Justice for the victims of the December 2015 bloody clash in Zaria, Kaduna State, during which soldiers dislodged a Shi’ite worship centre and residence of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, has remained elusive five years after.
Over 340 civilians, largely members of the IMN, were killed while a soldier also lost his life, according to official accounts. But the IMN at the time said over 1,000 of its members were killed.
Gyellesu, a bustling community located opposite the Samaru Campus of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, which played host to Sheikh Zakzaky and his IMN followers before the clash, was one of the places worst affected.
While some of those who survived the clash said they were still waiting to be compensated, the Kaduna State government told Daily Trust that it took over some properties around the scene of the carnage because of overriding public interest.
The government also said it has started implementing the recommendations of the judicial commission of inquiry it set up, including banning the IMN and compensating some of those deserving it.
However, most of the victims of the crisis said their details were only taken and nothing more.
Mohammed Inuwa Sheshi, 35, a tailor at Gyellesu settlement in Zaria, is one of the victims of the clash that took place in the ancient city in December 2015.
The dark memories of events that led to the crisis still linger in his mind.
Sheshi, who had lived in the area for about 15 years, told Daily Trust at his shop how, “Whenever I remember that incident, my heart freezes because of the shock and anxiety I experienced.
“Although the incident lasted for only about two days, the level of damage was monumental.”
But beyond the shock, he is also disappointed that five years after, the promises made by the government to compensate victims have not been fulfilled.
Widowed and broken
On a recent visit to Zaria, Daily Trust encountered two women who have been rendered widows by the clash.
Zainab Isa, who lost her husband and six male children during the clash, betrayed emotions as she expressed doubt over the prospect of getting justice for the killing of her loved ones.
She said: “On that fateful day, rumor had started filtering in that Hussainiyya was under attack. Being the first day of the month of Rabi’ul Awwal, which was slated for hoisting the Prophet’s flag to mark the beginning of Maulud, I asked my children to be at the venue since I was billed to go somewhere else.
“Around 1pm, we heard that Hussainiyya was tense and I decided to go there myself. But before I got there, the carnage had already taken place. I found the place under siege by armed soldiers while our children were trapped inside.
“Initially, my thought was that they [soldiers] were there for the POP (passing out parade) and would vacate the vicinity after the event. We also noticed a massive deployment of soldiers around Polo Ground, who opened fire on the crowd at Hussainiyya.”
Zainab left Hussainiyya but returned home the following morning without meeting her children and husband. She later found out that except for her youngest male child, the rest were either killed or had gone missing in the crisis.
She displayed their photographs, tears coursing down her cheeks. Asked how she had been coping five years after, Zainab, who said she has been doing some petty trading to survive with her only surviving son, simply said: “It is a trial of faith.”
On whether she expects justice from the government, she said: “There is nothing they can do to bring about redress to us in terms of justice. We are repressed.
“Look now, our children have been taken away from us, we don’t know their whereabouts for five years.
“Not all of them were killed; most of them were buried alive. Some were moved to unknown destinations.”
Another widow, Sherifat Salihu, who lost her husband and three children in the crisis, said life has not been the same for her since then.
“We were living happily with my husband and our children. My children were my pillars, the ones doing the house chores. I have been left empty after their deaths.
“No justice can come from government; even the commission of inquiry cannot bring about justice. I have sued them to Allah’s court.
“I will return to Allah and they are going there too. It is only when we meet before God’s Court that we can get justice,” she said.