*One feared killed, 30 injured, 200 arrested
*Protest takes international dimension
*PDP demands probe of clash with security agents
By Ben Adoga, Samuel Ogidan, and Daniel Tyokua
Business and social activities were brought to a halt in most parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja on Monday as members of the Shi’ite Islamic sect (Islamic Movement in Nigeria – IMN), clashed with security agents.
Although, said none was killed, the sect insisted that it lost a member, 30 injured, while 200 others were arrested by security agents in an attempt to stop their protest.
However, the Police said it arrested only 115 members of the IMN, adding that the sect members injured 22 police officers and destroyed several government and police operational vehicles.
The crisis was allegedly caused by the refusal of the Shi’ites, who were protesting the federal Government’s continued detention of their leader, Mallam Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, despite several court orders for his release.
One of the Shi’ite members at the scene of the clash, Ahmad Sani, told The AUTHORITY that one of their members was killed, because resisted police order not to occupy the Unity Fountain, Maitama in Abuja.
Sani said: “He (victim) was shot dead while trying to gain access to the Unity Fountain alongside other members of the sect”.
Last Friday, the police announced a ban on protests at the garden, but IMN members assembled in the place on Monday and were denied access by the police.
The protesters reportedly stood their ground and when they became uncontrollable, the police fired canisters of tear gas at them, spread them with pepper hot water and fired gunshots into the air.
One of the bullets allegedly pierced the window of the office of a nearby federal agency.
The Shi’ites have been converging on the Unity Fountain to demand the release of their leader, El-Zakzaky, who has been in custody for over two years.
El-Zakzaky was arrested in December 2015 after some of his followers clashed with the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, leading to the massacre of about 300 Shi’ite members, including two of El-Zakzaky’s sons.
The Shi’ites spokesperson, Ibrahim Musa, however said that the deceased was yet to be identified because “the protesters came from various parts of the country”.
Mohammed claimed that over 200 protesters were arrested by the police, who he accused of being the first to attack the protesters.
He said: “We were carrying out a peaceful protest from the Unity Fountain. All of a sudden, they began to attack us. They were the ones who started firing (at) us with teargas.
“We were not violent in our procession, but we had to defend ourselves somehow and that was why we attacked back. So far, we’ve been able to confirm about 200 persons arrested, over 30 injured and one person is dead,” he said.
When the protesters over-powered the police, officers and men of the Nigerian Army, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were drafted to the scene to disperse the Shi’ites.
Prior to the clash, the FCT Police Commissioner, Sadiq Bello, had banned the daily sit-outs at Unity Fountain by pro-democracy and good governance advocates across Abuja, a move that was condemned by activists.
The Shi’ites have vowed not to relent until their leader is released.
“We are demanding the release of our leader and we are going to continue our peaceful protest. If they attacked us, we will not retaliate. We will continue with our protest. Insha Allah, we are coming out to continue the protest,” he said.
The FCT police spokesperson, Manzah Anjuguri, said 115 members of the sect were arrested at the scene by Police operatives, adding that nobody died during the incident.
“Joint Team of detectives from the Command in conjunction with operatives from the IGP Monitoring Unit have commenced investigation into the incident. The arrested suspects will be charged to court upon the conclusion of investigation.
“the Command wishes to state that contrary to speculations from some sections of the media, no life was lost in the violent protest as the Police operatives deployed to quell the protest were professional in handling the situation,” he said.
But eyewitnesses said that the visibly enraged Shi’ite members hauled stones and sticks on an armoured tank mobilised to the protest scene, adding that they attempted to break into the armoured vehicle.
Private vehicles which were caught in the fracas were smashed and some passers bye became victims as they sustained injuries in various degrees.
Meanwhile, the social media were agog with pictures of protests by sympathisers and members of the Shi’ite sect around the globe.
Pictures of such protests showed the protesters spread the American and Israeli national flags on the ground and matched on it in a display of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments.
*PDP demands probe of violent clash
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has demanded a probe of the violent clash between security forces and the IMN.
In a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP expressed worry over the handling of security in the nation’s capital and the near breakdown of law and order, which resulted in stampede and disruption of public and private businesses in the city centre.
The PDP said that the development is linked with protests over the continued refusal of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government to release of El-Zakzaky.
The party, frowned at “the continued show of force and infringements on the rights of the citizens by the APC administration” and expressed concern over “the erosion of democratic tenets by this administration, resulting in avoidable crisis in various parts of the country”.