The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) has sent letter to the President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigerian Armed Forces stating their observations and expressing concerns pertaining to the recently inaugurated Presidential Investigation Panel to probe human rights abuses by the military in the country.
The letter dated 17th August 2017 and signed on behalf of the Movement by Professor Abdullahi Danladi, described the human rights records of the Nigerian army as dismal and wondered why despite repeated calls from the Movement and other credible international rights bodies like Amnesty, it took this length of time to set up one. “We had written a letter to you in early 2016 urging you to set a process to timeously have an independent judicial commission of inquiry with the supervisions of international community that would unearth the truth on the matter rather than wait for any report of a biased party to the incident as you had doggedly maintained you would at the time (especially during your maiden media chat), but you did not heed our call and certainly, never even contemplated setting up any such panel.”
The IMN expressed serious doubts in the sincerity behind setting this panel at at this point in time. “It would appear that setting up of this panel may be related to a quick attempt at convincing (or more appropriately deceiving) the US government into selling weapons to it,” IMN stated. It also accused the Nigerian government of trying to trick the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague presently investigating the Zaria massacre of December 2015 into believing that it is now willing and also able to investigate and dispense justice in that regard.
IMN quarried “in what ways will this Presidential Investigation Panel be different from what the judicial commission of inquiry into Zaria incident set up by the Kaduna state government?” It said the composition of the Presidential panel, which involves members of the Kaduna commission and the military panel that earlier absolved the army of blame, as well as representatives of the military, the police and other security agencies does not instil confidence in the process at all. It noted that exclusion of notable reputable rights bodies and victims representatives was unfair. “The sum of all this is that the independence and impartiality of this new panel is not in any way guaranteed.” It kicked against the systematic refusal of free access to the panel for their Leader, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and others being detained, and observed that there were no provisions put in place for them to make their appearance and presentations at the panel as free citizens.
The letter also wondered how the panel is going to tackle what the Kaduna commission already established as a matter of fact, even without the participation of IMN or its legal representatives that there was “use of excessive and disproportionate force by the Nigerian army against members of the IMN leading to massacre of hundreds” as reported by the commission. IMN quoted the Commission’s report copiously to buttress its point and align those with similar reports by Amnesty International, which talked about “mass slaughter of hundreds of men, women and children by soldiers in Zaria and the attempted cover-up of this crime,” demonstrating “an utter contempt for human life and accountability.”
IMN asked what was the point of this Presidential panel when all previous reports had already established that ” the actions of troops by the Nigerian Army were found to be contrary to Rules of Proportionality by International Standards.” IMN also noted that Army officers never ever cooperated with previous inquiries and believes that the same would play out in the presidential panel. It noted how army officers blatantly denied killing IMN members and digging mass graves, even after confession by Kaduna state officials with whom they closely worked.
The IMN concluded the letter by describing the government as one in denial because it refuses to acknowledge military excesses in handling civil matters. Consequently, “no prosecutions, no remorse and no public apologies!” The letter ended by stating that they still expect some national words of condolence to the families that lost their dear ones and were buried in mass graves. “We believe that those Nigerian lives matter.”
Find below the full text of the letter to the President:
Date: 17th August, 2017
The Acting President,
Federal Republic of Nigeria, Presidential Villa,
Your Excellency Sir,
Re-Setting up of the Presidential Investigation Panel to probe human rights abuses by Nigerian military
Sequel to your recent inauguration of the above-mentioned panel and what appears to be their prompt swing into action, we the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), being obviously the largest community of victims of human rights abuses by the Nigerian military, wish to make the following observations and express our concerns as follows:
1. The actual intention of setting up the “Presidential Investigation Panel” at this material point in time appears misty. Recall Sir that the IMN had written a letter to you early in 2016 urging you to set a process to timeously have an independent judicial commission of inquiry with the supervisions of international community that would unearth the truth on the matter. We particularly requested you not to wait for any report of a biased party to the incident as you had doggedly maintained you would at the time (especially during your maiden media chat). You did not heed our call and certainly, never even contemplated setting up any such a panel despite pressures from rights bodies within and outside the country. You will also recall Sir, that earlier, a presidential spokesperson shocked the World when he said that the incident was “a military affair.” That looked like an obvious tacit approval of the attacks by the Presidency and by implication complicity. The body language of the President and what the Presidency kept telling the public since then was that they were awaiting the report of the Kaduna State commission to take a decision. So, what is the game changer this time around?
The decision to establish this panel now will mean it has jettisoned that report or what? It would appear that setting up of this Presidential panel may be related to a quick attempt at convincing (or more appropriately deceiving) the US government into selling weapons to it. The US government has hitherto cited the military’s dismal human rights records in refusing sale of weapons to the country.
Furthermore but in the same vein, the Nigerian government may hope to trick the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague presently investigating the Zaria massacre of December 2015 into believing that the government is now willing and also able to investigate and dispense justice in that regard. That has been one major sore point this government has remained unconvincing.
2. In what ways will this Presidential Investigation Panel be different from what the judicial commission of inquiry into Zaria incident set up by the Kaduna state government? Beyond perhaps its scope (now also looking at other rights abuses by the military in other places and time) we note very many similarities, which do not instil confidence in the process.
3. From the composition of this panel, it is noted that the military, the police and security agencies are all represented. This is not the case with well-known community of victims of the alleged military violations such as us. With due respect to members in the panel, the “eyes” of world renowned human rights bodies are also not in this panel. We noticed that even a member who served in the Kaduna state judicial commission is included. Similarly, another member who enjoys the confidence of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and who similarly served in the military investigation panel set up by the COAS himself that absolved the army of any wrongdoing has been included in this Presidential panel as well. The sum of all this is that the independence and impartiality of this new panel is not in any way guaranteed.
4. We also feel very strongly that any investigation of the military attack on members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) that does not include a way to make our leader, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and other members being unjustifiably detained (some even against valid Nigerian court orders) to have free access to make their appearance and presentations would be most unfair and unjust. So, how does the presidential panel want to go around this? Sheikh Zakzaky has been denied access to his legal representatives for over nineteen months now. In fact, it is difficult to see how the chief victim of military violations in Nigeria can be excluded from such a panel and be seen to be just and fair. That was the major flaw of the Kaduna commission and all previous “probes” into the matter thus far.
5. One other interesting part is how this panel is going to handle what the Kaduna commission established already as a matter of fact. Even without our participation or having any legal representation, the Kaduna judicial commission clearly established the “use of excessive and disproportionate force by the Nigerian army against members of the IMN leading to massacre of hundreds.” The commission also agreed a “massacre” indeed took place, “the high number of casualties cannot be justified” (page 85 of its report). It also established that the Nigerian army carried out the massacre. “The actions of troops by the Nigerian Army were also found to be contrary to Rules of Proportionality by International Standards.” (Page 76 of the report) and 3 they also stated that “it did appear that the Nigerian Army did not adhere strictly to the provisions of its Rules of Engagement and the Code of Ethics during the operation.” All that the judicial commission found in this regard were in conformity with what independent rights bodies who investigated the matter found and published in their earlier reports. In particular, Amnesty International (AI) in its detailed report, talked of “mass slaughter of hundreds of men, women and children by soldiers in Zaria and the attempted cover-up of this crime,” demonstrating “an utter contempt for human life and accountability.” Human Rights Watch (HRW), another credible body that independently investigated the incident wrote in its own report, “The killing of hundreds of Shia Muslim members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), by Nigerian army soldiers from December 12 to 14, 2015, appears to have been wholly unjustified.” It concluded that the military attack in Zaria was “at best (it was) a brutal overreaction and at worst (it was) a planned attack on the minority Shia group.” So what exactly is the point of this Presidential panel?
6. In previous open investigations on the subject matter, the military never cooperated with the panel beyond trying to justify its actions. For instance, during the Kaduna commission sittings, the army had sitting commissioners and it was heavily represented by lawyers and top ranking military officers. Yet, it deliberately refused to cooperate with the commission to even establish the number of people it killed. It denied deaths and denied existence of mass graves. Even after confessions to the contrary by Kaduna state officials who worked with the officers, the army bluntly refused to open up to its crimes. The Kaduna commission of inquiry even lamented in its report the recalcitrant attitude of the Nigerian army in situations such as this. It is an open knowledge that since the publication of its report, Amnesty International has been severely attacked and seriously threatened by the military hierarchy. The question now is how would that be different at this Presidential panel of inquiry? What level of cooperation would the army give?
7. Finally your Excellency, it appears the government is in denial and Nigeria is similarly a country in denial. It has never acknowledged military excesses in handling civilian matters. It denies them if it could and justifies them when obviously it cannot be denied. No prosecutions, no remorse, no public apologies! It openly attacks international bodies when they come up with incontrovertible evidences against the army. It doesn’t appear that this is about to change even in the present Presidential panel. In the case of the Zaria massacre, the government has thus far refused to redress the wrong carried out by the military. It has furthered the wrong by the continued detention of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky and his wife, whose private residences were invaded by heavily armed Nigerian soldiers, their children, relatives and associates shot dead right to their faces, themselves shot at point blank severally and captured in the most humiliating and denigrating manner and hauled into detention virtually incommunicado without charges for twenty months. Even after a Nigerian High Court had ruled that the detention is unconstitutional and ordered their release, the government has continued to contemptuously defy the order. What guarantees are there that this government knows anything called justice? These observations and concerns do not inspire confidence that the panel is sufficiently independent and impartial enough to allow free and full participation, and that the government would be just in the matter at all. We believe you will understand, as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), that the fairness, independence and impartiality of this panel as required by Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are in doubt. The rules of natural justice require, inter alia, that where likelihood of bias can reasonably be inferred or discovered whether directly or indirectly from the surrounding circumstances, then fair hearing is not observed. This is because justice should not only be done but it must be manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to have been done. The Presidential panel as constituted presently lacks both legal and moral standing to inquire into the human rights abuses by the Nigerian Army against the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria between the 25th – 26th July, 2014 and also the 12th -14th December, 2015 at Zaria for lack of fairness, independence and impartiality.
While wishing you our regards of the highest consideration, we still expect some national words of condolence to the families that lost their dear ones and were buried in mass graves. We believe that those Nigerian lives matter.
Prof. Abdullahi Danladi
Islamic Movement in Nigeria
CC: 1. Barr. Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)