IGP, Mohammed Abubakar
Armed soldiers kept vigilant watch over many praying grounds and their environs in the volatile North Sunday as Muslims marked Eid-el-Fitr, the festival that signals the end of the 30-day fasting period.
Although many Muslims defied the security concerns occasioned by Boko Haram insurgency, especially in Sokoto, Kano, Borno, Yobe, Plateau and Kogi States, to take part in the two-rakat prayer that symbolises the end of Ramadan, the celebration was devoid of festivities as they hurried back to the safety of their homes.
In other parts of the country, the Muslim community trooped out to join their counterparts all over the world to celebrate the occasion.
However, the vigilance of security agents prevented another bloody clash in Jos, the Plateau State capital, where youths returning from the praying ground hurled stones at some buildings on the way.
Amid the security concerns, President Goodluck Jonathan urged ethno-religious groups to work towards the peace and unity of the country to further national growth.
In Yobe and Borno States, the epicentre of Boko Haram activities, soldiers were sighted on major roads to prevent security breaches.
In Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, worshippers were not allowed to park their vehicles close to the praying grounds for fear of using them to launch bomb attacks on the people.
Vehicular movements on most of the roads leading to the praying grounds were closely monitored, with the vehicles made to take one way throughout the service.
As soon as the prayer was over, the people scampered to the safety of their homes. The streets were largely deserted as people stayed home instead of embarking on the traditional visits that usually mark the occasion.
Also, the traditional durbar at the Shehu of Borno’s palace was cancelled for security reasons.
In Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, security agents also kept watch on major roads and at the praying grounds.
Despite repeated warnings by security agencies against violence during the celebration and the several stakeholder meetings held between security agencies and religious leaders to ensure a hitch-free Sallah, Jos was nearly embroiled in another religious crisis.
Eyewitnesses told THISDAY that trouble started when some Muslim youths who were returning from the praying ground at Farin Gada hurled stones at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and residential buildings in the area, provoking those in the area to defend themselves.
The youths, whom it was also gathered, had filled their vehicles with stones, and were brandishing weapons and chanting war songs, damaged at least 12 cars of worshippers parked at the church’s premises.
The people were mobilising for a reprisal when men of the Special Task Force (STF) and the police came to disperse the crowd by firing gunshots into the air.
The state police command, in a statement by its Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Danjuma Azikiti, while condemning the attack, said no life was lost and that no church or mosque was burnt in the incident.
Security was also tight at both Christian and Muslim worship centres in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), especially at the Sallah praying ground, which witnessed a low turnout of worshippers.
Part of the Airport Road leading to the praying ground was cordoned off with worshippers having to park their vehicles at a far distance to get to the worship centre.
The Eid-el-Fitr festival was also conducted peacefully in the Sokoto metropolis and its environs, amid tight security. THISDAY checks at the Sultan Maccido praying ground, Arkilla, Farfaru, among other strategic mosques in the state, revealed that there was a large turnout of worshipers, who thronged the praying grounds to observe their prayers.
Security was tight at the Fakon Eid praying ground, where the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammed Sa'ad Abubakar, Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, and other top government officials offered their prayers.
A durbar was held at the Sultan’s palace shortly after the prayers, with men in colourful attires and turbans riding decorated horses and camels.
In Bauchi, the Bauchi State capital, prayers were observed at the Bauchi Central Mosque instead of the praying ground due to fears of a possible attack by Boko Haram.
But unlike in Kano, Zaria and other emirates in the North where the durbar was cancelled due to security concerns, the event also held in Bauchi yesterday, albeit amid tight security.
In his message, the Emir of Bauchi, Alhaji Rilwanu Suleiman, called on the people to use the festive period to pray for the peaceful coexistence in the country.
Meanwhile, hundreds of policemen, soldiers and plain-clothes security operatives provided security to the thousands of Muslims who gathered at Sheik Ahmad Tijjani Mosque, Kano for the Eid-el-Fitr prayer.
The faithful were only allowed into the premises of the mosque and a nearby area with their praying mats as part of the measures taken by the security agents to prevent a terrorist attack.
The prayer, led by the Chief Imam of Kano, Professor Sani Zaharadeen, was attended, among others, by the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, who was heavily protected by his guards and security operatives.
The emir urged people to continuously pray for peace while advising them to have faith in God and prayed for a fruitful rainy season and good health for all Kano citizens as well as the country at large.
In Kaduna, a combined team of armed soldiers and policemen mounted roadblocks on roads leading to the mosques while vehicles were not allowed close to them.
At the Sultan Bello Mosque located at the Anguwar Sarkin, vehicles were not allowed to park near the mosque while all the roads leading to the mosques were blocked, compelling worshippers to park their vehicles at a distance to walk to the mosque.
Also at the Murtala Square where the Eid-el Fitr prayers were also held, there was heavy security as roadblocks where mounted along Independence Way and Wharf Road.
A senior police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explained that it was not possible to provide security to all worship centres because of manpower and logistics challenges.
“What we did was to identify the danger-prone areas to deploy our men because Kaduna is not a small city. Of course there are other major towns in the city and so we had to evolve strategies to beef up security at the mosques and churches,” he said.
However, Okene, where gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members killed over 20 Christians on August 6, was quiet yesterday as there was no celebration of the festival.
Rather, families remained indoors as security operatives kept watch over major roads in the area. Earlier on Saturday, the paramount ruler of Ebiraland, the Ohinoyi, Alhaji Ado Ibrahim, had advised Muslims to observe their prayers at home.
There was, however, a heavy presence of security operatives at the praying grounds in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, and operatives carried out a thorough search of worshippers.
In a related development, the state governor, Captain Idris Wada, has promised that those arrested in connection with the Okene killings would face the wrath of the law.
The governor, who spoke with reporters after praying in Lokoja, said his administration would do all it could to restore peace in the state.
“I have directed the Ministry of Justice in the state to advise the state government on the culpability of those in the police net for proper trial so that the law can take its course,” he said.
Also Sunday, political and religious leaders in their messages to mark the festivity, urged Nigerians to continue to pray for the country to triumph over the many challenges that are currently threatening its existence.
Jonathan, while playing host to Muslim leaders, led by Vice-President Namadi Sambo at the State House, called on all ethno-religious groups to eschew bitterness, adding that without peace and unity it would be difficult for the government to implement its policies for the improvement of the people’s welfare.
He said for the country to move forward, it must follow the footsteps of the founding fathers who “believed that it must progress in an atmosphere of peace and unity."
“I call for more prayers from religious leaders and all Nigerians for greater peace and unity among all Nigerians.
“Nigeria is a unique country whose role in global affairs is cut out by her uniqueness, and the security and other challenges the country is currently facing constitute a phase in its evolution,” he added.
The president while commending the delegation, described the visit as a good platform to demonstrate to other Nigerians and the world that Nigerians are one.
Earlier, Sambo had pledged the support and loyalty of the FCT Muslim community to the Jonathan administration, stressing that the Federal Government’s transformation agenda was on course.
Among those who paid the Sallah homage to the president were the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur; Senator Philip Aduda, who represented the Senate President, Minister of the FCT, Bala Mohammed, and Minister of Police Affairs, Caleb Olubolade.
Others were the Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama; Minister of State for FCT, Olajumoke Akinjide; Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Bello Isa; the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko; and the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Abubakar.
Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, in a statement urged Muslims to imbibe the lessons of Ramadan which he noted include personal sacrifices, piety and self-denial at all times rather than during the holy month of Ramadan alone.
He also urged them to pray for the divine healing of the nation from wanton waste of lives and property that had characterised the polity in recent times.
In his Sallah message, the Kano State Governor, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, urged the people to continue to live in peace and harmony.
Also, Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, urged Muslims to make Allah’s injunction on peace their watchword, especially in the light of the prevailing violence in the country.
While commending them for successfully completing the religious obligation of the Ramadan as observed by Prophet Mohammed, Uduaghan noted that the challenge of curbing the spate of violence and destruction in the country was for both Muslims and non-Muslims in Nigeria alike.
His Osun State counterpart, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, said the pursuit of unity and peace should be uppermost in the minds of every citizen if Nigeria is to progress.
In his message on the Eid-el-Fitr celebration, he urged the government and people to forge a harmonious relationship for the betterment of the country.
The chairman, Kwara State Council of Traditional Rulers and the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, yesterday urged governments at all levels to accord job creation a priority to reduce the current security challenges facing the nation. He spoke at the Ilorin praying ground that was besieged by security operatives.
In his sermon, the Chief Imam of Ilorin, Alhaji Salihu Mohammed Bashir, urged Muslims to allow the lessons of the holy month to reflect in their daily endeavours.
Former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, also urged Nigerians to seize the spirit of the just ended Ramadan to devote themselves anew to their country.
“We need to pledge ourselves anew to the cause of our country, now undergoing serious challenges. The time to make that move is now – after the glorious month of Ramadan, and its heightened spiritual gains,” he said in his Sallah message.