Officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), last week, received their “fare share” of the anger of supporters of the detained spiritual leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as Shi’ites, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.
El- Zakzaky and wife were picked up in 2015 by the Department of State Security (DSS). Since then, the duo has been in detention, in spite of court rulings in their favour. His doctor was also said to have written to government lamenting that he was critically ill and fast going blind, and needed urgent medical attention abroad.
His followers protested in Kaduna and other states where they have strong presence, to demand government action on their detained spiritual leader, but their demand for his release was not granted.
Recently, they chose the option of self-help to drive home their message. They mobilised their members from northern states to Abuja, to further push for the government to grant their request. The choice of Unity Fountain, as location for their daily sit-out was strategic because of its proximity to Aso Villa, the seat of government.
They assemble there daily in large numbers, armed with placards with inscriptions and sound systems chanting solidarity songs, in open demand for local and international interventions that would end the incarceration of their detained spiritual leader and his wife.
In every of their outings, team of anti-riot policemen are deployed to provide security for them either at the unity fountain or elsewhere through their procession route. Regrettably, their relationship with the police went bad last year when they challenged the sudden closure of the Unity Fountain, which was their usual location for daily sit-out.
When they could not convince the police to unseal the location, they went on rampage to vent their anger. In the process, terror was unleashed on policemen and innocent motorists as well as commuters.
They physically attacked every security agent within the vicinity with stones and logs of wood. Police responded with minimal force, tear gas, hot water and other strategies to disperse them. The protesters were unrelenting as they kept pushing harder on the police.
Their actions attracted strong condemnation from the Presidency. There was public outcry that government should obey court orders and release of the IMN spiritual leader. But that was yet to be done. That might have raised the anger of the El-Zakzaky followers who were unhappy with his continued detention without trial.
The aggressive confrontation between the police and supporters, last week, led to the destruction of NEMA Emergency Response and Ambulance Bays (ERABs) parked at Ahmadu Bello Way, beside the Federal Secretariat, alongside two other emergency response vehicles. This was in addition to lives that were lost, injuries sustained, properties destroyed, pandemonium and anxiety caused by the confrontation with the police.
NEMA spokesman, Sani Datti, confirmed the development and disclosed that the two other burnt vehicles were the Mobile Intensive Care Unit (MICU), a life support ambulance and a multi-purpose Response Intervention Van (Rescue Tender). He said the ERAB was situated at the location for timely response to emergencies and disasters to reduce loss of lives and property, with a regret that the ugly development might affect emergency response operations of NEMA.
Meanwhile, the Director General of NEMA, Mustapha Maihaja, visited the response bay and inspected the level damage. He said the police have commenced investigation on the matter and would make necessary decisions on it.