© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
RECORD: Nearly four years, Shi’ites protested over 18 times, to demand release of El-Zakzaky
IT has been over three years and seven months that the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat were arrested by men of the Nigerian Army after a raid on their residence in Zaria, Kaduna State, leading to deaths of over hundred members of the Shi’ites sect.
Since his arrest and detention, his followers have grown resilience in their demands for his release and have staged repeated protests within and outside the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, the seat of power.
However, their protests have more often degenerated into violence as a result of the confrontation between them and men of Nigeria police and those of the Nigerian Army. Several members of the sect and other members of the society have become victims of these violent clashes.
In this report, The ICIR chronicles the number of times the IMN members have carried out their major protests since the arrest and detention of their leader.
The genesis – (Zaria Quds Day massacre)
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria group, on the 24th of July, 2014 had embarked on their usual procession, (Al-Quds) after a jumaat prayer in Zaria, Kaduna.
The Al-Quds procession is an initiative of the Islamic Republic of Iran, set aside for the last Friday of Ramadan to express their support for the Palestinians, advocating the liberation of its territories occupied by Israel.
The rally was said to have taken place in 10 states of the country, but leaders of the Shiites group wondered why such incidents occurred in Zaria.
While the military said they did not initiate the firing but acted on self-defence, the IMN and Islamic human rights commission, (IHRC) had claimed that the Nigerian government’s close ties with Israel were responsible for the attacks on the pro-Palestinian group.
In its claim, President Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to Israel in October 2013, had united both countries, which in turn incited attacks on the IMN groups.
It also said the crackdown on the IMN appears to be the consideration for the security assistance provided by the Zionist regime.
2015 Zaria Massacre
The sect, on December 12, 2015, reportedly obstructed daily activities of the people of Zaria, making their lives almost unbearable.
This was barely 17 months after the military clash with the IMN group took place, leading to the death of El-Zakzaky three sons.
The Chief of Army Staff, (COAS), Tukur Buratai, unfortunately alongside his convoy was denied passage, which resulted in a clash between some military men and the Shiites group.
The military men had gone headlock with the protesters, opening fire, invading El-Zakzaky residence, where he was captured alongside his wife and ever seen detained by the military.
The Commission for a judicial inquiry said about 348 IMN members were killed. The Commission was enacted by the Kaduna government in January 2016, to investigate the cause of the clash.
Shi’ites intensify protest
In 2016, the media recorded about eight major protests carried out by the Islamist sect, agitating for the release of their leader, El-Zakzaky.
The protests were prevalent in Kaduna, Kastina, Sokoto, Kano, and Plateau.
Although, the protests which ought to be peaceful, more often than not end in violence, following clashes with security agencies.
In October 2016, the Shi’ites protests led to 11 casualties in Kastina, Kaduna, and Sokoto respectively. In the plateau, 45 of their members were arrested.
On November 2, 2016, the Shi’ites sect had clashed with security agencies in Tamburawa, Kano, where over a dozen were feared died, including a police officer.
On November 14, 2016, the Shi’ites group took their protest to the national secretariat, where security agencies dispersed protesters with tear gas.
On December 24, 2016, the IMN group held protests in Kaduna despite a ban on a procession by the Kaduna State government and the police. There were no casualties.
Shi’ite takes protest to Abuja
In January 2017, the Islamic movement after several protests outside the capital territory, with no positive outcome, took their protest to the National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC), demanding its intervention in the release of their leader.
However, on June 23, 2017, members of the IMN were on a protest in Kaduna, where two children were reportedly injured, following a clash with security operatives.
Shi’ites protest amid ban in Abuja
In 2018, the media recorded 5 major protests in Abuja, despite a Police ban on certain places where protesters should avoid.
On April 16, 2018 Shiites sect protested at the Unity Fountain amid ban placed on the daily- sit out by activists and protesters. Thirty were injured and 1 dead, but the figure has not been confirmed.
On May 14, 2018, the Shi’ites group, despite police’s warning, staged a violent protest in Abuja demanding the release of El-Zakzaky. Sixty members of the sect were reportedly arrested.
On June 21, 2018, members of the IMN, in Kaduna, protested the arraignment of El-Zakzaky who was taken to court after years in detention. This however led to a clash between the police and suspected members of the sect. A police inspector was reportedly killed after sustaining an injury.
On October 28, 2018, The IMN group protested at Zuba, Abuja, where three members and two soldiers were reportedly killed, following a clash between the sect and the Army.
October 30, 2018, members of the IMN, protested in Nyanya, Abuja, and Maraba, Nasarawa State, resulting in gridlock, subjecting residents to hardship. Twenty-two members of the sect were reportedly killed.
Shi’ite: A security threat to the FCT
With the prolonged detention of El-Zakzaky, the Islamic group intensified protests, thereby becoming a threat to the general wellbeing of residences of the Federal capital territory, (FCT).
On July 9, members of the Shi’ite group had in a violent protest at the National Assembly shot some police officers on duty causing pandemonium. There were many casualties, and 40 members arrested.
On July 22, Abuja residents witnessed another tragic protest, at the National Secretariat which led to the death of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, (DCP) Umar Usman, and a Channels TV reporter, Precious Owolabi, a National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC) member.
The IMN group, however, has been resilient in their agitation for El-Zakzaky release. Notable Nigerians indeed have called on the government to free the cleric for the fear that his death may trigger another brand of terrorism in the country.
However, while court proceedings are still ongoing to determine his bail, the Iranian government has called on Nigeria to respect his right to seek medical attention abroad.