Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, has asked the federal government to prosecute soldiers who allegedly killed members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as Shiites, in Zaria, Kaduna state, during a clash.
In December, soldiers were involved in a fight with the sect members after the convoy of Tukur Buratai, chief of army staff, was allegedly barricaded.
Though the military said it was forced to apply rules of engagement, claiming that not up to 10 people died, subsequent investigations revealed that hundreds were killed.
Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, leader of the sect, was later arrested, and has been in detention since then, despite pressing demands for his release.
In a letter addressed to the attorney-general of the federation, Falana asked the government to charge culprits in the attack to court, or risk legal action.
The lawyer said the government has not shown commitment about prosecuting the suspects, saying the panel which the Kaduna state government set up to investigate the incident comprised of some biased individuals.
“We are solicitors to the Islamic Movement in Nigeria headed by Sheik Ibraheem Zakzaky, who has been detained without trial for about eight months by the State Security Service in Abuja,” the letter read.
“In your interview published in Thisday Newspaper of May 17, 2016 you spoke on the violent attack unleashed on the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria by the Nigerian Army last December. In particular, you said that “… our response was swift which was shown by the numerous arrests made.”
“Having limited the “numerous arrests” to the surviving victims of the violent attack who have since been charged with conspiracy and culpable homicide we hereby request you to use your good offices to ensure that the criminal elements who killed 347 unarmed civilians including women and children and buried their dead bodies are arrested and arraigned in court without any further delay.
“On January 29, 2016, Governor El Rufai proceeded to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the crisis and make recommendations to the government. The members of the commission were drawn from the army, the police, the State Security Service and some individuals including those who had, through public statements and writings, called for the proscription of the IMN.
“Although, section 36 (1) of the Constitution stipulates that a court or tribunal shall be constituted in a manner that its independence and impartiality shall be guaranteed, the Kaduna state government ignored the demand of the human rights community that the commission be reconstituted by removing the members who have always nursed animosity towards the IMN.”
Falana said while the security agency refused to allow Zakzaky testify before the panel, the Kaduna state government has charged over 250 Shiites to court for culpable homicide.
He called on the government to facilitate the prosecution of the soldiers involved in the killings in the interest of justice.
“Notwithstanding the fact that the commission had invited Sheik Zakzaky to testify on behalf of the IMN, he was prevented from doing so by the State Security Service which has held him in custody since December 14, 2015. Thus, the commission was only permitted to take evidence from the aggressors and others who have axe to grind with the IMN,” the letter read.
“Upon realising that its findings and recommendations might not enjoy credibility having not been allowed to observe the elementary rule of audi alteram partem, the commission made frantic efforts to persuade the legal team of the IMN to participate in the proceedings. We were unable to accede to the request of the commission since it was unable to direct the authorities to release our clients from custody to tell their own side of the story.
“Out of sheer contempt for the judicial commission, the Kaduna state government has filed charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide against over 250 members of the IMN at the Kaduna state high court. The suspects who are alleged to have caused the death of one Corporal Yakubu Dankaduna during the military invasion are languishing in prison custody while awaiting the legal advice of the Kaduna state Director of Public Prosecution.
“In the light of the foregoing we have the instructions of our clients to request you to prosecute the members of the Nigerian Army who took the law into their hands by unleashing mayhem on unarmed civilians in Zaria, Kaduna state from December 12-14, 2015.
“Specifically, you are requested to charge the suspects with conspiracy, willful damage to property, arson and culpable homicide not later than July 31, 2016.
“If you fail to accede to our clients’ demand we shall not hesitate to apply to the high court of Kaduna State for an order of mandamus to compel you to discharge your constitutional duty by charging the indicted culprits to court in line with your oath of office to “do right to all manners of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will…”