Residents of the Federal Capital City of Abuja and its environs now live on edge following the incessant protests of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), which has vowed to continue its siege on the country’s capital until its leader, Sheik Ibraheem El Zakzakky is set free from detention.
There are unconfirmed reports that Monday’s violent protest claimed the life of a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Umar Usman, while on duty.
Known as members of the Shiite sect of Islam, the group has boasted that it has 20 million members ready to lay down their lives for the freedom of their leader and his wife. There are court orders asking they be released on bail, but government has remained adamant.
Monday, the Central Business District (CBD) of Abuja was shut down after Police shot at members who in turn reacted violently, burning vehicles, while running into surrounding bushes and buildings. No official figures of casualties have been given, but are believed to have been shot.
Many had feared Monday’s showdown after a protest by Shiite members two weeks ago to the National Assembly. They smashed two security posts, disarmed policemen and sent two with gunshot wounds to the hospital. Six other police personnel were also wounded.
Early on Monday, government officials around the Federal Secretariat ran and shut their offices as the face-off flared. The Police, through its Spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, issued an advisory that sent jitters down the spine of residents.
It read: “There is a violent protest currently ongoing by members of the El-Zakzakky Group in some parts of the FCT – particularly the Central Business District and the Three Arms Zone. The Police are taking adequate measures to bring the situation under control.
Citizens are advised to remain calm and avoid the affected areas in the interim. The Police will keep the public abreast with further development”.
Shortly after the announcement, the social media went agog with photos and videos of the battle on the streets, just hundreds of meters away from the Three-Arms zone housing the National Assembly, Supreme Court complex, and the official residence and office of the President.
For Abuja residents, the deadly cat-and-mouse game between the Shiites and security forces is turning out fearful and tiring, because the Shiites do not give notices for their protest days. Many are usually caught unawares by the protests, which get more violent by the day.
The manner in which they organise to gather at strategic points for the protests, often times no longer adopting the mass gathering method. Residents say they sneak into the city from different directions to an apparent pre-agreed location.
Three days ago, the Presidency had appealed to El-Zakzaky-led Shiite members to desist from needless violent street protests and await the decision of the court in Kaduna where their leader is currently being tried.
It said the issue of El-ZakZaky is before the court in Kaduna and his supporters should focus on his on-going trial instead of causing daily damages, disruptions and public nuisance in Abuja.
Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu, in a statement said it was wrong to be in court and resort to violence at the same time in order to get justice for accused person.
“The destruction of public property in the name of protest is not within the right of this group of Shiite members and no government anywhere would have tolerated a situation where any group would take over public roads in cities as they have done in Abuja and interfere with the rights of other citizens who are prevented from reaching their destinations.
“We imagine a situation where families are taking their loved ones to hospital for emergency treatment and they are held up needlessly by the protesters. No government anywhere in the world would turn a blind eye to this unlawful behavior.
“As far as this country’s Ministry of Justice is concerned, the case involving El-Zakzaky is no longer in its domain. The Federal Government no more has hands in the matter and to that extent, the government at the centre can be said to be clear of any alleged violations of court orders as being trumpeted everyday.
“These rallies and street dances ostensibly to openly insult the President and other leaders, threatening bloodshed will lead nowhere because President Buhari will not ask the country’s judiciary to abandon due process and set a suspect free. At the same time, the administration is determined to enforce the decision of the court clearly issued. The Buhari administration has absolutely no hand in the on-going court case and the courts are free to determine the bail request and the final outcome.
“The mentality that you are above the law and that your own rights are superior to other people’s rights is unacceptable.
“You can’t be provoking other citizens by interfering with their own rights on public roads and disrupting their businesses and call it democratic freedom. In democratic traditions, their rights end where the rights of others begin.
“Law abiding citizens must avoid deliberate lawlessness. It is not within the rights of any group to enter protected public institutions such as the National Assembly by force to attack police and destroy public and private property.
“It is always advisable to embrace dialogue and eschew violence in all our actions so that we can continue to live together in peace.
“We therefore appeal to the Shiite group to stop deliberate provocations that result in violence and fatalities and allow the trial of El-ZakZaky to take its course”.