By Simon Ateba, Lagos
President Muhammadu Buhari has been in power since he replaced Mr. Goodluck Jonathan in May last year, but to Nigerian Shiites whose followers were massacred by the Nigerian Army last December, it seems Mr. Buhari is no more the Commander-in-chief of the armed forces. His silence since hundreds of Shiites were shot dead in Zaria last December shows he is highly incompetent and irresponsible, they said in a statement to TheSimonAtebaNews.
Mr. Buhari had told journalists in his maiden media chat that he would comment on the incident when the Judicial Commission of Inquiry by the Kaduna state government submits its report. But since the report was submitted in July, Mr. Buhari has failed to comment or direct that those involved be prosecuted. His silence made the Shiites hold a press conference calling for justice and the release of their leader in detention for over eight months.
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The Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, was reacting to claims by Mr. Buhari’s spokesman, Mr. Garba Shehu, that the Presidency and President Buhari have nothing to do with the continued detention of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky.
Mr. Shehu, who is the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari, was quoted by The Guardian newspaper as distancing President Buhari from the Zaria massacre, an incident that occurred last December when the Army killed about 400 followers of Zakzaky following a confrontation with some soldiers.
The Army had said that the life of General Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, was in danger on 12 December when some Shiites blocked a road he wanted to take. But IMN disputed that account, saying that the presence of the Army close to the site of their annual celebration led to tension with many worshippers trooping out and filling the road.
Mr. Shehu was quoted by The Guardian newspaper as saying that “the matter has nothing to do with the President, it is a state matter and the President has no hand in the matter. Does it really make any sense to believe that the President is blocking the release of their leader when the President has, as a matter of policy, refused to get involved in it? Let them take their case to Kaduna State government.”
IMN in a statement to TheSimonAtebaNews asked whether Mr. Buhari had abdicated his functions or given some of it to the Kaduna state government.
The movement said President Buhari’s silence since Kaduna state released its report last July and his utterances during his first media chat are proofs that he was complicit. Mr. Buhari had said during his maiden media chat that there cannot be a government within the government.
Some Nigerians in Kaduna had accused Zakzaky and his followers of behaving like a government within a government. They said, they used to block roads during their events without seeking approval from the state government. Their excesses angered many people who hope that someone was one day going to call them to order. But IMN had always rejected such accusations.
The Shiites had accused Saudi Arabia of using Mr. Buhari who is a Sunni to finish them in Nigeria. The Shiites are mainly found in Iran, the bitter rival of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.
Below is a statement issued by the IMN
COMPLICITY OF PRESIDENCY IN ZARIA MASSACRE AND DETENTION OF SHAIKH ZAKZAKY IS NOT IN DOUBT AND CANNOT BE WISHED AWAY
Following a Press Conference by the Free Zakzaky Campaign Committee in Kaduna in which the position of the IMN with regards to the published report and recommendations of the Kaduna State Judicial Commission of Inquiry (JCI) was made clear, the Presidency swiftly responded by trying to deny any involvement in the brutal Zaria massacre.
The Guardian newspaper of 12th August 2016 reported that the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, “distanced President Buhari from the travails of El-Zakzaky, saying it was purely a matter within the jurisdiction of the Kaduna State government.” It further quoted the Presidential mouthpiece as saying “the matter has nothing to do with the President, it is a state matter and the President has no hand in the matter. Does it really make any sense to believe that the President is blocking the release of their leader when the President has, as a matter of policy, refused to get involved in it? Let them take their case to Kaduna State government.”
This is however a clear evasion of responsibility and the Presidential spokesman needs to have a quick rethink and a check of reality. The JCI has given a damning report of the Nigerian Army’s role in the massacre. It stopped short of pointing accusing fingers at the presidency when it became glaringly clear to them that the massacre was indeed ordered directly by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces as required by the Nigerian constitution. Denial in itself does the Presidency no good because if truly he had no hand in it, and for the last nine months he failed to take any action against those who violated the Constitution of the Federal Republic with impunity and also usurped his constitutional powers, it is more than enough proof of his incompetence and ineptitude.
More so, if the presidential spokesman’s assertion that the issue was entirely within the jurisdiction of the Kaduna state government is to be believed, would we then be correct to say that the President has abdicated his responsibilities and ceded same to Kaduna state Governor Nasir El-Rufai as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces, who then commandeered the army on a massacre mission for over 48 hours? Is Garba Shehu trying to tell us that his boss has lost control or he lacks the competence, will or ability to discharge his functions like he swore to do? Does this then tally with common sense?
The body language of the President since the attack leaves no one in doubt about his complicity in it from start to finish. It is not something that a Special Assistant would just wish away. The President has nevertheless long given himself away. He was forced to speak on the Zaria massacre after a long but deliberate silence over the attack. When he did comment during his maiden media chat, he could not hide his hate and hurt deep in the heart, which even his facial expression manifested. He tried to justify the attack by levelling some spurious allegations such as ‘running a government within a government’ and others. The President never issued condolences to families of those killed nor sympathised with the victims of the attack, even after the JCI had declared massive extra-judicial killings of hundreds of citizens by soldiers, of whom he is the ultimate commander. Having poured his venomous comments during the media chat, he then urged people to wait for the report of the commission, knowing that they have since schemed how to blame victims and absolve the assailants.
The president’s clear pre-knowledge of the whole incidence before its occurrence again manifested when under the pretence of visit to Saudi Arabia. He was seen with key figures that played leading roles in the massacre or its justification in what looks like a victory and celebration party. This same President also told Al-Arabiyya TV station in Qatar that his government had to attack IMN in December because they are like a parallel government and was getting too close to Iran.
A further proof that the President indeed not only had a pre-knowledge of the attack but actually ordered it came from a leaked audio recordings during a secret meeting in Kebbi State, where a leading Salafi cleric disclosed an earlier secret pact with the President, in which he reassured them on return from his trip from Iran that he was to clamp down on IMN. Neither the President nor his media aide denied that. Does this still not tally with common sense that the President is fully involved in the Zaria massacre of innocent unarmed civilians?
A further question for the Presidential spokesman would be why are both Shaikh Zakzaky and his wife being detained by the Department of State Security (DSS) if the presidency was not involved? Is the DSS now an agency of the Kaduna state government? Why did it have to take the involvement of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) before anyone, even the Kaduna state established JCI, could access Shaikh Zakzaky if it was purely Kaduna state affair? The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs under the Sultan of Sokoto similarly went through the office of the Inspector General of Police, then through the AGF and DSS before they were allowed to see the Shaikh. All these are agents of the Federal government and not Kaduna state government. How would the Presidential mouthpiece explain this?
Clearly, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu has quibbled and goofed. His swift response on this very sensitive issue is too cheap and misleading. The Presidency rather needs to swiftly react to the whole of its definite complicity in the Zaria massacre, not through denial of the obvious, but through acceptance of truth and doing justice to all victims of its actions. The Presidency must also order for the immediate and unconditional release our Leader Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, whose health is fast deteriorating and all others being unjustifiably detained on this matter.
PRESIDENT MEDIA FORUM OF IMN