By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, yesterday, said except for its quick intervention, 51 members of the Shiite Muslim sect would have died inside a tunnel in Zaria.
Executive Secretary of the commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, made the disclosure while inaugurating a Special Investigative Panel to probe circumstances that led to the bloody clash between the Nigerian Army and members of the sect.
The clash which took place on December 12 had resulted in the instant death of seven persons, with 10 others seriously injured.
Angwe told newsmen, yesterday, that few days after the clash, senior members of the Shiite sect ran to the commission, lamenting that some of its members were still trapped inside a tunnel in Zaria.
He said: “On Monday, December 14, the office of the Chief of Army Staff reported the case of a clash between it and the Shiite sect at Zaria. Coincidentally, the media was awash with news about the unfortunate incident that occurred in Zaria allegedly leading to the loss of several lives and property.
“Later in the week, some followers of the Shiite sect sought the intervention of the commission for the release of some of their members trapped in a tunnel since the Sunday, December 13, incident.
“The commission quickly intervened. We requested the support of both the military and the Nigeria Police Force, an effort that eventually led to the rescue of about 51 members of the Shiite sect.
“Though I am happy with the timely intervention that led to the rescue of the trapped persons, however, this commission, in line with its mandate to receive complaints on human rights violation, monitor and investigate such allegations with a view to making appropriate determination in the circumstance, has decided to constitute a panel of investigation on the clashes between the Shiite and military that occurred in Zaria.”
Terms of reference
According to him, the terms of reference of the five-man probe panel headed by Mr Tony Ojukwu, Director, Monitoring Department of the NHRC, include, finding out the immediate and remote causes of the violations.
Others are: “To find out those responsible or culpable for the violations. To recommend remedies, if possible, for the violations, to find out those who lost their lives and property destroyed on both sides during the clash as well as to make recommendations for damages where appropriate and for prevention of future violations.”
He said the panel has two months to complete its assignment and submit its report. Angwe maintained that the panel has the power to summon any person that was directly or remotely involved with the clash, no matter how highly placed.
Besides, the NHRC, yesterday, said it was studying all issues regarding blockage of roads by institutions or individuals within the country, saying it will soon issue an advisory barring all forms of illegal road blocks.
Meanwhile, the head of the panel, Ojukwu, yesterday, vowed that his team will carry out the assignment diligently and dispassionately.
Other members of the NHRC panel are Mr. A. A. Yakubu, Halilu Adamu, Babangida Labaran and Kabiru Elayo.
The army had in a petition it filed before the commission, insisted that the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Yusuf Buratai, “was brazenly attacked in Zaria by members of the Shiite sect under the leadership of Ibrahim El-ZakZakky.”
The army told the NHRC that Buratai was on his way from Dutse to pay homage to the Emir of Zazzau before proceeding to Depot NA Passing Out Parade of 73 Regular Recruit Intake, when “heavily armed sect members numbering over 500 rushed out and barricaded the Zaria Polo/Golf Road in the vicinity of their supposed shrine.”
“On noticing the high profile convoy they quickly used heavy stones, logs, tyres and bonfires to block the road. All entreaties to pacify and administration of warning to the sect fell on deaf ears.
“On the contrary they became more emboldened and demanded martyrdom with gun shots and pelting of the convoy with whatever was available to them.
“This left immediate security personnel of Chief of Army Staff with no choice than to take necessary actions in line with NA rules of engagements to clear the attack and extricate the entire convoy.”