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Police beef up security in Abuja as Shiites hold procession today

By Tina Abeku, Kanayo Umeh (Abuja) and Emeka Nwachukwu (Lagos)
10 September 2019   |   4:16 am
The Nigeria Police Force has beefed up security in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ahead of today’s Ashura procession by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN).

[FILES] Riot policemen wearing masks stand in a street during a violent protest of Shiite Muslims demanding the release of their detained leader Ibrahim Zakzaky. (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON / AFP)

• Vow to treat march as act of terrorism
• FG plotting to implicate IMN members, sect alleges
• Abuja residents worried over possible violent clashes

The Nigeria Police Force has beefed up security in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) ahead of today’s Ashura procession by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN).

The Guardian yesterday witnessed a deployment of police personnel and vehicles especially around the Eagle Square area.Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. It marks the day Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammed, was killed in the Battle of Karbala.

Following the proscription of the group by the Federal Government in July, Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu had declared: “Henceforth, any person engaged or associating, in any manner that could advance the activities of the proscribed Islamic Movement in Nigeria shall be treated as a terrorist and enemy of the state. The import of this is that all forms of procession or protest by IMN are now illegal and thus banned.”

In a statement yesterday by Force Public Relations Officer Frank Mba, Adamu said: “It has come to the knowledge of the Nigeria Police Force that some members of the proscribed IMN intend to embark on a nationwide procession, ostensibly to disrupt public peace, order and security in the country.”He insisted: “In line with the Terrorism (Prevention) Proscription Order Notice 2019 of July 26, 2019, the activities of the IMN have been proscribed. Consequently, all gathering or procession by the group remain ultimately illegal and will be treated as a gathering in the advancement of terrorism.”

But the IMN has said it will go ahead with the procession. Reminded that members of the group could suffer casualties, the secretary of IMN’s Academic Forum, Abdullahi Musa, told The Guardian via telephone: “Yes, this is possible. But we cannot stop it because it is a religious procession that occurs globally. We will still come out regardless of their intimidation or whether they kill us.”He said: “People should know that the problem always comes from the police. This is a procession that has been happening in Nigeria for almost 40 years. We did it last year and nothing happened. This year, the police are trying to do something. So, should anything happen, people should blame the police because we have been doing it peacefully.”

The IMN also accused the Federal Government of “plotting to kill innocent security personnel, journalists and some members of the public” and “put the blame on members of the IMN just as they did in July 2019 in Abuja.”A statement by the president of the group’s media forum, Ibrahim Musa, reads in part: “In all the years since the Ashura procession started in Nigeria, participants have never once resorted to violence even in the face of a bloody history of attacks by the brutal might of the state.

“The government and anyone else involved in these nefarious plans must therefore be called to order, to uphold the rights of the participants and ensure their total protection everywhere. The Buhari government should particularly be held responsible for any harm that may be inflicted on the persons and property of Ashura mourners or indeed anyone.”

In yet another disclosure, the IMN southwest coordinator, Muftahu Zakariyyah, said: “This government is afraid that for everything it has done to us, it is possible it might have to pay a price; so it is afraid, otherwise there is no reason to incite the people against the group or get them to think that we do not have a forgiving spirit.”

He added: “The President Buhari-led government is afraid that we might teach Nigerians not to fear death. They have every reason to be careful because we are not afraid of death. We are willing to give up whatever is necessary to ensure our country joins the comity of nations in growth and advancement. So, if they are afraid of that, it’s their business but to us, it is our faith.”

The Guardian also learnt that the group might have agreed with the Lagos State government to call off the march. One of the leaders in the region said the state government was worried that thugs or political opponents might hijack the event. He noted however that the procession would hold in other parts of the southwest.

Zakariyyah declined to comment on this.Some residents of the FCT, meanwhile, have expressed worry that the procession might turn violent. “If I am to advise the Shiites, I will tell them to just gather in one place and pray, instead of moving on the road. The police have been fighting with them and might do so again,” said Olaniyi, a mechanic at the Dei-Dei area.

One taxi driver who plies the NICON Junction/Federal Secretariat route said: “Whenever these people come out, the roads are always busy and blocked. The police are always harassing them and they (Shiites) end up running around, blocking everywhere. They throw stones at the police who retaliate with teargas and gunshots and people get injured. I may just stay indoors and not work tomorrow. I don’t want any trouble.”