A Shiite protest that turned violent on Monday was the major issue of discussion at a meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu.
At least 12 people, including a police officer, were reported killed and several injured when the protesters clashed with security officers.
Amnesty International in a statement said it got report that “six people were shot dead amid a reckless use of lethal force by the Nigerian police” during the protest.
The Shiite group, IMN, in a statement said 11 of its members were killed during the protest.
A reporter with Channels Television covering the protest was hit by a stray bullet, the news media reported.
The violence occurred close to the federal secretariat in the Nigerian capital.
Briefing journalists at the State House after the meeting with the president, Mr Adamu said he visited to update the president on the activities of the Shiites and “to give him an update of what is happening in the country.”
“Specifically we briefed him of the incessant acts coming out of this group of people, protesting here and there.
“We briefed him on the fact that we have been able to curtail their excesses and to let him understand that everything is under control.”
On the president’s reaction, the IGP said he was asked by the president “to make sure the police provides security for every citizen of Nigeria and not to leave any space that some group of people will create a breakdown of law and order.”
“So, the charge by Mr President is that we must provide security for every Nigerian,” he said.
According to witnesses, the protest started peacefully around NITEL junction at Wuse Zone 2 area of the capital. The police then mounted a cordon around the federal secretariat to prevent a march to the National Assembly and Three Arms Zone.
As the protesters marched towards the barricades, police officers fired teargas to disperse them. This turned the protest violent.
Witnesses told PREMIUM TIMES that government vehicles, including those owned by the emergency management agency, NEMA, were burnt by the aggrieved protesters.
A protester and member of the group, Yahaya Mohammed, denied that the Shiites instigated the violence.
“The Shiite members were only having a peaceful protest when military officers attacked them.
“Which clash? There was no clash between us and anybody. It was a peaceful protest. Until these security officers just came and started shooting and attacking us,” Mr Mohammed said.
Police officer killed
During the clash, a senior police officer was reportedly killed.
PRNigeria, a news agency with close ties to security agencies, named the slain police officer as Umar Usman.
The agency said the slain policeman was a deputy commissioner of police in charge of operations in the FCT.
FCT police command spokesperson, Anjuguri Manza, declined comments when approached by PREMIUM TIMES.
The Nigeria Police Force spokesperson, Frank Mba, also said he was yet to be briefed on the development.
“I’m yet to receive any official communication from our men on the field,” Mr Mba said.
NEMA vehicles destroyed
Meanwhile, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) accused the IMN members of burning down two ambulances at the agency’s Emergency Response and Ambulance Bays (ERABs) in Abuja.
The Head of Media and Public Relations of NEMA, Sani Datti, made this known in a statement in Abuja.
“This is to confirm that ERABs of the NEMA located on Ahmadu Bello Way beside the federal secretariat was attacked today with two vehicles burnt down.
”The attack was carried out by members of Islamic Movement of Nigeria commonly known as Shiites.” he said.
Mr Datti explained that the affected vehicles were the Mobile Intensive Care Unit, which was a life support ambulance, and a multi-purpose Response Intervention Van.
According to him, the ERABs were situated at the location for timely response to emergencies and disasters to reduce loss of lives and property.
He said the Director-General of NEMA, Mustapha Maihaja, had while inspecting the damage, noted that the burnt equipment was very expensive and would cost taxpayers a lot of money to replace.
Six Shiites reported killed – Amnesty
Reacting to the incident, Amnesty International said witnesses told it six people were killed during the protest.
It called on the federal government to investigate the incident “in an impartial manner”.
In a statement signed by its media manager, Isa Sanusi, the organisation called on the police to always exercise restraint.
“Witnesses have told us that six people were shot dead amid a reckless use of lethal force by the Nigerian police against unarmed supporters of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) today.
“This new crackdown is part of a shocking pattern in which security forces have used live ammunition to disperse IMN supporters who are simply exercising their freedom of expression.
“Images of IMN supporters being driven from the streets of Abuja with gunfire demonstrates once again the Nigerian authorities’ resolve to use lethal force rather than the rule of law in addressing the grievances of the IMN.
“The Nigerian authorities must promptly investigate in an independent and impartial manner the police shootings and bring to justice all those suspected of criminal responsibility in fair trials. The police must exercise restraint at all times and use force only when strictly necessary,” the agency said.
11 of our members killed – IMN
The IMN said 11 of its members were killed in the violence.
A statement by the group’s spokesperson, Ibrahim Musa, also said 30 others were injured in the melee.
Mr Musa, who is the president of the Media Forum of the IMN, said: “trouble started when the police prevented the group who are on a peaceful protest from accessing their way to the federal secretariat”.
“Abuja today yet again witnessed one of the worst cases of blatant trampling of the rights of citizens ever seen in the Federal Capital, when joint security forces consisting of both uniformed men and officers of the Nigerian Police Force and others in mufti, unleashed their fury on a Free Zakzaky protest by members of the Islamic Movement.
“The procession, attended by several thousands of persons, including very young children, the aged, women and the physically challenged, met with an extreme rage indicative of deep-seated animosity the Nigerian authorities bear for the Movement.
“What actually happened was that the protesters started the procession from NITEL junction and on getting to federal secretariat the police cordoned off the road and started firing at them.
“A lot of people have been shot but for now we can only confirm 11 deaths, but several are injured, the figure, for now, stood at 30. Though we are aware of the fact that the security agents have been going around taking off those they killed from the streets.
“Even some seriously injured persons that were taken to Abuja University Teaching Hospital Gwagwalada; the police went there and took away about 11 people they shot during the protest,” Mr Musa wrote. Mr Musa also said that the Channels Television reporter was shot by the police.
“We strongly dispute the claim by the police that the protesters shot at them because throughout our processions we have not been carrying any arms right from 2015 to date. It was also the police who shot at the Reporter of Channels TV, another indication that many innocent people were shot at by the police, including some of their own.
“In this era so social media the brutality displayed by the police today has been captured with some pictures showing the police setting up the bonfires and there are videos that captured the police carting away their victims,” he said.
Following a recent violent protest at the National Assembly, the police last week directed that protests in Abuja be limited to the Unity Fountain, near the Transcorp Hilton Hotel.
Monday’s incident came about two weeks after two Shiites were killed and two police officers injured after a similar protest turned violent at the National Assembly.
The Shiites are demanding the release of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who has been in detention for alleged murder since December 2015.
Mr El-Zakzaky was taken into custody with his wife after soldiers massacred hundreds of his followers in Zaria, Kaduna State, between December 12 and 15.
Mr El-Zakzaky’s children were among those killed.
A judicial panel set up by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, found the military culpable in the massacre, recommending a major-general and other officers for trial.
The Nigerian Army denied culpability in the massacre, which President Buhari defended during a media chat on December 30, 2015.
Mr Buhari said it was wrong for the protesters to have blocked a road the Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai was travelling on.
No soldier has been arraigned for the massacre of members of the group.
However, Mr El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenah are being prosecuted for the death of one soldier during the December 2015 incident.
The International Criminal Court is currently investigating the 2015 massacre — which has an official estimate of 347 deaths. Shiites insist over 1,000 members were killed by Nigerian soldiers during the December 2015 killings.
Since then, dozens of Shiites have been killed by security operatives in protests in Abuja and Kaduna. Many police officers have also been injured with at least one killed. The police accused the Shiites of engaging in violent protests, a charge the Shiites denied.
The Shiites major demand is the release of Mr El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah.