ABOUT eight members of the Shiite Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) have been shot dead in the capital Abuja this morning after unidentified men in uniform opened fire on them while they held a peaceful annual march.
Since December 2015, Sheikh El-Zakzaky, the leader of the Shiite IMN sect, has been in detention after being arrested following a clash between his supporters and the Nigerian Army. Ever since then, the IMN and the federal government have been at loggerheads and today things boiled over when the sect held its yearly Arbaeen trek in the Gwarinpa district of Abuja, the nation’s capital.
Apparently, the gunmen attacked the sect members near the tricycle park on Third Avenue, Gwarinpa around 10am this morning. Eyewitnesses said that the armed men, who came in security patrol vans, stormed the area without prior notice to residents and then opened fire killing about eight people including at least one passersby.
One eyewitness said: “It was around 10 am we started hearing gunshots along the road. The shooting lasted about 10 minutes and after the shooting, the gunmen appeared to have succeeded in thoroughly dispersing the Arbaeen trekkers.
“I can’t say how many people were killed but the corpses we have counted were eight. What I can tell you is that up to eight people were killed in the incident and some of the passersby who had nothing to do with the Shi’ites may have also been involved.”
Abdullahi Musa, the secretary of IMN’s academic forum, added: “The Arbaeen trek is an annual street demonstration by Shi’ites globally. Since the military authorities demolished our centre in Zaria, we have been leading the religious trek from here on Abuja.
“So, we assembled at the Galadima Gate in Gwarinpa around 9am and staged our religious walk peacefully for about an hour. We neither made any demand on the government nor criticised anyone during the trek as it was purely a spiritual exercise for us.
“However, as we were about to disperse, security operatives arrived at the scene and opened fire on our members, injuring many and killing some people. As for the casualty figures, I need to verify the numbers and get back to you, please.”
Elsewhere in Abuja, the Shi’ites staged a similar street procession in the Nyanya-Mararaba axis, which caused a major gridlock in the area. During the march, some members of the sect were seen with placards including portraits of the sons of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky who were killed during the Zaria Massacre of December 2015.
IMN’s Sheikh Sidi Sokoto, said: “Today, the general public has witnessed how the Arbaeen trek like those before ended without any attempt to curb the right of safe passage to other road users. No panic was created by our Arbaeen trek.
“Although we started with few people and confined ourselves to a particular place and recited some supplication, we thank Allah, we now trek in millions globally. This is the handwork of Allah, and not the trick or influence of anybody as no one forced us to trek, it is out of the free will and love for the family of the prophet.”