For the past week or so, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN also known as Shi’a, Shiite or Shi’ite have had one form of faceoff with either the police or Army in the nation’s capital, Abuja. in fact these altercations have led to bloodshed and deaths. As at this moment, we cannot place our finger on the correct number of casualties, especially dead citizens but the dead and injured number in their tens. Also many arrests have been made numbering more than 500 individuals. In the arrests made Tuesday, persons suspected to be members of the Islamic sect were allegedly caught with tens of improvised petrol bombs, knives, cudgels and other materials suspected to be charms.
At this time of the year, the IMN members normally embark on a trek called Arbaeen trek. This time, the theme of the procession centres on the continued incarceration of their leader Sheik El-Zakzaky by the Federal Government. The Sheik was arrested in December 2015 and has remained in detention ever since. With him is his wife. This follows a serious face-off that his group had with the Army in that year which resulted in the death of hundreds of IMN members and the destruction of their properties in the Zaria part of Kaduna state. Indeed, El-Zakzaky was terribly injured in the mayhem and he lost a couple of members of his family.
The events of December 2015 were of a mixed bag. The Shi’a group has remained salt on a wound over time. Government in Kaduna State and other members of the communities where they reside do not have a good tale about them. Their tendency to be abrasive, constitute nuisance on the road or in the extreme refuse to abide by Nigeria’s rules and regulations have cast them in a mould that showed them as anti-Nigeria. As a result, law enforcement agents normally comes hard on them. They have been shot, maimed and killed. And public perception will always be kind to the vulnerable. IMN is viewed as the weak in their age long confrontation with law enforcement. Although this is not the first time their leader will be arrested; the man has gone in and out of detention on a couple of occasions. His members have equally been guests of different security agencies. This time however, the detention after the mayhem at their headquarters in Zaria of their leader may have exacerbated the Abuja imbroglio.
Confrontations took place in Zuba area last week. The Army said the protesters breached their own convoy and road block. The Army’s convoy was on a journey to Kaduna with military ammunition. If that’s exactly how it happened, IMN was wrong. Second, on the road block, Nigerians should be careful, Abuja is still being manned by the military. This follows activities of terrorists. And roadblocks are normally seen around the city day and night. It is wrong to begin a procession without getting some form of approval from Army authorities. Abuja is still on edge and nothing should be allowed to tip it. People can mimic what the Shi’a has done and get Boko Haram to stage the same kind of procession with their intent unleashed whenever they set off their improvised device. There were face-offs at other parts of FCT, including Mararaba, Nyanya, Berger junction, Wuse II, and other parts. IMN members died, soldiers and police suffered injuries, and police vehicle was set alight.
As a result of these clashes, security have been beefed up. More checks are being carried out on motorists and some kind of tension persists in the city. There was no need for this ugly event. Nigeria can do better. While we call on IMN members to reform their belief system with regard to offending Nigeria’s sovereignty, we call on law enforcement agencies to change their tactic of unleashing lethal ammunition on citizens. Every protest should not end in death in spite of who is organising it provided they were not physically attacked.
The number of casualties are mounting, as such do not speak well of our security forces. Protest is a legitimate tool of disobedience in a democracy, thus, minimal force should be deployed anytime law enforcement feel that things are getting out of hand. Shooting to kill isn’t the best option.
We hope that respected Nigerians or international organisations can wade into this matter and attempt to resolve it. The matter of El-Zakzaky and his detention must be revisited. You can’t have the man in detention yet fail to try him.