 2016.
TAKE NOTICE if you fail to accede to our clients’ demand we shall not hesitate to apply to the High Court of Kaduna State for an order of mandamus to compel you to discharge your constitutional duty by charging the indicted culprits to court in line with your oath of office to “do right to all manners of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will…”