United States wants probe of Shiites deaths in Nigeria
The latest clash between Nigeria’s armed security forces and Shiites in Abuja left no fewer than 45 shia members dead and many more wounded. In the past 34 months when leader the pro-Iran Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) had been in detention, its members have been demanding for his release. This has been the cause of multiple clashes with government forces, including the ones that happened over the last four days in Abuja.
The US embassy in Nigeria says that the authorities should investigate the deaths of protesters from a Shia Muslim sect during clashes with security forces earlier this week.
It wants the authorities to “take appropriate action to hold accountable those responsible for violations of Nigerian law”.
The army admits that three people were killed in clashes in Abuja on Monday, but the IMN says that dozens died.
On Wednesday, rights group Amnesty International said that 45 IMN supporters died over two days of clashes.
The army, which fired live rounds on Monday at the protesters, said the deaths came after the demonstrators tried to overrun a checkpoint.
Amnesty said: “Video footage and eyewitness testimonies consistently show that the Nigerian military dispersed peaceful gatherings by firing live ammunition without warning, in clear violation of Nigerian and international law.”
A procession of Shiites movement into the Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory on Sunday turned bloody when they met military resistance. Nigerian news sources said the military opened fire on the unarmed civilians to disperse them, an act that left scores wounded and about five members of the Shiite Islamic sect killed.
Shiites Sunday clash with the military happened in Zuba, Gwagwalada Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), a gateway into the Abuja city. According to eyewitness accounts, a cortège of Shiite members was marching from Suleja, Niger State, to Abuja when they clashed with soldiers.
The group, in their hundreds, were protesting the continued detention of their spiritual leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who has been held by the Department of State Services (DSS) since December 2015.
“Sources said the Army shot and killed five members of the sect during the clash, which occurred at the Dan Kogi checkpoint at Zuba”, The Guardian newspaper reported.
There have been a number of clashes between the Nigerian army and the Shia Muslims since 2015 when their leader, El-Zakzaky was seriously wounded by the soldiers and subsequent detention.
What are Civil Society Groups saying?
There have been a number of calls for release of the Shiites leader. But the Nigerian government has refused to heed them. A human rights advocacy group, Access to Justice on the Nigerian government to obey a federal court’s decision declaring Mr. El-Zakzaky’s continued detention as illegal and unconstitutional.
“The government had no legitimate reasons to detain El-Zakzaky in the first place and ought to have released him immediately the court decision was announced but it has not yet done so,” said Joseph Otteh, Director, Access to Justice.
“Any further delay in releasing El-Zakzaky will represent a direct and serious affront to the rule of law, a hardening of dictatorship behaviour in a democratic government and a dangerous abuse of power.”
El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, have been in detention since a violent clash between his Shiite sect and the Nigerian Army in Kaduna in 2015.
More than 300 members of the sect and one soldier died in the violence which began after the sect members allegedly blocked the passage of the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
An Abuja Division of the Federal High Court had ordered the release of Mr. El-Zakzaky, despite the submission by the State Security Service that the Shiite leader was kept in protective custody of the SSS.
“The arrest and detention of El-Zakzaky was completely absurd in the first place,” said Mr. Otteh, adding that while over 259 members of the sect had been charged to court for the murder of one soldier, no soldier had been charged for the killing of over 348 IMN members.
“It is a major vilification of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy that those who ordered and perpetrated the attacks that resulted in these killings are still in office and exercising state authority till this time.
“It is also regrettable that the federal government could not be bothered to investigate the atrocities committed against the IMN group by its military forces.
“On the contrary, the government proceeded to detain and imprison El-Zakzaky and his spouse since December 2015, without charge.
“This irony beggars belief and greatly diminishes any claims of this government to respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights.”
The group also called on the government to investigate the report by Amnesty International showing how the Nigerian army is engaging in summary and extrajudicial executions of members of the Indigenous People of Biafra.
“The Buhari government is steadily emboldening a climate of impunity in governance and strengthening the hands of those who unleash brutal force against protesters,” Mr. Otteh said.
“We urge the Buhari administration to walk back this culture of impunity and lawlessness that is hardening in its security institutions, bring those who have whimsically killed innocent Nigerians to justice, and show more respect for the rights of the people who have voted it into power.”