Kaduna State: Anxiety as Judicial Inquiry Reports on December Violence

A judicial commission of inquiry into a clash between Nigerian Military and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in December 2015 in Zaria, Kaduna State has concluded. A report has been submitted to the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai. It is unclear, as yet, what the commission has found in regard to the military’s alleged killing of hundreds of Shiite protesters during the clash, and for the imprisoned IMN leader, Sheik Ibrahim Zakyzaky.

Zakzaky, leader of the Zaria-based IMN, a Shiite movement, has been in prison since December 14, 2015. It is alleged that he was shot before his arrest. His only wife, Zeenatu, was also arrested the same day.

Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky (Photo: omojuwa.com)
Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky (Photo: omojuwa.com)

Over 600 IMN members were declared missing between 12 and 14 December 2015 after a clash between their members and the military in the ancient city of Zaria in Kaduna State Northwest Nigeria. The Nigerian military accused members of the Shiite movement of trying to assassinate the country’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, by attacking his convoy in December 2015. Buratai was traveling to the Nigerian Military School in Zaria when IMN members blocked the convoy as it passed through the street where there shrine is located. Some 500 protesters were killed.  Zakzaky’s second in command, late Muhammadu Turi, was killed alongside other IMN leaders. Sheik Zakzaky’s six biological sons were also killed by the military’s bullets.

The Army Spokesperson, Colonel SK Usman, claimed the incident was a failed attempt by the IMN on the life of Buratai. The movement denied the Army’s claim, saying its members never attempted to assassinate Buratai.

In a statement, the President of the IMN Media Forum, Ibrahim Musa, explained why their members had blocked the road. “The protesting youths were angry because the Nigerian Army killed their friends and brothers [a] few months back, and they killed them as if they were flies,” he said.

Ibrahim Musa (Photo: Facebook)
Ibrahim Musa (Photo: Facebook)

There is a history of conflict between local communities and the IMN. Even though the IMN described the killing of its members by the soldiers as indiscriminate and unjust, some residents of Zaria have had a different reaction to the killings. Some regard it as retribution for 20 years of so-called harassment of the community by the IMN.

Leader of the affected Zaria communities, Idris Mohammed Baba, alleged that the Shiites held people hostage with impunity in Zaria and Sabon Gari local government areas of Kaduna State, which the IMN has denied.  Baba has also claimed that IMN have been running a parallel government in the country. Alhaji Saidu Garba, an elder of Gyellesu community, said that the once booming economic activities have been crippled due to the activities of Shiites in the area. Some have called on the Federal Government to ban the IMN in their communities. The IMN has retorted that this does not represent the views of all or even most residents of Zaria.

Given this history of conflict, the outcome of the commission of inquiry has significant bearing on residents of Zaria.

A week after the clash last December, Governor El-Rufai set up a judicial inquiry led by Justice Muhammad Lawal, to investigate the clash and its causes. The commission’s sittings were dramatic. The Shiite group withdrew from the sitting half way through, claiming the government would not allow their lawyers access to their detained leader, Ibrahim Zakyzaky.

However, the disclosure by the Kaduna State Director General of Interfaith Agency, Namadi Musa, that 347 dead Shiites were buried in a mass grave in Mando, outside of Zaria, shocked not only the commission members but the residents of Kaduna state at large. The military had reported to the Human Rights Commission days after the clash that only seven Shiites were killed in the fracas in Zaria. However, the revelation by the state government representative at the commission indicted the military. International human rights group like Amnesty International have called for proper investigation into the Zaria incident and the mass grave saga.

Namadi Musa, Director-General of Interfaith Agency, Kaduna State (Photo Linkedin)
Namadi Musa, Director-General of Interfaith Agency, Kaduna State (Photo: Linkedin)

The commission of inquiry submitted it’s report last week to the Governor El-Rufai at the state government house. The governor promised to study the recommendations raised in the report, which was labeled  “Top Secret.”

The submission has created anxiety among residents of the state, particularly members of the IMN, because the findings of the report regarding the fate of the detained Shiites’ leader and the killings by the soldiers are unknown.  While Zakyzaky’s followers now make protest a weekly event demanding for the release of Zakyzaky and his wife, all eyes now turn to Governor El-Rufai. Kaduna State and Nigeria await the findings of the judicial inquiry into the killings in Zaria last December.