Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye and Molly Killete, Abuja
The Police Force Headquarters, Abuja, has confirmed the death of Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command, Usman A.K Umar and an NYSC reporter with the Channels Television in a clash between the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) otherwise known as Shi’ites and security operatives in Abuja, yesterday.
Atleast, 11 members of the Shi’ite group were also feared killed.
Some policemen including two Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASPs), sustained serious injuries and are receiving treatment in an undisclosed hospital.
Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, said the protesters torched a Response Post and two vehicles belonging to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) close to the Federal Secretariat, Abuja.
Mba said 54 persons have so far been arrested in connection with the incidents and were undergoing interrogation after which they would be arraigned in court.
But eyewitnesses said the number of deaths recorded might be more than the number currently being bandied around. An online report maintained that one of its reporters counted six corpses, which were evacuated from the federal secretariat in FCT. They were allegedly picked off the street and dumped into a Toyota Hilux van. The secretariat is just few meters away from the Three Arms Zone, where the National Assembly, the Supreme Court and the Presidential Villa are located.
11 members killed, 30 injured Shi’ite
In a reaction, members of IMN, has said 11 of its members were killed by the police while 13 others sustained various degrees of injuries during the clash with the police.
Ibrahim Musa, president in charge of Media Forum of the group, also accused the police of being responsible for the shooting of television reporter, insisting that the group was not armed.
In a statement, Musa said: “Abuja today (yesterday) yet again witnessed one of the worst cases of blatant trampling of the rights of citizens ever seen in the Federal Capital, when joint security forces consisting of both uniformed men and officers of the Nigerian Police Force and others in mufti, unleashed their fury on a Free Zakzaky protest by members of the Islamic Movement.
“The procession attended by several thousands of persons, including very young children, the aged, women and the physically challenged, met with an extreme rage indicative of deep seated animosity the Nigerian authorities bear for the movement.
“What actually happened was that the protesters started the procession from NITEL junction and on getting to federal secretariat, the police cordoned off the road and started firing at them.
“A lot of people have been shot but for now we can only confirm 11 deaths, but several are injured, the figure for now stood at 30. We are aware of the fact that the security agents have been going around taking off those they killed from the streets.
“Even some seriously injured persons that were taken to Abuja University Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, the police went there and took away about 11 people they shot during the protest.
“We strongly dispute the claim by the police that the protesters shot at them because throughout our processions we have not been carrying any arms right from 2015 to date. It was also the police who shot at the reporter of Channels TV, another indication that many innocent people were shot at by the police, including some of their own.
“In this era of social media, the brutality displayed by the police today has been captured with some pictures showing the police setting up the bonfires and there are videos that captured the police carting away their victims.”
Members of IMN had embarked on a protest to continue their demand for the unconditional release of their leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zazaky. But trouble started when the police tried to prevent the group which started their protest at the NITEL junction from accessing the three arms zone.
Police sources disclosed that they had intelligence report that the protesters had planned to burn down the headquarters of the ministry of foreign affairs. In the confusion that ensued, it was gathered that the Shi’ite group said to be fully armed, opened fire on the police which resulted in an exchange of fire.
In the aftermath of the exchange, the IMN members were said to have burnt down a vehicle in the area, which sent panic to workers, transporters and traders in the area, all of who flee to safety.
It took the police about three hours to restore normalcy, just as several members of the group were arrested in the process.
Meanwhile, the death of DCP Umar, has thrown the entire police community into mourning. They described his death as a “painful one.”
The late Umar, until his appointment as the DCP (Operations) was the Principal Staff Officer (PSO) to former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris.
The Shi’ite leader has been in detention since 2015. But he is currently undergoing trial in Kaduna.
But before the commencement of the Kaduna trial, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, had in December 2016, ordered the Department of State Services (DSS), to unconditionally release him and his wife, Malama Zeatudden, from detention within 45 days.
The DSS had stated that the Shi’ite leader was being held for his own protection. But the group continued demanding for his release, saying the continuous detention of their leader was against their fundamental human rights enshrined in the 1999 constitution as amended.
At the sitting of the court at the time, the presiding judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole wondered what part of the law allows a person to be held in custody for his own protection.
“The decision to hold the applicant and his wife for their safety is based on which law?” he asked.
“I have not been shown any incident report or any complaint lodged by residents around the neighbourhood that the applicant has become a nuisance to his neighbourhood.”
Justice Kolawole then proceeded to order the Federal Government to provide an accommodation for El-Zakzaky, his wife and family members within Kaduna State or any part of the northern region.
He declared the continuous detention of El-Zakzaky since December 13, 2015 as unlawful and illegal since the issue of protective custody was unknown to law or the National Security Agencies Act establishing the DSS.
The court further awarded the cost of N25 million as general damages to be paid to Ibrahim El-Zakzaky who must within 45 days be released unconditionally to the Inspector General of Police, IGP, who was ordered to convey El-Zakzaky and his wife to the accommodation provided by the government.