Lawyer for the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), headed by the detained Sheik Ibraheem Zakzaky, has told the Kaduna State government to try soldiers involved in the attack on members of the Islamic group and its leader. Mr. Zakzaky has been detained without trial for about eight months by the Department of State Services in Abuja.
Mr. Falana's warning was contained in a letter addressed to the Kaduna State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. In the letter, he referred to the commissioner's interview published in the May 17th edition of ThisDay newspaper in which he was quoted as saying: "Our response was swift, which was shown by the numerous arrests made." This, said the lawyer, was an allusion to the violence unleashed on members of the sect.
"Having limited the 'numerous arrests' to the surviving victims of the violent attack who have since been charged with conspiracy and culpable homicide we hereby request you to use your good offices to ensure that the criminal elements who killed 347 unarmed civilians including women and children and buried their dead bodies are arrested and arraigned in court without any further delay," Mr. Falana demanded.
To facilitate the prosecution, Mr. Falana said he is willing to provide a number of facts.
First among these, he argued, was that the slain sect members had conducted themselves in a non-violent manner.
"In exercise of their fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and expression the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) staged a peaceful rally in Zaria, Kaduna State on July 25, 2014 in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
"In spite of the peaceful nature of the solidarity rally a band of armed soldiers opened fire on the protesters. Out of the 34 people who were killed in the unprovoked attack 3 were sons of Sheik Zakzaky," Mr. Falana wrote.
Second, he wrote, the Federal Government was embarrassed by the unlawful killing of the 34 members of the IMN by the army, a development that made the Nigeria Human Rights Commission to express condolence and tendered a public apology to the bereaved families on behalf of the Federal Government.
But despite the official apology, the Kaduna State government refused to prosecute those suspected to have carried out the unlawful killing, according to Mr. Falana.
"At the material time, Mr. Nasir el-Rufai publicly condemned the brutal killing and paid a condolence visit to the IMN leader in his residence," wrote Falana in support of his view.
He also stated that on December 12th, 2015 soldiers unleashed mayhem on the members of the IMN alleging that they had plotted to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai. Mr. Falana says that that allegation is spurious and which was not reported to the police.
Rather than report the alleged infractions to the police, Falana said the Chief of Army Staff took the law into his hands by commanding armed troops to shoot at the unarmed civilians in utter violation of sections 33 and 217 of the Constitution, Rules of Engagement for the Nigerian Military and the Geneva Convention.
The said attack, he noted, lasted two days. "Though, the leader of the IMN was not present at the praying ground, the army invaded his house on December 14, 2014. He and members of his family including his wife and children were shot at close range.
"During the unprovoked attack, three of his children were killed in his presence, while grenades were hurled at his house, which was subsequently set ablaze by the rampaging soldiers," added Falana.
Relatedly, Mr. Falana said on December 15, 347 people killed in the attack were secretly buried in a mass grave in Mando, Kaduna State by the army and abetted by the Kaduna State government, which did not conduct autopsy or DNA tests on the corpses before the mass burial.
Then on December 23, 2015, officials of the Kaduna State Urban Protection Development Authority (KASUPDA), under the supervision of military authorities, demolished the graves of deceased members of the sect at Darur Rahma Cemetery, the sect’s newly acquired property adjacent to the Husainiya, a former NTC building; the Fudiyya Islamic Centre; and Zakzaky's family house at Jushi quarters of Tudunwada ward, where his mother was interred.
This was followed up on January 29, 2016 with the setting up by Governor el- Rufai, of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the crisis and make recommendations to the government.
Members of the commission were drawn from the army, police, DSS and civilians, including those who had, through public statements and writings, called for the proscription of the IMN.
Mr. Falana proceeded to argue that the Kaduna State government ignored the protests of the human rights community that the commission be reconstituted by removing members who be biased against the IMN.
"Although, Section 36 (1) of the Constitution stipulates that a court or tribunal shall be constituted in a manner that its independence and impartiality shall be guaranteed, the Kaduna State government ignored the demand of the human rights community that the commission be reconstituted by removing the members who have always nursed animosity towards the IMN," he wrote.
Despite inviting Mr. Zakzaky to testify on behalf of the IMN, Mr. Falana contended, he was prevented from doing so by the DSS which ensured that the commission was only permitted to take evidence from those who have an axe to grind with the IMN.
The situation, posited Falana, yoked the commission with a problem. "Upon realizing that its findings and recommendations might not enjoy credibility, having not been allowed to observe the elementary rule of audi alteram partem, the commission made frantic efforts to persuade the legal team of the IMN to participate in the proceedings.
"We were unable to accede to the request of the commission since it was unable to direct the authorities to release our clients from custody to tell their own side of the story," he wrote.
He stated that on account of its contempt for the judicial commission, the Kaduna State government filed charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide against over 250 members of the IMN at the Kaduna State High Court.
"The suspects, who are alleged to have caused the death of one Corporal Yakubu Dankaduna during the military invasion, are languishing in prison custody while awaiting the legal advice of the Kaduna state Director of Public Prosecution," noted Falana.
He similarly noted that though the Secretary to the Kaduna State Government, Alhaji Lawal Balarabe Abbas, confirmed the massacre of the 347 people by the Army, the perpetrators have not been prosecuted and have and went ahead to bury the victims in mass graves.
"In the light of the foregoing we have the instructions of our clients to request you to prosecute the members of the Nigerian Army who took the law into their hands by unleashing mayhem on unarmed civilians in Zaria, Kaduna State from December 12-14, 2015. Specifically, you are requested to charge the suspects with conspiracy, willful damage to property, arson and culpable homicide not later than July 31, 2016," said Falana.