An official inquiry into clashes between members of a Shia minority group and the Nigerian military has stated the Nigerian Army’s response to altercations in Zaria, Kaduna State, between December 12 and 14, 2015 was “disproportionate”.

Members of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, a Shia group, demand the release of the group’s leader, Sheik Ibrahim Zakzaky, who was arrested on December 14, 2015. 

© AP Photo/Muhammed Giginyu

The report of the Kaduna State Judicial Commission of Inquiry, which was released on July 31, found that 349 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) were killed during the clashes. This confirms earlier findings by Human Rights Watch that more than 300 IMN members were killed by soldiers in a heavy-handed, unjustifiable use of lethal force.

While the Commission criticized the IMN for “widespread and habitual acts of lawlessness and defiance of constituted authorities across the nation”, it condemned the army’s response as excessive. Soldiers, it found, had “shot their way through the blockade” set up by IMN members along the road to the group’s Hussainniya Baqiyyatullah mosque complex, killing seven IMN members, and injuring 11.

At least 342 IMN members were killed during violent clashes that followed the deployment of soldiers to other IMN sites in Kaduna over the course of the next three days. A soldier, Corporal Dan Kaduna Yakubu, was also killed during those clashes.

Contrary to the army’s claims, the report states that no large cache of arms was found at any the five properties belonging to the IMN and its leader Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky. According to the report, what was found were bows and arrows, catapults, sticks, and a few dane (local hunting) guns.

The Commission recommended that members of the military involved in unlawful killings and IMN members who participated in the soldier’s death should be brought to trial.

So far, only IMN members have been arrested and prosecuted for causing the killing of Corporal Yakubu during the December events. The group’s leader, Sheik El Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat were arrested on December 14, 2015, and are still being held in what the secret police describe as “protective custody” in Abuja.

Political and military authorities in Nigeria should heed the Commission’s recommendations and take immediate steps to hold those responsible for the illegal use of lethal force to account and to pay compensation to the victims. The authorities should release El Zakzaky and Zeenat from detention, or bring credible charges against the couple in a properly constituted court.