Prominent human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, has called for the prosecution of the Chief of Army, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, and soldiers involved in the attack on the Shi’ite movement and their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, in Zaria, Kaduna State.
A clash between members of the Shi’ite sect and the convoy of the army chief on December 12 and 13 in Zaria, left at least 300 people dead, the Human Rights Watch said.
The soldiers attached to Mr. Buratai’s convoy had accused Shi’ite members of blocking a public highway and attempting to assassinate Mr. Buratai, a claim the Islamic Movement in Nigeria has since denied.
“Assuming that the Shi’ite members actually blocked the road, why was the nuisance not reported to the police? Are the authorities of the Nigerian Army above the law of the land?” Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said in a statement Wednesday.
“The army authorities have refused to release the bodies of those who were massacred to their families for burial while the personal physicians of the injured ones and their family members have been denied access to them”.
The Lagos lawyer disclosed that no fewer than 300 members of the sect, without allowing them access to lawyers, had been taken to a Magistrate Court over the past two days on the basis of First Information Reports.
“The suspects were refused bail by the Magistrate who ordered that they be remanded in prison custody”, Falana said.
“The leader of the group, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife who were also shot by the blood thirsty goons were taken away and dumped in a military custody. Up till now, their whereabouts are unknown.
“Although Sheik El-Zakzaky is reported to have been transferred from a military custody to a police station, he has been denied access to his personal physicians and lawyers”.
Mr. Falana reminded the Army and Police Authorities that under a “repressive” military junta, the right of access to detainees was fought and won.
“Thus, in Chief Gani Fawehinmi v. General Sani Abacha (1996) 5 NWLR (PT 447) 198 at 202, the Court of Appeal ordered the Attorney-General of Federation, Inspector-General of Police and the operatives of the State Security Services to allow the wife and personal physicians of the appellant, a political detainee, to have access to him in prison custody ‘at all reasonable times’.
“In requesting the Inspector-General of Police to allow access to the detainees his attention ought to be drawn to Section 14(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act which provides as follows:
“A person who has the custody of an arrested suspect shall give the suspect reasonable facilities for obtaining legal advice, access to communication for taking steps to furnish bail, and otherwise making arrangements for his defence or release’”.
The rights lawyer, therefore, urged the police boss to allow the sect members access to their families, personal physicians, and legal practitioners “at all reasonable times”.
“Having undertaken to end impunity in the country, President Buhari should ensure that the Chief of Army Staff and all the soldiers who took part in the violent attack and arson in Zaria are brought to book without any further delay”, Falana declared.