Zaria massacre. You’d think a shooting practise was going on that day. You’d think the men on camouflage were just programmed materials without a soul and a heart doing what programs do to hard and softwares. A swarm of bees stung its sharp razor fangs into the aorta of their earth and dropped something. It wasn’t honey that was left on them. It wasn’t the key to the kingdom of heaven which they trekked all the way to Zaria to seek. It wasn’t a little pat on the body of a little brother picking tantrums. What was left on them were sad bullets. Unsmiling hard bullets laughing into their periosteum, their bones and rib cages and forcing their troubled mind to exit their troubled body. When the news broke, my people, as usual, wore the tattered mind behind a mental asylum. They spoke with the wisdom of an uncivil man who neither has value for life, value for himself or value for the system of governance. They found a way to blame the stick wielding men for their deaths and exonerated the robotic men who did the thing. This is not a work of fiction. This is the summary of the Zaria massacre.
Two years ago, over 350 Shia Muslims were killed by soldiers protecting the Chief Of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai. According to the soldiers, they got intelligence that the Shi’a sect planned to assassinate their boss and when the sect blocked his passageway, they had to act in the interest of national security. They opened fire and murdered over 350 of them and even took away their leader, El ZakZaky. This was just for simply blocking a route. This was simply for blocking the way of one man who was appointed to protect the same lives that died as a result of disobedience. He was the legislative, judiciary and executive on the case and the reactions so far have justified him. Even if a people block the road of the President does that warrant their lives to be taken? If the people throw stones on their leaders should their penance come from the nozzle of a gun? Even if the soldiers must attack the people what happened to pepper spray, water canons and rubber bullets? None of the Shi’a members protesting had a gun or anything harder than a stick. None of them had the means to even injure any soldier there but they all were put to sleep because one man felt he had the power to do anything.
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According to Amnesty International and other human rights organisations that investigated the matter, the soldiers, after using human bodies for shooting practise, dropped the dead bodies in mass graves. They killed them in cold blood and lumped them together in graves. No respect. No remorse. No justice. Just doing what they feel is right and what their powers grant them. They did so because a higher power must have sanctioned it. They did so because they have no respect for the rules of the land, the lives of the Shi’a sect or respect for human life in general. That was why the Shia Zaria Massacre happened. Impunity had a huge hand in the whole exercise and the results so far, in terms of delivering justice, have showed that the soldiers had a point. Sheik Zakzaky, their leader, has not been seen since that day. His kids were killed, his followers massacred, his mission halted, and his life in a place only the handlers of that shooting practise could tell. While trying to curb what we term as monsters we may end up creating monsters. While trying to make peace today, we kill innocent people, tomorrow we call their kids terrorists when they try to even the score. A mass of dissatisfied citizens will only get you an unhappy country.
Three days after the Zaria massacre happened, the State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, set up a commission of inquiry to get to the root of the matter. The Shi’a protested making the argument that any investigation by the same Governor who supervised their demise cannot be trusted. The commission didn’t pay them attention. At the end of inquiry, the commission indicted a certain Mr Oyebade and some senior members in the military for the attack. A representative of the state government told the commission of inquiry that about 347 bodies were submitted by the soldiers for mass burials. The army denied this claiming ‘only’ seven persons who tried to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff were killed. The army didn’t bother go further to present any evidence to the claim. The government at the centre didn’t bother to investigate it either. The men in power simply went mute and pretended all was fine when members of the IMN(Islamic Movement Of Nigeria) had just been killed. They acted like a tumour was removed from the body and the healing process has just began. Some highlights of the reports submitted by the commission of enquiry read:
“There was no evidence that there was the requisite delegation by the president to the officer who issued oral order for the deployment of the officers and men of the Nigerian Army for the cordon and search operation’.
The President may not have given the order but his behavior suggested support. He didn’t make any statement to condemn the killings either and when he did speak on the matter, he suggested it was not bad punishment for taunting soldiers. This is a democracy but our President, a former military head, who claimed to be a reformed democrat suggested that a civilian who died by simply hitting the chest of the soldier brought it on himself. Evil is worse when people in authority do it. It is worse when people who have control over people support it because it inspires their followers and multiplies. It is molded, gradually, into a culture.
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The report continues:
“It is unfortunate that the medical officer in charge of the Nigerian Army Depot Health Centre who took custody of some of the corpses was not forthcoming in giving evidence that would have enabled the commission to ascertain the actual number of people killed.
“The officer said he didn’t even ascertain the gender of both the adult and children corpses that were deposited in his medical centre.”
“Had IMN submitted a memo and appeared before the commission, it might have been able to shed light on the number of their members who might have lost their lives in the clashes.”
“The Nigerian Army should intensify efforts in ensuring compliance with the rules of engagement and other legal standards in cordon and search operations at all times.”
The response given by the man in power in response to the Zaria Massacre showed why we are still in this very spot. It shows that we have a long way to go. When a sitting President tells his people that hitting the chest of generals is punishable by death you know the country is in a big mess. It only shows he has a poor or no understanding of what constitutes democracy. Maybe because he was a military man and have being hardwired with a strange pill of what constitutes respect. If that is the case, then we need to change our military. If a military, that is, a people who are supposed to protect the life of their people, genuinely think it is abomination to prod them on the chest and any guilty civilian who dares it deserves death, then it has lost its use and should be disbanded. If the brain of a typical Nigerian Soldier sees brutality as something he can get away with then we have succeeded in creating the demons we are trying to make extinct. A leader shouldn’t have such poor mindset. It is very troubling and because he has influence, it rubs on the followers who join him in repeating the nonsense. No civilian should be killed for simply protesting with sticks and stones in a democracy. No soldier should be molded to think that because he is holding a gun, his life is worth a hundred men.
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When the Zaria massacre happened, some Nigerians were on the side of the soldiers defending their actions and using the same silly arguments deployed by the President. Who are you to block the passageway of a Soldier? Who are you to try to fight a soldier? Who are to throw stones and use sticks on a soldier? The Soldier is not your mate and must be feared. The soldier is like God and must be bowed to and worshipped to keep him happy. Don’t dare challenge him and whatever you get from trying is your making. Silly arguments, a result of years of brainwashing and mental incapacitation. Because his mind has been shattered by bad governance and brutality, a typical Nigerian sees the military with these scary eyes. Because his leaders have failed him, he fails himself by repeating to himself lies about value and importance of humanism. A problem ensues. When you justify a monster today you are giving the monster wings to attack you tomorrow. When you fortify a monster with words of encouragement and silly arguments you are weakening the spirit of your support base. And tomorrow you’d join the youths in protesting about the behavior of SARS(Special Anti-Robbery Squad). You don’t know the evil you helped create just got to you. It will surely go round. That’s what support for the Zaria massacre does.
It is two years now since the Zaria massacre and nothing has come out of the reports done. It is two years now and the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheikh ZakZaky, has not been seen or charged to court, since his captors believed he went against the law. According to the human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, since the creation of this country, no democracy has acted in this manner. None has held a person for two years without charging them to court. He has not been heard from since the Zaria massacre and his sect banned in Kaduna State by the Governor who ordered for that enquiry. Before the elections in 2015, he was very close to the man but after the elections were won, things changed. The Shia are about 10% of Nigeria’s Muslim population with about 90 being Sunnis and other sects. Before the elections in 2015 the same governor who proscribed the group in his state chastised the former President, Goodluck Jonathan, for the bad treatment the sect got from soldiers in 2014. You can tell what changed. It’s two years now and Nigerians are not asking questions or investigating the matter. No one knows the true state of the man. Is he dead? Is he alive? What about his wife captured with him? Is she alive or taking care of him like the soldiers suggested? For how long is she going to take care of him before she visits home? Is Nigeria a democracy or a military government?