Government work and business were disrupted again at the Federal Secretariat Complex Abuja as members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) took over the Central Business District to protest the continuing detention of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zak-zaky.
Despite security blocks mounted at all major entry roads into the capital city by the military and the mobile Police, which caused traffic gridlock especially along Maraba-Abuja and Gwagwalada-Abuja roads, hundreds of members of the IMN stormed the federal secretariat to join the protest, which turned violent.
The protest took a bloody turn after attempt by men of the Police Force to stop the protest by spraying tear gas on the demonstrators were resisted, leading to a gun battle between the two groups.
It was learnt that a Channels TV reporter and two others were hit by stray bullets.
Photos on social media indicate that some of the Shiites members were hit by bullets as the police made attempt to disperse them.
The development forced the Nigerian Police Force to issue a press statement warning resident of the FCT to avoid plying some routes in the city. The statement. Signed by Frank Mba, said “There is a violent protest currently ongoing by members of the El-Zakzakky Group in some parts of the FCT – particularly the Central Business District and the Three Arms Zone. The Police are taking adequate measures to bring the situation under control.”
The protest is coming three days after President Muhammadu Buhari said the Federal Government no longer had any hand in the detention of El-Zaky-zaky and that his followers to go and fight it out at the Kaduna High Court where he, his wife Zeenat and two others were facing charges of culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, and disruption of the public peace, among other charges filed against them by the Kaduna state government.
A statement released last Friday by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media, said the case involving El-Zaky-zaky was no longer in the domain of the Federal Ministry of Justice but before the court in Kaduna. He advised members of IMN also known as Shi’ites, to focus on their leader’s trial instead of constituting themselves into public nuisance.
The statement said, “As far as this country’s Ministry of Justice is concerned, the case involving El-Zakzaky is no longer in its domain. The Federal Government no more has hands in the matter and, to that extent, the government at the centre can be said to be clear of any alleged violation of court orders as being trumpeted every day.”
The President also said it was wrong to be in court and resort to violence at the same time in order to get justice as the followers of El-Zaky-zaky were doing, stressing that destruction of public property in the name of protest was not within the right of the Shiite members.
During a television programme on Sunday, Shehu again emphasized that the Presidency was no longer involved in El-Zaky-zaky’s trial saying the earlier statement issued on the matter was “an olive branch” from the federal government.
But members of the IMN appeared unperturbed by the Presidency statement and had declared it a ploy to prolong El=Zakzaky’s detention. Addressing a news conference in Abuja on Sunday, spokesperson of the movement, Abdullahi Musa said if the Government was sincere it would have complied with court orders freeing their leader.
He referred a December 2016 ruling of the Federal High court sitting in Abuja, presided by Justice Kolawole which had freed Zakzaky and granted his plea for the restoration of his fundamental human rights. He declared that the court case instituted by the Kaduna state government is a deliberate plot to keep sheikh El-zakzaky in perpetual detention and is aimed at intimidating members of the movement.
Members of Zakzaky’s movement and rights groups have raised alarm concerning his deteriorating health in recent months. Counsel for Elzakzaky, Femi Falana (SAN), had also raised alarm over the health of the Shi’ite leader.
An indication that the IMN may be right on the allegation that the federal government did not intend to release him emerged last week when El-Zakzaky, through his counsel, Falana applied for leave of the Kaduna State High Court to travel to Metanta Hospital, New Delhi, India. When it came up for hearing on July 18, the Kaduna State Director of Public Prosecution, Dari Bayero, objected to Elzakzaky’s application on the stated ground that Nigerian medical doctors had not ascertain whether the IMN leader should be treated locally or abroad.
Subsequently, Justice D.H Khobo, the presiding Judge, adjourned sitting on the matter to July 29, 2019, to rule on the application.
Falana had argued that Elzakzaky and his wife had not been given adequate medical care since their detention on December 14, 2015.