….Our story, by the Nigerian Army
…We were peaceful until soldiers, police interfered – IMN spokesperson
By Kingsley Omonobi and Luminous Janmika, Abuja
After three days of protest/procession (Arba’een) of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (NIM, Shiites), and clashes with security agencies in Abuja, which led to six deaths on the side of the IMN (Army account) and over 20 deaths (Shiites account), there have been blames and counter blames.
While the IMN insists its procession, which usually marks the end of its religious activity, was peaceful until security agencies interfered and created the atmosphere of violence, security agencies, particularly the Army, accused the Shiites of direct provocation, especially when its members allegedly blocked the Zuba-Kaduna highway and prevented an Army convoy conveying ammunitions and missiles from going of its Central Ammunitions Depot.
Commander, Army Headquarters Garrison, Abuja, Major General James Myam, in a statement, captured what led to the confrontation.
According to Myam, IMN members attempted to cart away ammunitions and missiles, leading to the death of three Shiites while two soldiers were wounded.
“Troops of Army Headquarters Garrison escorting ammunitions and missiles from Abuja to Army Central Ammunition Depot in Kaduna State were attacked by some members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) sect at Zuba Bridge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) at about 3.00pm on Saturday, October 27, 2018.
“The sect, supposedly in a procession, established an illegal road block denying motorists free passage.
“When the troops’ convoy attempted to clear the road block, they met stiff opposition from the sect.
“Members of the sect used various objects to barricade the road and also pelted the troops with stones and other dangerous items.
“They smashed both military and civilian vehicles’ windscreens and windows.
“They also attempted to overrun the escorts to cart away the ammunition and missiles the troops were escorting. This led to the troops opening fire to extricate themselves.
“Consequently, troops of 102 Guards Battalion, in whose area of responsibility the incident occurred, rushed to the convoy’s rescue.
“Unfortunately, during the encounter three members of the sect were killed while two soldiers sustained various degrees of injuries and are being treated at a military medical facility.
“Meanwhile, normalcy has been restored in the general area and members of the public, especially those plying the Abuja – Zuba Road, are requested to go about their normal activities with the assurance from the Nigerian Army that no individual or persons would be allowed to disturb public peace and unprovoked attacks against military convoys.”
‘Peaceful religious march’
However, in its own version of what happened, the group said its members were on a peaceful religious procession of Arba’een from Suleja.
A statement by the group said the Army went away with the corpse of one of the victims, but another dead victim was identified as Abdul’aziz Maigana, resident in Suleja.
In the statement signed by Ibrahim Musa, the President Media Forum of IMN, the group vehemently condemned the action of security agents as “unwarranted since the march had been peaceful.”
The statement added, “In fact, it, procession, was being rounded off for the day when soldiers opened fire on the peaceful marchers without any provocation whatsoever.
“The fact that a similar Arba’een march was conducted in Kano along the Kano-Zaria highway for two days, without any incident, is enough pointer to the peaceful nature of the annual religious rites.
“Similar Arba’een mourning processions are currently ongoing in Katsina and Kaduna states without any incident”.
Day 2 of faceoff
On Monday, the procession/protest and bloody confrontation shifted to the Mararaba-Nyanya-Karu axis of Abuja during which three Shiite members were killed and four soldiers wounded.
Trouble started when hundreds of the IMN marchers took over the expressway.
On getting to the police checkpoint at the Karu/Kugbo junction, officers manning the facility were said to have told them that the procession could not go beyond that point, only for many of the protesters to go violent by attacking anyone in sight with stones and bottles. Consequently, troops, whose checkpoint was a stone throw away, tried to intervene and the situation got out of hand.
The IMN subsequently claimed that 20 of its members were killed.
But the Army responded through a post on its Facebook page.
It said, “Troops of the Nigerian Army deployed on routine duty at Kugbo/ Karu bridge checkpoint of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were attacked by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) sect at about 3:00pm on October 29, 2018.
“The sect, in massive numbers, forced their way into the troops’ checkpoint after overrunning the police.
“The police withdrew to our troops’ position to join efforts to repel them.
“They fired weapons at our troops, throwing bottle canisters with fuel, large stones, catapults and other dangerous items, causing bodily harm and stopping motorists’ movement, breaking their windscreen and causing heavy traffic.
“However, troops repelled the attack in conjunction with the police.
“Unfortunately, during the encounter three members of the sect were killed while four soldiers sustained various degrees of injuries and are being treated at a military medical facility”.
Day 3 of episode
On Tuesday, shortly before the last procession/protest at the City Centre, one Dr. Shuaibu Musa, a senior member of the IMN President Media Forum granted an interview to a radio station in Abuja during which he insisted that all the group’s protest marches had been peaceful and unnoticed except on occasions when security operatives interfered.
Musa accused government of peddling falsehood in its narratives of the violent clashes between the sect and security operatives.
He said that no member of IMN had been convicted of either civil disobedience or murder of innocent citizens in the course of the group’s past processions and protest marches for the release of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the detained IMN leader.
He said: “The claims that we are moving around with weapons are unsubstantiated. All the marches we have done previously without army or police interference have always ended up peacefully. The question to ask is: Who have we ever attacked?
“Let me tell you, in Abuja, we held a daily sit-out for over 100 days and nobody was hurt until they (security agents) came and attacked us.
“What is confrontational about a group of people that would come out en masse with their children, women and even the disabled to make their voices heard? What is confrontational in the way we have conducted ourselves even in the face of severe provocation. We have never blocked any route.
“We don’t participate in the so-called ethnic and religious confrontations that have been taking place all over the country. Anybody that has stayed in Kaduna will tell you that the homes of IMN Sheikhs and Imams are the abode of safety for all during these crises.
“Have we ever disobeyed any constituted authority? Have we ever been arrested, charged to court and found guilty of disobedience to constituted authorities? Some say we kill people but has any Shiite been convicted of murder in this country? They (government) just talk to curry sympathy while instigating public anger against us for nothing.”
On the reluctance of the sect to obtain police permission before staging its marches, the spokesperson said: “This issue has been debated even before the Supreme Court. We do not require police permission to stage any procession.
“We are not saying everybody must agree with our ways of doing things but we must not also be prevented from doing things our way as long as we have not harmed anyone.”
On the violence and bloodshed that trailed the on-going Arba’een mourning procession in Zuba and other districts of the FCT and its environs, he said: “As we speak, we have 17 people confirmed killed in Abuja on Monday.
“Last Saturday, we had six dead bodies from the Zuba killings. They (security agents) are liars. Some of the bodies the Army took away were dumped with the police and we have recovered them. By the time we will be doing the burial, you will see that the dead were real individuals and citizens.
“They (security agents) killed them and then dragged the corpses away. There are video clips that showed the soldiers were shooting and dragging the corpses and even preventing people from getting medical attention. After our protest marches, we take time to do a census of our members. We have the names and addresses of every person that has lost his life.
“The 2018 Arba’een trek ends today (Tuesday) but note that we have also been carrying out the ‘Free Zakzaky’ rallies and campaigns. We will continue to do that not only in Abuja but everywhere.
“However, in the nation’s capital, the Arba’een trek started about two years ago almost unnoticed because we were not attacked. We thank FCT residents for the support they have given us all the while, not only during this Arba’een trek but also in our struggle to get Sheikh out of detention.
“But we must remind them that government is not sincere. A government that cannot protect the people when terrorists are shooting innocent citizens is today fighting and killing unarmed Shiites. Some people are very unfair to us simply because they do not like the way we do some of our religious practices. When they shoot in public, bullets do not know IMN members.”
Same Tuesday, Shiites not only carried their trek to the City Centre, it was also alleged that they unleashed violence on the police at Wuse District with petrol bombs, stones and other dangerous items while setting ablaze a Rapid Response Patrol vehicle of the FCT Police Command.
Confirming the incident, the Commissioner of Police, FCT, Bala Ciroma, said 400 Shiites members were arrested and detained for investigation. Ciroma said, “The FCT Police Command intercepted and arrested some members of El-Zakzaky Islamic Movement of Nigeria with 31 bottles of petrol bombs and other dangerous weapons being ferried into FCT to cause mayhem and attack innocent citizens including law enforcement agents deployed to protect lives and property.