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Friday, January 1, 2016

MEETING WITH THE CHIEF OF ARMY STAFF





On Wednesday 16th December 2015, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), under the leadership of His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar CFR, mni, the Sultan of Sokoto, and President-General, NSCIA, held an emergency meeting at the Abuja National Mosque. I was present, and the meeting was to discuss the unfortunate incident, which claimed tens of lives in Zaria, Kaduna State. At the meeting, a ten-man Special Committee was given the task of establishing contact with all the parties concerned with a view to ascertaining the fact of the matter and be rightly guided. Members of the committee are as follows:

  • Prof. Dawud O.S Noibi
  • Abubakar B. Tsau
  • Muzzammil Sani Hanga
  • Yunus Ustaz Usman (SAN)
  • Ishaq Kunle Sanni
  • Ibrahim Sulaiman
  • Is-haq Oloyede OFR, FNAL, FNIM
  • Abdur Rahman Ahmad
  • Gen. Abdullahi Bagudu  Mamman (rtd)
  • Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad



Subsequently, the special committee held its first meeting at the office of the Secretary General, NSCIA, Professor Is-haq Oloyede. At that meeting, the Committee agreed on a number of issues. Part of the issues was to write to seek audience with the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and to copy other stakeholders in the maintenance of law and order. The letters would urge them to use their good offices to arrange a meeting of the Special Committee and Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, who was said to be in the custody of the Nigerian Army at that time.


The letters were dispatched on Thursday 17th December 2015. Although notice of at least twenty-four hours was advised in the letters as time required to assemble the committee members who are located in different parts of the country, the office of the Chief of Army Staff, hoping that members were still in Abuja, called to convey the COAS’s readiness to receive the committee by 4:15pm that very day. 

The Secretariat of the Council was able to summon eight members of the Special Committee for the meeting with the Chief of Army Staff, which commenced right on schedule with introductions from both sides. Professor Is-haq Oloyede introduced members of the Special Committee to the meeting: 

Prof. Dawud O.S Noibi, Chairman of the Committee, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, Secretary General, NSCIA, Muzzammil Sani Hanga, Mr Femi Abbas, Sheikh Abdur Rahman Ahmad  and Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad.



Colonel SK Usman, Acting Director, Army Public Relations was the master of ceremonies. He introduced the senior officers in the meeting: 


Lieutenant General TY Buratai, COAS, Major General LKJ Ogunewe, Chief of Policy and Plans, Major General AA Salihu, Chief of Logistics, Major General AB Abubakar, Chief of Administration, Brigadier General ASH Sa’ad, Brigadier General AT Hamman, Provost Marshal, and Colonel (now Brigadier General) KO Aligbe, Principal Staff Officer to COAS.




In his opening remarks, Prof. Noibi intimated the gathering on the purpose of this Special Committee which is to verify the veracity of information making the rounds in the media ‘concerning the events of last Saturday’. He said as Muslims we should not form opinions on hearsay or unsubstantiated rumour (al-Hujuraat, 49:6). He also said that the duty of NSCIA is to offer counsel on what needs to be done to douse tension, maintain peace, and guarantee fair treatment for all. He concluded by reiterating the Committee’s desire to have access to the leader of the other group, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General TY Buratai responded by appreciating the concern of NSCIA ‘in this avoidable incident’. According to him, everybody can exercise their freedom of association and assemblage as Nigerians without infringing ‘on other citizen’s rights’. He pointed out that the Army as an institution has the constitutional responsibility of bringing any situation capable of threatening peace under control. The Muslim group under the aegis of Sheikh El-Zakzaky, to his mind, took the law into its hand, and acted as an authority unto itself. He said they blocked the road and when officers travelling with him tried to plead for a passage for him and his convoy, the group was deaf to all entreaties. Lieutenant General Buratai also hinted at the fact that most of the officers at the meeting were with him during the incident as well as personnel of the DSS and members of the press. 
He stated that it was only after the first gunshot by the Islamic Movement group that his convoy had to force its way into the blockade, acting, in the process, ‘according to the rules of engagement’. The gunshot, he said, occasioned the ‘cordon and search operation’ by the Army in collaboration with other security agencies on Sheikh El-Zakzaky’s residence and the group’s shrine in order to recover arms and weapons the existence of which was established by intelligence reports. The Chief of Army Staff said at the end of the discussion a video clip would be shown to members, which will help them dispel false images and videos on the social media, and to asses for themselves the level of provocation by the Muslim group that his convoy was confronted with. On Sheikh El-Zakzaky, Buratai said the Army is not against him as a person, but that nobody should be allowed to take the law into their own hands; law and order, he said must be maintained by all means necessary. Sheikh El-Zakzaky, he concluded, ‘has been handed over to the appropriate authority’; therefore, the Committee could seek to meet with him from the relevant agency.

After members of the press dispersed, the meeting went into a closed door session where the video clip of what happened in Zaria was shown. A similar clip went viral online but this was more detailed and longer. Most of the officers in the meeting featured prominently in the video, not least Colonel SK Usman, the Acting Director, Army Public Relations. In the video, he was seen vigorously negotiating with people from the other side most of them youth brandishing all sorts of local weapons - machetes, catapults, bows and arrows, etc., and who were saying in the Hausa language, ‘Only Malam can make us give way to anybody.’ Colonel Usman was seen making a phone call; he interjected while the video was still playing, and said when contact was established with Husainiyyah (the group’s shrine) the response was ‘Since the boys are not willing to let you pass, there is nothing we can do.’

The officers drew attention of the meeting to some scenes in the video where some people were holding gallons containing what seemed to be inflammable liquids, moving further away from the epicentre of the crisis, as if they were trying to encircle the convoy of the COAS.  

Then suddenly the whole place was empty except for the Army vehicles in the COAS convoy. Doubtless, the video, at that point, was subjected to editing. The Committee raised the issue on how the road was deserted; the answer was that the Army had to clear the road, after the gunshot from the Islamic Movement group, ‘with minimum force’; that during the shootings, all the cameramen had to be in the cars and stop filming. 

After watching the video clip, the Chief of Army Staff then started another session by drawing the attention of the Council’s Special Committee to the fact  that members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria were aware of his presence in Zaria. The blockade of his path by youth wielding all sorts of weapons, according to him, was predetermined, an act that has become the hallmark of the group, as many eminent Nigerians have been subjected to this ill-treatment and utter humiliation. He asked if, as members of the Islamic Movement claimed ‘that they are despised’ by other Muslims, how does that bring him into the picture of this intra-strife to make him an object of their revenge, and how does that connect him and his convoy with this sectarian divide? This whole incident, he said, was not about him as a person, but about an institution saddled with the onerous duty of safeguarding the nation; ‘If I or any officer with me had decided to change our route as demanded by the El-Zakzaky group, many soldiers were prepared to drop their uniforms rather than reduce the Army to that demeaning position.’

The Secretary General, NSCIA asked a question which he directed at the COAS: ‘Don’t you think you could have achieved a lot without killing much people? In addition, if the problem was confined to blocking of your path by the Muslim group, and you were able pass through by whatever means you employed, why return to their place afterwards, causing death and destruction in the process?’

Other questions from the Committee members were: What are you doing to deescalate the crisis? What is the actual number of the dead, and when are they going to be handed over to their relatives for proper burial? Are the injured receiving adequate treatment? Why is the Army not doing much in information dissemination in order educate the public on the vital issues presented to us today?



The Chief of Army Staff responded first before allowing other senior officers to comment on their assessment of the situation and their roles in either penetrating the blockage on the road by the Islamic Movement group or the cordon and search operation in El-Zakzaky’s residence that came afterwards. The following was expressed by the senior officers: 

  • The incident was regrettable; individuals and groups must realise that exercising your human rights ends where that of others starts.
  • A gunshot was heard during the standoff between the convoy of COAS and the El-Zakzaky group. It was after this gunshot that the soldiers had to react after exercising a lot of restraint.
  • Forestalling further escalation of violence became necessary due to the gunshot episode which necessitated the cordon and search on the Husainiyyah shrines. Before the commencement of the operation, contact was established with El-Zakzaky to surrender both himself and the arms under his charge but he remained obdurate; and repeated public announcements were made urging people in the vicinity to leave the area, and return only when it is over. While many heeded the call, some, especially the votaries at Husainiyyah, decided to remain behind.
  • The Military Code of Conduct was strictly adhered to in order to reduce ‘collateral damage’  that is inevitable in such operation which was akin to a war situation where a group has elevated itself to the level of ‘a country within a country’, with its own ‘governors’ in most states of the Federation.  The operation was conducted spontaneously in the interest of the country. ‘We should have a country first, before we can aspire to defend one.’
  • The purpose of the cordon and search was not to kill as many people as possible. Hence many were arrested. ‘Although there were casualties on both sides, the number being bandied especially on the social media was exaggerated.
  • Investigations revealed that not all Shiites are in support of El-Zakzaky’s modus operandi in propagating his ideology. Many of them do not accept most of what the Islamic Movement of Nigeria does, thus, rather than call them Shiites, the army chose to christen them members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, as they describe themselves.
  • Those who know these facts could convey them to those who do not. People may be more receptive to the story if it was told by a neutral party to the crisis.
I will conclude by appealing to all parties to exercise restraint, and eschew escalating the crisis by words or deeds capable of inflaming an already heightened tension over this ‘avoidable incident’. Let us allow the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, under the leadership of His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar CFR, mni, mitigate this matter. Other bodies working towards this goal include the National Human Rights Commission, and the Kaduna State Government.

Let us all ‘give peace a chance’!



2 comments :

  1. There is no way a nation will run a lawless society and expect to achieve peaceful coexistence. We have to wake up and recognize the need to live in peace and allow the peace to reign.
    Elzakzaky has been parading himself above the law and it is not good for our well being. The way and manner in which he brainwashed his followers to trek from Kano to Zaria is a clear indication of how inhumane I use to see him.

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  2. Assalam-O-Alikum

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