ABUJA residents woke up Monday, October 29, 2018, to scenes of utter chaos and pandemonium, as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, or the Shi’ites and the Nigerian Army engaged in a bloody face-off in Karu and other suburbs of the Federal Capital Territory.
Many people could not go about their normal businesses throughout last week due to the street confrontations which involved the Army’s use of live ammunition in efforts to contain the angry Shi’ite protesters demanding the release of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky, who has been in detention since December 2015.
While the Army admitted that three members of the sect were killed that day, the Shi’ites and other independent sources put the figure in dozens with over 400 arrested. The Army also claimed that the protesters “fired weapons, throwing bottle canisters with fuel, large stones, catapults with dangerous objects and other dangerous items at troops, causing bodily harm and stopping motorist movement, breaking their windscreens and causing heavy traffic.”
Curiously, the Federal Government did not make any statement on the latest face-off but chose to fortify security around the seat of power, Aso Villa. The current series of protests is the latest since the Army’s clash with the sect in Zaria in December 2015 and arresting Sheikh Zakzaky for preventing the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Yusuf Buratai, from using a public road in the line of his duty.
Since that bloody clash, the courts have granted Zakzaky bail on several occasions, but the Federal Government has held on to him on the ground that he is a “terrorist”.
It is also public knowledge that there is no love lost between the Shi’ites and the Sunnis who constitute the overwhelming majority with powerful links within the Nigerian ruling establishment.
The mutual hatred drives a high level of intolerance between them. The Shi’ites are often accused of refusing to abide by the laws of Nigeria and thus making life difficult for others, especially when they embark on their Arbaeen treks. But the Shi’ites complain of oppression by government which deploys the military and security forces to prevent them from practising their religion.
We call for an immediate stop to the bloodshed. The Federal Government should obey court orders and release Sheikh Zakzaky while his trial continues. The Shi’ites and all other religious groups must practise their faiths within the laws of Nigeria. They should conduct their annual Arbaeen marches without blocking the highways or disturbing other Nigerians.
The bloodshed must be halted to prevent these face-offs from becoming another threat to security in the country as in the case of Boko Haram.