Despite killings of their members, Shiites vow not to leave Abuja without their leader, Ibrahim El-zakzaky.
“Buhari, free Zakzaky! Buratai, free El-Zakzaky!! Government, free El-Zakzaky!!! We will not surrender. Allah is our defender. We will never leave Abuja without El-Zakzaky…” Thousands of Shiite protesters chanted as they marched from the Mararaba bridge in Nasarawa state to Abuja on Monday, October 29, 2018.
The protest which started at about 2:15 pm soon turned bloody as the Shiites advanced the military checkpoint at Kugbo, a hilly area few kilometers from the popular AYA roundabout in Abuja, at about 3pm.
Attempts by the military to stop the protesters proved abortive as they felt they had conducted themselves in an organized manner that would not affect the flow of traffic.
Soon, teargas and gunshots rented the air as road users were stopped meters away from the scene.
With journalists a few meters away, the combined team of men of the Nigerian Army and mobile Policemen engaged the protesters who were bearing sticks, stones and catapults.
“The military usually stopped cars, we are walking and not in cars. Why did they attempt to stop us,” spokesman of the group, Muhammadu Musa, spokesperson of the Shiites told Pulse after the incident vowing not to surrender despite the attacks on the sect.
“They (security) have been directed to kill as many of us as possible and we were expecting this,” Musa said. “We know that they are waiting for us at the checkpoint but we are determined to continue our march to Abuja. We will not stop protesting until our leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-zakzaky and his wife and all our members are released. We will not stop,” he announced.
Shiites attacked us – Army
While admitting that only three Shiite members were killed, the Army blamed the Shiites for launching an attack on them at the checkpoint.
“The sect in massive numbers forced their way into the troops checkpoint after overrunning the Police Force. The Police withdrew back to own troops position to join efforts to repel them,” the Army stated in a Facebook post same day.
“They fired weapons at own troops, 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 windscreen and causing heavy traffic.
“However, Troops repelled the attack in conjunction with the Nigerian Police Force to stop the situation from further deteriorating.
“Unfortunately, during the encounter 3 members of the sect were killed while 4 soldiers sustained various degrees of injuries and are being treated at a military medical facility,” the statement read.
But, this was not the first time security operatives were engaging with Shiite protesters.
Abuja, Nigeria’s protest capital
Almost every other week, there is a Shiite protest in Abuja.
In most cases, both protesters and security men sustain injuries with many losing their lives in demand for the release of El-zakzaky and his wife.
Regardless, the number of protesters continue to rise.
Another Boko Haram?
Asides the general insecurity in the Federal Capital Territory in recent times, residents of Abuja have a greater concern – the Shiite protesters.
“We now go out praying not to run into these Shiite protesters,” Musa Rufai told our correspondent. “I am a Muslim and I will tell you that these people (Shiites) are not Muslims. They are worse than anything. People who don’t mind dying. They do not care if they die or anybody is hurt. God help this us,”he said.
Similarly, Amina Salihu, is concerned that the Shiites may become a bigger problem than Boko Haram.
“With the way these boys are going, they’ll become a bigger problem than Boko Haram if care is not taken,” Ms Salihu said.
“These boys were not carrying anything before but now, they have sticks and catapults. What will happen if, God forbid, they get support from another country. This was how Boko Haram started. The military kept killing them and they learnt how to make bombs. Today, our brothers are still being killed in the northeast,” she stated, while urging the Federal Government to release El-Zakzaky.
Why FG is holding on to El-zakzaky – Lai
Attempts to get Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, to speak on the failure of the Federal Government to release El-Zakzaky despite court order met a brick wall.
“This conference is not about Shiites protest. In due course, the government will address the issue,” the Minister responded to questions at a press conference on Tuesday, October 30, 2018.
The Minister had earlier disclosed that Sheikh El-zakzaky and his wife were not in prison as claimed.
He noted that the Shiite leader was in being kept in a house with his family members.
“How many Nigerians know that El Zakzaky is actually not in prison custody nor police custody nor DSS custody? El-Zakzaky is in a house with his family, this is the honest truth,” the minister said.
Addressing the government’s rejection of court orders to release the cleric, the minister said the government is merely keeping him in protective custody because “nobody wants to accept him as a neighbour”.
The minister said, “The court ruled that he will be released after his house has been rebuilt. Nobody wants to accept El-Zakzaky as a neighbor. So we have been able to build a house, where do we release him to.”
While Lai believes that keeping El-zakzaky in a “protective custody” is in Nigeria’s best interest, his followers have continued to demand for his release three years after he was captured during a clash between Shiites and Army in Zaria, Kaduna state.