Justice for the victims of the December 2015 bloody clash in Zaria, Kaduna State, during which soldiers dislodged a Shi’ite worship centre and residence of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, has remained elusive five years after.
Over 340 civilians, largely members of the IMN, were killed while a soldier also lost his life, according to official accounts. But the IMN at the time said over 1,000 of its members were killed.
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Gyellesu, a bustling community located opposite the Samaru Campus of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, which played host to Sheikh Zakzaky and his IMN followers before the clash, was one of the places worst affected.
While some of those who survived the clash said they were still waiting to be compensated, the Kaduna State government told Daily Trust that it took over some properties around the scene of the carnage because of overriding public interest.
The government also said it has started implementing the recommendations of the judicial commission of inquiry it set up, including banning the IMN and compensating some of those deserving it.
However, most of the victims of the crisis said their details were only taken and nothing more.
Mohammed Inuwa Sheshi, 35, a tailor at Gyellesu settlement in Zaria, is one of the victims of the clash that took place in the ancient city in December 2015.
The dark memories of events that led to the crisis still linger in his mind.
Sheshi, who had lived in the area for about 15 years, told Daily Trust at his shop how, “Whenever I remember that incident, my heart freezes because of the shock and anxiety I experienced.
“Although the incident lasted for only about two days, the level of damage was monumental.”
But beyond the shock, he is also disappointed that five years after, the promises made by the government to compensate victims have not been fulfilled.
Widowed and broken
On a recent visit to Zaria, Daily Trust encountered two women who have been rendered widows by the clash.
Zainab Isa, who lost her husband and six male children during the clash, betrayed emotions as she expressed doubt over the prospect of getting justice for the killing of her loved ones.
She said: “On that fateful day, rumor had started filtering in that Hussainiyya was under attack. Being the first day of the month of Rabi’ul Awwal, which was slated for hoisting the Prophet’s flag to mark the beginning of Maulud, I asked my children to be at the venue since I was billed to go somewhere else.
“Around 1pm, we heard that Hussainiyya was tense and I decided to go there myself. But before I got there, the carnage had already taken place. I found the place under siege by armed soldiers while our children were trapped inside.
“Initially, my thought was that they [soldiers] were there for the POP (passing out parade) and would vacate the vicinity after the event. We also noticed a massive deployment of soldiers around Polo Ground, who opened fire on the crowd at Hussainiyya.”
Zainab left Hussainiyya but returned home the following morning without meeting her children and husband. She later found out that except for her youngest male child, the rest were either killed or had gone missing in the crisis.
She displayed their photographs, tears coursing down her cheeks. Asked how she had been coping five years after, Zainab, who said she has been doing some petty trading to survive with her only surviving son, simply said: “It is a trial of faith.”
On whether she expects justice from the government, she said: “There is nothing they can do to bring about redress to us in terms of justice. We are repressed.
“Look now, our children have been taken away from us, we don’t know their whereabouts for five years.
“Not all of them were killed; most of them were buried alive. Some were moved to unknown destinations.”
Another widow, Sherifat Salihu, who lost her husband and three children in the crisis, said life has not been the same for her since then.
“We were living happily with my husband and our children. My children were my pillars, the ones doing the house chores. I have been left empty after their deaths.
“No justice can come from government; even the commission of inquiry cannot bring about justice. I have sued them to Allah’s court.
“I will return to Allah and they are going there too. It is only when we meet before God’s Court that we can get justice,” she said.
Daily Trust reports that members of the IMN, who were conducting a “hoisting of flag” ceremony at Hussainiyya, their headquarters along PZ-Samaru Road, had mounted roadblocks at strategic locations on the highway on all approaches from Samaru and at the popular PZ Railway Junction.
It was about the time the convoy of the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, was coming from Dutse, Jigawa State, to attend the passing out parade (PoP) of the 73rd regular recruits at the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria.
The convoy was caught up by the blockade and officers on the entourage of the army chief were said to have made entreaties to the IMN members to lift the barricade for the convoy to pass but to no avail.
This, according to witnesses, led to the “forceful clearance” of the roadblocks by soldiers who reportedly used lethal force.
Consequently, the military carried out a cordon and search operation at Hussainiyya and Gyellesu, the residence of the IMN leader as well as Darul Rahma at Dambo village.
In the wake of these operations, hundreds of lives were lost while movable and properties destroyed.
Although there were conflicting reports over the death toll in the clashes, the Kaduna State government carried out the burial of over 300 dead bodies in a mass grave at a cemetery along Mando Road, Kaduna.
‘Compensation still hanging’
Following the incident, the Kaduna State government set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the incident.
The commission, with 13 members from different professional backgrounds, headed by Hon. Mohammed Lawal Garba, was inaugurated on January 29, 2016.
Among its terms of reference was to ascertain the number of persons killed, those wounded or missing during the clashes.
It is also to identify all property allegedly damaged or destroyed during the clashes, the owners or occupiers of such property, and the values claimed for such damage or destruction.
Similarly, the commission was mandated to make recommendations to the state and the federal governments on the direct or indirect responsibility for any identified acts of commission or omission.
It was also to recommend actions to be taken to ensure that administrative or criminal responsibility was further determined by the appropriate administrative or judicial authorities for any identified acts or omissions.
On receipt of the report of the commission, the Kaduna State government appointed a White Paper Drafting Committee through a letter no. SSG/KDS/508/ VOL.T4/100 dated July 22, 2016, to study the recommendations of the panel and produce a White Paper.
Investigations, however, revealed that although the panel made far-reaching findings and recommendations which were backed by the white paper, they are yet to be implemented five years after.
Among other findings, the report, a copy of which Daily Trust exclusively obtained, indicated that properties belonging to 19 persons valued at N74.3 million were destroyed while vehicles belonging to 25 persons valued at N78. 9 million were also destroyed
It also found that six (unspecified) properties belonging to members of the IMN were destroyed but the value could not be ascertained since the IMN did not appear before the commission of inquiry.
“The Kaduna State government should appoint professional valuers to re-evaluate properties reported to have been destroyed or damaged and take appropriate steps to provide the necessary compensation to the claimants,” the report recommended.
Daily Trust findings further showed that although the state government had noted in the White Paper that: “Property destroyed had already been valued for the purpose of payment of reasonable compensation to circumstantial victims,” many of the victims who spoke in Zaria said nothing was given to them.
Sheshi the tailor in Gyellesu said: “It has been five years after I presented my estimated losses but the promise of compensation made by government remains a pipe dream.”
Suleiman Idris, another tailor in Gyellesu said following the incident, he was requested to make a submission through the Zaria Local Government Area for compensation but nothing has been done yet.
“My shop was burnt to ashes and I lost property worth N750,000 including three sewing machines. I was requested to make documentation of my losses which I did but to date, nothing has been done,” Idris said.
Another victim, Zahraddeen Sanusi, said he lost goods in his shop worth N1.3 million. “We were informed that fateful night that our shops were set on fire as a result of the IMN/military clash.
“When I got to my shop the provisions I had stocked for sale, including fridges were all destroyed. We were later promised assistance after submitting our losses to Zaria Local Government Council but five years after nothing has been done,” he said.
Similarly, Salisu Ahmed Gyellesu, another victim, said he wrote and submitted to the investigation committee that sat in Kaduna, details of the destruction done to his house, including the damage to his car and that of his younger brother, but there has been no response.
“They asked me some questions just the way you are asking me now on what happened and I told them; the government promised to pay us some money to enable us to fix what was damaged but we’ve not received anything yet,” he said.
Aliyu Mohammed Kafinta, who said their mosque was affected during the clash at Gyellesu, said the government did not give them any form of assistance. “You can see all the repair works we did are through our own efforts; we need assistance from government in any form,” he said.
The Vice-Chairman, Gyellesu Community Development Association, Malam Mukhtar, said apart from individual residents, the community-made a presentation to the judicial commission detailing the losses incurred by victims but there was no response from the government.
“There were only promises from political office holders who made pledges that the government would assist victims that lost their property but nothing has been done to that effect. We even wrote two reminders to the governor of Kaduna State but no response up till now.
“Government should be realistic and compassionate for the less privileged, especially those who lost their property. If they cannot pay them they should at least compensate them with something tangible,” Mukhtar, said.
‘IMN against Nigeria’s sovereignty’
Aside from the panel’s recommendation on compensation, checks by Daily Trust also showed that the IMN also crossed its borders.
For instance, the panel said it found that the IMN had been steadfast and deliberate in refusing to recognise the legitimacy, authority and the Constitution of the Nigerian State.
“They have operated outside the laws of the state and the Funtua Declaration is their flagship enunciation of the ideology of confrontation with the Nigerian State, its legal system and its security agencies.
“The result has been a long tradition of IMN refusal to respect, observe and comply with the laws of the country,” the report said.
It, therefore, recommended that the state and its law enforcement agencies should investigate all persons allegedly breaking the law even when such persons belong to powerful religious groups.
“All those found to have engaged in illegal activities must be prosecuted and if found to be guilty be punished appropriately,” the report recommended.
On killings, the report said evidence before the commission from the Kaduna State government’s memo dated February 26, 2016 states; “From the bodies provided by the army, 347 corpses were evacuated from the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Shika and 191 from the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria.
“The actual counting of the corpses by Kaduna State government officials during the burial confirmed this number.”
It also found that the memorandum submitted by the Nigerian Army dated February 9, 2016, revealed that they lost one soldier, Cpl. Dan Kaduna Yakubu 98NA/46/29100.
“Oral evidence before the commission by the Nigerian Army Acting Provost Marshal showed that seven people died at the scene of the blockade near Hussainiyya along Sokoto road, Zaria on December 12, 2015,” the report read.
While recommending that, “Members of the Nigerian Army found to have been involved in the killings should be brought to trial before a court of competent jurisdiction,” the report also said: “The members of the IMN found to have been involved in the killing of Cpl. Dan Kaduna Yakubu should also be tried before a Court of competent jurisdiction.”
The report faulted the Cordon and Search Operations Order that led to the killing of victims, saying: “The oral order for the cordon and search operation issued by the GOC 1 Div which led to the deployment of officers and men of the NA for operational use, was in contravention of the provisions of Section 8 of the Armed Forces Act, No. 24 of 1994.
“It is recommended that all such orders in future should be written and lawfully procured under the law. Cordon and Search Orders should always be accompanied by the issuance of the “Rules of Engagement” to all officers and men involved,” the report said.
FG yet to implement what we recommended – Prof Ibrahim
Speaking on why their recommendations, especially on compensation to victims were not fulfilled five years after, a member of the panel, Professor Jibril Ibrahim, said: “I am not surprised because one of the tragedies of this country is that these commissions of inquiry are established, they do a lot of very good work but there is no follow up in terms of implementing their recommendations.
“In this case, only members of the IMN are being prosecuted by the Kaduna State government.
“The others that committed crimes were not taken before the judiciary; the matter is not before them so there is nothing they can do about it.”
Asked if they followed up to ensure the implementation of their panel’s recommendations, Professor Ibrahim said: “We followed up directly with the governor; we went and had a discussion with him as a follow up on the recommendations.
“For his own part on the things he had powers to do, he (Governor El-Rufai) acted immediately.
“He also published the report and placed it on the Internet so that anybody could read the details of our findings. So it is one of the few commissions of inquiry where the report itself is publicly available.
“As you are aware, he banned the IMN on the basis of our findings and decided to prosecute some of them for the homicide of an army officer that died during the clash.
“He explained to us that for those concerning the federal agencies, he had forwarded both the report and a detailed memo outlining our recommendations on the army and the police to the president and he expects the president to respond.
“I don’t know if that has happened because I haven’t met the governor since then.
“But what I have not heard is any action publicly taken by the federal government based on our report and recommendations.”
Kaduna gov’t reacts as military keeps mum
The Kaduna State government said it filed an eight-count charge against Mohammed Auwal Yakubu and 41 others following the recommendations of the judicial commission of inquiry it set up.
The State Commissioner of Justice, Aisha Dikko, said: “In charge number KDH/KAD/37c/2016, the accused were charged for the offences of criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide punishable with death, unlawful assembly, rioting.”
She also said the state government filed similar charges before High Court No 12 against Mahdi Mukaila and 90 others in charge No KDH/KAD/40c/2016 for offences of criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide punishable with death, and unlawful assembly.
Dikko, however, said: “The High Court after hearing the evidence of over 40 prosecution witnesses discharged the defendants following a no-case submission made on behalf of the defendants by their counsel in the above-mentioned cases.”
She also cited the proscription of the IMN through Gazette No.2, Vol. 50 of October 7, 2016, as part of the recommendations of the judicial commission of inquiry.
She added that the state also filed a charge against El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah, for alleged criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide punishable with death, unlawful assembly, wrongful restraint, disturbance of public peace, voluntarily causing grievous hurt, inciting disturbance and breach of peace.
The statement from the commissioner admitted that the clashes resulted in the demolition of the Hussainiyya (IMN- shrine) in Sabon Gari LGA and the residence of El-Zakzaky at Gyellesu in Zaria LGA.
“As a result, a number of buildings around the vicinity of the shrine and residence were affected which continued existence posed danger to the environment.
“Consequently, a decision was taken to remove all buildings affected in the two areas to avoid a threat to lives and property.
“In the process, remnants of property belonging to under-listed persons were demolished and taken over for overriding public interest: Alhaji Aminu Idris (Dangaladiman Zazzau) No. I Sokoto road Sabon Gari, Zaria; Alhaji Kailani Mohammed, No.2 Wali Road, Gyellesu, Tudun Wada, Zaria.”
It also said an undeveloped plot belonging to one Alhaji Dan Sidi situated between Zakzaky’s house and that of Alhaji Kailani Mohammed was taken over.
Although details of compensation to victims were not provided, the statement simply said: “Government provided property of equal value as compensation viz: Aminu Idris, House No. 110, Churchill Avenue, Sabon Gari, Zaria; Kailani Mohammed, house No.27 Circular road, S/Gari, Zaria and Alhaji Dan Sidi paid the sum of N5 million for his undeveloped plot.”
Daily Trust reports that the crisis which resulted in the arrest and detention of Zakzaky has led to many judicial proceedings over time and still counting.
The first judicial proceeding was the fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah, seeking their release from the Department of State Services (DSS) facility in Abuja.
On December 2, 2016, a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered their release within 45 days, and payment of N50m damages and building of a new house for them in the North.
In June 2018, the Kaduna State government arraigned Zakzaky and his wife before a Kaduna High Court on eight count charges of culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disturbance of public peace, and others.
Also, the federal government charged three individuals linked with Zakzaky – Haruna Abbas, Ibrahim Musa, and Adam Suleiman – before a Federal High Court in Abuja on alleged terrorism sponsorship by sending persons to Iran for terrorism training between 2009 and 2013.
On July 26, 2019, the federal government filed an ex parte application to proscribe the activities of the IMN following the bloody clashes with security forces during a procession at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja.
The application was granted by the court. The Federal Ministry of Justice subsequently gazetted the order.
The application, which was granted by Justice Nkeonye Maha, includes an order “Restraining any person or group of persons from participating in any matter whatsoever in any form of activities involving or concerning the prosecution of the collective intention or otherwise of the respondent (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) under any other name or platform howsoever called or described in any part of Nigeria.”
But a week after, the IMN, through their lawyers led by Femi Falana (SAN), filed a motion before a Federal High Court in Abuja challenging the proscription of their activities.
The application was predicated on the jurisdiction of the court. The lawyers contended that the IMN was a non-juristic body whose activities cannot be banned, adding that the order was a breach of their fundamental right to fair hearing and association being a religious group. The ban has not been lifted.
Following an application by the IMN seeking medical treatment for its leader, Zakzaky, the Kaduna High Court in August 2019 ordered the release of Zakzaky and his wife to undergo medical treatment in India.
The federal government through the DSS announced its intention to comply with the court order. Thus, Zakzaky and his wife were released from detention and flown to India on August 12, 2019. But allegations of attempted security breaches in Delhi, India, compelled the federal government to repatriate the couple.
In June 2020, following an application by members of the IMN – Suleiman Shehu, Mahdi Musa, Bilyaminu Abubakar Faska, and Askari Hassan – for a judicial order to release the bodies of the dead members of the sect, the court ordered the police to release the dead bodies in their custody. The court also awarded a sum of N15m damages in favour of the sect.
IMN lawyer, activist speak
Barrister Haruna Magashi, a lawyer on the IMN legal team said the only area where justice was delivered was the discharge and acquittal of some IMN members who were arrested in the wake of the Zaria clashes and charged with culpable homicide.
“About 390 IMN members were arrested and arraigned before three courts in Kaduna. They were charged with culpable homicide; that is killing of one army officer among eight charges.
“The case went on for four years and at the end of the day, the court found them not guilty and they were discharged and acquitted.
“As far as that case is concerned, justice had been done to members of the IMN that were arrested and the IMN in general because it is clear that the courts in Kaduna declared that the IMN members in Kaduna State had not killed a single person or a single soldier, “ Magashi said.
He said the judicial commission’s recommendation for compensation to the victims was not implemented.
“In December 2016, the Federal High Court ruled that Sheikh Zakzaky should be freed, paid compensation and a house should be built for him. That also has not been obeyed.
“The orders of the court and the recommendations of the commission have been violated,” he said.
Dayo Akinlaja, a Human Rights Lawyer, said the IMN/military clash in 2015 was a sorry situation bothering on the fundamental right to life.
“There were massive losses and recommendations were made but sadly not implemented.
“The government has not done sufficiently well and this calls for concern.
“Even under the military, the fundamental right to life should not be toyed with. A lot remains to be done; we are yet to be the country of our dream.
Speaking on the way forward, Professor Ibrahim said the federal government should appoint a presidential committee to look at the report and see what elements of the recommendations they would want to implement.
“I think a lot of our recommendations are still very relevant; the issues we raised about the use of undue force remain very much on the front burner in this country since that time because we have had repeated problems.
“In fact, I had the privilege of serving on a federal commission of inquiry that looked at human rights violations by the military in all the states of the country, and in that work, we had public sittings in all the six geopolitical zones and most of the complaints we received from Nigerians were very similar to the ones we saw that happened in Zaria in 2015.
“So, we feel our recommendations are still very relevant and we believe the federal government will take a look at them and consider implementing those it considers relevant,” he said.
This investigation was carried out with the support of the Daily Trust Foundation