“The United States Embassy is concerned by the deaths resulting from clashes between Nigerian security forces and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria”
Aidoghie Paulinus and Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The United States of America has expressed concern over deaths recorded in recent clashes between the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Shi’ite) and security forces in areas surrounding Abuja.
A statement issued by the Information Office, Public Affairs Section, Embassy of the United States of America, following recent clashes between Shi’ite members demanding the release of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and security forces, also called for restraint on all sides.
“The United States Embassy is concerned by the deaths resulting from clashes between Nigerian security forces and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in areas surrounding Abuja.
“We urge government of Nigeria authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the events and
to take appropriate action to hold accountable those responsible for violations
of Nigerian law. We urge restraint on all sides,” it said.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to release Shi’ite leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, without delay.
The co-chair of the Interfaith Initiative for Peace and former president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said though he was not too conversant with the details, it was widely reported that El-Zakzaky had been behind bars for over three years and not less than three court orders had asked that he be released from detention and granted bail.
Onaiyekan said according to the rule of law, government ought to obey the order of the court.
“Now, our president has said security of the nation, as he himself understands it, takes precedence over the rule of law. Many people don’t agree with that for the simple reason that neglect of the rule of law is the greatest threat to the security of the nation. And what has happened is a clear demonstration of that fact,” Onaiykan said.
He argued that if El-Zakzaky had been released on bail, his followers would not have stormed Abuja in such large numbers.
“When people feel aggrieved, it is difficult to tell them not to express their anger and to forbid them from marching and expressing their protest publicly when what has made them angry is also of public knowledge. That, for me, is very sad.
“If government, for whatever reason, decides to keep their (IMN) leader behind bars, government ought to make a leeway for them to express their displeasure. What I am told is that it was basically a peaceful march. All the gunshots that we heard, and there were many of them, were not from the Shi’ite. They were from the security agents, shooting on behalf of myself and other Nigerians and a lot of innocent Nigerians were cut in the turmoil and the whole country turned into great confusion because of this.
“The way out is simple, as far as I am concerned. Their leader was allegedly arrested for criminal activity. No matter how high your crime is, it is subject to court adjudication. The court has ruled. The court ruling should be respected and the government ought to review their decision that this man is constituting a grave security threat. I believe government should obey court orders, release El-Zakzaky, then we know where to draw the line,” Onaiyekan declared.
As the police, yesterday, arraigned 130 out of the 400 members of IMN before the Magistrates Court in Abuja over their alleged involvement, the group has declared 1,000 of its members missing after series of clashes with security operatives.
Those arraigned were accused of engaging in violent protest in some parts of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as they clamoured for the release of their leader.
They were arraigned in batches before courts 11, 15, 17 and 18.
Thirty five of them were arraigned before Magistrate Njideka Duru of Court 11 and were granted each bail at N50,000 with a surety in like sum, just as another batch of 35 who were arraigned before Magistrate Musa Ibrahim Jibo of Court 15 were granted bail at N200,000 with one surety each.
Twenty others were docked before Magistrate Lateef Abolaji who granted them bail at N50, 000, while Magistrate Elizabeth Jones Woni granted bail at N500, 000 to each of the 30 brought before her. She equally directed that they must jointly provide three sureties.
Those arraigned were mostly male with about 12 women, some of them nursing mothers.
According to the First Information Reports (FIR) tendered in court, the sect members were charged with disturbing public peace, causing bodily harm to individuals (including police personnel and members of the public), among others.
The sect members who were conveyed to court in two police trucks pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them, following, which their lawyers applied for bail on their behalf.
They were, however, returned to the police vehicles pending when they meet their bail conditions.
Further hearing has been fixed for December 5.
The FCT Police Commissioner, Mr. Bala Ciroma, had disclosed that 400 shi’ite members were arrested in connection with Tuesday’s violent protest.
He alleged that the police recovered 31 bottles of petrol bombs and other dangerous weapons, claims the group dismissed as blackmail.
Abdullahi Musa, spokesman of the IMN, said in addition to the 1,000 missing members, 46 were killed while 107 sustained injuries.
He claimed instead of the police to account for the missing members of the group, they resorted to blackmail.
“The police should come out and tell the world where they got the explosive and account for over 1,000 people that got missing during the three days protest.”
Also, IMN Media Forum president, Ibrahim Musa, said they would resist any attempt to link the sect to terrorism.
“This is the plot of the security agents and those instructing them from behind the scene in order to blackmail the movement.”
Musa said members of the group have “right to practice their religion or belief, assemble, express themselves and protest as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on freedom of religion.”
He said they could not, therefore, be denied that right with “the scare of mischievously placing the movement on red alert.”