Disturbing Police, Shiite Battles

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John Shiklam writes on the constant protests by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria otherwise known as Shiite and the allegations that the group has no regards for constituted authorities

For most of last week, members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) popularly known as Shiite clashed with the police in Abuja during the group’s protest of the detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife, Zainab.

The protest started on Tuesday and was supposed to be a peaceful procession to demand for Zakzaky’s release, but it later turned violent when the police attempted to disperse them. One member of the Shiite was said to have been killed during the ensuing chaos with several people injured, but the police claimed that no life was lost.

Trouble started Tuesday when the police attempt to disperse the protesters to avoid what they described as imminent breakdown of law and order, but the protesters resisted the police.

The police were said to have used teargas and hot water to disperse the protesters, who included some human rights activists.
The IMN members were said to have responded by throwing stones at the police and hitting an armoured personnel carrier with sticks. Some vehicles were reported to have been damaged as the protesters threw stones around.

There was pandemonium in parts of the city centre, with many motorists forced to use alternative routes. It was gathered that 115 members of the IMN were arrested while several policemen reportedly sustained injuries.

Spokesman of the FCT Police Command, Anjuguri Manzah, said in a statement that 22 police personnel were injured during the incident. He said catapults, iron bars, stones, ball bearings and pink head bands were recovered from those arrested.

The police spokesman added: “Joint team of detectives from the command in conjunction with operatives from the IGP Monitoring Unit have commenced investigation into the incident,” adding that those arrested would be charged to court upon the conclusion of investigation.

But IMN spokesman, Ibrahim Musa, blamed security agents for the breakdown of law and order during the protest.

Musa maintained: “It was purely a show of shame by the police and other security services that were hell bent on forcibly stopping our legitimate campaign for the government to obey the orders of its courts by freeing Sheikh Zakzaky.”
He insisted that the security agents started the chaos by firing at unarmed protesters.

“We have confirmed massive arrests of persons numbering about 230. Many of them have injuries consequent on the police aggression,” Musa said, stressing that the IMN would not be deterred in demanding for the release of Zakzaky and his wife.

The Abuja incident is not the first time the Shiite would be clashing with security personnel. Since the detention of Zakzaky, the group has been staging several protests across many northern states demanding for his release. Many of such protests always resulted in bloody clashes with security agents. The travail of the IMN leader too was a result of such confrontation with security agents.

In December 2015, members of the group clashed with the Nigerian Army over a simple issue that could have been amicably resolved. The clashes lasted two days and over 300 Shiites were allegedly killed while several others were injured.
Zakzaky was arrested and kept in detention till date for illegally blocking a major road in Zaria.

The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, and his convoy had arrived Zaria on that day, December 12, 2015, for the Passing Out Parade of the Nigerian Military School in the city, only to be stranded as members of the IMN had blocked the major road that passes by their shrine, called Hussainiyya Baqiyyatillah, on the occasion of their “hoisting of the ceremony flag”.

Efforts were said to have been made to make them see reason and allow the COAS pass, but they were said to have insisted that only their leader, Sheikh Zakzaky could instruct them to grant access to the COAS and his convoy.

Top army officers, including the Director Military Intelligence (DMI) and the Provost Marshall (Army), among others as well as senior Police and other security officers took steps and turns to persuade the IMN members, but they remained adamant.

Video clips of the incident showing how very senior military officers were pleading with members of the group to open the road for the COAS went viral on the social media after the bloody clashes. The result of this recalcitrant attitude was the loss of innocent lives and property and the subsequent arrest and detention of their leader.

In its report, which was released in 2016, a judicial commission of inquiry constituted by the Kaduna State government to investigate the clashes, described the IMN as lawlessness, confrontational and has no regard for constituted authorities.
The commission was chaired by Justice Mohammed Garba, Justice of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division.

“The evidence before the commission, from the testimonies and memoranda submitted to it by the various interest groups and stakeholders, clearly shows that IMN has become a law unto itself; disregarding the authority of the Nigerian state as vested in the police and other security agencies, which many a time leads to several confrontations such as the one of 12th to 14th December, 2015 between it and the Nigerian Army,” the report said.

The report stated further: “The IMN has also been castigating other Muslims for their supposed failure to rebel against what they see as the ungodly power of the secular state and its man-made laws and by this act it appears hostile to the Muslim communities in which it exists.

“Other acts that the Movement is accused of,” according to the report, “include but not limited to attacks on other citizens, who do not share their views on or understanding of Islam; refusal to recognise the Nigerian State, its constitution, flag, National Anthem and its authority; incessant breaking of the law and often taking laws into their hand and provocative preaching with a view to incite their members against other Muslims.”

The report further maintained: “These and many more made the IMN unwelcome in the majority Muslim communities and always brings about confrontations, usually with lethal result.”
The report, while noting the evidence presented before it, stressed that “very many infractions of the law have been committed by members of the IMN and most of the cases have not been investigated or prosecuted by the police.”

The report noted: “members of the IMN owe absolute loyalty to Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky. He therefore bears responsibility for all the acts of lawlessness committed by the organisation and should therefore be held responsible, fully investigated and prosecuted.”
It, therefore, recommended: “The federal government should direct the Inspector General of Police to set up task forces in State Commands to compile, investigate and prosecute lawless acts committed by the IMN.”
The IMN did not appear before the panel throughout its public hearings.

However, its spokesman, Musa, insisted that the IMN is not lawless or confrontational.
According to him: “It is not that we are confronting the security agents, but rather it is the security agents that attacked our peaceful protest. Remember we have the right to assemble freely and peacefully without the permit of the security agents. This is enshrined in the constitution as a right to any citizen.

“Moreover the attack on us by the security agents is needless because for the past almost hundred days since we started the protest, it has been ending without any incident. But, probably because the protest has begun to grow in number hence they resorted to using brutal force against us. However, we will continue with our peaceful protest until our demands are met – freedom for Sheikh Zakzaky.”

While many human rights groups have condemned detention of Zakzaky without trial is condemnable because it is the constitutional right of the IMN to profess their beliefs, government has insisted that the security agents also have a constitutional duty to ensure law and order in the society.

Clearly, the frequent clashes between the group and security agencies which often lead to the disruption of other people’s business and economic activities do not augur well for the economy and analysts say a middle ground must be found to stem the fights.