The Amnesty International (AI) has accused the Nigerian military of mass slaughter of hundreds of men, women and children by soldiers in Zaria, saying that the attempted cover-up of the alleged crime demonstrates an utter contempt for human life and accountability.
The global human rights watchdog in a statement said that it has published evidence gathered on the ground revealing how the Nigerian military burned people alive, razed buildings and dumped victims’ bodies in mass graves.
The AI in its latest report titled “Unearthing the truth: Unlawful killings and mass cover-up in Zaria”, gave a shocking eyewitness testimony of large-scale unlawful killings by the Nigerian military and exposes a crude attempt by the authorities to destroy and conceal evidence.
According to the Al’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa, Mr. Netsanet Belay: “The true horror of what happened over those two days in Zaria is only now coming to light. Bodies were left littered in the streets and piled outside the mortuary. Some of the injured were burned alive,”
“Our research, based on witness testimonies and analysis of satellite images, has located one possible mass grave. It is time now for the military to come clean and admit where it secretly buried hundreds of bodies.”
The rights group stated that more than 350 people are believed to have been unlawfully killed by the military between 12 and 14 December, following a confrontation between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna, State.
Part of the statement read: “IMN supporters – some armed with batons, knives, and machetes – had refused to clear the road near their headquarters, the Hussainiyya, for a military convoy to pass. The army has claimed that IMN supporters attacked the convoy in an attempt to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff. IMN members deny this.
“Following an initial confrontation, the military surrounded other locations where IMN supporters had gathered, notably at the residential compound of IMN leader, Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky. Some people were killed as a result of indiscriminate fire. Others appeared to have been deliberately targeted.”
“All available information indicates that the deaths of protestors were the consequence of excessive, and arguably, unnecessary use of force.”
The AI also provided evidence of children alleged to have been either injured or killed including a 16-year-old schoolgirl named Zainab who was quoted to have said: “We were in our school uniforms. My friend Nusaiba Abdullahi was shot in her forehead. We took her to a house where they treated the injured but, before reaching the house, she already died.
” A 10-year-old boy who was shot in the leg told Amnesty International how his older brother was shot in the head as they tried to leave the compound. “We went out to try to shelter in a nearby house but we got shot.”
In the same vein, the human rights body claimed that many people were shot and burned alive, stating that on December 13, two buildings within Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky’s compound, one of which was being used as a makeshift medical facility and mortuary, were attacked by soldiers.
They claimed that the footage believed to have been shot on mobile phone by IMN supporters after the incident showed bodies with gunshot wounds as well as charred bodies strewn around the compound.
The AI further claimed that a certain 22-year-old student, named Alyyu, claimed that he was shot in the chest outside the compound and was taken inside for treatment: “There were lots of injured people in several rooms. There were dead bodies in a room and also in the courtyard. Around 12-1pm soldiers outside called on people to come out, but people were too scared to go out.
We knew they would kill us. Soldiers threw grenades inside the compound. I saw one soldier on the wall of the courtyard shooting inside.”
According to AI, a mother described a phone conversation with one of her 19-year-old sons before he was killed alongside his twin brother and their step brother and sister in the compound. “They are shooting those injured one by one,” he told her.
The human rights body said that as soldiers set fire to the makeshift medical facility in the compound that afternoon, Yusuf managed to escape despite serious gunshot wounds: “Those who were badly injured and could not escape were burned alive,” he told Amnesty International. “I managed to get away from the fire by crawling on my knees until I reached a nearby house where I was able to hide until the following day. I don’t know how many of the wounded were burned to death. Tens and tens of them.”
On the allegation of cover up, AI said that the military had after the confrontation, sealed off the areas around al-Zakzaky’s compound, the Hussainiyya and other locations.
The statement further read: “Bodies were taken away, sites were razed to the ground, the rubble removed, bloodstains washed off, and bullets and spent cartridge removed from the streets.
“Witnesses saw piles of bodies outside the morgue of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria. The hospital’s Chief Medical Officer told Amnesty International that the military sealed off the area around the morgue for two days. During that time he saw army vehicles ‘coming and going”.
“A witness described to Amnesty International what he saw outside the hospital mortuary on the evening of 14 December: ‘It was dark and from far I could only see a big mound but when I got closer I saw it was a huge pile of corpses on top of each other. I have never seen so many dead bodies. I got very scared and ran away. It was a terrible sight and I can’t get it out of my mind.”
“Another witness told the organisation how he had seen diggers excavating holes at the site of the suspected mass grave: ‘There were five or six large trucks and several smaller military vehicles and they spent hours digging and unloading the trucks’ cargo into the hole they dug and then covered it again with the earth they had dug out. They were there from about 1 or 2 am until about 5am. I don’t know what they buried. It looked like bodies, but I could not get near.”
AI also said that it identified and visited the location of a possible mass grave near Mando, adding that satellite images of the site taken on November 2 and December 24, 2015 show disturbed earth spanning an area of approximately 1000 square metres.
In addition, the rights group said that satellite pictures also show the complete destruction of buildings and mosques.
“It is clear that the military not only used unlawful and excessive force against men, women and children, unlawfully killing hundreds, but then made considerable efforts to try to cover-up these crimes,”
“Four months after the massacre the families of the missing are still awaiting news of their loved ones. A full independent forensic investigation is long overdue. The bodies must be exhumed, the incident must be impartially and independently investigated and those responsible must be held to account,” Belay demanded.