Criticism trails government’s handling of Shiite protests
• Police arrest 400 sect members, intercept weapons
A protest by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), also known as Shiites, turned violent again yesterday in the Wuse 2 area of Abuja.
Although there was no record of deaths, several persons were reportedly injured.Members of the sect planning to march into the Central Business District were dispersed by police gunfire and teargas. The members also burnt police patrol vehicles.
The incident caused panic among residents of the city as many scampered to safety. The demonstration, in its third day, was in protest against the continued detention of Shiite leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, despite court orders granting him freedom.
The police said they arrested 400 Shiite members. FCT’s commissioner of police, Bala Ciroma, said the protesters would undergo a discreet investigation. He disclosed that the police also intercepted 31 bottles of petrol bomb and other dangerous weapons in the possession of the arrested persons.
A similar protest on Monday allegedly resulted in the death of many Shiites. The Nigerian Army however said only three members of the group were killed during a clash with soldiers at Kugbo. It said four soldiers, who were attacked by the sect, sustained injuries.
“They fired weapons at own troops, throwing bottle canisters with fuel, large stones, catapults with dangerous objects and other dangerous items, causing bodily harm and stopping motorists’ movement, breaking windscreens and causing heavy traffic. However, troops repelled the attack in conjunction with the Nigeria Police Force to stop the situation from further deteriorating,” said a statement on the army’s Facebook page.
But the army’s action in curbing the protest drew criticism from National Chairman of the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN) Mr. Razak Eyiowuawi. “The military ought not be involved or use deadly force in such protest. It was not war. That should have been the responsibility of the police who are trained in handling civil matters,” he said during an interview with journalists in Ado Ekiti yesterday.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also expressed concern over “mounting tension, escalating public restiveness, violence and rising cases of extra-judicial killings in our country.”
The party, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “The frightening situation in the country is precipitated by a series of divisive and undemocratic actions and statements of the Buhari administration coupled with its official high-handedness, blatant refusal to obey court orders and open disregard to constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens.”
The Spokesman for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Alfa Mohammed, in a statement in Abuja said: “SDP enjoins the Nigerian security organisations to always apply the rule of engagement in their attempts to control the conduct of civil protesters.
We feel that the number of casualties recorded during the security agents’ encounter with Shiite protesters in two Abuja suburbs, Zuba and Mararaba, could have been avoided if the rules of engagement were observed adequately.” Nevertheless, the SDP urged persons willing to engage in peaceful protest to “always do so within the ambit of law.”
In its own statement by its spokesman, Mallam Ibrahim Musa, IMN called “on Nigerians, the international community and right groups to raise their voices against the extra-judicial and brutal bloodletting perpetrated by the Nigerian Army with the consent of the regime, which has deliberately turned its face the other side as innocent citizens get butchered on the streets while exercising their constitutional rights to assemble.”
Asked at a press conference in Abuja why government has refused to disclose information on the clashes, especially the number of casualties, Minister of Information Lai Mohammed replied: “This forum is not about Shiites versus security forces.”
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