Fundamental human right is core to social security, peaceful society, vibrant and stable democracy, as well as development in any country. All other values that form the base of all decent societies rest mainly on respect for others’ rights and privileges, just the way we want to be respected and well treated.
That is why it is of absolute necessity that human rights laws are enforced by relevant authorities. That is what makes the job of the National Human Right Commission, NHRC, under the leadership of Professor Bem Angwe, unenviable task. This has much been acclaimed by many Nigerians in recent time.
Recently, the clash between the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Tukur Buratai, and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, otherwise known as Shiite on December 13, 2015, at the PZ area in Zaria, is currently and probably the biggest high profile case being handled by the National Human Right Commission, NHRC. Each party is demanding for justice from the commission.
Hundreds of lives were reportedly killed and many others injured during the clash. There were cases of arrests. The Army chief reported the clash to the commission, just like the IMN equally reported their sides to the commission. The commission received petition from some followers of the Shiite sect seeking, “the intervention of the commission for the release of some of their members trapped in a tunnel since the Sunday, December 13, 2015 incident”. Who then gets justice? How will the commission dispense justice without proper finding or investigation into the cause of the bloody conflict?
The sect has been lamenting that hundreds of their unarmed and innocent devotees were killed, some wounded while others were arrested. Up till now, the Shiites are very bitter that their spiritual leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, is still languishing in an undisclosed custody. It would be recalled that the commission’s subsequent intervention led to the release of about 51 members of the sect from custody.
In order to determine the who was right or wrong, the executive secretary of NHRC, Prof. Angwe set up a five-man panel on December 21, 2015, to critically look into the matter with a view to coming out with verifiable fact so as to determine which party stood the way of justice by trying to impinge on the right of the other. The chairman of the panel is Mr. Tony Ojukwu, is a lawyer and director, monitoring department of the commission. Other members are Messrs A. A Yakubu, Halilu Adamu, Babangida Labaran and Kabiru Elayo. The panel has two months to complete its assignments and submit its report.
The terms of reference for the panel as read by Prof. Angwe include “to find out the immediate and remote causes of the violations”. The rest of the terms of reference 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 properties destroyed on both sides during the clash; to make recommendations for damages where appropriate and for prevention of future violations; any other directives by the Executive Secretary.”
The executive secretary underscored the fact that the commission has a duty “to receive complaints on human rights violation, monitor and investigate such allegations with a view to making appropriate determination in the circumstance”.
Explaining the necessity for setting up the panel, the executive secretary said that “On the December 14, 2015, the Chief of Army Staff presented a petition to the National Human Rights Commission on allegations of attempt on the life of the Chief of Army Staff and attack on his convoy on his way to Zaria, which eventually led to a vicious clash between the military and some members of the Shiite Sect in Zaria, leading to the loss of several lives and property.
“Pursuant to the receipt of this complaint from the military, the commission, in line with its mandate to receive complaints on human rights violations, to monitor and to investigate such allegations, with a view to making appropriate determination in the circumstances, has decided to constitute an investigation panel with a view to carrying out a holistic investigation into the alleged violations of human rights’’, he said.
On January 19, 2016, the panel set up by NHRC began its hearing. General Buratai ‎arrived the headquarters of the commission in Abuja for his presentation. According to a statement by the Army spokesperson, Sani Usman, Shiite members barricaded the road the Army Chief’s motorcade was passing to pay homage on the Emir of Zazzau, and also attend a review parade by 73 Regular Recruit Intake at the Nigerian Army Depot in Zaria.
“The sect numbering hundreds carrying dangerous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tyres… and refused all entreaties to disperse and then started firing and pelting the convoy with dangerous objects”. He alleged that the barricade was a deliberate attempt to kill the army chief and so “The troops responsible for the safety and security of the Chief of Army Staff on hearing explosion and firing were left with no choice than to defend him and the convoy at all cost as well as open up the barricaded road for law abiding citizens,” he said.
The statement further stated that “This (the response by the army) is in line with the Nigerian Army Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct. This kind of behaviour will not be tolerated from any individual or groups and should not be allowed to repeat itself,” the statement said.
However, a statement signed by Isak K and posted on the website of the movement said the claim that the COAS “narrowly escaped assassination as a result of attack from Muslim brothers and Sisters of the Islamic Movement is a blatant lie” adding that “Any excuse given by the military as reason for besieging Hussainiyyah and firing for hours, leading to the death of yet to be specified number of people, is considered a lie of the decade,” the movement said.
There were claims and counter claims. For instance, while the Army said that only seven members of the sect were killed in order to save the life of the Chief of Army Staff during the incident, the sect countered that hundreds of its members were killed.
But the Shiite said it would not honour the invitation of the commission’s panel. It alleged that the panel has been compromised and so it would not appear before it, an explanation many found very surprising.
Mr. Isah Aminu, a community development expert based in Abuja said that he found the reasons given by the sect rather shocking. “The Shiites have a good case. They actually protested to the commission to seek for justice. If they don’t appear before the panel, how would the commission help them? The Chief of Army Staff personally submitted himself to the panel willingly because he wants justice. I expect the sect to do same. That is the only way the commission can help them”, he said.
Interestingly, the Kaduna State government set up a separate commission of enquiry. Similarly, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, waded into the matter in order to carry out an independent investigation in a bid to ensure that each party gets justice.
Igwe Okonkwo, an Abuja-based legal practitioner is of the view that the matter should not be swept under the carpet. Expressing the mind of many Nigerians, he said that “I suggest strongly that all parties should give the National Human Right Commission the chance and necessary cooperation. This is one case that the international community is watching and waiting to see the outcome of the investigation. Let us therefore remove unnecessary sentiment from the matter”, he said.

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