John Shiklam in Kaduna
A few days after the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), better known as the Shiite or Shi’a sect was banned by the Kaduna State Government, soldiers of the Nigerian Army and policemen yesterday surrounded a gathering of the sect’s members in Kaduna.
The Shiite members had gathered to commemorate the Islamic month of Muharram that is particularly significant in the sect’s calendar, UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said in a statement yesterday.
“Shortly before the Kaduna Markaz mosque on Zango Road in the state capital was encircled by armoured military vehicles carrying heavily armed soldiers and also an ambulance were among a convoy of 18 military vehicles seen nearby,” the group said.
It called on the federal government to withdraw the soldiers and allow the worshippers to continue to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and worship, reported online news medium Premium Times.
An eyewitness said that the standoff was at the residence of a senior Shi’a leader, Muhtar Sahabi, and not a mosque, with worshippers trapped inside.
He said dozens of armed soldiers and riot police officers surrounded the compound and were waiting for those gathered inside to leave.
He said some women and children who started coming out were sent back by the soldiers.
“It appears they want to make arrests following the recent ban,” the source said.
The confrontation follows a spate of arrests over the last few days of members of the Shiite sect, after a statewide ban on Friday, proscribing membership of the movement.
“As was feared, the new law appears being used as an attempt to prevent the movement’s supporters from attending ceremonies commemorating the month of Muharram,” IHRC said.
The military activity is reminiscent of the run up to the massacre last December of hundreds of supporters of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria by the army and the arrest of its leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky. The sect’s leader remains in government custody.
The three-day bloody clash between the sect and army last December led to the death of 347 members of the sect and one soldier. After the incident, the 347 bodies were allegedly buried in shallow graves.
No soldier or officer of the Nigerian Army, since the incident, has been sanctioned, despite the indictment of the army and the sect by a Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up by the Kaduna State Government to investigate the clash.