New York Times says it has obtained a video showing Nigerian soldiers killing unarmed Shiites protesting against the detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky.
The Nigerian Army had admitted killing six members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria along the Abuja-Zuba Expressway between October 27 and 29, 2018.
The army claimed that the protesters who were armed with stones and petrol bombs attacked soldiers from the Army Headquarters Garrison on official duties, escorting ammunition and missiles from Abuja to the Army Central Ammunition Depot in Kaduna State.
However, New York Times has contradicted the army, saying a video it had obtained had shown that the soldiers shot at civilians who were fleeing the scene.
The report reads, “But a close review of video from the largest and most deadly of the protests, as well as interviews with more than a dozen witnesses, clearly shows the military opening fire on unarmed demonstrators, sometimes shooting indiscriminately into the crowd at close range as people turned and tried to flee.
“Photos and videos recorded that day show at least 26 bodies. The group said it had collected a total of 49 bodies during four days of protests.
“The killings are the latest example of a military that for years has been accused of human rights abuses, with rarely any punishment or action taken, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s promises to crack down on military violations and restore security to the country.”
According to the American newspaper, some of the corpses had gunshot wounds to the back, indicating that they were shot while fleeing.
It added, “But the video from the march clearly contradicts those claims. The melee began that day as more than 1,000 marchers approached a military checkpoint. Soldiers arrived to block off the road. An armoured vehicle with high-calibre weapons patrolled the highway. After soldiers began to fire, they targeted protesters fleeing the chaos. Many of the injured were shot in the back or legs.”
The newspaper noted that the killing of Shiite protesters six weeks ago generated little outrage in the country as neither Buhari nor his government’s critics condemned the killings.
The president’s “turn-a-blind-eye approach has bolstered the military’s culture of impunity,” a former top expert on Nigeria for the United States Department of State Matthew Page told New York Times.
“Nigerians’ growing frustration with insecurity — whether it be kidnapping, armed robbery, communal violence or terrorist attacks — outweighs the disgust they feel about human rights abuses by security forces.”
But the Acting Director, Defence Information, Brig Gen John Agim, who said he had yet to watch the video, denied that soldiers were involved in human rights abuses during the recent protests in the country.
He said the video could have been manipulated to make Nigerian soldiers look bad, calling it “ stage managed.”
Agim said Shiite protesters often “cause a lot of disruption”.
He added, “They destroy other people’s cars. They disrupt traffic.
“When they attack the military, what do you expect soldiers to do?”
He said the military had retrieved weapons from protesters, including knives and homemade firebombs. “Of course, there will be a necessary course of action,” Agim said.
Amnesty International has disputed statements attributed to the military justifying the killing of Shiite marchers.