By The Punch
Scores of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria were injured on Monday in Abuja during a clash with policemen at the Maitama area of the city.
It was gathered that the police arrested about 115 Shiite members who were protesting against the continued incarceration of their leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky, by the Federal Government.
The protesters had moved to the National Human Rights Commission when the police swooped on them and fired tear gas canisters at them to break up the protest.
The Shiite members in turn, threw stones at the policemen, damaging many parked vehicles and injuring passersby and motorists.
Their action infuriated the cops who responded with live bullets, some of which hit the Nigerian Communications Commission building and other offices in the vicinity.
The security personnel also scalded the mob with hot water from their cannon truck.
The development paralysed commercial activities in the area as everyone fled while vehicles avoided the neighbourhood.
The police had last Friday cordoned off the Unity Fountain where the Shiite members usually hold their rallies.
They also arrested an activist and convener, Concerned Citizens, Deji Adeyanju, who had been championing the protests for over seven weeks.
The activist was also said to have been detained at the police command shortly after the clash between the police and the Shiite members on Monday.
A member of the IMN, Mohammed Gamawa, accused the police of firing live bullets at the protesters. He said many of the injured were taken to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad office.
Gamawa said, “As I am talking to you, I’m at a hospital in Gwarimpa, receiving treatment for tear gas inhalation. We have about 115 members that were taken away, some of them with bullet injuries.”
“When they take them to SARS office, they would not treat them and so far, six of our members have been left to bleed to death from gunshot injuries since we commenced our daily protests about 80 days ago.”
When asked about the damage to some cars by his members, Gamawa denied that Shiite members did the damage, noting that the police might have hired thugs to vandalise the cars.
“Our members were not involved in vandalising the vehicles; there is probability that the police hired some thugs to do that. It is not in our character. Last Friday, they fired tear gas canisters at my car in order to burn it. They would have told the world that we set the car on fire, but it was my car they fired at,” he said.
Also, the group in a statement said the police were out to portray the movement as violent in nature, adding that it would not relent on its peaceful protest until El-Zakzaky was released from detention.
The statement signed by the IMN’s spokesman, Ibrahim Musa, said what happened was a show of shame.
The statement read in part, “What happened today in Abuja was purely a show of shame by the police, who are hell-bent on forcibly stopping our legitimate campaign for the government to obey the orders of its courts by freeing Sheikh Zakzaky.
“This is a legitimate struggle. We have a right to protest and assemble peacefully. This we have done in Abuja and all other places peacefully for almost two and half years now. We have stepped up the campaign in Abuja since the last 100 days (and it is noteworthy that it had been peaceful) with daily protest at the unity fountain and processions.
“Last week, the authorities used combat ready policemen to forcibly stop the rotest. They also arbitrarily arrested Deji, one of the conveners of the protest. He was clearly told that ‘the government is uncomfortable with the free Zakzaky campaign’ going on in Abuja. He was told to stop it.
“Clearly, they have been looking for ways to infiltrate the protest and give it a semblance of riot so that they could use that as an excuse.
“We are the victims. No amount of cheap blackmail will make us to succumb. Our protest has always been peaceful and we have proved this to the world beyond any reasonable doubt, even in the face of extreme provocation.”
Shittes injured 22 policemen –PPRO
The Federal Capital Territory police spokesman, Anjuguri Manzah, said the protesters destroyed police vehicles and injured 22 policemen.
He added that the 115 Shiite members that were arrested would be taken to court.
He explained that the rioters attacked residents and smashed vehicle windscreens, noting that the police recovered catapults, iron bars, stones, ball bearings and pink headbands from them.
“The FCT Police Command hereby warns members of Shiite movement against further disrupting the peace, harmony and free flow of traffic in FCT. Anyone caught in the act of violent demonstration or any act capable of causing the breach of public peace will be made to face the wrath of the law,” Manzah said in a statement.
PDP calls for inquest
The Peoples Democratic Party on Monday demanded an “immediate inquest” into the violent clash between security forces and members of the Shiite movement.
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja said it was gravely worried over the handling of security in the nation’s capital and the near breakdown of law and order which it said resulted in a stampede and disruption of public and private business in the city centre.
He said, “The PDP has noted that the development is linked with protests over the continued refusal of the Federal Government to release the leader of the group, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, despite being granted bail by courts of competent jurisdiction.
“The party further notes the continued show of force and infringements on the rights of citizens by this administration.
“Furthermore, the PDP and indeed all lovers of democracy across the country are deeply concerned by the continued erosion of democratic tenets by the All Progressives Congress administration, resulting in avoidable crisis in various parts of the country.
“The PDP sues for calm while demanding an immediate inquest into the cause of this clash.”
Falana flays attack
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), condemned the attack on Shi’ites.
Falana was the detainees’ lawyer who on December 2, 2016, obtained the judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja, ordering some members’ release from the custody of the State Security Service.
The Federal Government has yet to comply with the judgment.
Falana declared on Monday that the detainees must be released in compliance with the order of the Federal High Court if the government was “genuinely desirous” of stopping the protest.
He said the “violent attack in which some of the protesters were killed and injured by security forces is barbaric.”
He said the attack, which he described as “totally unacceptable,” was staged “in a desperate bid to stop the Shiites from further exposing the lawlessness of the Federal Government”.
He maintained that the security forces had “breached the fundamental rights of the protesters to life, freedom from torture, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.”
He said, “The violent attack unleashed on the Shiites this afternoon by a combined team of armed soldiers, police and state security service personnel is totally unacceptable in a democratic society.
“It is highly condemnable as it was uncalled for.
“In order to press for the release of their detained leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, and his wife, the Shiites have staged peaceful protests in Abuja since last week.
“This morning, security forces attacked the peaceful rally, killed some of the protesters and injured others in a barbaric attack in a desperate bid to stop the Shiites from further exposing the lawlessness of the Federal Government.
“In the process, the security forces breached the fundamental rights of the protesters to life, freedom from torture, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
“The Federal Government has not adduced any justifiable reason why it has continued to incarcerate the Elzakzakys in utter contempt of the Federal High Court.”
NIM slams Buhari
The Nigeria Intervention Movement also criticized the Buhari-led Federal Government for the harassment of Shi’ites in Abuja.
The NIM, which is headed by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), and a former presidential candidate, Dr. Abdujalil Tafawa-Balewa, said it would hold a rally in solidarity with them.
The movement said this in a statement by its Deputy-Director General, Mallam Nasser Kura, adding that trigger-happy policemen must be arrested.
The statement read in part, “We hereby demand that indicted trigger happy police operatives involved in this unfortunate cruelty and criminality be immediately brought to book and withdrawn from further confronting the peaceful protest of the Shi’ites movement.”
The NIM also demanded an apology and compensation for Shi’ite members.