• We won’t allow group to disturb Abuja’s peace, say police •PDP demands probe of clash
Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan and Paul Obi in Abuja
Soldiers from the Brigade of Guards in Abuja were drafted as members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), also known as the Shiites, clashed with security operatives in Abuja streets yesterday.
The clash resulted in scores of people sustaining various degrees of injuries.
The Islamic sect members were demanding the release of their leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, who has been in detention since December 2015.
The riot started about 11 a.m. when the Shiite members gathered at the Unity Fountain on Shehu Shagari Way in defiance of an order by the FCT Police last Friday, who warned against protest and rallies at the venue.
The infiltration of the sect members into Unity Fountain, in spite of heavy security presence at the spot, sealed off the area with crime scene tape, prompted policemen to lob several canisters of tear gas, rubber bullets and hot water to disperse the Shiite members.
The FCT Police had banned the Shiite group, members of Bring Back our Girls (BBOG) and the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) from gathering at Unity Fountain.
But the order was disobeyed by the Shiite members, who insisted it violated their fundamental rights to continue their daily sit-out around the fountain.
As temper flared, they were emboldened as they hauled rocks at the security men while the clashes spread to the adjourning Aguiyi-Ironsi road.
The protest erupted about the same time the United States/Nigeria Military Summit was taking place at the Transcorps Hilton Hotel.
Businesses were disrupted for many hours, while motorists plying Gana road, Shehu Shagari road and Aguiyi Ironsi road, scampered for safety and diverted to alternative routes.
As the protest escalated, the police resorted to using live bullets.
The scene of the riot was reminiscent of a war zone. THISDAY observed that Channels Television crew that covered the protest were garbed with bullet proof vests and protective helmets.
A window of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) building was also shattered by a suspected stray bullet.
With the police appearing helpless, the intervention of soldiers from the Brigade of Guards doused the tension as the Shiites were finally overpowered.
Many members of the sect were wounded and soaked in blood from injuries sustained in the melee. Scores of them were also arrested and bundled away in security vans.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Police has said it would not allow the Islamic group to break down law and order and disturb the peace and tranquility of the FCT.
The Commissioner of Police, Sadiq Bello, told THISDAY that there was no iota of truth in the report that one person was killed during the protest.
He said: “That is not true; one thing I know is that I didn’t get any report of anybody being killed. We never used firearms, we only arrested about a hundred plus of the protesters.
“We will not allow them (Shiites) to disturb the peace and tranquility of the city. You know it is the duty of the police to ensure law and order.”
Bello explained that the decision to ban Shiites from protesting became imminent following the resort to violence by the group.
He said: “This their protest was becoming something else, because they brought hoodlums that were on drugs, dancing, singing amd insulting leaders, so many things.”
The CP explained that earlier, the group was peaceful amd were allowed to protest at the Unity Fountain, adding that, about a week or two weeks ago, they became violent, “a situation, we can’t allow,” he added.
Reacting to the protest which shut down some parts of Abuja, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asked federal government to carry out an immediate inquest into the violent clash between security forces and members of the Shiite movement.
The party said it was gravely worried over the handling of security in the nation’s capital and the near breakdown of law and order which resulted in a stampede and disruption of public and private businesses in the city centre.
The opposition party noted that the development was linked with protests over the continued refusal of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government to release the leader of the group, El-Zakzaky, despite being granted bail by courts of competent jurisdiction.
The party frowned at the continued show of force and infringements on the rights of citizens by the APC administration.
“The PDP and indeed all lovers of democracy across the country are deeply concerned by the continued erosion of democratic tenets by the APC administration, resulting in avoidable crisis in various parts of the country,” it said.
PDP urged for calm while demanding for an immediate inquest into the cause of this clash.
The party also urged the security high commands to ensure that this matter is nipped in the bud with the highest level of professionalism.