A Week After the Zaria Massacre, Ibrahim Sanyi-Sanyi
Yesterday, December 20 marked the end of the seven days of mourning over the Zaria massacre, which I declared last Sunday after the Nigerian troops turned their lethal weapons on citizens and visited disproportionate force on several dozens of Nigerians. The carnage that resulted was one of the bloodiest and gruesome military operation against civilians in the annals of this nation.
The scale of human waste and manner of its execution triggered the resolve in some us to suspend regular updates of contemporary issues on our Facebook pages, to condemn one of the outrageous act of crass barbarism committed by security forces against citizens of their country in recent history, to stand on the side of humanity and to raise our voices in defence of human rights and universal freedoms of all Nigerians as enshrined in our Constitution, and focus on news developments about the unfortunate incident so as to keep it at the centre of national discourse.
Alhamdu lil Lah! The mourning period is over and our fundamental objectives achieved. Below is summarised commentaries on happenings around the Zaria massacre:
1. Our Low As A Society
a) The sections of 1999 Constitution (as amended) which deal with the secular nature of Nigeria and the fundamental human rights is applied selectively as it suit the authorities. For instance, a large segment of our society sees citizens who are natives of West, East or South, the non-Muslim minorities in the North and predominantly Sunni Muslims as Nigerians who deserve all rights and freedoms, including those that bothers on religious worship. But the minority Shi’ites in the North appear to be seen, particularly in the northern part of the country, as a cancer that must be isolated and cut, thus, any act of violence against them – including massacre – is ignored, blamed on them or even celebrated. This kind of double standard is responsible for the pejorative against these religious minorities and their ‘profiling’, which laid the grounds for the state violence against them and the impunity that normally follows this;
b) The dysfunctional Middle East regional politics between the Wahabbist Saudi Arabia and the Shi’a Iran is taken to new territories in furtherance of the ongoing hostilities in Yemen and Syria. Nigeria, strategic and populous in Africa, could be used as the next frontline of this politico-ideological conflict if care is not taken and proactive measures put in place to manage the mutual hatred between the Salafi/Wahabbi branch of Sunni followers and Shi’ites, and also the simmering tensions that have been brewing over time. The North is not in short supply of volunteer infantry and cannon fodder to prosecute the Saudia/Iran destructive rivalry;
c) Defiance by Shi’ites: Disrespect for the legitimate constituted authorities entrusted with the welfare of people and territories by openly calling then ‘Dagut’ – while showing utmost reverence and subservience to Malam Zakzaky – and blocking of public roads to infringe on the rights of others was responsible for open confrontations between the Shi’ites and our security forces. Without these, most of the violence meted out against the Shi’ites would have been avoided;
d) Impunity of the army: From 1960 till date, disregard for the law and use of lethal and disproportionate force to deal with matters that are purely civil in nature have become the trademark of the Nigerian security forces. Throughout our 55 years of national independence, there has been no single occassion when our military was deployed for war with another sovereign state in defence of our territory which is the primary raison d’etre of its existence. The history of the institution is replete with coup de tats, the fighting of the civil war, peace-keeping, interventions in some African states to restore constitutional order, the quelling of internal inserructions and civil defiance. And unfortunately, its frequent deployments to internal matters that are clearly under police jurisdiction is responsible for it’s numerous human rights abuses, disregard for the rule of law and impunity. Its continous detention of Zazzaky, his family and followers in what it called ‘protective custody’ instead of releasing him to police for investigation and prosecution is an act which appears to be alien to our laws. The same applies to the destruction of property owned or occupied by the victims of its violence;
e) The release of graphic images that depict the spiritual leader of the Shi’ites brutalised, bleeding and humiliated by the soldiers. The sharing of these images was highly irresponsible and unprofessional. It was done with the intent to prey on the emotions of his followers through provocation and then draw them out for confrontations and violence. But we are lucky the diabolical objectives of its originators did not materialise.
2. The Highs
a) Outrage, condemnations and calls for probe: The massacre in Zaria ignited outrage and condemnation from sovereign states, religious bodies, human rights and civil society organisations, and individuals. The majority of them made calls for an independent and transparent probe into the incident. The governments of United States and Iran were among those who made this call. Religious bodies that raised the voices of conscience are: the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Jama’at al-Nasr al-Islam (JNI). Other cultural and civil society groups are: Arewa Consultative Council (ACF), Amnesty International, International Crisis Group and Socio-Economic Rights and Advancement Project (SERAP). Individuals are: Senator Shehu Sani, Barrister Solomon Dalung, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Barrister Okoi Obono-obla, Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde etc. These individuals and groups have underscored the gross human rights violations involved in the needless Zaria butchering regardless of the religious beliefs of its victims, and given these the national/international outlook it deserves, while exerting tremendous pressure on the Nigerian authorities who chose to remain taciturn and displayed insensitivity in the wake of the carnage;
b) Wide media coverage of the killings by reputable mainstream and online news media like the Daily Trust, Premium Times, Leadership, BBC Hausa Service and Sahara Reporters also assisted in pinning the unfortunate incident at the centre of national discussion for days. These media outfits have done a great job of keeping Nigerians informed about happenings and developing news in the aftermath of the killings by continous updates;
c) Setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry by Kaduna State government to probe the Zaria massacre. It is a step in the right direction. And Nigerians will keep up and monitor developments closely to see if the army, a national institution responsible for the killings, will he held to account for their actions by the judicial commission constituted by KDSG. Our interest is justice, which must be done and seen to be done by Nigerians;
e) The Dambazau-led Federal Government fact-finding committee visit to Kaduna was a good gesture. It is our hope to see the federal government take steps to ease tensions and engage the aggrieved party towards peaceful resolution of the military-Shi’a conflict.
3. Missed Opportunity
The silence of the presidency over the killings of dozens of its citizens by the trigger-happy army was a missed opportunity that has done a lot of damage to the gospel of change which it rode on to power and the tremendous goodwill it enjoys. A simple statement would have done a lot of good in such a situation, even if the presidency decides to ignore the need to commiserate/condole with families of the slain Nigerians and reassure the shocked citizens of the government’s commitment to upholding the rule of law and justice.
Ibrahim M. Sanyi-Sanyi writes from Kano.