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PRESS CONFERENCE: Two years of the horrendous Zaria massacre and the continued detention of Sheikh Zakzaky

Ladies and gentlemen of the Press, good morning.

The second anniversary of the brutal onslaught on the Islamic Movement in Nigeria and its leadership and properties is around us – an attack that left in its wake well over a thousand innocent persons either dead or missing, our leader, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, his wife and several hundred of our members being detained and several of our properties including residences, schools and Islamic centers demolished. The worst of all is that the persecution is still on-going, with no sign of abating at all. It appears as if it is the major project of the present government of Muhammadu Buhari. Our leader remains in detention without charges, virtually incommunicado for these two years, one year after a Federal High Court had declared his detention as unconstitutional, a breach of his rights and freedoms; and therefore ordered for his unconditional release.
It all started at noon on the 12th day of December, 2015 at our Islamic center called Hussainiyyah in Zaria. Soldiers of the Nigerian Army, using a well-rehearsed alibi shot and killed some people and kept a siege of the centre. They went on to invade Sheikh Zakzaky’s house that was situated about 5km from the Hussainiyyah at night on a murderous raid, where live and mortar bullets were fired on unarmed and defenceless civilians. That led to the death of hundreds. Women and children were not spared, the wounded were finished up and the dead were burnt. Some were even burnt alive. There was also deliberate targeting of reproductive organs for mutilation and sexual harassment. Several hundred were also taken alive and have not been seen ever since then.
Almost simultaneously, soldiers who had maintained a siege of the Hussainiyyah Islamic centre since midday, now fully armed to the teeth, invaded the centre using the purpose-built sophisticated armoured personnel carrier. They fired live bullets on all the people at sight without warning. Scores were killed, several hundred were maimed. Again, the killing spree did not spare women, children and the wounded. There was also deliberate targeting of reproductive organs for mutilation and many persons were also taken drowned in their blood, presumed dead. It was the same story at Darur Rahma, a burial centre some 10km away in the outskirts of Zaria where some people took refuge. Virtually everyone there was murdered by these rampaging soldiers. The brutality at the neighbourhood of the Sheikh’s residence lasted almost for two days continuously, until the morning of Monday 14th December, 2015 after they had virtually killed every living being, when a sniper brought for the purpose took out the three remaining sons of the Sheikh, splashing a mixture of their brain tissue and blood all over their parents, before fatally shooting them both. The physical and mental torture Sheikh Zakzaky and the wife were made to face is unimaginable. They were next subjected to verbal abuses characterized by the soldiers chanting deriding war songs against the Sheikh and Shia Islamic faith as they were humiliatingly ferried in a denigrating manner. There is no question that it was well pre-planned and brutishly executed.
The leader of the IMN resorted to approaching the Court to demand for the enforcement of his fundamental rights. The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ruled that his detention was unconstitutional and a gross violation of his fundamental human rights. It therefore ordered for his immediate release and gave a fine of N25million to each of him and his wife for wrongful detention. About one year after that landmark judgement, the government continues to contemptuously detain him and the wife.
He is being so detained for over 700 days now with very limited access to lawyers or doctors. There are very disturbing reports of his failing state of health and the deteriorating health condition of his wife as well. His lead lawyer, Femi Falana SAN has been shouting himself hoarse in the call for the release of the duo on health grounds to no avail.
Anytime the clamour for the release of the Sheikh gains a renewed vigour, the Presidency comes up with spurious excuses for his unjustifiable continued detention against reason, the rule of law and justice. Some of the lame excuses thus far proffered by the Presidency include that he is being kept more “for his own safety” than the offences he committed; he is not in a typical prison condition; he is in protective custody or that “nobody wants to accept him as a neighbour.”
Indeed the continuous detention of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky for almost two years without charges is a sour point in the human rights rating of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Being a pre-planned attack, it was embedded in the scheme of things to pretend to be making efforts at finding the truth about what really happened in Zaria. While the Presidency initially said it was a purely “military affair”, it later agreed that a commission of inquiry will be set up, but only the Kaduna state government, where the incident happened could set up such an inquiry.
When Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state set up the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, it became obvious that it was not meant to unearth the truth. El-Rufai had virtually passed a verdict of guilty against the Islamic Movement prior to setting up the Commission. The composition of that Commission eventually gave away the desired outcome as it included several persons openly known to be critical of the Movement, its leadership and beliefs. Some even authored tens of books calling for annihilation of the Movement. There was also a deliberate attempt by the Commission to exclude taking testimony from Sheikh Zakzaky and the other members of the Movement who were being detained. The odds were against the Movement and we had to withdraw participation. Even at that, there was a confession of a mass grave where 347 of our members were said to have been buried secretly at night, nearly a 100km away from where the extra-judicial killings took place. This is a clearly a crime against humanity by all international standards. The Commission still reported that a massacre took place. It said the military did not abide by its laws of engagement or international laws of proportionality. It frowned at military’s non-cooperation with the commission, which restricted its ability to ascertain the exact number of lives lost. The Commission never established any wrongdoing against the Islamic Movement. In fact it said that the widely held and reported belief that the Movement is heavily armed was found not to be correct. Yet, the El-Rufai’s so-called White Paper, absolved the military of any blame or wrongdoing and declared the Islamic Movement as an unlawful society. What other proof does one need to be convinced that the whole project was pre-conceived?
Meanwhile, several Human Rights groups carried out their own independent investigations and concluded that the Nigerian Army carried out massive extrajudicial killing of unarmed civilians in Zaria, and took deliberate steps at hiding the evidence. You can crosscheck their findings at their respective websites. We have compiled a detailed report of everything that happened and submitted to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. They have since announced that they have opened preliminary investigations into the matter.
In the meantime, the Presidency made a U-turn on the question of inquiry. It set up the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate cases of human rights abuse by the Nigerian military. We had our reservations about the motive of the sudden about-turn, the composition of the panel and how it was going to overcome the flaws noticed at the Kaduna Commission of Inquiry. We wrote a letter to the President and expressed our concerns, and also published in paid advertorials in some dailies. Notwithstanding our observations and concerns, we still submitted a memo and were prepared to fully participate. The problem started when signs to suggest lack of independence started showing up at the Panel. Our request to have Sheikh Zakzaky to appear before the panel to testify was only reluctantly granted after so long a period the panel was waiting for “permission” from those who were accomplices to the gross abuse of his rights. When the request was eventually granted, they were intent on taking his testimony in camera, where a lot of their atrocities can be kept hidden from public scrutiny. On the basis of this lack of independence and the credibility crisis the Panel was facing, the Islamic Movement withdrew further participation from the Panels proceedings.
It is unfortunate that within these difficult two years, the Islamic Movement has continued to be persecuted and denied our religious rights. This is very prominent in Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Plateau and the Federal Capital, Abuja. It is more stern in some places more that in others.
For two consecutive years, Governor Ganduje of Kano state has been brutally attacking our solemn religious trek, resulting in the deaths of several people. In a monitored report, he confessed to being the person who ordered the attack. Several others arrested are facing trial for alleged sundry offences. The same situation is playing out in Sokoto state under Governor Tambuwal. Only a few days ago we issued a press statement on the issue in Sokoto, stating that we would hold Tambuwal responsible for any attack on any member of the Islamic Movement in Sokoto or our property. In Kaduna, the situation remains grave. We are being completely denied any rights. Our schools are being demolished. We cannot practice our faiths. Our plots are being illegally trespassed by government and its agencies. We are endangered in Kaduna. The situation in Katsina and Plateau states remain dire after last year’s Ashura attacks and killings.
There has been a renewed clamour for a ban on Islamic Movement in Nigeria. Ever since Kaduna State Governor, Nasiru El-Rufai pronounced the Movement as a so-called unlawful society, many phantom CSOs and rented crowd have been used to campaign for this. It is noteworthy that even El-Rufai has not advanced any proof to justify his position. We are a religious Movement and not an organization or a society. There is nowhere it is written that you require any government’s permit before you practice your faith, singly or in communion with others, or to propagate it. This is our constitutional rights and we are not going to cede them. How many people or places have we bombed? All terrorist organisations are known for their violence. Who have we ever attacked or killed? Even in the face of severe persecution, we have never ever retaliated. Since the inception of the Movement four decades ago, nobody can ascribe violence in any way to the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. We are always the oppressed, and not the oppressors. So how does the victim become the villain? Hence the terrorist robe can’t be thrown at us. The hunting dogs being sent to bark will in no way derail us or detract us from standing to demand for our rights.
In the last two years, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria has recorded remarkable successes. We stuck to the path of peaceful seeking of redress through the legal system. Last year Justice Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled that the detention of our leader, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife is unconstitutional. This remarkable achievement has shown that it is the government that is violating the law and failure to obey the court judgement has meant that the government of Buhari has been committing illegalities. Secondly, only a few weeks ago we recorded yet another legal success in the Kaduna state High Court, which discharged and acquitted all those who stood trial before it in relation to the Zaria massacre protest. This further vindicates us.
There are several other successes but one worthy of mention is that our resolve remains stout. We shall not relent. The struggle to free Sheikh Zakzaky is our every move, every turn, every blink, every act, every thought, everywhere, every time and everything. Free Zakzaky is our way of life.
Finally, our demands remain as always the immediate release of Sheikh Zakzaky, his wife and all the hundreds being detained in various detention facilities across the country. Secondly, we demand that the corpses of all those killed, including those in the mass graves, must be exhumed and returned to us for identification and befitting burial according to Islamic rites. Thirdly, all our confiscated properties must be returned to us and destroyed properties adequately compensated for. Fourthly, we still demand an open, independent and impartial inquiry to unearth the truth. Such an inquiry must have as members, persons with credible character, and there must be full participation of internationally accepted human rights groups as observers. All those found to be responsible either in the planning or execution of these horrendous attacks must be brought to book, irrespective of their status. Lastly, we call on the international community, and especially the UN, EU, AU, ECOWAS and the ICC to add more pressure on the government to live up to its responsibilities as regards to the issue of the Islamic Movement in general and Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky in particular or be prepared to be ostracized and convicted.
We remain very appreciative of all those who have come out to identify with us in our struggles. We appreciate those who for the past two years have stood by us in rain and in sunshine. May Allah reward them abundantly.
Thank you and God bless.
Sheikh Abdulhamid Bello
Free Zakzaky Campaign Committee
Wednesday, 22nd November 2017