22 policemen injured
PDP calls for inquest
One person was feared dead and several others wounded as members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), also known as the Shi’ites, yesterday, engaged a team of antiriot policemen in a bloody street combat in Abuja. The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command arrested 115 protesting members of IMN. It, however, noted that the protesters injured 22 policemen, who were deployed within the Unity Fountain. The clash occurred as the religious group intensified its campaign for the release of Sheik El-Zakzaky, their spiritual leader who has been in detention without trial since 2015.
The clash, which began at about 12 noon, followed the insistence of the Shi’ites to hold their daily protests at the Unity Fountain, a public garden that has been cordoned off by the police since last week. The Nigeria Police, FCT Command had, last Friday, sealed off the Unity Fountain, a mustering point for most protests in Abuja, to prevent aggrieved groups from staging their protests there.
However, as hundreds of Shi’ites poured out on the streets yesterday marching towards the usual protest ground near the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, they were confronted by a team of anti-riot policemen who shot several canisters of tear gas and hot water to disperse the crowd. The angry protesters retaliated by hauling stones and sticks at the policemen and their armoured personnel carrier.
Some motorists, who were caught in the crossfire, had the windscreens of their vehicles smashed, while others made desperate moves to turn back from the troubled spot, thereby creating a heavy gridlock. It took a reinforcement from the Brigade of Guards, the elite force of the Nigeria Army, to disperse the crowd. An eye witness, a taxi driver, who ran into the crossfire, said he escaped death by a whisker.
According to him, the protesters were not dissuaded by the tear gas and the hot water that the police were using against them, but rather took on the police, hauling stones and sticks at them. “I didn’t know what was happening, but before I could realise it, I was already in the midst of the protesters with the passengers I was carrying in my car. I hurriedly reversed my car and escaped from hurt.
“The Shiites faced the police with stones and sticks. In fact, it was when the soldiers came that they disappeared, and some of them fled with injuries and blood on their bodies,” he noted. When New Telegraph arrived the scene, the protesters had been dispersed, but there was heavy presence of soldiers, Civil Defence Corps, the Police and other plain cloths security agents, right from the Federal High Court Junction, to the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) office in Maitaima.
But, DSP Anjuguri Manzah, Police Public Relations Officer, FCT Command, alleged that the IMN’s protest was violent. A statement by the Command read thus: “The FCT Police Command restored normalcy at parts of Maitama following a violent protest by members of the El-Zakzaky’s IMN who went on rampage on Monday, 16th April, 2018 and were attacking innocent citizens, disrupting business activities, obstruct-ing traffic movement and smashing windscreen of innocent citizens’ vehicles in the affected areas.
“Following the unfortunate incident which also resulted in the destruction of some government and Police operational vehicles, the members of the Shiite group also injured 22 police personnel during the protest.
“One hundred and fifteen members of the sect were arrested at the scene by Police operatives. 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 police, however, said no life was lost in the attack. “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,” it said. The following were alleged to have been recovered during the protest: catapults, iron bars, stones, ball bearings, and ink head bands.
The Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Brig-Gen. Texas Chukwu, denied the involvement of the military in the clash. Human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has condemned the attack.
Falana said: “The violent attack unleashed on the Shiites by a combined team of armed soldiers, police and state security service personnel is totally unacceptable in a democratic society. It is highly condemnable as it was uncalled for.
“In the process, the security forces breached the fundamental rights of the protesters to life, freedom from torture, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. “Accordingly, the violent disruption of the peaceful rally of the Shiites was carried out by security forces outside the ambit of the law. Those who carried out the violent disruption of the peaceful rally ought to be prosecuted for culpable homicide.”
Also, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) demanded an inquest into the violent clash. The party, in a statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, expressed worry over the handling of security situation, which it noted, resulted into near breakdown of law in the nation’s capital and disruption of public and private businesses.
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