El-Zakzaky: Hurting memories of a massacre
December 27, 2017 • By MOJEED ALABI
In 2015, hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise called Shi’ites, were violently crushed by the superior power of the men of Nigerian Army with mass burial allegedly conducted for 347 victims by the Kaduna State Government. More than two years after, the Sect’s leader, Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky, his wife, Zeenat, and over 200 members have remained behind bars, even against court order. MOJEED ALABI, who visited some of the victims, their relatives and the scenes of the violence, report on the religious extremism and human rights abuses that characterized the massacre
Hajia Maimuna Abdullahi Husseini is completely depressed and worn out. The 48-year-old mother of 10 no longer thinks straight as she is constantly frightened and haunted by the imagination of the horror that may have accompanied the alleged killing of her husband and six children; all in one fet’s 54-year-old husband, Mallam Abdullahi Abass, was a trained motor mechanic, but hard times later compelled him to trade in Islamic items such as books, pamphlets, audio and video tapes of lectures and teachings of Islamic scholars.
He was popular for selling recordings of the renowned leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as ‘Shi’ite,’ Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky. As a member of the group, he decided to venture into the new business, and this was what his family had lived on until 2015.
On Saturday, December 12, 2015, Abass was one of the hundreds of thousands of other IMN members across the country and beyond who had converged on the group’s Hussainiya Baqiyatullah –a religious and cultural centre, located along the Zaria-Sokoto Road, Zaria, Kaduna State, where they were to commemorate a flag hoisting event.
The Coordinator of the IMN’s Academic Forum, Shuaib Ahmad, told New Telegraph that the event was to mark the beginning of the Month of Rabiul Awwal (third Islamic calendar month)- the birth month of Prophet Muhammad, when the Movement’s green flag was to be hoisted, replacing the black one.
On the said date, Abass, and his six children – Abdulrazak Abdullahi, Abbas Abdullahi, Muhammad Abdullahi, Ahmad Abdullahi, Ibrahim Abdullahi and Jawad Abdullahi – whose ages ranged from 18 to 28, had taken strategic positions to display the items for sale.
Their mother, Maimuna, was also with the other four children at the centre, but at the female wing, where she had also displayed women wares and other items for sale.
The family was hopeful that the school fees needed by Abdulrasak and two of his other siblings would be made on the day. That dream never came to reality. Since that day till date, their whereabouts is yet to be ascertained. They were among those assumed to have been crushed by the men of the Nigerian Army, who had engaged the group in a fight to the finish that lasted three days.
Their remains could also have been part of the 347 bodies of the victims of the incident that the Kaduna State Government claimed it conducted mass burial for.
But two years after the unfortunate incident, Hajia Maimuna still does not want to believe her husband and six children could have been killed and buried in a manner she described as “conscienceless.”
Maimuna, who is now very feeble and fragile, had embarked on many weeks of self-imposed hunger strike, in protest of the great trauma she said has been caused her by the alleged killers of her family.
Speaking through an interpreter, who craved anonymity, Maimuna, who spoke in Hausa Language, told New Telegraph that she would have preferred that the whole family was wiped out instead of the seven who were believed to have been killed by the soldiers. The development, she said, had left her with the burden of life, especially the care of the remaining four little kids.
She said; “Every night, I see my husband and my children. They come to me in dreams and I cry a lot because when I wake up, I don’t see them again.
“Initially I did not believe they were dead, but almost two years after, I have realised the futility in the search efforts because they are neither in the hospitals nor in the prisons. We combed mortuaries too, but nothing was found. So, I believe they have been martyred, and I wished the whole family could have been so martyred.”
Meanwhile, if Maimuna is still in doubt of the whereabouts of her husband and children, it is not so for Hajia Amina Isa Ahmad, whose son spoke to her just before the soldier fired the shot that might have killed him.
Amina, who is in her 40s, is a Senior Computer Operator at the Institute of Computing and Information Technology, at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where her husband, Dr. Waziri Isa Gwantu is also a lecturer. She lost two sons – Hassan and Hussein Waziri (twin brothers); one stepson, Mohammed Waziri, and a stepdaughter, Fatimah Waziri.
As at the time of their alleged murder, the 19-year-old Hassan and Hussein Waziri just gained admissions to the Department of Library Science and Business Management respectively, while their stepbrother was a 300-level student of the Department of Computer Science, and Fatimah, a 200-level student of the same department, all at ABU.
According to Amina, her experience may be too traumatic to narrate; saying about two of her children had managed to narrate their ordeal to her on phone shortly before their last breath.
“But unfortunately, the soldiers had cordoned off everywhere and I could not rescue my children at the point of their death,” she told New Telegraph.
Responding to questions from our reporter, who had traced her to the ABU Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Shika near Zaria, where she had taken one of her remaining eight children for treatment, Hajia Amina’s eyes were full of tears, using her long scarf to mop it.
She explained; “On that very day, my husband had taken the children to Hussainiya Baqiyatullah. But while on his way, he heard gunshots and found out it was due to a misunderstanding between the military and the IMN members. He wasn’t surprised because about six months before then, Sheikh Elzakyzaky had informed members that he received security reports that the military was trying to feign an attack by IMN members so that they could hide under such false alarm to attack the Movement.
“He then decided to take the children to the home of Sheik instead of the event centre, hoping that they would be safer there, but he was wrong. When the soldiers finished with those at the Hussainiya, they moved to Sheik’s house and leveled the whole place.
“Where I was hiding, I saw Hussein when he was shot and was being taken by the members of the Movement’s medical team to a makeshift treatment centre. I wanted to jump out, but the other women held me back and tried to calm me down. In the evening on Sunday, December 14, my son called me on phone and could hardly talk because he had lost so much blood. He was gasping and told me the soldiers had found them out and were killing everybody. He said there were only few people to be killed before it would be his turn, and he prayed for forgiveness if he had offended me in any way. That was my last communication with my son.”
Amina further explained that his stepchildren, who she had been taking care of in her about 21 years of marriage, also died in similar circumstances. They were part of those allegedly gruesomely murdered by the soldiers at the home of the group’s leader.
Expressing his grief to New Telegraph, Amina’s husband, Dr. Waziri, said what was more painful to his family was that after killing his children, he was denied access to their corpses and could not bury them according to Islamic rites.
“They were buried in mass graves. What offence have we committed to deserve this kind of oppression? Not even in war is this permitted by laws”, Waziri cried.
In a similar development, the duo of Idris Umar and Alhaji Monsur Alli also had each child killed during the attack. Mahdi Idris was a 20-year-old son of Umar, while Alli’s Mohammed Kabir was 24 years old when they were mowed down.
According to the two parents, that their children were martyred had lessened their pain, but the fact that they were buried like animals was a sin they would never forgive the government for. They said they were ready to lose their lives for their faith and accused the Nigerian government of impunity.
Meanwhile, Jubril Tukur and Yusuff Abdulkareem, who live on 27, Mamman Yola Street, Hayin Dogo, Samaru Area of Zaria, were some of the lucky victims of the incident. They escaped the scene of the violence with wounds from gunshots.
According to Abdulkareem, he was shot on the thigh and suffered Femur Fracture. He had just gained admission to study Computer Science at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) shortly before the incident, and two years after, he is still nursing the wound and may have forfeited the admission.
Narrating his escape experience, he said he was just lucky to have fallen into a drainage after being shot, and that more than 10 hours after he was shot, he could not move out of the gutter.
He said; “But the following morning when men of the IMN medical team were moving round, they discovered my body. They had thought I was dead, but one of them saw my fingers moving, and picked me alongside others to the teaching hospital.
“But after few days at ABUTH, there was report that the soldiers were coming to raid the hospital to kill us, so we were moved discreetly to Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano where I spent five months at the orthopeadic unit. The Movement later flew me to Al-Zam Hospital in Tehran, Iran, where I spent a month between June and July, 2017.
“Today, I walk with the aid of the crutches and as soon as things improve, I hope to return to school.”
On his part, the 36-year-old Tukur, a shop owner and father of two, spent a year at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Kano, and since he was discharged, his ankle where he suffered gunshot was yet to fully heal.
Tukur’s business has since run down and now lives at the mercy of what his wife could make from her petty trading. “As you can see, where can I go with this leg for now? Until it is finally healed, I am living on the help from Allah and my wife is also trying to do her best. But no matter how hard, I still strongly believe in my faith and it cannot be killed by bullets from mere mortals.”
There are hundreds of similar stories across many homes in Kaduna, Zaria, Kano and every other cities and states, where members of the IMN live or lived, as the case may be. Many children are today orphaned and wives widowed as a result of an avoidable crisis.
How the crisis started
On Saturday, December 12, 2015, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, reportedly travelled from Dutse, Jigawa State capital to attend the Passing out Parade (PoP) ceremony of the 73rd Regular Recruits at the Nigerian Army Depot, in Zaria.
On the same day, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) was to commemorate its flag-hoisting event at its national headquarters- Hussainiya Baqiyatullah, which is located along the major Zaria-Sokoto highway, where the Chief of Army Staff was scheduled to pass.
Ahead of Buratai’s arrival and as it was the practice of the security operatives, advanced team of the Army Chief had staged patrol along the road, including the venue of the IMN’s programme. And on its part, members of the IMN, including men of the security and road traffic units, who were allegedly armed with batons, knives and machetes, also took positions on the road.
However, investigations by New Telegraph revealed that members of the IMN were scared of the presence of the soldiers at its event location. The fear, sources disclosed, might not be unconnected with similar clashes with the military in the past, especially on July 25, 2014, when about 34 members of the movement, including three sons of the leader of the Movement, Mahmud, Ahmad and Hamid Elzakyzaky, were killed.
The trio had taken part in the Movement’s annual procession, otherwise regarded as Quds Day Celebration, which was in solidarity with Palestinians over massive attack from Israel. The soldiers had allegedly opened fire on them following disagreement over rights of way.
As at the time of their death, Mahmud was a student of Al-Mustapha University, Beirut, Lebanon; Ahmad was studying Chemical Engineering at Shenyang University, China; and Hamid was an Aeronautical Engineering student at Xian University, China.
Thus, according to the Academic Forum of the Movement, the argument that ensued between the soldiers and the members of the Movement was not unnatural.
Meanwhile, while the argument was still on, the Chief of Army Staff arrived the scene, and his men forced their way through the crowd leaving many members of the Movement dead.
The Coordinator of the Academic Forum, Shuaib Ahmad, told New Telegraph that; “About an hour after the Army Chief left, there was reinforcement of the Army carrying heavy arms and box of ammunitions that resumed killing indiscriminately. We saw the Nigerian Army killing children who were confused and running for refuge outside the Hussainiyyah. They remained in that situation, killing any of the members at sight, while the brothers and sisters of the Movement, who were also armless, took cover inside the Hussainiyyah.
“The soldiers called on those inside the Hussainiyyah who are in their hundreds to come out of the Hussainiyyah with their hands up which some of them did, but were shot by the soldiers as they went out and this prevented the others from conceding. Later that night the Nigerian Army threw grenades at the Hussainiyyah, pulling down part of the wall to gain access. Those inside were taking cover as the soldiers have surrounded the entire building and were shooting indiscriminately and there was nowhere to go to.
“Soon, they cordoned off the entire area and took away the corpses of those they murdered. Some of the corpses at that time were deposited at the Mortuary of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Shika near Zaria. They later brought down the frontage of the Hussainiyyah and later leveled the entire structure on Sunday, 20th December, 2015.”
Attack on El-zakyzaky’s house in Gyallesu area.
Investigations by New Telegraph revealed that at about 9:00pm on the same day, more soldiers in some trucks arrived the residence of the leader of the Movement at Gyallesu Area of the city through the Congo Campus of ABU and shot ‘indiscriminately.’
Workers at the Federal College of Education, including a security personnel on the campus, who identified himself simply as Ilyasu, described the scene of the attack at the Gyallesu Area as Commando-like.
According to Ilyasu, the soldiers shot sporadically at the crowd and that rather than giving in, the IMN members simply kept shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (Allah is great), and that as they attempted to remove the corpses of their fallen members, the soldiers kept shooting and killing more, until they finally gained entry into the Sheik’s compound.
Ilyasu said in Hausa Language; “Few of us who were brave enough to watch, climbed up trees and saw the whole thing. I was afraid myself because anyone the soldiers saw in the neigbourhood was at risk. It was like a film.”
Ahmad said apart from the numerous members of the group who were killed at El-zakyzaky’s house, leading brothers of the Movement, including Sheikh Muhammad Mahmud Turi, “were martyred.”
“Also, they killed 3 children of Sheikh Zakzaky, namely Hammad, Ali and Humaid, and their mother, Hajia Zeenat Ibraheem was shot severally. Also killed at the scene was a journalist working with the Kaduna State Media Corporation (KSMC), Alhaji Ibrahim Usman. And at last, Sheik was brutally shot and was arrested with his wife and has since been kept in detention, even against court order,” he added.
Attacks on IMN’s cemetery, film village and park (Darur Rahma)
In furtherance of the attack, soldiers from the same 73rd Regular Recruits at the Nigerian Army Depot also moved to the Movement’s park, which comprises a film village, cemetery and farm, occupying a large expanse of land located in Dambo Area of the city.
When New Telegraph visited the site, there were rubbles from the demolished structures on the land and the burial ground which were scattered during the attack.
According to Ahmad, many lives of the Movement’s members who had taken refuge at the location were also claimed by the violence, and that the soldiers allegedly moved the bodies to the mortuary at the ABU Teaching Hospital at Shika.
Nigerian Army reacts
Though when New Telegraph tried to speak with the Nigerian Army’s Spokesman, Brigadier General Sani Usman, he failed to pick his calls on many occasions, and when he did pick, he requested that messages should be sent.
But when questions were sent to him via a text message, he refused to answer. However, the newspaper’s Defence correspondent (name withheld), who the Brigadier General Sani was already familiar with, sent the same questions through a text message by phone. But rather than responding to the questions, Sani simply sent a warning message that read; “Don’t ever send me this kind of thing.”
Meanwhile, in its memo submitted to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry that was set up over the crisis, in January 2016 by the Kaduna State Government, the Army had claimed the clash was an attack by the IMN on the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
The report of the Commission reads in part; “The COAS and his entourage left Dutse for Zaria at about 11:30va.m., and arrived at about 2:20 p.m. However, along Sokoto Road, close to the IMN’s shrine called “Hussainiyya Baqiyyatillah”, a group of suspected IMN members in their hundreds, armed with dangerous weapons, blocked the convoy of the COAS. Efforts were made to appeal to them to allow the COAS and his convoy passage, but they remained adamant, saying that it was only “Mallam”, meaning the leader of the movement, who could instruct them to grant access to the COAS. Specifically, the Director, Military Intelligence, Provost Marshall (Army) and the Acting Director, Public Relations pleaded with them for about thirty minutes to no avail.
“The Nigerian Army noted that the senior officers in the COAS convoy took considerable personal risk by leaving their vehicles and trying to persuade IMN members. After about thirty minutes, what appeared to be gunshots were heard coming from the direction of the shrine while some of the IMN members appeared to be flanking the Nigerian Army delegation from the sides as if to encircle them.”
The report added; “The troops responsible for the safety and security of the COAS had to act and clear the road when it became obvious that he was in danger. The NA further noted that prior to the incident, Zaria was peaceful and the team that came to receive the COAS and his entourage transited through the same route 20 minutes to the blockade without any sign of procession.
“The Nigerian Army also posited that the “ambush” was pre-planned and premeditated with the aim of causing harm or even eliminating the Chief of Army Staff as the IMN members’ motorcycles and cars were neatly parked and the road was littered with heavy stones and bonfires. This and the prevailing security situation in the country, as well as a previous attack on the COAS in Borno State, were given as the context from which the Nigerian Army’s action of ‘shooting through the blockade’ was taken.”
However, in its defence of the actions on the following days, the Nigerian Army noted that security reports had indicated that members of the IMN were planning to retaliate and that arms and ammunition belonging to the group were already stockpiled at the three locations of Hussainiya Baqiyatullah, El-zakyzaky’s house at Gyallesu and the Daruh Rahma on Dambo Area of the city. This, according to the report informed the Nigerian Army’s decision to descend heavily on the locations.
But in the report, the Nigerian Army did not list the weapons recovered from the locations, and never gave the number of casualties recorded on the part of its victims