The Islamic Movement of Nigeria, also known as Shi’ites, has alleged that about 50 of its members were killed on Monday along the Nyanya-Keffi expressway by officials of the Nigerian Army.
Trouble was said to have started as the Shi’ites poured into the FCT from all major routes leading to the city centre to observe the Arbaeen mourning procession, despite warnings from security agencies not to do so.
A member of the group, Mohammed Gamara, who spoke with newsmen in Abuja said confirmed the casualty figure, noting that about 200 others were injured.
“So far, I don’t have the exact number of the casualties and the martyrs but if we say they are more than 50, killed by the Nigerian Army, I don’t think I will be exaggerating,” Gamara said. The incident led to a gridlock which lasted for hours along the Nyanya-Keffi expressway forcing many to make their way by foot.
It was gathered that the group, which started its procession at Mararaba, Nasarawa State, was heading to Nyanya, the adjourning town between Nasarawa and the Federal Capital Territory, towards Abuja City, when soldiers on duty ordered them back.
It was learned that the group’s members resisted the directive as they engaged the soldiers in an argument which resulted in a commotion. It was gathered that the Shi’ites started pelting the soldiers with stones, resulting in the latter responding with gunshots.
Some of the sect members were said to have been killed, while several others sustained injuries.
Residents were seen scampering for safety, as motorists plying the routes linking Abuja were seen making detours towards Mararaba in Nasarawa State for safety.
A witness who pleaded anonymity, said the security men opened fire on the Shi’ite members.
Consequently, commuters were stranded in most routes in the FCT, as commercial vehicles deserted the streets to avoid stray bullets.
One eye-witness account has it that at least 16 people were killed, while scores were wounded after Shi’ite protesters attempted to break a barricade of Nigerian soldiers around the flyover in Karu.
According to the witness, while some of the deceased died after being rammed into by cars driven by panicked drivers, most of them were hit by bullets.
“They have killed about 16 to 22 people. Bodies are everywhere, they are everywhere without anyone even attempting to evacuate them,’’ the witness said.
The witness said soldiers were responsible for most of the deaths, attributing only about four to persons rammed by speeding vehicles or an elderly woman who fell and hit her head against the median while scampering for safety.
“Yes, the soldiers were killing the people, they said they wanted to break their barricade near the overhead bridge in Karu. ‘’I cannot say how many people were killed, but they are so many and bodies are still on the main road and streets.” said the witness.
Nigerian Army Speaks
Meanwhile, the Nigerian army has reacted to stories about the clash.
Reacting last night, spokesman for the Brigade, Capt. Timothy Tagwai, who was in company of the Brigade Commander, Brigadier General UT Musa, said troops had brought sanity back to the road up to Kugbo area, adding that they were still moving towards the Nyanya area to do same.
Asked if there had been casualties since reports of gunshots were reportedly heard in some places, Captain Taigwai said no record of casualties had got to him.
Regarding the other protest from the Kubwa-Dutse-Alhaji axis of the Abuja-Kaduna road, Captain Tagwai said he was yet to be briefed of any casualty figure either.
He noted that troops were doing their very best to restore normalcy to the area, and clear the roads.
Police sources contacted on the issue said the operation was an Army operation to stop the protesters entering the city to cause mayhem, adding, however, that policemen were on the alert to arrest any protesting Shi’ite member who sneaked into the city centre to cause disturbance.
Yesterday’s clash comes about 24 hours after members of the sect held a similar march along the Nyaya/Mararaba axis of Nasarawa State, on their way to Abuja.
On Saturday, three members of the sect were killed after a clash with troops of the Nigerian Army. According to a statement by the Commander of the Army headquarters Garrison, Major General James Myam, the clash occurred on Saturday afternoon at Zuba bridge in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
He explained that the sect members, who were supposedly in a procession, set up an illegal roadblock along the route, which the convoy of the troops attempted to clear.
While doing so, General Myam said some members of the group attacked the troops who were escorting missiles and ammunition from Abuja to the Army Central Ammunition Depot in Kaduna State.
In defence, the troops opened fire on the IMN members which resulted in the killing of three of them.