By Ibrahim Usman
After days of silence, intense pressure from all quarters followed, the Defence Headquarters in Abuja decided to open up and said it is investigating the Zaria killings during the Quds Day procession.
Defence spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade said in a statement that, investigation was on regarding the “encounter between soldiers on routine patrol and members of Shiite Islamic sect in Zaria”.
I do not believe that the decision by the DHQ was out of sincere concern for the lives lost, as it was the case in other deadly events in which the Nigerian military was involved. I do not also believe that the so-called “taciturn posture” by the DHQ was based on “The need to calm the situation”, if anything rather, but to calm its nerves as a result of pressure from Nigerians and beyond. Having underplayed the gravity of the incident at the initial stage, as sin and shame swam about their souls, the DHQ decided to respond.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation will be, one thing is certain and established. The unfortunate event involved the armed Nigerian soldiers. Had this atrocity not been established through eye-witnesses accounts and the well-coordinated public relations of the Islamic Movement, it would passed like other sad episodes involving “unknown gunmen.” Blabber mouth Olukolade would have been telling the story of an “unknown gunmen killed Shiites on peaceful protest.”
Even before the inquiry was to begin, the DHQ had already insinuated the outcome. In an interview with newsmen in Zaria, the first since the incident, Major General Olukolade had indicated that the military was provoked, shot at and attacked by the peaceful protesters. While describing Sheikh Zakzaky as a “respected cleric”, his later press statement contradicted him: “Although the report of the preliminary investigation at the unit level has vehemently contradicted some of the issues raised by the leader of the group, in his statement, especially on the allegation of extra judicial killings, the higher Headquarters is conducting additional investigation on the incident to ascertain the claims in the preliminary reports from the unit level.” What a bundle of contradiction. It is obvious that Mr. Olukolade is speaking with his tongue in his cheeks.
Whether Olukolade believes what he has written or not, Sheikh Zakzaky remains a respected cleric and still commands respect among his contemporaries, the public and even his enemies can testify to his transparent honesty. He therefore can never double speak, tell lies or make false accusation. He is tested and trusted.
For the DHQ to claim that, the peaceful protesters under the spiritual guardianship of Sheikh Zakzaky had shot at or attacked them, which resulted to the so-called “encounter”, rendered it a laughing stock. The history of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in the last 35 years showed no record of violence or onslaught. Describing the peaceful attribute of Sheikh Zakzaky in the Daily Trust newspaper titled “Understanding the Zaria Massacre”, Dr. Kabir Mato says of the cleric: “…Sheikh Ibrahim Elzakzaky, a peaceful Islamic personality who has been a victim of Nigerian state many a times. A leader of a sect that has often been provoked by the state and has remained calm and focused.”
If attacked, why did not the DHQ come up with proof of its causalities as immediately did the Islamic Movement? If attacked, did that gave the soldiers the license to open fire and kill over 30 people, tortured and maimed many? Is this the demonstration of military discipline Olukolade attributed to the Nigerian soldiers? This murder per excellence!
During condolence visit to Sheikh Zakzaky at his residence in Zaria, group chairman of Leadership Newspapers, Sam Nda Isaiah, has this to say: “If all clerics are like Sheikh Zakzaky, the world would have been a very good place to live. He possessed all the necessary leadership attributes, the way he remained calm and focused in the face of provocation and great moment of trial. If he had lost control, we would not have been here alive talking.” We have heard similar comments from Christians whom had commiserated with the Sheikh. Therefore, we do not need anyone from the DHQ to tell us how respected Sheikh Zakzaky is, and later contradicts himself.
The statement by Olukolade further said: “Accordingly, the higher level of military enquiry is with a view to unmasking the remote and immediate causes of the incident and to identify anyone found culpable,” adding that “those apprehended during the incident are being interrogated.” In any “encounter” or “clash”, suspects from the warring factions are apprehended for interrogation or investigation. In this case, those apprehended for interrogation were the peaceful protesters, members of the Islamic Movement, while none from the side of the soldiers was questioned.
Olukolade had exonerated the military from all blame by describing them as “disciplined”. In fact, the man fingered for masterminding the gruesome massacre, Lt. Colonel Okuh of the Basawa Barrack in Zaria, was exonerated by the DHQ even before the investigation had begun. “I am not aware that one of our officers masterminded the killings. These are the allegations…” retorted Olukolade. He gave the man a soft cover despite all public complaints against him, as reported in the media.
The DHQ should have known better that, they are up against a mass movement with conscience and focus. Quds Day procession is a global event, being observed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In Kaduna, Pastor Yohanna Buru participated in the procession. Why would the one in Zaria be different? During the military massacre on that day in Zaria, even non-Muslims were murdered. We are also aware that the blood thirsty aggressors were not “soldiers on routine patrol” as Olukolade wants us to believe, but a special killer squad within the Nigerian military with a heinous, insidious and sinister agenda in Zaria.
For now, the DHQ, rather than trying “to unravel the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate incident”, it is trying to entangle itself from the tight situation if found itself. The world is fully aware of what happened; the blood of innocent citizens is stamped on its hands.