Officials of the Nigerian Army made concerted efforts to cover up the mass slaughter of over 350 Nigerian citizens, including women and children, between December 12-14, 2015, in Zaria, Amnesty International has said.
In a newly-released report about the killing, which involved members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, Amnesty International said it was able to uncover evidence of a possible mass grave in Zaria neighbourhood of Mando with the aid of satellite imaging.
The report, titled: “Unearthing the truth: Unlawful killings and mass cover-up in Zaria”, is based on interviews with 92 people, including victims, witnesses from the Shi’ite and other communities, relatives of victims, residents of the areas where the incidents took place, lawyers and medical personnel and contains shocking eyewitness testimony of large-scale unlawful killings by the Nigerian military and exposes a crude attempt by the authorities to destroy and conceal evidence.
“The true horror of what happened over those two days in Zaria is only now coming to light. Bodies were left littered in the streets and piled outside the mortuary. Some of the injured were burned alive,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa.
“Our research, based on witness testimonies and analysis of satellite images, has located one possible mass grave. It is time now for the military to come clean and admit where it secretly buried hundreds of bodies.”
The massacre of Shi’ites and continued detention of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, have earned the Nigerian government widespread international condemnation, including a probe by the International Criminal Court.
In February, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, IHRC, a United Kingdom-based Muslim advocacy organisation, has dragged President Muhammadu Buhari, the Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, the chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the massacre.
The organisation also asked the ICC to investigate the emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, and the emir of Zaria, Shehu Idris, for human rights violation and crimes against humanity.
Other army officers and persons the IHRC asked the ICC to probe for their roles in the massacre are: spokesperson of the Nigerian Army, Sani Usman, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army, Kaduna, Adeniyi Oyebade, the Commander Nigerian Depot, Chief of Defence Staff, Abayomi Olonisakin, Director Military Intelligence, Chief of Defence intelligence – AVM Riku Morgan, AK Ibrahim – Commander 1 Division Garrison, Nigerian Army, Kaduna and Col. F.M Babayo.
The rest are Capt Ben, Adjutant Depot, Nigerian Army; Adeniyi Oyebade, General Officer Commanding, 1 Division Garrison Kaduna; Umar Labdo; Sambo Rigachukun; Bala Lau; Yahaya Jingir and; Kabir Gombe.
In a detailed report, the IHRC argued that attacks of the army on members of IMN between December 12 and 14 in Zaria qualify as crime against humanity and therefore called on the ICC to initiate an investigation into the incident.
In April, the ICC announced the commencement of detailed investigation into the killings.
According to Amnesty International’s findings, more than 350 people are believed to have been unlawfully killed by the military between 12 and 14 December, following a confrontation between members of IMN and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State.
IMN supporters – some armed with batons, knives, and machetes – had refused to clear the road near their headquarters, the Hussainiyya, for a military convoy to pass. The army has claimed that IMN supporters attacked the convoy in an attempt to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff. IMN members deny this.
Some people were killed as a result of the indiscriminate fire while others appeared to have been deliberately targeted, Mr. Belay said.
The report highlighted the agony of relatives of the victims of the massacre, which the federal government has continued to deny.
Zainab, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, was quoted by Amnesty International: “We were in our school uniforms. My friend Nusaiba Abdullahi was shot in her forehead. We took her to a house where they treated the injured but, before reaching the house, she already died.
Amnesty International said after the incident, the military sealed off the areas around El-Zakzaky’s compound, the Hussainiyya and other locations. Bodies were taken away, sites were razed to the ground, the rubble removed, bloodstains washed off, and bullets and spent cartridge removed from the streets.
Witnesses saw piles of bodies outside the morgue of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria. A senior medical source told Amnesty International that the military sealed off the area around the morgue for two days. During that time he saw army vehicles “coming and going”.
A witness described to Amnesty International what he saw outside the hospital mortuary on the evening of 14 December: “It was dark and from far I could only see a big mound but when I got closer I saw it was a huge pile of corpses on top of each other. I have never seen so many dead bodies. I got very scared and run away. It was a terrible sight and I can’t get it out of my mind.”
Another witness told the organisation how he had seen diggers excavating holes at the site of the suspected mass grave: “There were five or six large trucks and several smaller military vehicles and they spent hours digging and unloading the trucks’ cargo into the hole they dug and then covered it again with the earth they had dug out. They were there from about 1 or 2 am until about 5 am. I don’t know what they buried. It looked like bodies, but I could not get near.”
Amnesty International identified and visited the location of a possible mass grave near Mando. Satellite images of the site taken on 2 November and 24 December 2015 show disturbed earth spanning an area of approximately 1000 square metres. Satellite pictures also show the complete destruction of buildings and mosques.
“It is clear that the military not only used unlawful and excessive force against men, women and children, unlawfully killing hundreds, but then made considerable efforts to try to cover-up these crimes,” said Netsanet Belay.
“Four months after the massacre the families of the missing are still awaiting news of their loved ones. A full independent forensic investigation is long overdue. The bodies must be exhumed, the incident must be impartially and independently investigated and those responsible must be held to account.”
On Monday 25 April, the military are expected to give evidence to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry established by the Kaduna State Government in January 2016.
On 11 April, a Kaduna State government official told the Judicial Commission of Inquiry that the bodies of 347 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) were collected from the hospital mortuary and an army depot in Zaria and buried secretly in a mass grave near Mando (outside the town of Kaduna) on the night of 14-15 December.
The IMN claim a further 350 people who went missing during the incidents in Zaria remain unaccounted for.
IMN leader Al-Zakzaky and his wife Zeinat Al-Zakzaky were arrested and held incommunicado. They were only allowed access to their lawyer for the first time on 1 April 2015, three and a half months after their arrest.
Amnesty International called for those IMN supporters charged in connection with this incident to be tried promptly and fairly and for those still held in detention without charge to be either immediately charged or released.
The group also urged the Nigerian government to thoroughly investigate the killings and punish those responsible without recourse to death the penalty.