The National Human Rights Commission has started investigating the killings of eight persons in Zamfara State on Monday over alleged blasphemy.
The Executive Secretary of the commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, disclosed this in a text message to reporters on Tuesday evening in Abuja.
Angwe said the office of the NHRC in Sokoto, Sokoto State, had been directed to commence investigation into the case.
The NHRC office in Sokoto covers Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states.
“We have already asked our Sokoto office to proceed there to commence investigation,” Angwe’s text message read.
Reacting to the incident, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Sebastine Hon, and President of the Committee for Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, said the suspected killers should be arrested and treated as murderers.
Describing the incident as barbaric and condemnable, they urged the police to immediately commence investigation and bring the suspects to book.
Falana said although the Monday’s incident was not surprising because the Nigerian security forces had consistently indulged in similar extrajudicial killings, it was one killing too many.
Falana, who referred to the killing of hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, otherwise known as Shi’ites by some soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State last December, said any country where the rule of law was absent, anarchy would usually be the order of the day.
He said, “The extrajudicial killing of eight unarmed Nigerians on allegation of apostasy is very barbaric and unacceptable.
“The police must move in speedily to investigate, arrest the suspects and charge them to court without any delay.
“Much as the brutal killing is condemnable, it is not new given the fact that security forces in our country have consistently engaged in extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects and other innocent demonstrators without any justification.
“In other words, if a government can announce publicly that its soldiers killed 248 citizens and buried their body in a shallow grave, what do you expect?
“This is one killing too many. From the North to the South and from the East to the West, it is the killing of demonstrators.”
On his part, Hon said even though blasphemy against any religion was an offence known to law, no one had the right to take the life of another person without following the due process of law.
He said the incident was a pure case of murder and the suspects should be treated as such.
Hon said, “Neither the constitution of Nigeria nor any other law permits any person or any group of persons to take the life of a human being without following due process of law except if it is done under self defence, among others.
“The fact that somebody has blasphemed a particular religion is a crime known to the Penal Code Act. It is also a crime against public peace because it is capable of igniting a riot.
“So, people aggrieved by blasphemy should report to the police rather than take the law into their own hands by killing the alleged offender.
“I state without any equivocation that the perpetrators of this crime are murderers and they should be treated as such.
“If everybody takes the life of another person because of a wrongdoing, then there will be nobody living in Nigeria again.”
The CDHR President, Ugwummadu, said the police should waste no time to take up the case, urging the law enforcement operatives to visit the full weight of the law on the perpetrators whom he said had committed “outright murder.”
The lawyer said, “The presumption of innocence under section 36(5) of the Constitution is still in favour of every Nigerian, no matter the allegation against such a person.
“Therefore, it will be completely illegal, barbaric and unacceptable within the present constitutional arrangement for anybody to take the law into his own hands by taking another person’s life. It is against the constitution.
“The law enforcement agencies, particularly the Nigerian police, should waste no time, should suffer no ambivalence and they should take advantage of this concrete case and stop this madness once and for all.”
Meanwhile, the Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, on Wednesday said his government would not take the Monday’s killings lightly.
He said all the culprits would be brought to book.
Yari spoke with State House correspondents shortly he and the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The governor, who said the incident happened in his hometown, said he would not fold his hands while people take the laws into their own hands.
He said, “The government will not take the issue of people taking the laws into their own hands lightly.
“You cannot say that whoever abused the Prophet should be killed, and you kill innocent people when there is a government in place.
“There are laws and there are courts where Islamic laws are practised in Zamfara. So, why should someone take laws into his own hands? Definitely, all the culprits will be brought to book.”
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar-led Jama’atu Nasril Islam, while condemning the killing, called on state governments in the North to hasten mechanism to stop repeated acts of blaspheming of Islam in the region.
The JNI’s Secretary-General, Dr. Khalid Aliyu, in an mailed statement on Wednesday said individual Muslims were not jurists and therefore, did not have the right to pass judgment on emotions.
The JNI noted that the nasty behaviour of some miscreants should not be misconstrued as the Islamic teaching, urging Nigerians to remain calm and avoid acts that could jeopardise the peaceful co-existence in the country.
The statement read in part, “…This recurring matter is becoming tediously monotonous and remains condemned in the strongest terms. The unfortunate attacks that ensued thereafter are criminal and also stand condemned. We reiterate that human lives are sacred and therefore must be dignified. That has been the position of Islam.”