• Friday, July 19, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

The unfolding story of the shi’ite killings from inside the bar

law-firms

When the news broke early Monday December 14, 2016 that scores of Shiites had been killed by the military during a fracas between the Nigerian Army and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria also known as the ‘Shiites’, many wondered at the provocation that could have led to such gruesome murders?

Weeks after the incident, the blame trading continues between the parties and human rights organisations and the public is still left wondering about the true happenings of that fateful day.

The Nigerian Bar Association; the umbrella body of all lawyers in Nigeria since its establishment has been engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law and good governance in Nigeria. It was for this reason that the leadership of the Nigerian Bar, put together a strong delegation of Senior Advocates, Rights advocates, and Lawyers in the media to go on fact finding mission at the locus in quo (The location of this grave and unfortunate incident).

The delegation, led by the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Augustine Alegeh, SAN was saddled  with the responsibility of investigating and seeking the truth regarding this unfortunate incident which took place at the Shiites base in Husainiyah and Gyallesu in Zaria.

On this mission, the NBA delegation met with the Emir of Zazzau, at his palace, the commandant General of the Nigerian Army Depot in Zaria, Brigadier General Abubakar, the Zaria Police Area Commander, ACP Nuhammed  Shehu, Counsel to the Shiites, alongside the group’s leaders and several residents of Gyallesu, home of Shiite scholar and leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky.

BusinessDay Law Editor, THEODORA KIO-LAWSON who was a part of this delegation, brings us the inside story from a Bar Perspective.

The delegation of 25, which took of from Abuja, headed straight to the ancient city of Zaria, stopping first at the palace of the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Idris Shehu to pay their courtesies and to inform him about the mission, before moving to other designated places.

At the palace, the NBA delegation was received at the entrance by the Chairman of NBA Zaria Branch, along with a member of the Emir’s council who ushered members of the delegation into the presence of the emir.

Stating its mission and the objectives, the President of the NBA informed the Emir and his council that it was not in Zaria to condemn or support any of the parties, but to enquire and discover the origin of the happenings of that fateful day.

“Zaria is a big part of the Nigerian history,” The President acknowledged. “…And the NBA cannot afford to play the ostrich when a burning issue threatens the peace of the nation. Where there is an issue of national importance, we come forward to seek the truth about what transpired.

“We have been silent on the matter between the Military and the Shiites because we wanted to visit Zaria ourselves; to investigate and to know exactly what happened in this peaceful town.

“However, we also acknowledge the fact that any visit to Zaria must begin with a visit to the Father of Zaria, the Emir of Zazzau, your royal highness and this is why we are at your palace today.”

Alegeh Continued, “Knowledge based on reports we gathered from the media was insufficient for us to pursue any kind of justice. Thus, we are here to see for ourselves. We will not criticize or judge. We simply want to hear from all parties involved, to investigate and to support the process of justice by presenting our report based on what we hear and see on this trip.”

According to the bar leader, this would enable the NBA speak truthfully and add its voice to the dispute resolution process and also seek ways to avoid such occurrences in the future.

He however, maintained that the visit was only a find finding mission

“We are not here on a judicial enquiry or to place blame on any single group. We hope to hear from ALL the parties, then we will put together a document based on the information we gather. This would be the NBA’s report presented to any commission of enquiry on the matter.

Having welcomed the delegation to his palace, the Emir bemoaned the ugly incident, stating that he was indeed saddened by the events of that fateful day. Acknowledging however, the rights of the parties involved in the crisis he said,

“As humans cohabiting with other human who also have rights, we should know where our constitutional rights begins and where it ends. If our rights intervene with the rights of others, then we lose that right. The constitution does not grant me the right to infringe on another person privileges. Where this happens, the consequences could be dire or disastrous as we have seen in this case.

He continued, “If there is anything you want us to do to give you further support, please do not hesitate to let us know. We would also appreciate if you would share your findings with us to give more light into the incident and to also help the country move forward,”

The Tarfkin Zazzau, Alhaji Danladi Musa Abubakar Idris was however not as indulgent as the Emir. Sitting in another part of the capacious palace, he spoke extensively with the delegation.

The Tarfkin, who is a High Chief on the Emir’s council, expressed great displeasure at the manner the Shiites had conducted themselves for several years.

“They have lived and operated in Zaria without due regard to anyone; not even the Emir. The Emir’s cars are stopped at will at various junctions. On our way to security council meetings which is in that part of town, we pray consistently for our safety and that we have no reason to come in contact with the Shiites.

He continued, “On a certain occasion, we were unfortunate enough to run into them at the Zaria roundabout and we were stopped from going through. We had to alight form our vehicles. Is this how we should live as a people?” the Tarfkin bewailed passionately.

Giving a brief history of the Shiites, he said, “Shiite as I have known is an Islamic movement, which used to be led by a Sheik in Kaduna. However, around the year 1986, something happened and Sheik Ibrahim El Zakyzaky became the leader. Zakzaky however, is a citizen of Zaria. His family house is just opposite the palace wall – where he lived and operated from for several years.

While they there, the Emir exhibited was quite equitable and managed them fairly to avoid any confrontations, until Zakzaky then bought a home in Gyallesu, which led to their relocation away from the palace and to their Husainiyah.

Departing the palace, the NBA delegation thanked the Council of chiefs, promising to get to the root of the matter by reaching all the parties involved in the dispute, including the Shiites.

The next stop was the Nigerian Army Depot in Zaria, where the delegation met with the Commandant General, Brigadier General Abulrahman Abubakar.

The commandant unwilling to speak at first about the incident, stating that he was not directly involved on the incidents of that day was once again assure by the Bar President, that the group was not in Zaria to pass judgment on anyone but to only listen to everyone’s side of the story.

“The Army has made a statement regarding what happened,” he said, maintaining that he was only called into the matter when the crisis got to a head. Abubakar however disclosed to the delegation that the incidents of that day could have been foreseen long ago by any inhabitant of the town; as developing events leading to that day pointed to only one thing…that it was only a matter of time before there was a clash.

According to him, the parties may have been different, but the clash was almost inevitable, he admitted.

“While I cannot say for certain, how the incident of December14, 2015 between the Shiite group and the Military broke out, I do know the peculiarities of that exact Location in Husainiyah.

Having settled in that part of town since 1983, the Shiites have claimed some sort of dominion and territorial rights over the place, so much so that they constant blockades and barriers in the area. Barriers that not even the military can break through at certain hours of the day – particularly when it is believed their leader would be coming that way.

“There was a previous clash between the Shiites and the Military in 2014. It had to do with the Depot Commandant of the Zaria, military college.

“The Depot Commandant was passing through at the same time Zakzaky was going to pass through (He hadn’t even arrived the location but a radio message had come to say he was on his way), thus the commandant was stopped from going through. The Commandant told his convoy to force their way but the Shiites fought back. He had to go back to the depot to bring his men to chase the Zakzaky security away. That’s how they passed.

“On my part, I have has several confrontations with them before the December 14 incident,” the commandant admitted, continuing his tales of woe.

“On one of such occasions, an arrow was shot at me as I came out to question the blockade. It went right through my cap and down to the ground. I recognised the individual who did this, that notwithstanding, I simply asked the convoy to reverse the cars in order not to have a clash with them. We all know how that would have ended.

“Unfortunately, this was not the case on December 14, 2015 when Chief of Army Staff and his convoy, coming from Jigawa State, where he went for the 20th anniversary of the Emir, was stopped from passing through.

“My men who were part of the convoy reliably informed me that the Chief of Army Staff along with his convoy got to this part of the road leading to the base and discovered it was blocked. He came out of his car to enquired about the blockade and was promptly shunned.

“After spending some time coercing and counseling them to move the barriers to no avail. They refused to let the convoy go through.

“As eye-witness account has it, he then informed them, that he had lost his parents to Boko Haram and that whatever would block on the road like he has seen now, he would treat as Boko Haram. I was informed that he was there for about 25 to 30 minutes cajoling and appealing to the Shiites.

“He went on to warn them that stopping him meant stopping the Nigerian military as a security agent and they should understand the implication of that.  The group however did not bulge.”

Ending his narration, the Commandant urged the delegation to stop by the office of the Zaria Police Area commander who has more details of the happenings.

It was on this note that the NBA group moved to the Zaria Police Command to pay a courtesy call on ACP Nuhammed Shehu, the Area Commander.

Establishing that the clash between the Military and the Shiite group was merely a military operation, which did not concern the police, the Commander however stated that the police stations in Zaria filled with murder cases against Shiites.

As the story unfolded, ACP Shehu availed the NBA delegation with gory images photos of those killed by persons believed to be members of the Islamic movement in the small town of gyallesu. We are told that most of victims in the photos were killed at Shiites controlled locations (where they had barricades) and those who were considered ‘outlaws’ by the Shiites for disobeying their laws. Some of these images were too gruesome to look at.

The ACP said, “The reports with pictures of their victims have been forwarded to the Inspector General of Police. All the pictures you see here today h (handing them over to the NBA President) are people suspected to be killed by the Shiite group at various points where they tried to pass through one of the group’s road blocks – mostly after 9:00pm. The have a law that states you cannot go past their Shia Centre (Husainiyah) after 9:00pm.

According to him, the Shiites constantly brag to residents that their locations in Gyallesu and Husainiyah do not operate under the Nigerian law and that it was useless to call in the law enforcement agents into the area.

“There was an incident where a victim was coming from a Naming Ceremony; he passed and had to go past Husainiyah after 9:00pm where he was apprehended by the Shiites. He had his children in his car.

“All we try to do eventually was simply defend police stations from being attacked by this group of people.”

He urged the government and the Nigerian Bar Association to nip such tendencies towards anarchy in the bud, while ensuring that people are not allowed such leverage in the society that they begin to oppress other and constitute nuisance and threat to peace.

“We have to agree that the Boko Haram we battle today, started out like this. It started like a small limb carved out of a niche area and gradually grew to become a menace to our society. The Shiites have been moving towards this goal for a long time coming. Their number in Nigeria today is about 5 million. It was only a matter of time before the real monster reared its head.

The delegation thanked the ACP for his time and moved on to the court premises where it had agreed to meet with the Shiites leaders, their Counsel and residents of Gyallesu and Husainiyah.

On arrival at the court promised, the delegation was met by the Registrar of the Court, and introductions were promptly made, after which the Bar president explained the reason for the visit to the parties, appealing for their cooperation in the matter.

Having been introduced by their Counsel, representatives of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Shiites) opened the floor, by speaking first. According to them. The movement was a peaceful group of Muslims, not terrorists.

Speaking first, Dr. Abdullahi Danladi, an Associate Professor, Textile Science & Technology and also Deputy Dean Faculty of Science, ABU, Zaria said,

“I am a member of Islamic Movement in Nigeria. The aim and objective of the movement is to, we as Muslims live our lives in total compliance with the rules and regulations set up by our creator and the creator of the universe, Allah in line with the teaching of Quran and teachings of the prophets. This movement started late 70s when the Sheik was in school as a student. The order of the day was communism socialism and all of the -isms.”

He explained that strict adherence to the tenets of Islam pitched them against those who do not believe in their course and who continually wage war against them. Noting that as Muslims they ensure that Islam has something to present as an ideology. He went about advocating religious ideologies as guidelines and as a working principle for all human beings.

“This continued for years and still does until today he stated. They accused us. The problem they have with us is that the Sheikh and his followers, Shiites have remained steadfast and resolute in their service of Allah. The Sheikh does not compromise, or beg anyone in authority. He is not like any of the other Ullamah (scholars) who go about receiving gifts from persons in government. This is their grouse against us,” the Associate Professor said.

He continued, “This is a movement of peace he started it as an individual. Perhaps it is high time for people listen to what he advocates. How do you go about  reestablishing the Islamic order that has been in existence since the time of Uthman Dan Fodio. There are many theorists. But at the end of the day, Iran provided the model at this contemporary modern time whereby Imam Komenin on his own part succeeded in producing Islamic revolution in Iran.

“This does not mean however that we take directives from lran because the society varies. This has been the cause of Sheik Ibrahim ZakyZaky. He remains firm and steady and calls on people to establish the religion of Islam,” Dr. Danladi reiterates.

Explaining the actions of the Shiite security (Popularly called THE URAHS), another member of the group spoke next, stating that there had been broad daylight robbery, theft and insecurity before the Shiites arrived at this location and the group promptly took over the security of the area.

He said, “You couldn’t leave your property exposed because local thieves would come and vandalise them, but the presence of our security guards (Urahs) have dealt with all of these issues.”

Sadly, at this meeting of the delegation, with the Villagers, the Shiites and their Counsel, the sentiments of residents of the Palace, the Army and the Police, were echoed by the villagers. As they narrated their ordeals in the hands of the Shiites, there seemed to be a sense of elation and a state of freedom following the military action against the Shiites.

They accused the movement of acting above the law and running a government within a government. “They do not obey or follow any laws other than those handed down by their leader, Zakzaky. Also, nobody dares walk or drive through Gyallesu or Husainiyah at certain ours of the day.. They had restriction orders in several locations around Zaria.

And as a representative of the villagers put it (ON TAPE), “We couldn’t help but be happy each time the Shiites had a mishap. They terrorize us. We live in constant fear because of this group

Incidentally, one episode in memory that was repeated in all the neighbourhoods we visited in Gyallesu and Husainiyah was the hand dealt to a serving governor; when on a visit to commiserate with a relative, he was turned back by the Shiites at the same location and a gun pointed at him.

Seemingly farfetched, this incident was repeated by everyone we spoke with in the villages – even the enforcement and security agents.

A villager, Idris mohammed affirms, “It is no secret around here, that he Shiites run their own system of governance. I would say they share the same powers as that of the President of Nigeria. When their leader, Zakzakky is leaves or returns to his house, all junctions, all roads and roundabouts must.be blocked. Not even the President enjoys such privilege.”

Human rights organisation have claimed have alleged that the Nigerian Army had a “pre-determined mandate” to attack members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, in Zaria on that fateful day. Going by the narrations of all the parties, could this be true? And is so was the provocation as alleged by the Army, the police and the villagers enough to exonerate the soldiers?

I think it may be too early to come to any such conclusions on this unfortunate incident. As the Nigerian Bar Association continues to consult widely on the matter, we wait in earnest for their report and hope it truly reflects the essence of the body as the conscience of the people – promoting human rights and the rule of law