By Abdulaziz Abdulaziz
Assume that on Saturday, December 12, 2015 the Shiites preparing for a programme at their centre in Zaria did indeed confront the military. Assume that they indeed blocked the road at the Chief of Army Staff and heckled the senior army officers in that motorcade.
This was said to be the trigger that set the soldiers amok, returning almost immediately, armed to the teeth, to exterminate everybody in that premises.
What then was the reason for the Army’s action overnight on Sunday, December 13. Unsatisfied about the scores of defenceless citizens they murdered at the centre in Sabon Gari, Zaria, the bloodthirsty commanders sent another detachment to cordon off Zakzaky’s residence in Gyallesu, inside the city.
Now, hundreds of el-Zakzaky followers who had travelled for the programme scheduled for the centre but came to meet the showdown had moved to the residence and its environs. The soldiers cordoned off all of them.
More members of the sect arrived that night to meet the military cordon and formed their own colonies around the area. At the crow of the cock on Sunday, hundreds of them were in laying in their blood.
Security vans took several trips to the the hospitals and morgues around, to the mid hours of the day, before they could evacuate all the corpses.
Hundreds others were captured and would later be taken before one court after another in theatrical trials.
The episode of that weekend recorded and unprecedented mass killing in the history of Nigeria. One of the worst of such atrocities the world over.
The Shiites later came up with a list of over 1,000 members – missing from those two days. 700 of them are said to have been killed.
On a reporting trip late in January, I met a woman in backdoor quarters of Zaria who had not seen her husband and their three children since the episode. I don’t know if she has seen any since.
The government, by its own admission, claimed it gave mass burial to 347 victims of that assault – another war crime.
As for the leader, very soon a picture of bloodied el-Zakzaky emerged being wheeled away by the triumphant troops. He and his wife were taken into custody, without fully treating the severe injuries they sustained from the one-sided battle. They have remained with the security forces for over two years now, almost incommunicado.
Yet, in these two years, attempts by Shiites to grieve their dead has always received a sledgehammer reaction. Procession that is within the ambit of the law to call for the release of their unjustly detained leader and his spouse is always thwarted with gun power.
Last week alone, at least three Shiites were shot dead in Kaduna for no offense other than embarking on peaceful demonstration to draw attention to the continuous detention of el-Zakzaky. One of them was a postgraduate student of the Kaduna State University.
A Facebook friend of mine, Ammar Muhammad Rajab suffered a broken limb from beating with the bayonet during similar protest in Abuja. He was lucky. He reported that six others initially arrested with him were taken away by the police. No one knows what will befall them.
The most painful thing for me is the culture of silence around this. Yes, Shiites are minority and the most unpopular of Muslim population in northern Nigeria. But is that enough reason for them to be hunted down in this manner? Does anybody think this is okay and normal and nothing will hunt us down the road?
Yet, the most dangerous trend this is taking is pitching the Shiites against the larger Sunni populace.
Not long after the Zaria massacre, a prominent traditional ruler came out in the most irresponsible manner to deliver an inciting summon against the Shiites. Another sledgehammer reaction. He saw it as an opportunity to clear his name from accusations that he was one of them, and went for the overkill. Not long after that we witnessed attacks on Shiite procession by ordinary citizens in Kano, and attack on property belonging to them in Kaduna. We shouldn’t do this to ourselves. We are in so much misery as to initiate another one; which is what seems to be happening with this endless persecution.
The government has held el-Zakzaky, his wife and some of his followers without trial for two years. There is no justification for this. Yet the most unjustified one is that the more the people come out peacefully mourn this, the more are killed and maimed.
Sadly, some believe because these people’s practice was off the orthodox it is okay for them to be killed. It is thoroughly saddening that some who profess a religion that is explicit about extrajudicial killings would turn the other way or even celebrate that some faithful Muslims are being massacred.
And I ask myself if really those who supports this think it is okay. Or, if those who have hands in what happened on that weekend feel it’s all gone and the blood of the innocent in their hands will let them have peace. Justice shall be served, or it serves itself.