By Ayo Fadimu, Rukayat Akanbi, Bauchi, Blessing Wika, Abuja
Despite the strong warning against protest and unlawful procession by the police authorities, members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) otherwise known as the Shiite organization took to the street in several cities of Northern Nigeria. The group claimed 12 of its members were killed in a nationwide crackdown on Tuesday.
The Shiites were embarking on their annual religious rite, Ashura, across many states in Nigeria. The group’s spokesperson, Ibrahim Musa, in a statement Tuesday afternoon said the killings took place after attacks on Ashura mourners in Kaduna, Bauchi, Sokoto and Katsina states.
The statement, however, said similar processions in Abuja, Jos, Kebbi, Minna, Lafia, Yola, Gusau, Zaria, Kano, Jalingo, Damaturu, Hadejia and Potiskum, ended peacefully.
Ashura, a Shiite mourning period in commemoration of the killing of Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, is observed on the 10th day of the first month of Islamic lunar calendar, Muharram.
For several hours on Tuesday morning, the Abuja-Keffi Road was virtually closed to traffic, after security operatives cordoned it, to prevent the members of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) from marching into parts of Abuja, for their annual Ashura religious procession.
The gridlock on the strategic road delayed many motorists on the road. The Ashura procession marks the tenth day of the first month in the Islamic calendar.
However, despite the intense security checks and warning by Police that they would consider the planned procession as “a gathering in advancement of terrorism”, the IMN members, collectively known as the Shiites, in defiance, regrouped in Wuse, Abuja and observed their religious procession unmolested.
The police had said in a statement on Tuesday that it would treat the planned procession as “a gathering in advancement of terrorism”. The police’s waning on the Ashura gathering followed the proscription of the IMN by the Nigerian government and its designation as a terrorist organisation.
In Bauchi, tension arose as police and Shi’ites clashed leaving many injured while 28 were arrested during the group’s procession at the Central Market Round-about and Tashan Babiye areas of Bauchi metropolis
Eyewitnesses said many were injured during gunshots. According to them, many of the Shi’ites were arrested and whisked away in police vehicles.
An eyewitness said: “Early in the morning, the Shi’ites gathered to embark on their usual procession, but the Police blocked the road and fired teargas to disperse them.
“They (Police) also fired gunshots and many were injured. Several others were arrested and taken away in Police vehicles and taken to the hospital. I heard that the Shi’ites also stoned the Police, although I didn’t witness that part, I was only told.
“I was around the Central Market about 10am up to about 12pm and all the shops around that area were closed down and people ran for their dear lives. This is because the teargas got to the traders who were in their shops and even the houses around that area were also affected.”
The eyewitness added that: “Later on, the Police started arresting people there. The cannisters also affected a school around that area.”
Abubakar said the Shi’ites members embarked on a procession despite warnings from the police command not to. He disclosed that traditional rulers in the state were used to intermediate with the Shiites members to stop the planned procession but to no avail. Abubakar could not confirm the number of victims injured in the clash.
The police are yet to speak on the number of Shiites killed. If confirmed, the 12 will add to hundreds of IMN members killed since December 2015 after the Shiites blocked a public road. No security official has been prosecuted for any of the killings, condemned by local and international rights groups.
The leader of the IMN, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, is still in government custody and is being tried for the death of a soldier during a December 2015 incident.