A non-governmental organisation, Access to Justice, has alleged that the Nigerian Army had a “pre-determined mandate” to attack members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, in Zaria on Saturday.
The deadly clash left scores of the sect’s members dead. The Army claimed the sect made attempt on the life of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
But Access to Justice, during a press conference, addressed by its Director, Joseph Otteh, on Friday in Abuja, said the Army’s claim that the protesters were armed was untrue.
“The response of the Army towards the Shiite protesters was a crime against humanity,” said Mr. Otteh
He, therefore, warned that his organisation would not “hesitate to head for the International Criminal Court, ICC” and insisted that “the Army had a predetermined mandate to do what they did.”
Even as he said the organisation was not in support of blockade of a highway or violent protest by the Shiite Muslim group, Mr Otteh said “the Army lacked constitutional mandate to disperse protests or procession of any kind”.
In his view, what the Army ought to have done was to reach out to the police high command in Kaduna State to deploy personnel towards handling the protest.
He said, “The convoy of the Chief of Army Staff could have, in order not to escalate an already violate situation that was unraveling along Zaria Road, chosen another route into Kaduna.
“This would have been a course of action you would expect from a very senior official of government who wants to avoid possible, in fact, likely repercussions of engaging in violent confrontation with the protesters.
“It was reasonably foreseeable that violence can further inflame religious passions which were already very high among members of the Islamic movement, who had already lost many members to military attacks last year and previous years.
“Such confrontation could also trigger a violent blackash and radicalise members of the group in the same way that Boko Haram was transformed after security and law enforcement officials attacked their members and extra judicially executed many of them.
“This history should have figured in how the military chooses to respond to protesters.
“The people of Nigeria have a right to assemble freely, even on public streets. Where protests offend against traffic laws, the protesters should be managed or restrained and if necessary, prosecuted.”
The organisation asked President Muhammadu Buhari to institute a high-powered independent commission of inquiry to unravel the remote and immediate causes of the massacre condemned by United States, United Kingdom, Iran and both chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly.
“Access to Justice demands that a thorough, independent and impartial inquiry be carried out by the Federal Government over this incident.
“It should be noted that this is not the first time the Nigerian Army has attacked members of the sect.
“In July 2014, scores of members of this group, including two sons of Sheik El-Zakzaky were killed by officers of the Nigerian Army as they were holding a peaceful procession along a road.
“Up till this time, the Nigerian government has yet to investigate the incident neither has anyone been brought to account over the attacks,” Mr. Otteh said.
He noted that the failure of government to investigate the 2014 killings may have contributed indirectly to the Saturday incident.
“Where governments do not show serious concern for the safety and integrity of human life and allow security or law enforcement agents to act with impunity, it strengthens the hands and minds of abusers,” he added.