Charles Nwoke, Abuja, Nigeria
No fewer than eight persons were believed to have been slain following a fracas that ensued between members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), also known as Shiites, and Nigeria security operatives in Abuja on Tuesday.
The Shiites were allegedly observing their yearly Arbaeen Symbolic Trek in the Federal Capital Territory, resulting into heavy traffic jam on major roads in the area.
Arbaeen is an annual religious practice usually observed on 20th Safar of Islamic calendar to mark the 40th day of the killing of Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammed’s grandson. He was killed on 10th Muharram.
The peaceful procession, which started early Tuesday morning, allegedly turned bloody when members of the movement clashed with security personnel near Gwarimpa along Kubwa road, leaving some faithful dead while many more sustained various degrees of wounds following indiscriminate gun shots from soldiers and police officers.
A leader of the group, Abdullahi Musa, who spoke with journalists in Abuja, alleged that eight members of the group were shot dead and others injured during the procession following the bloody clash.
He revealed the assumption by security operatives that that they took to the streets of Abuja to cause havoc despite the release of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who was set free by together with his wife, Zeenat by a Kaduna State High Court in July.
Musa, who is the secretary of Islamic Movement of Nigeria’s Academic Forum, explained that the teeming presence of the members of the movement around the area was never to cause mayhem rather in commemoration of Arbaeen celebration.
He explained, “It is not a protest in any way. If you are protesting, you are agitating. We have protested before in Abuja for the release of our leader (El Zakzaky) but this Arbaeen Symbolic Trek is a global event. It is an annual event held in many places in the world.
“Here in Nigeria, we also hold the event and for the past 20 years we have been trekking on the street in support of the family of the Holy Prophet, Imam Hussein, who was massacred years back.
“Today is the fortieth day after Ashura, and it is celebrated globally. We have been doing this in Zaria until the massacre where they demolished our centres and covered everything, that is why we have come to Abuja.”
Musa said the IMN would have held the procession in the Mararaba part of the Nasarawa State but they were scared away by heavy security presence to prevent possible attack from the security men.
He further explained that they had ended the trek and were close to dismissing when the security agents arrived the scene and started shooting at them.
The group secretary said, “Yesterday we marched around the Suleja axis, today is the closing day. If you remember today is the 20th day of Arafat. We were not even coming to the city because they occupied everywhere. We decided to march from the modern city Gwarimpa to the Gwarimpa main bus-stop.
“We successfully marched to that place, we had concluded and we were already dispersing when the combination of police and soldiers arrived. While the police were shooting teargas, the soldiers were shooting at us.
“As I speak to you, we have eight corpses. I can’t confirm if they are all our members because you know that place is a public place. There were a lot of people there and it was around 10am when people were trying to get to their offices. They were just shooting, many people sustained injuries, and many of us were arrested.”
Another member of the group, who escaped the inferno, Abubarka Adam, disclosed that they were waiting for cars to convey them back to their respective homes after the procession when he saw the team of security agencies firing gun shots at them.
Meanwhile, the Police Command in FCT have said a total of 57 members of IMN were apprehended during the crisis.
The PPRO of the Command, Josephine Adah, said, “The total number of the arrested Shiite members is 57. The males are 39 and the females are 18. None of our security operatives were injured.”
Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria have previously protested about 16 consecutive times since 2016 in the Federal Capital Territory during which they demanded the freedom of El Zakzaky, arrested by Nigeria Government.
During these protests, there were controversies with the group and security agencies about 12 times resulting to several deaths and many wounded.