More than 48 hours after a deadly encounter between troops of the Nigerian Army and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria led to several deaths in Zaria, Kaduna State, the Nigerian government has yet to comment on, or condemn, the killings.
Details of what transpired Saturday remain unclear with the army and the Shiites giving different accounts of the clash.
Both sides however agree there were “loss of lives”.
The Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shia Muslim group led by Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, says hundreds, if not thousands, of its members were killed when soldiers stormed its base in Zaria and opened fire on unarmed civilians.
We could not independently verify that claim.
The army, in separate statements, said members of the group blocked the convoy of its chief, Tukur Buratai, a Lieutenant General, and attempted to kill him – an allegation the Shiites deny.
The Shiite movement said after the initial clashes, soldiers returned to its Husainiyyah headquarters, as well as the private home of Mr. Zakzaky at Gyellesu late Saturday and killed many more persons, while both the spiritual headquarters and Mr. Zakzaky’s house were torched.
Mr. Zakzaky’s son and wife were among the dead, the group said.
Many Nigerians have condemned the attacks, particularly at a time the nation faces the Boko Haram insurgency, itself, a bloody rebellion that started in 2009 after the leader of the group was killed by police.
In a statement, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs urged the authorities to exercise restraint.
Despite the apparent killings, no arm of the Nigerian government has yet condemned them or provided details of what happened.
None of the spokespersons of President Muhammadu Buhari or agencies of government issued any statement on the matter since Saturday.
Efforts to speak with the spokesperson of the president, Garba Shehu were unsuccessful as he did not answer or return our calls.
He also did not respond to text message sent to him at the time of publishing this story.
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria condemned the silence of the government.
The movement also demanded access to its spiritual leader, Mr. Zakzaky, whom, it said had been shot and was still with the military.
The movement, in a statement on Monday by its spokesperson, Ibrahim Musa, said it was aware that the army had taken Mr. El-Zakzaky from his home and that he was receiving treatment for injuries he sustained during the attack.
“About a thousand of members of the movement have been massacred at the moment as counting continues, but the soldiers are now busy evacuating the dead bodies to unknown destination.
“There are hundreds of others that have received various degrees of injuries that are in need of assistance that have currently been denied access by the soldiers on ground who are in a killing spree, shooting anyone identified as a member of the Movement,” Mr. Musa said.
He also accused the army of exploiting “religious sectarian sentiment to instigate uninformed public, some of whom are now busy killing innocent and unarmed members of the Movement at sight using local weapons”.
The Islamic movement also alleged that the army was presently dressing bodies of their members killed with military attire and snapping still pictures to “probably display them as soldiers killed by the movement during the attack as a means of propaganda, whereas it was solely an attack by the army on armless citizens”.
It said the army had also stationed road blocks in Zaria picking out innocent unarmed people that look like members of the Movement and killing them in cold blood.
“Even today they put an army road block in Zaria to Kaduna highway near Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, searching for any member of the Islamic Movement. The most weird of many of such cases is that of an army roadblock at Dogarawa near Zaria where they killed thirty of our members traveling to Zaria yesterday Sunday.
“We wish to state here that some of those earlier declared dead through various sources might not have been killed but might be severely injured and in need of assistance,” they said.
The Shiite group also said members of the Movement should be allowed immediate access to Mr. Zakzaky as a means of dousing tensions.
“We believe that the army is clearing the corpses to unknown locations for mass burials to cover up for its crime. We hereby demand unequivocally that they should release the corpses to us, so that we can give them a proper Islamic burial. The people they killed are not foreigners; they are citizens with their relatives known.
“The Army should stop the unnecessary stage management of the whole incident making it look like what it is not through false and provocative press statements, incitements and ground activities which might not augur well for everyone.
“Access to health facilities should immediately be allowed to those injured anywhere in Zaria.
“We believe that this incident is planned and executed by the government which has been looking the other way while the army was killing members of the Movement for a period of over 27 hours from Saturday on without any statement and is still quiet as the army continues with its killing spree,” the statement said.
It added that the Islamic Movement in Nigeria is a peaceful and unarmed movement with members in every cadre of the society that are entitled to every rights enjoyed by every other Nigerian.
They said the government in its claim to be fighting against violent extremism has trampled upon their fundamental rights.
“Finally, as the army continues its genocide on members of the Movement, with support of the government, we hereby call on peace lovers and the international community to join us in condemning the act for it is virtually ridiculous to think that the government can kill the millions of members of the Movement,” the statement said.
The spokesperson for the army, Sani Usman, a colonel, could not be reached to comment for this story. Multiple calls to his telephone by one of our reporters failed to connect.The line remained consistently engaged.