A human rights group, Access to Justice, has accused the Nigerian army of undermining the Constitution by its continued detention of the leader of the Shi’ite sect, Ibrahim Zakzaky, and some of his members.
In a statement issued Sunday, the group said more than one month after the Shi’ite sect clashed with military officers in Kaduna, the army are still holding on to the members.
“From the information gathered by Access to Justice, we believe that members of the Shi’ite Sect are still being detained at Nigerian Army’s Basawa Barracks and its Depot located at Zaria, other locations at Kaduna and Abuja without any formal charge or arraignment before a competent court of law,” the group said in a statement signed by Ibrahim Otteh and Ifeanyi Odom, Director and Programme Attorney respectively.
“The Buhari government is turning a blind eye while the Nigerian Army turns the rule of law on its head.
“The Nigerian Army is not only brutally abusing the rights of members of the Islamic Movement; it is grievously abusing the Nigerian Constitution.
“The Nigerian army has no powers to detain civilians outside the context of war. If those detained have committed any offences, the proper agencies to deal with are the Nigeria Police and other civil security and law enforcement agencies.”
The group’s call came a day after the Kaduna State government instituted a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the incident in which about 300 members of the sect were allegedly killed.
On Sunday, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria said it would only appear before the Commission if Mr. Zakzaky is released from detention.
Access to Justice accused the Nigerian Army of failing to give detailed information on the number of persons it claimed it had handed over to civil authorities.
“Continued detention of members of this sect, after extra-judicially killing many of their members in horrifying and atrocious circumstances is simply impunity gone out of control,” said the group.
“Access to Justice demands the unconditional release of the leader and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Shi’ite Sect) from the detention of the Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Police Force or any other civil security and law enforcement agencies.
“If there are crimes alleged against them, they should be taken before courts of law in accordance with the Constitution, as well as Regional and International Treaties to which Nigeria is signatory.
“Therefore, the continued detention of the members of the Movement for 33 days now, without charge and trial before competent courts of law is a gross abuse of power by the military and violation of the Rule of Law which the Federal Government has sworn to promote and preserve.
“We restate that the Federal Government cannot continue to give the silent treatment to this issue which is capable of affecting peace and order in the society.
“Nigeria can ill-afford the radicalization of another group on account of grievances over the treatment of its members. The Buhari government should direct the release of the detained members of the Shi’ite Sect in custody of the Nigerian Army and other security and law enforcement agencies without trial now.
“The Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari must practice the change it preaches and not lend its weight to lawless acts of abuse and suppression.”