Federal capital: Citizens recount ordeals in shiites, security forces bloody clash

Nigeria Shiite Muslims hold religious flags and banners in a procession celebrating Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and also demanding the release of Shiite leader Ibraheem Zakzaky, on posters, in Kano, Nigeria, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015. The demonstration was in part provoked after a recent attack by Nigerian soldiers who fired on unarmed Islamic Shiite children with no provocation, killing some hundreds of the minority group in the West African nation, according to a report from Human Rights Watch. (AP Photo/Muhammed Giginyu)

By the last count, over 400 members of Shia Muslim sect, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) have been arrested by the Nigeria Police after three days of deadly protests in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, and in Nasarawa State.

While the group is alleging that over 1, 000 of its members were still unaccounted for after clashes with the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian Army, it further claimed in a statement on Wednesday that 46 of its members were killed, while 107 sustained injuries.

After the group’s December 2015 clash, where it was accused of alleged attempt to kill the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai in Zaria, Kaduna State, a judicial panel in 2016 found that the army had killed more than 300 Shia Muslims during clashes in the North.

Their leader, Ibraheem Zakzaky was arrested in the aftermath of the Kaduna clash and held without charge until April 2018 when he was arraigned in court and accused inciting violence.

The latest brush with security agencies, apart from being a religious ritual, which they christened the Arbaeen mourning procession, was also designed to enable them demand the release of their incarcerated leader who has been in custody for 34 months. It was held despite warnings from security agencies against it.

But while the pro-Iran IMN protesters dared the police and the army in carrying out the protest, perhaps, a higher number of members of the public bore the brunt of their combined action.

Specifically, many residents of Abuja, Mararaba, Nyanya, Karu and environs were subjected to immense hardship as they tried to commute in, and out of the FCT.

The gridlock that resulted from the protests left many who closed from work with no option than to trek as far as AYA to Maraba, Nyanya and other neighbouring settlements from the FCT.

On both sides of the Abuja-Zuba Expressway, men, women and physically challenged persons walked past crawling vehicles, while others were stranded mainly at AYA.

The very few commercial transporters that managed to ply the road increased their fares by over 100 per cent, and many cars broke down following overheating and other faults resulting from their long stay in the gridlock.

Victor Izuchukwu, who resides in Mararaba, said he found himself, his wife and newborn baby in between the protesters and the army as they were returning home from Abuja.

“On Sunday, I took permission to report late for work on Monday because I was to take my wife and our newborn baby to the National Hospital, Abuja for specialized medical attention. By 10 am on Monday we were yet to be attended to, so when I called my office to explain things to them, they granted me a day off.

“After the baby was attended to, we returned home straight only to run into the clash between the Shiites and the Nigeria Army at the Kugbo/Karu Bridge Junction. As we arrived the junction, we noticed that some Shiite protesters were throwing stones at the soldiers and even commuters, who were at the checkpoint, as they attempted to venture into the city.”

He continued: “By the time the military began to fire live bullets at the protesters, we had no choice than to jump out of our vehicle and run for our dear lives. For sometime, I could not decipher the direction that my wife ran to with my baby.”

Another resident, Iliasu Labaran said: “When I was leaving Nasarawa for Abuja, I heard of a procession by the IMN, but it never occurred to me that I would be so punished in any way. It finally dawned on me that I was in for serious trouble when midway into the journey we sighted IMN members carrying the bodies of their colleagues allegedly killed by the Nigerian Army. By the time we came out of where we took cover for hours, returning to Nasarawa or still heading to Abuja had become such a difficult decision to make because, each of the options would involve trekking under the scorching hot sun for hours.”

Mr. Akinlade Osunubi, an eye witness and a Grade Level 12 officer in the Ministry of Trade and Investment, told The Guardian that hundreds of commuters were stranded after commercial vehicles deserted the roads for fear of being struck by stray bullets.

For Alhaji Usman Turkur, an Abuja-based driver, and member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW): “As I speak with you, the windscreen of my car is damaged from that incident. I came into Abuja on Saturday from Kaduna, and ran into this unfortunate incident on Monday, at Dei-dei as I was heading back to Kaduna. Luckily, many of my passengers escaped miraculously, but I am now stuck with a damaged windscreen, which I have to fix at my expense. This is why I am appealing to the government to release IMN’s leader and allow peace to reign.”

Muhammed Hamisu is still battling to explain to his customers why they are yet to take delivery of the eggs that they paid for.

Hamisu said he drove into Abuja with nearly 300 crates of eggs, only for a moment of indiscretion to cause him to lose over N300, 000, when he fell into a ditch, while trying to reverse as a crowd of IMN members ran towards his vehicle when the military opened fire.

Apart from persons visiting or trying to leave the FCT who were affected in one way or the other by the IMN/police/military clash, The Guardian findings revealed that several residents of the city had their vehicles’ windshields shattered as members of the sect unleashed terror.

As the violence spread through the city centre, transport fares soared, and hoodlums took advantage of the situation to steal from unsuspecting members of the public, notable markets and motor parks in Wuse, Apo, Utako, Karimo, Dei-Dei, Jabi, Area 1, and Wuse 11, among others, were forced to close for business as teargas fired by the police altered the entire atmosphere in the city.

Apart from markets and motor parks that closed shop in order to escape attacks, management of public and private schools also gave orders for the immediate closure of most institutions, both in the FCT, and in the satellite towns of Kuje, Gwagwalada, Abaji, Suleja, Kubwa Dei-dei among others, as a result of the clash.

Some of those affected by the fracas called on the Federal Government to create more access roads leading into the FCT.

According to them, it is unthinkable that with the sheer volume of people residing in satellite towns, there were no enough access routes to cater for the flow of human and vehicular traffic into the city during emergencies.

They appealed to the FCT administration to do all it can to facilitate the construction of several routes and outlets into the city centre in order to boost free movements.

Commenting on alternative routes into the FCT, which could reduce the sufferings of commuters in emergency cases like this, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the FCT Satellite Town Development Department (STDD), Felicia Meeme, told The Guardian that for now, the only alternative route the department has proposed to ease traffic into Abuja City centre is the Karishi-Apo Road.

Meeme said, “The project is 13.125 km in length and work is ongoing presently, with the contractor currently working on the culverts extension, removal of unstable materials, filling at various locations and cutting of the hill between CH8+820-CH9+350. Work slowed down a little bit because of the heavy downpour experienced not long ago as not all construction works can be done during heavy rains.”

She regretted that the contract, which was awarded in 2011, could not be completed up till now because of some technical issues that needed to be sorted out, which took a while, but have now been resolved.

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