July 27, 2019

Witness to Mayhem: My encounter with Shi’ites at the Three-arms zone




There was a loud bang as the young man with a headband smashed my car windscreen! In a moment, shards of glass were everywhere inside the car, as I tried to comprehend what had just happened.

File: Shi’ite Protest: Members of Shi’ite clash with Police during their protest at the Central District of Abuja calling for release of their Leader El ZakZaky . Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan.

Before I could gather my wits about me, I heard another bang to the onside rear door of my car, then another and another. It was then I realized I was in the midst of a mob intent on doing me harm. I quickly pressed down on the accelerator pedal as I willed the car to move faster and take me out of there in double quick time.

Suddenly there was another bang as the driver’s window smashed into bits and pieces sending a shower of glass all over my body as I struggled to maintain the balance of the vehicle, with the steering wheel almost ripped out of my grasp from shock. A thought of the deficiency of an automatic vehicle as opposed to a manually operated vehicle crossed my mind as it took my automatic car ages to get into full throttle and spirit me out of that scene in record time.

With the thought of the car on my mind another missile struck me on the side of the head disorienting me momentarily as the car swerved dangerously towards a couple of the protesters who quickly scrambled out of my way, as I righted the car. The rain of missiles on me and the car however continued until I had driven a safe distance away from the scene.

El-Zakzaky: 3 Shi’ites die in police custody(Opens in a new browser tab)

As the sound of missiles hitting the car subsided, I was able to look around me and to put into perspective what had just happened. I was on my way to keep an appointment with a Senator at National Assembly; I had turned at the traffic light by the Federal Secretariat into the Three Arms Zone, when all hell had broken loose. To be clear, I had seen members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) popularly called Shi’ites milling around the secretariat, my first thought was that they were preparing for another of their usually peaceful protests over the continued detention of El-Zakzakky.

How wrong I was; this was no peaceful protest, this was an all-out attack on anything on wheels around the Three-Arms-Zone. Cars were being smashed, citizens were being brutalized and graffiti using all kinds of unprintable words to address President Mohammadu Buhari were all in evidence. I could not believe my eyes, it was just a few minutes past 1pm on Tuesday 9th  July 2019, but it seemed like a scene from a horror movie.

I looked up and made out a huddle of policemen standing aloof and watching the scene unfold like a circus playing out for their entertainment. Besides me, I saw a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), walking casually along, I pulled up in anger, and jumped out of the car. At this time my attackers were facing a different direction as they continued their rampage towards the Federal Secretariat while I was at the other end facing towards the Supreme Court.

‘What the heck do you think you’re doing officer, you’re watching people smashing my car and wanting to kill me and you’re walking away without taking action?’ I shouted at the CSP. Shards of glass poured down my body from my head down to my shoes.

‘What do you want me to do?’ the officer shouted back at me as he looked around at his unarmed colleagues helplessly.

‘Oho!’ I shouted in my agitation, ‘you mean that if these people killed me here you would do nothing?’ I asked in bewilderment.

The officer looked at me pitifully and spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness without saying a word. His reaction rather than soothe me angered me the more. I wondered how police officers could be standing around watching while a breach of the peace was taking place right before their eyes and do nothing.

Shiites bloody protest: Muslims scholars speak(Opens in a new browser tab)

‘Okay’ I said, as I nodded in agitation, ‘I’m reversing my car, and I am going to drive through these people and ensure I crush as many of them as possible, let me see if you as a police officer would react or not’ I shouted in his face. ‘You can do what you like’ was his response, as he turned and walked away from me.

In my agitation, I had jumped out of the car with the engine still running and the driver’s door wide open. As I made to re-enter the car, whether or not I was ready to take the CSP’s dare and run at the rampaging mob to take my revenge or not, a gentle arm was placed on my shoulder from behind and a calm voice said ‘please do not enter the car sir’.

I turned, and there was this youngish Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) standing behind me with an understanding look in his eyes and a pleading smile on his face. He gently pushed me away from the car door and looked inside the car. I saw the look on his face and I followed his eyes. It was the first time I was seeing the inside of my car after the attack; there were shards of glass everywhere from the dashboard to the backseats. A couple of pieces of roughen granite were nestling one on the front passenger seat and the other on the holder between the driver and passenger seats, these were left-overs of the missiles with which the Shi’ites had attacked me. The inside of my car was in shambles!

The ASP looked at me and his calm disposition completely disarmed me. ‘Don’t worry sir’ he said, still with the same calm voice ‘I will clean inside of the car for you, but please you’re not going back there’ he pointed at the retreating mob which had continued their rampage towards the Federal Secretariat. I was forced to listen to his calm voice. ‘Think of your children sir’ he continued, ‘this car is only a possession, you can replace it. Please don’t go back there.’

I turned and walked away from him abruptly. From a little distance I watched him reach into my car and turn off the engine, he opened the booth, pulled out a duster I usually kept there and proceeded to clean the glass from the front seats as best he could. After some minutes of watching him I became calmer. When I had regained my composure, I walked back to the car and the ASP handed me my keys. ‘I have left the rocks in the car’ he said, pointing at the pieces of granite on the front seat.

As I collected my car keys from him, I could only imagine what could have happened but for his timely intervention. ‘You’re so young, but yet so intelligent’ I said to him in wonder, ‘God bless you.’ He simply nodded and after observing that I was calmer, went on his way. It was then I noticed the blood in my car and realized that one of the missiles had hit my left elbow and left an injury. When I looked up I saw the TVC cameraman and his crew and then an AIT reporter also arrived the scene and I shared my experiences with them.

It was after I had spoken with the television reporters that I noticed the extent of damage wrought by the Shi’ites in those few minutes of madness. There was a pall of smoke billowing from towards the National Assembly the aftermath of vehicles which had been set ablaze by the mob. As I took stock of my environment, I saw vehicles that had been damaged even more than my own.

Ondo, monarch

File: Shi’ite Protest: Members of Shi’ite clash with Police during their protest at the Central District of Abuja calling for release of their Leader El ZakZaky . Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan.

At the Police Station where I went to make a formal report of the incident, the police officers had their own grouse as I confronted them on why their colleagues had stood watching while a mob attacked me. According to them, the police had received undue criticism of highhandedness from Human Rights Watch, NGO’s and citizens alike following a previous clash with the Shi’ites. It was left for me to conclude that the police had deliberately stood aloof while the Shi’ites unleashed terror on citizens just to prove a point.

At the hospital, my doctor expressed how lucky I was to have a full head of hair, according to him; the impact of the missile to my skull would have been more severe had I been wearing a low-cut. He opined that my extreme reaction at the scene may have been triggered by the trauma resulting from the severe blow to my head.

I was on my desk chronicling these events of the past fortnight, when news filtered in that a Deputy Commissioner of Police and a Youth Corps member serving with Channels Television had been consumed by another Shi’ite rampage. I heaved a sigh and gave thanks to be alive to share my tale.