Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria [IMN], otherwise known as Shi’ites, clashed with policemen during a renewed protest at the premises of the National Assembly on Tuesday last week. The clash, which resulted in a number of policemen and some IMN members sustaining injuries, was as a result of the latter’s attempt to break Assembly premises to protest against the continued detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky.
FCT Police Command said two policemen were shot in the leg while clubs and stones inflicted injuries on seven others. Command spokesman DSP Anjuguri Manzah also said at least 40 IMN members were arrested. He said when the protest which began as a peaceful procession turned violent, the police acted professionally and used minimum force to disperse the unruly protesters.
Media reports indicate that Shiite protests at the National Assembly have never been as violent as witnessed last week. On their arrival at the National Assembly complex, the Shi’ite allegedly overwhelmed security officials at the first gate and gained entrance into the second gate. The protesters, who carried posters bearing El-Zakzaky’s picture chanted “Allahu Akbar” and also wrote “Free Zakzaky,” “Buhari is a criminal” at various security checkpoints at the National Assembly. After forcing their way into the second gate, the policemen on duty fired shots into the air but the protesters retaliated by shooting catapults at the policemen. The protesters also proceeded to one of the federal secretariat buildings where they destroyed some cars, doors, windows and furniture.
On its part, IMN’s Academic Forum said it did not attack policemen at the National Assembly. The forum’s spokesman Abdullahi Musa said it was inconceivable that an unarmed person would attack fully armed policemen. He also said the youths that attacked and vandalised vehicles were not members of the sect but hoodlums used by the police to infiltrate their ranks and cause disorder. Witnesses to the events however dispute the Shi’ites’ claim that their protest at the National Assembly was entirely peaceful.
Forty-eight hours later, the protesting Shi’ites returned to Abuja city streets. Those that converged at the Federal Secretariat were intercepted by anti-riot policemen and marching towards Eagle Square. Trouble started when police arrested Nura Marafa and Mujaid Mohammed, who came forward to speak for IMN. The Shi’ites then attacked the policemen, who in turn fired teargas and opened fire. Workers at the secretariat fled in all directions to avoid being caught in the melee. The same day, the Shiites staged protests in other cities including Kaduna and Lagos.
On Wednesday last week, the House of Representatives called on the federal government to release El-Zakzaky in order to end the Shiites’ violent protests. Different courts have since ordered the Shi’ite leader’s release but the federal government failed to comply with the orders. In December 2016, for example, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja granted bail to El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenatudeen. The court, presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole ordered their immediate and unconditional release. The judge also fined the federal government N50 million for the duo’s incarceration. More than two and half years after this order, government not obeyed it, which portrays it in very bad light.
Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his wife have been in detention since the violent clash between Shiites and the military in Zaria on December 12 and 14, 2015. The clash was triggered by the Shi’ites who blocked the road and refused to allow the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Yusuf Buratai to pass despite several appeals from the military.
Although the crime for which El-Zakzaky is standing trial is not a bailable one, three and half years of detention is long enough to have concluded his trial. As suggested by the House of Reps, we urge government to find a way of resolving the stalemated trial of the IMN leader. If government fears the possibility of suspects jumping bail, they could be made to sign strict bail conditions.