The Senate on Wednesday set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the bloody clash between troops of the Nigerian Army and the Shiite sect members in Zaria on Saturday, where no fewer than 60 persons reportedly died.
Senate President Bukola Saraki announced this after a one hour closed-door meeting of the lawmakers shortly before plenary.
He said the ad hoc committee would consist of the Senate committees on Defence; Judiciary and Human Rights; National Security and Intelligence; Army; Police Affairs; Internal Affairs and Foreign Affairs.
He explained that the ad hoc committee, which would be presided over by Senator Ahmad Lawan, had been saddled with the responsibilities of investigating all issues surrounding the attacks and advising the Federal Government on the way forward.
Saraki said, “The Senate deeply and sincerely regrets the loss of lives and property and hereby appeals for calm by all affected parties and the general public while the investigation is being carried out.
“The Senate is seriously concerned and committed to ensuring that peace reigns in our dear country and will act in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at all times.”
Meanwhile, two bills, seeking the establishment of the North-East Development Commission to address the devastation caused by insurgency in the North-East, passed the second reading on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday.
Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, sponsored one of the bills, titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to establish the North-East Development Commission in the Federal Republic of Nigeria to address the devastation caused by insurgency and other connected matters (2015)’.
Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC-Kano South) sponsored another Bill titled, ‘An Act to establish North-East Development Commission charged with the responsibility, among other things, to receive and manage fund from allocation of the federation account and international donors for the settlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency and for other related matters (2015)’.
The bills, which were consolidated, seek to, among other things, provide a legal framework for the coordination of activities on the rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons and the reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed in the North-East.
Leading the debate on the bills, Ndume said the North-East region, which was once a beehive of activities, had been devastated by the activities of insurgents since 2009.
He lamented that terrorism had adversely affected the socio-economic activities of the people in the region.
Ndume added, “The Boko Haram insurgents turned women into widows and children into orphans and put fear in law- abiding citizens.
“They have destroyed villages, attacked property and have engaged our military in warfare that has wasted natural and human resources.”
Gaya said from records, over 15,000 lives were lost while over five million people were internally displaced due to the crisis in the North-East.
Saraki, who presided over plenary, commended the lawmakers for their effort in ensuring that the consolidated bill passed the second reading.
Saraki said the bill, which would be referred to the Senate Committees on Establishment and Special Duties, would be expected in the Senate in four weeks for third reading.
He stated, “Our work is not done yet, the committees responsible should present the report in four weeks so that it can be read the third time and passed.”
Meanwhile, the United States and the United Kingdom have expressed concern over reports of violent clashes between soldiers and members of Shiite sect in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The US Embassy, in a statement on Wednesday in Abuja, expressed dismay over the reported killing of many people, calling on the Federal Government to probe the incident.
It advised the two sides to exercise restraint to avoid actions that might further escalate the situation.
The statement read, “While many details of the incidents that reportedly began on December 12 remain unclear, we are dismayed to learn of multiple civilian deaths. It is essential that all sides refrain from actions that further destabilise the situation.
“The United States calls on the Government of Nigeria to quickly, credibly and transparently investigate these events in Zaria and hold to account any individuals found to have committed crimes.”
The British High Commissioner, Paul Arkwright, in his own statement, admonished security agencies to conduct their operations within the ambit of the rule of law.
He urged demonstrators to ensure that their protests were peaceful and within the law.
Arkwright added, “Like many across Nigeria, I am following with concern the reports of violence in Zaria over the weekend between the Nigerian security forces and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. I am further concerned at reports that protests in Kaduna have turned violent.
“Nigeria’s religious and ethnic diversity adds a great deal to this country’s rich culture. It is important, therefore, that Nigerians of all faiths are allowed to assemble and worship freely.”
Also, the Amnesty International had demanded that the bloody clash in Zaria be “urgently investigated”, saying anyone found responsible for unlawful killings must be brought to justice.
In its statement on Wednesday, AI Director, Nigeria, M.K. Ibrahim, said, “Whilst the final death toll is unclear, there is no doubt that there has been a substantial loss of life at the hands of the military.
“Firearms should only be used as a last resort, if strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. It is crucial that the authorities refrain from using excessive force and ensure that anyone responsible for unlawful killings is brought to justice in fair trials.”
AI alleged that Nigerian security forces had a history of carrying out unlawful killings and other human rights violations.
“An impartial investigation is urgently needed into these killings. Anyone responsible for unlawful killings should be brought to justice. ‘‘Those in detention must be granted access to medical care as a matter of urgency and either charged with a recognisable criminal offence or released,” Ibrahim added.
The US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, in the mean time, described the visit of the Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd.), to Zaria to assess the clash as timely.
Entwistle, who spoke in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, during his visit to the American Corner, said the Zaria killings were unfortunate.
The envoy was in Calabar to unveil 200 new books, materials and a new television monitor as part of the US mission’s continuing commitment to the Corner and also to learn more about what Cross River State was doing with the Federal Government to protect one of the oldest rainforests in Africa.
According to Entwistle, the first step after allegations of misconduct are made is for the government to institute a transparent and timely investigation.
He said, “I do not have all the facts yet. Obviously, a very unfortunate incident took place. I think whenever allegations of misconduct by security forces are made, I am not just talking about Nigeria, but also in my country, I think the first step is always a timely and transparent investigation by the government and human rights organisation.
“Once you know the actual facts, then you can decide what is to be done. I noticed this morning in the media, and I believe that I am correct, that the Minister of Interior, Dambazau, went to Zaria yesterday (Tuesday). I was very glad to hear that because I am sure that his trip there was the first step in a transparent and timely investigation.
“I am absolutely certain that President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration are taking very serious steps and they want to find out exactly what had happened.”
He said the US was working closely with Nigeria in exploring ways to combat the operations of Boko Haram, adding that his country was the strongest ally to Nigeria in the fight against terrorism.
Entwistle added, “I can assure you that Nigeria has no stronger partner against terrorism than the United States. We work together closely every day and constantly exploring new avenues of combating the operations of Boko Haram here in Nigeria and throughout the Lake Chad region.”
Speaking on preserving Nigeria’s oldest forest, which is in Cross River State, Entwistle said the US recognised the urgency of combating wildlife trafficking.
Sultan’s group warns military
The Jamaátul Nasril Islam, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, has cautioned the Nigerian military against the use of excessive force against unarmed members of the public.
The group noted that the unfortunate clash between soldiers and Shiite members in Zaria on Saturday was avoidable if the Army had applied internationally best practices of their rules of engagement in the situation.
In a statement by the Secretary-General of the JNI, Dr. Khalid Aliyu, in Kaduna on Wednesday, the organisation cautioned the public, especially religious organisations, to always recognise and operate within the ambit of the law and order as provided by the laws of the land as well as their religious tenets.
The Islamic religious body described the clash as most unfortunate and commiserated with families of those who lost their lives.
It commended the Federal Government for instituting a fact-finding delegation, led by Dambazau, for an on-the-spot assessment.
It also appealed to the government to institute an enquiry into the Zaria upheaval to unravel its remote and immediate causes so as to forestall future occurrence.
The JNI said, “The sordid state of insecurity in the nation is no longer news to every discerning mind. The level of apprehension, particularly in Zaria, Kaduna State, as a result of the avoidable skirmishes that occurred on Saturday, December 12, 2015, between the Shiites and the Nigerian Army, is unfortunate.
“The residents of Zaria and beyond were indeed thrown into a state of pandemonium; hence, it is with all sense of responsibility that JNI, under the leadership of His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General, JNI, makes this press statement on the sorry state of affairs as it relates to insecurity in our enviable country, Nigeria.
“JNI, after following the events as they unfolded, reiterates in line with its previous related releases that life is sacred and must be treated as such.
“And restraint should always be exercised in the course of discharging one’s civil, official and or religious duties.
“We must all view the insecurity quagmire as a challenge to all Nigerians, regardless of any parochial consideration.
“Security agencies must operate within the internationally established convention of rules of engagement in the discharge of their duties.
“Excessive force should be avoided and lives be preserved and protected.’’
It was learnt on Wednesday that security operatives had freed about 180 of the detained members of the sect.
The President of Media Forum, Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Malam Ibrahim Musa, confirmed the release of about 174 members on Tuesday and another six on Wednesday.
He added that about 170 members, who were arrested in Kaduna, were currently in the custody of the Police.
The sect alleged that the Army authorities had evacuated the corpses they deposited at the morgue of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, and buried them in unknown mass graves.
They demanded the location of the mass graves and the interrogation of those who gave the order for the burial, which they described as “unfortunate.”
The Shiite, in a statement by Musa, said, “This is a very unfortunate episode in the massacre of innocent Muslims conducted by the Nigerian Army.
“How can people, whose parents and relatives are all known, be buried without proper Islamic burial?
“This is against all known Islamic laws and principles and even international laws. The Nigerian Army has desecrated our dead (members).”
The sect faulted the directive of the Minister of Interior, Dambazau, that the Kaduna State Police Command should investigate the clash and submit its report to the Presidency.
It said it had no confidence in the Area Commander in Zaria.
According to the Shiite sect, the Area Commander is a junior to the perpetrators of the attack on the group members.
It demanded that a high-powered investigative panel, headed by a high-ranking officer, be constituted, saying its membership should include “members of some human rights organisations and other highly-respected elders in the country.”
The statement added, “We hereby unequivocally state that we don’t have confidence in the constituted panel headed by the AC for the following reasons:
“Firstly, the AC, being of a junior rank, compared to the perpetrators of the attack on our members, might not do justice to the issue, as it involves high-ranking officers of the rank of a Lt.-Gen.”
Meanwhile, Governor Nasir el-Rufai on Wednesday visited Zaria again to assess the sites of the clashes between the military and the sect members.
El-Rufai visited the destroyed residence of the sect’s leader, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, at Gyellesu, Zaria.
Meanwhile, normalcy had returned to Zaria as shops and commercial banks were opened to the public.
Our correspondent observed that soldiers still laid siege to the three Shiite sites pulled down during the incident while occupants of the neighbouring houses had fled their homes.
The governor called on traditional rulers and other stakeholders to continue to promote peace in their communities.
El-Rufai, who made the call at a meeting with traditional rulers and 23 Interim Chairmen of local governments in the state before proceeding to Zaria, said he was in constant touch with the Federal Government on the clash.
He said, “The meeting is to rub minds in view of the current security situation in the state and the country at large. We will continue to partner traditional rulers in preaching peace in our communities.
“Our government will act promptly on any security issues. I am calling on all our traditional rulers not to hesitate to get in touch with us on any security matters.”
NLC urges FG to investigate clash
The Nigeria Labour Congress has called on the Federal Government to carry out a thorough investigation into the clash between the Nigerian Army and the Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria.
NLC president, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said in a statement on Wednesday that the clash between the sect and the Army was “getting addictive, frequent, avoidably bloody and wasteful”.
He said the additional deaths caused by the clash in a country that had witnessed several killings in the North-East were condemnable.
Wabba, who commiserated with the families of the victims of the clash, called on the Federal Government to bring the conflict to a permanent end.
He said violence could only worsen mass poverty and prevent prosperity and should not be encouraged.
He stressed that the labour movement was in support of the demand by the citizenry for investigation into the issue.
The NLC president said, “Nigeria Labour Congress is alarmed by last weekend outbreak of violence in Zaria between the Nigerian Army and the Shiíte Islamic Movement of Nigeria, led by Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. The violence between MIN and the Nigerian Army is getting addictive, frequent and avoidably bloody and wasteful.
“NLC commiserates with the families of lives lost during the Saturday, December 12, Zaria crisis and calls on the Federal Government to increasingly be proactive in responding to crises in the country. We therefore call on the authorities to take necessary measures to ensure this unnecessary conflict is brought to a permanent end.
The “Federal Government must urgently investigate the root causes of frequent mutually destructive violence between MIN and Nigeria Army. We recall that this is not the first time the movement had been involved in a clash with the military.”