A pall of tension descended on Zaria, Kaduna State yesterday after soldiers killed at least 10 supporters of outspoken Shi’tte leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, during a clash between the entourage of the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, and the Shi’tte members.
The development sparked a war of words between the army and the sect following claim that members of the Muslim Brotherhood had attempted to assassinate General Buratai.
“Shiites attempt to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff in Zaria”, was the way Army spokesman, Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman broke the news in a tweet under his official tweet handle, @HQNigerianArmy which was also posted on the Nigerian Army website last night.
He later issued a formal statement, saying: “The Shiite Sect on the orders of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky today (yesterday) in Zaria attacked the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff while on his way to pay homage on the Emir of Zazzau and attend the Passing Out Parade of 73 Regular Recruits Intake of Depot Nigerian Army, Zaria.
“The sect numbering hundreds carrying dangerous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tyres. They refused all entreaties to disperse and then started firing and pelting the convoy with dangerous objects. The barricade was obviously a deliberate attempt to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff and members of his entourage while on a legitimate official assignment as Special Guest of Honour at the passing out parade which had earlier been widely publicised.
“The troops responsible for the safety and security of the Chief of Army Staff on hearing explosion and firing were left with no choice than to defend him and the convoy at all cost as well as open up the barricaded road for law abiding citizens. This is in line with the Nigerian Army Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct. This kind of behaviour will not be tolerated from any individual or groups and should not be allowed to repeat itself.
“We wish to implore all Nigerians to continue to be law abiding and remain conscious of other people’s right to life, freedom of movement and passage. The Chief of Army escaped unhurt and continued with his duties.”
The sect dismissed the allegation as a lie, wondering how unarmed people would want to assassinate a service chief.
Its spokesman, Ibrahim Usman, in a counter statement, said:
“At noon today (yesterday) armed soldiers were seen in the precincts of Hussainiyyah Baqiyyatullah, Zaria, where members of the Islamic Movement were to carry out the hoisting of flag to usher in the new month of Maulud, the birth of the Holy Prophet of Islam.
“Similar occasion was previously carried out on the same spot with free traffic flow under the supervision of the Movement’s traffic warders.
“When some brothers met the soldiers to understand the mission of the soldiers, they took position and opened fire indiscriminately, killed many and took away seven of the casualties to an unknown location.
“Based on the foregoing, we believe that the military had pre-planned this and had acted according to their mischievous script. They came with their cameramen, videotaping the whole incidence while it lasted.
“We are however surprised that, spokesman of the military Colonel Kuka Sheka shamelessly came out in the media and issued a press statement to say, that it was an assassination attempt on the Chief of Army Staff on the order of the movement’s leader.
“Why was it that there were no casualties on the side of the military, if it were to be an assassination attempt? What happened was never a clash, but a continuation of act of terrorism by the Nigerian military on the Movement, as was the case in the past.
“We are not surprised by this action, as there were reports spread by the same military the night before that the Shi’ites were to avenge their dead by hired thugs on Friday in Gabari, a village in Zaria.
“The same military also spread rumour that the Shi’ites had killed soldiers, all in attempt to justify today’s (yesterday’s) dastardly act.
“Kuka Sheka should know that once bitten twice shy. The 2014 massacre of 34 members of the Islamic Movement, including three of Sheikh Zakzaky’s children by the military; the attempt on Sheikh Zakzaky’s convoy by the same military are still on our minds.
“No government can flourish successfully with disoriented military, full of trigger-itchy personnel and security operatives trained by CIA and Mossad.
“Until the present government fishes out this cabal in the military and brings the culprits to book, we will believe the government is condoning, violence and terrorism on innocent citizens.”
An eye witness Yusuf Abubakar said, “I saw two soldiers asking the Shi’ite members to remove the barricade but they refused only for the soldiers to open fire on them.
“Suddenly, there was confusion everywhere. I saw more than 30 corpses on the ground before soldiers took them away.”
Another eye witness who pleaded anonymity told The Nation that, “the soldiers were armed to the teeth as they came in about three Hilux vans and armoured personnel carriers.
“They were pleading with the Shi’tte members to clear the way for the Army Chief who was being expected.
“Rather than comply, members of the Islamic Movement said that they had blocked the road for security reasons. They began brandishing clubs and swords, chanting ‘’Allahu Akbar’’(God is great).
“A few shots followed and we all dispersed. Some Shi’ttes lost their lives in the process.”
El-Zakzaky himself could not be immediately reached but his followers branded the army’s version of the story as an unfair and unjust portrayal of the incident.
Yesterday’s incident is the latest in the series of clashes between security agents and members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In one of such encounters in July last year, three sons of El-Zakzaky were killed allegedly by soldiers.
The army dismissed the allegation at the time.
But the United Kingdom-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) issued a report blaming soldiers for what it called shooting and killing of defenceless members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria between July 25 and 26.
It said that shortly after the Jumat prayers on July 25,the Shi’tte members embarked on the traditional Al-Quds procession done in support of the Palestinian Cause following the same route it has followed in the last 33 years.
The report said 34 defenceless members of the group were murdered in cold blood as they marched through the streets of Zaria, in Kaduna State.
About 100 others were injured, it said citing interviews with victims, their families, witnesses.
The IHRC also obtained a video footage of soldiers firing at unarmed civilians at the end of the procession.
Besides, it said that it had proof that many of those arrested died in military custody, unable to withstand the brutality they were subjected to by the soldiers.
The procession ended at about 4:30 p.m. and participants, said to be thousands began to disperse stretching over about three kilometres from the meeting point, before soldiers attacked them.
Soldiers allegedly confronted volunteers managing traffic at the PZ Junction on the criteria they were using to give priority pass to cars.
The truck in which the soldiers were driving was allowed to pass only for them to start shooting at protesters indiscriminately.
The IHRC said: “This appears to have been a smokescreen for the attacks, because even as they were being given priority passage, the soldiers started shooting at demonstrators from a very close distance. Ishaq Abdullah was shot and bundled into the army vehicle. The soldiers then sped off, went around the block of shops and cut off a large group who were at the tail end of the procession from the main body. They took positions near these shops and started to shoot at the crowd. The volunteers and other non-partisan eye-witnesses stated that the volunteers did not have weapons and did not instigate the violence.”
Last month, about 20 members of the sect were blown up in an bomb attack during a procession from Kano to Zaria.
A suspected suicide bomber who pretended to be part of the procession set off a bomb at Dakasonye village in Garun Mallam Local Government of Kano State.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack and called the Shi’ttes heretics,but El-Zakzaky said his group knew those behind the attack.
“We know the names of the contractors and those contracted to commit the massacre, their identity is not hidden from us. Therefore we cannot be cowed by an imaginary Boko Haram tale, let them tell it to the fools and the ignorant. They should know that they are dealing with those with foresight, wisdom and intelligence, and above all with the real religion,” he said.
“There is nothing like a suicide bomber. They torture and drug unsuspecting captives and made them carriers of the explosives which they detonated amidst people.