Failures of Kaduna’s white paper on Zaria deaths
Only in Police states are military violations above the law. Yet in Kaduna, the potential multiple violations committed by the military have been effectively absolved. In the aftermath of the killing of 349 Shiite members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), and 1 soldier in the Nigerian Military, the greater focus of the Kaduna State government was not on the military but on the IMN and their leader Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky.
On December 17th 2015, three days after the killings in Zaria, Governor Nasir el-Rufai announced that the state will set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to look into the incident. Yet in a news conference after his announcement, he also then berated the IMN, describing them as lawless and talked of their disregard for the Nigerian constitution. Right after announcing that there would be an inquiry. He had offered a reason for why the events in Zaria may have happened, even before the commission could sit for the first time.
The Judicial Commission report on the killings in Zaria, released in August, presented the military with accusations that it could not easily dismiss. However, the Kaduna Government white paper on the killings, released on Monday, has made it significantly easier to dismiss.
The white paper released this week has concluded that IMN had become a law unto itself. It found that with the sheer number of IMN members there were in Zaria, it was impossible for the military to know how armed they were. Yet despite that inability, the Nigerian army had not acted unlawfully in killing them.
It found that the IMN had threatened peace and security and should be treated as an insurgent group. It found that it was lawful for the Military to mass bury the members of the IMN that they had killed. The paper has claimed that soldiers found guilty of unlawful killings will be prosecuted, but has offered no real prospect of this being applied.
What is additionally concerning is that the white paper does not address the inconsistencies in the military’s versions of the events. In the days after the killings in Zaria, many of the claims made by the military have since been disproven. They reported to press outlets that no Shiite had died at all. They alleged that they had found large caches of weapons belonging to the IMN, and later that several soldiers had died in the clashes. They denied burying any IMN members.
But reports by the Kaduna-initiated Judicial Commission, as well as by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have since disproven these claims. There were indeed 349 IMN deaths. There were no caches of weapons. Only one soldier died.
The white paper claimed that it was lawful for the military to bury the Shiites, without addressing why the Military would have denied doing so in the first place.
Last week the Federal High Court ordered that El Zakzaky should be released but he almost certainly won’t be. The Kaduna State government have requested for him to be handed over to their custody. They deem him responsible for the events last December, which the legal process in Kaduna will now determine.
On the suspicion that 349 Shiites and 1 soldier were killed as a result of an IMN assassination attempt on Lt. Gen. Yusuf Buratai, Sheik El Zakzaky and over 250 others have been detained for almost a year.
According to his family he has been denied visitation and medical treatment and is now partially blind. There are real questions for El Zakzaky to face, but any denial of his rights under Nigerian law should not need to preclude those questions.
But for the possible scenario that 349 deaths were a result of a fatal over-reaction to a predominantly non-violent protest, no adequate action has been taken.
Speaking on The Spot podcast released on Monday, Governor el-Rufai revealed that he and El-Zakzaky attended same university; That they were both members of the Islamic society and that his knowledge of El Zakzaky helped him to understand the current situation. And that a history of alleged IMN atrocities in Kaduna provided the context for understanding the state’s issues with the IMN now.
But the experience of the Nigerian military, with a history of alleged human rights violations and alleged extra-judicial killings, is also a part of that context. The alleged killing of 33 IMN Shiites in Kaduna the previous year by the military is important too.
The Kaduna Government’s white paper has absolved the military of responsibility, without accounting for the inconsistencies between their findings and what the military claimed in the weeks after December 14th. At the least, those inconsistencies in the military’s version of events should constitute greater scrutiny and suspicion.
The IMN have now been banned in Kaduna and a number of neighbouring states, a decision that has arguably made the insecure situation in Kaduna worse. In all of this, the military have been under negligible pressure to truly account for what happened.
The Nigerian Military occupies an alternate universe to the democracy that they are technically a part of. A truly democratic state or government would have a bigger problem with that.