GOVERNMENT officials have confirmed that negotiations have begun between presidency representatives and the Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in a bid to resolve the ongoing impasse that has led to violent demonstrations in Abuja over recent weeks.
Over recent weeks, the IMN has intensified its protests in Abuja, demanding the release of its leader Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, who has been in detention since December 2015. As the IMN has protested in Abuja on a daily basis, its demonstrations have involved bitter clashes with the security forces and have become more violent by the day.
Earlier this month, one particularly violent clash culminated in the burning of police vehicles, injuries to persons on both sides and the arrest of over 40 suspects. This week, a deputy police commissioner and a youth corper were killed as the two sides clashed again and IMN has vowed to continue its protests until Sheikh El-Zakzaky is released.
With the situation getting out of control and fears that the IMN crisis may escalate into another full scale insurgency as happened with Boko Haram, the federal government has been under pressure to negotiate with the Shiites. According to IMN one source, the federal government has granted its approval for mediators drawn from members of the diplomatic corps to meet with Sheikh El-Zakzaky with a view to resolving the impasse.
He added: “We have some negotiations going on behind the scenes through the intervention of some European countries who are interested in seeing the face-off between our group and the government resolved through dialogue. Members of the diplomatic corps here in Abuja have been working right round the clock to make resolving this matter a possibility.
“We have started interacting with the government in the background, as the government, though reluctantly, has given some of the mediators in the matter concerning our movement necessary approval to meet with Sheikh El-Zakzaky so that progress can be made. The government is been persuaded to see reasons to stop the persecution of Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his followers.”
Sheikh El-Zakzaky, who is in his mid-sixties, lost his left eye when security forces raided his home in Zaria, Kaduna State over three years ago after the Shiites clashed with a convoy of the chief of army staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai. During that clash, his wife also sustained serious injuries while more than 300 of his followers and three of his sons were killed in the violence that ensued.
Since then, the cleric has been kept in custody along with his wife and a large number of his followers. However, the campaign for their release has gone international recently, especially after several court ruled that Sheikh El-Zakzaky should be released on bail.