One year after over 300 followers of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky were killed by soldiers, the cleric, himself, will be prosecuted, the Kaduna State Government has said.
Mr. El-Zakzaky will not only be prosecuted for the actions that led to the death of his followers in December last year, but for “other crimes” that he and his members may have committed in the last three decades.
These were part of the decisions reached by the state government as contained in the White Paper released on Monday in Kaduna.
The White Paper was drafted by a nine-member committee set up by the state government to review recommendations made by a commission of enquiry also established by the state government.
The commission of enquiry was set up following the killing of at least 347 people between December 12 and 14 by soldiers. The soldiers accused the Shiite members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, of blocking a major road and plotting to kill the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai. The Shiites denied the allegations.
The killings were condemned by local and international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The Federal Government had refused to investigate the killings, passing on the responsibility to the Kaduna State Government to do so.
Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife have been held without trial since the December incident amidst condemnations by civic groups and activists. Last week, A federal court in Abuja ordered the federal government to release the cleric and his wife and pay them a N50 million compensation for the unlawful detention. The Kaduna government appears set to order the re-arrest of Mr. El-Zakzaki and prosecute him should he be released by the federal government.
In its White Paper released on Monday, the Kaduna government said the soldiers that operated in December last year abided by the Army’s “Rules of Engagement.”
“Regarding the clashes in the Gyallesu area of Zaria where the Nigerian Army mounted a cordon and search operation, the White Paper observed that many civilians were evacuated from Gyallesu, but that IMN members rejected the opportunity to vacate the area,” the government stated.
Also, while the initial panel of enquiry recommended that soldiers involved in the unlawful killing be prosecuted, the Kaduna government said though it “noted” the recommendation, it would have to wait for the federal government to act.
“The Federal Government will not condone unlawful killing of any citizen and that this conduct will be further investigated and any culprits identified will first be subjected to court martial by the federal authorities, followed by civil prosecution by the state government.”
The Army and the federal government have not indicated if or when the court-martials will start or how long it would last.
THE INSURGENT IMN
The Kaduna government also accused its commission of enquiry of failing to take into account the years during which the activities of the IMN in Gyallesu threatened peace and security in the area.
“For all intent and purpose, the IMN is an insurgent group and ought to be treated as such,” it said.
It added that “the sheer numbers of IMN members congregating in Zaria from across the country that night (December last year), with many bearing arms, was such that the Nigerian Army was in no position to accurately determine how armed and organised they were and had to be concerned on what their intention for Zaria was.”
The government also said it rejected suggestions by the commission of enquiry that the burial of the 347 victims did not conform to the law.
“Government observes that its officials complied with the Burial Law of the State. Section 7 sub-section 1 of the Burial Law Cap 20 Laws of Kaduna State Government 1991 requires the burial of persons who die in this type of circumstances within 24hrs.
“The Interpretation section of Rule 115 Geneva Convention also states that in circumstances of this nature, dead bodies could be buried in a mass grave,” it said.
In the same vein, the state government said it rejected the commission of enquiry’s view on actions taken to “clear structures” at the scenes of the clashes.
It said the debris at the Hussainiyya Baqiyatillah, the shrine used by IMN members at the residence of Mr. El-Zakzaky were “removed on the grounds of Public Health and safety”.
It said all the IMN buildings that were demolished were constructed without statutory title and building permit as required by the Land Use Act and Section 26 of the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Authority, KASUPDA Law No.12 of 2015.
“All the structures so removed violated either the provisions of the Land Use Act or the KASUPDA Law or both,” the government said.
The Kaduna government reiterated its position that IMN is an unregistered organisation that cannot be sued.
It said the government has therefore accepted the recommendation of the committee that all “IMN members and its leadership are jointly and severally liable for all violations of the law in the last 30 years, and are therefore responsible for the clashes and its consequences”.
It said the Attorney-General of Kaduna State would liaise with the police and other law enforcement agencies to ensure that there is “accountability for the murders and other crimes committed by leaders and members of the IMN in the last three decades”.
The government said members of the IMN owe “absolute loyalty” to Mr. El-Zakzaky and that he ( Mr. El-Zakzaky) “therefore bears responsibility for all the acts of lawlessness committed by the organisation and should be held responsible, fully investigated and prosecuted”.
The government said the evidence before the Commission, from the testimonies and memoranda submitted to it by the various interest groups “clearly shows that IMN has become a law unto itself; disregarding the authority of the Nigerian State as vested in the police and other security agencies which many a times lead to several confrontations such as the one of 12th to 14th December, 2015 between it and the Nigerian Army.”
RETRIEVE ALL IMN LAND
The Kaduna government said it has also accepted the recommendation of the committee that all incidents of violence and aggression by the members of the IMN against individuals, groups, or communities, which have resulted in grievous bodily harm, destruction of property and deaths, should be fully investigated and culprits brought to book. Where appropriate, compensations should be paid, it said.
It said the need has now arisen for the government to “ investigate and repossess all illegally acquired public lands from IMN and utilise same for public interest.”
The Kaduna government said there is “a long tradition of IMN refusal to respect, observe and comply with the laws of the country.”
The government also said the commission of enquiry has highlighted the IMN’s allegiance to a foreign power and its pattern of conduct which suggests that it is an insurgent group.
NO BAN ON SHIITES
The Kaduna government said two other groups in the Shiite tradition are active in Kaduna State, with their adherents freely observing their faith.
Both groups, Al-Thaqalayn and RasulA’azam, it said, gave testimony to the commission of enquiry, affirming that the Shia faith “can be observed and ought to be protected within the boundaries set and permitted by the Nigerian constitution and other laws”.
The IMN had boycotted the commission insisting it would not appear until Mr. El-Zakzaky and its other leaders were released from detention.
The Kaduna government said the allegiance of the other two Shiite groups to the Nigerian state “stand in marked contrast to the IMN’s utter disregard for laws and the rights of citizens”.
The government said it has already acted on some of the recommendations of the commission of enquiry even before the white paper committee submitted its report.
“Government has already acted to declare the IMN an unlawful society and is prosecuting the IMN members alleged to be involved in the killing of Corporal Dan Kaduna Yakubu.
“Government has also ensured that property destroyed in the clashes have been valued to ascertain reasonable compensation to circumstantial victims”.
The government said the sad events of December 12 to 14, 2015 led to “needless and avoidable casualties” and that they are the product of “a legacy of lawlessness, and must never be allowed to recur.”