Sheikh Zakzaky to Testify in Camera before the Presidential Panel on Army, as Observers Berate Secret Hearings
The Presidential Investigation Panel on Compliance of The Armed Forces with Human Rights Obligations & Rules of Engagement has agreed to allow the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikhh Ibraheem Zakzaky to give an oral testimony in Abuja in camera. At the resumed sitting held in the Premises of the High Court of Kaduna State on the 18th of October 2017, the Petition filed by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) came up for hearing and the immediate challenge was whether or not Sheikhh Zakzaky would be allowed to give his testimony before the Panel.
Counsel to the Movement, Mr. Maxwell Kyon Esq. who led two other lawyers in the matter, informed the Panel that he had filed an application before it praying for its direction requiring the production of Sheikh Zakzaky to testify before the Panel. He also prayed the Panel for a direction deferring the hearing of the petition filed on behalf of the IMN to Abuja for hearing. Mr. Kyon pointed out that the first arm of his application had become necessary in view of the fact that it would be against the tenets of fair hearing for the panel to determine the petition without hearing from the leader of the Movement.
According to him, the application seeking the deferment of hearing of the petition to Abuja was necessary because he had no time to put together witnesses to testify before the panel in Kaduna because the lawyers were not told in time that the panel will commence siting in Kaduna until quite late. He said, “it was practically impossible for us to put together witnesses within such a very short time.”
However, the Counsel representing the Nigerian Army, Prof. Yemi Akinseye George SAN, raised a preliminary issue of law challenging the competence of the Petition filed by the IMN in view of the fact that the Movement had been proscribed in Kaduna State. According to him, the Petition could not be treated by the Panel in Kaduna or even anywhere else in Nigeria in view of the said proscription of the Movement in Kaduna. He therefore suggested that Counsel to the Petitioner should change the title of the petition to reflect that he was representing the members in their individual capacities and not as a body. Reacting to this, Mr. Kyon for the Petitioners submitted that the Movement is not confined to Kaduna State alone but that it is a body existing across all the states of the Federation and therefore the Petition could be treated as constituted.
After hearing the arguments of counsels on both sides, the Panel drew the attention of the Counsel to the Army, Prof. Akiseye SAN to the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry that looked into the Army/Shiite issue he tendered, which stated that the Islamic Movement in Nigeria was a “body existing in all the States of Nigeria.” It was on this basis that the Panel decided it could hear the petition as it is presently constituted. The case is therefore slated for hearing in Abuja between the 30th of October 2017 and the 3rd of November 2017.
On the question of whether or not the Panel should direct the production of the leader of the Movement to testify before it, Prof. Akinseye George informed the Panel that the Sheikh was not in the custody of the Army. Mr. Kyon then informed the Panel that the Sheikh is in the custody of the DSS and that it was imperative for the Panel to direct the production of the Sheikh as “it would amount to lack of fair hearing if the Sheikh is not produced.”
In its ruling the Panel considered the application made by the Counsel to IMN, and consequently directed all relevant bodies who ought to facilitate the production of the Sheikh before it to make adequate arrangements for the evidence of the Sheikh to be taken in camera, either at the location where he is currently being held or in any other location deemed appropriate, because of what the panel called “security questions that may arise in respect of the matter.” The Panel hence directed that Counsels to the Petitioner and the Nigerian Army shall be present at the hearing in camera of the testimony of the Sheikh fixed for hearing between 30th of October and 3rd of November 2017.
Observers of the case of Sheikh Zakzaky received this with mixed reactions. Although some considered this as a huge progress forward in view of the fact that the Sheikh will have a chance to state his own side of the story, others believed that secret hearing is a source of concern as it could jeopardize the course of justice and fair play. “Secret hearings at all times seek to cover evidence and this can be inimical especially in cases such as this,” they said. They contended that justice cannot be assured if the hearings hold secretly, especially when the brutal attacks carried out by the Nigerian Army that resulted in the deaths of over a thousand unarmed people including women and children was brazenly done openly. Others pointed out that already there are signs of compromise on standards the Panel had set for itself to carry out an open fair hearing.
It is unclear whether or not other witnesses that the IMN intends to present to establish the range of crimes against humanity carried out by the Nigerian Army in that genocidal attack in Zaria between 12th and 14th December 2015 will also be in camera. IMN has already cast doubts on the independence of the Panel.
In another development, the Panel Chairman mentioned that there was another petition before it pertaining to the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. This second petition was brought in by one Muhammad Ali on the second day of the sittings of the panel and brought a further addition to the petition a day later. It was not clear what the content of the petition was, as the counsels to the Movement were not served. The Chairman of the Panel said all cases involving the IMN will be taken together in Abuja between 30th October and 3rd November 2017.
The petitioner, Muhammad Ali, was the main Consultant contracted by the Nigerian Army to package its schemes and plots against the IMN during the days of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry last year. He was seen prominently being urged by the officers of the Nigerian Army present in the court room where the sittings were taking place to quickly make his submissions. It is difficult to conceive how they intend to deny the blatant crimes against humanity that has already been established by the previous Judicial Commission.
As usual, the Free Zakzaky Campaign Team will keep you updated on the developments as they unfold.
© #FreeZakzaky Campaign Committee, October 2017