The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, monday gave his own account of how he escaped death at the hands of suspected members of the Shi’ite Islamic sect, whom he claimed,attacked his convoy at the weekend in Zaria, Kaduna State.
This came as the Shiite group alleged that the army was deliberately exploiting religious sectarian sentiments to instigate the uninformed public, some of whom it said, were allegedly killing innocent and unarmed members of the movement at sight.
It alleged that about 1,000 of its members were killed by soldiers, following the clash with Buratai’s convoy.
Meanwhile The army chief while speaking with journalists during an interview shortly after he appeared alongside other service chiefs before the Senate Committee on Defence in the National Assembly Complex, Abuja said his convoy was attacked despite pleas by a detachment of soldiers for the sect members to remove the blockade they mounted on the highway.
He said it was after the refusal of the Shi’ite sect members to clear the road despite their pleas that they tried to force their way out, resulting to the loss of many lives as the soldiers reportedly opened fire on them.
Buratai maintained that the Shi’ite Islamic sect members were violent, attributing his escape to the will of God.
He said: “You want to know how I escaped? It was by the will of God that I was able to escape from that place.
“I think NTA was there and they aired the clip, it was very clear. They were violent. Definitely this is very clear. The clips are there. That was what happened.”
Speaking further, Buratai also urged Nigerians to be law abiding, saying “nobody should take the law into his hands.”
Also speaking on the issue, the Minister of Defence, Brigadier-General Muhammad Dan-Ali (rtd), said the federal government had commenced investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile , while addressing a press conference on the issue yesterday evening, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Mechanised Division of the Nigerian Army, Kaduna, Maj-Gen. Adeniyi Oyebade, confirmed that the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zazaky and his wife were being detained at a military facility in Kaduna.
Oyebade said contrary to reports that leader of the Shiite sect was arrested on Sunday, the sect leader and wife were arrested by the army in the early hours of monday.
“El-Zalzaky and wife are in safe custody in a save military facility here and in due time he will speak to his members” the GOC said.
Oyebade disclosed that army also suffered casualties in the melee, adding that the casualty figure(s) were still being collated.
He, however, denied allegations that the army refused to allow members of the sect to carry corpses of their dead members for burial
Oyebade, who maintained that the army acted with the rules of engagement, said the army had no option than to protect the Gen. Buratai.
The GOC noted that the army had to return fire-for-fire to protect the COAS or anybody in their protective custody.
Oyebade said both the army and the sect suffered casualties in the melee, adding that the casualty figure(s) were still collated.
He also denied refusing the sect members from carrying the corpses of their dead members for burial.
But the Shiite group said the soldiers were busy evacuating the corpses of the 1,000 of its members killed during the incident to unknown destination in order to cover up for the alleged genocide.
In a statement yesterday in Kaduna, President of the Media Forum of the Movement, Mallam Ibrahim Musa, claimed that the army “is at present dressing corpses of members of the Movement with military attire and snapping still pictures to probably display them as soldiers killed by the movement during the attack as a means of propaganda, whereas it was solely an attack by the army on unarmed citizens.”
The sect also alleged that soldiers were busy evacuating the corpses of members of the sect killed during the incident to unknown destination in order to cover up for the alleged genocide.
The statement disclosed that apart from the about 1,000 people that were killed by soldiers, hundreds of other members of the sect who sustained various degrees of injuries from gunshots and needed of medical attention, were being denied access to medical facilities.
“The army has also stationed road blocks in Zaria picking out innocent unarmed people that look like members of the Movement and killing them in cold blood.
“Even today they put an army road block in Zaria to Kaduna highway near Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, searching for suspected member of the Islamic Movement. The most weired of many of such cases is that of an army road block at Dogarawa near Zaria where they killed 30 of our members travelling to Zaria on Sunday.
“We wish to state here that some of those earlier declared dead through various sources might not have been killed but might be severely injured and in need of assistance.”
The statement further said: “a source has confirmed that the Army has taken the revered leader of the Movement, Sayyid Ibraheem Zakzaky, from his house this morning and is receiving treatment for injuries he sustained during the attack” declaring that they should be allowed immediate access to their leader as a means of taming the situation from aggravating unnecessarily.
“We believe that the army is clearing the corpses to unknown locations for mass burial to cover up for it’s crime. We hereby demand unequivocally that they should release the corpses to us, so that we can give them a proper Islamic burial.
“The people they killed are not foreigners, they are citizens with their relatives known.
The army should stop the unnecessary stage management of the whole incident making it look like what it is not through false and provocative press statements, incitement and ground activities which might not augur well for everyone.
The statement called on the international community to join the movement in condemning the killings.
However, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi II, yesterday described the incident in Zaria as very unfortunate.
Sanusi stressed the need for all Nigerians irrespective of their religious or political affiliations to desist from anything would could breach the peace.
Speaking while receiving some members of the Shi’ite group who visited him in his palace in Kano, the emir said the advice was necessary especially now that the country is fighting insurgency.
He also advised other religious organisations against acts capable of fomenting trouble in the country.
He called on the people to always exercise restraint in order to ensure peace and unity in the country.
Sanusi prayed God to grant eternal rest to all those who lost their lives during the incident and the injured speedy recovery.
He also played God to prevent future occurrence and urged Nigerians to continue to pray for the sustenance of peace in the country.