The Nigerian army killed 349 people from the minority Shia Muslim sect last December in a series of clashes for which troops involved should be prosecuted, a judicial inquiry has concluded in a report.
How the authorities respond to the findings may indicate the extent to which reform is implemented under a drive by President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, to root out human rights violations by soldiers.
The report confirms claims by rights groups such as Amnesty International that the army killed hundreds of Shia Muslims during three days of clashes in the northern city of Zaria. The army has repeatedly denied this.
“The Nigerian army used excessive force,” stated the report by a commission appointed by Kaduna state, where Zaria is located. “The commission therefore recommends that steps should immediately be taken to identify the members of the Nigerian army who participated in the killings of 12-14 December 2015 incident with a view to prosecuting them.”
The army has said Shias had blocked its chief of staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, and tried unsuccessfully to assassinate him. “We are aware that the report has been made public and we are studying it,” a Nigerian army spokesman, Sani Usman, said on Monday.
The report stated that 349 people, including a soldier, were killed in the violence: “Of the said 349 dead persons, 347 (excluding the soldier) were buried in a mass grave.”
The commission said it received 3,578 memoranda – 132 letters and 3,446 emails – along with 39 exhibits and 87 witnesses testimonies in the course of the inquiry and the writing of the 193-page report.
Africa’s most populous country has about 180 million people, including several thousand Shias whose movement was inspired by the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.
The majority of Nigeria’s tens of millions of Muslims are Sunni.