Residents of Nyanya in the Federal Capital Territory have narrated their experience Monday evening during the deadly clash in the area between Nigerian soldiers and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria.
The Shiites were staging yet another in their series of protest over the continued detention of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. The protest took place in Nyanya in the FCT and neighbouring Mararaba in Nasarawa State.
Mr El-Zakzaky was arrested in 2015 after members of his group had a confrontation with the motorcade of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, in Zaria, Kaduna State. Over 300 Shiites were killed by the army in that incident, killings that have been condemned by rights groups including Amnesty International.
The protest on Monday resulted in a gridlock that forced many residents closing from work in the Abuja municipal area to trek several kilometres from AYA to Maraba/ Nyanya and other neighbouring settlements.
The residents narrated their experience to PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday morning.
“There were women who I suspect cannot be up to 20 years old carrying their children on their back, bare-footed, wearing black and carrying placards marching for the release of their leader,” Johnson, a resident who witnessed the clash at Nyanya Market told PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday.
According to him, the protest started around 3 p.m. but some other eye-witnesses said it was between 4 and 5 p.m. Mr Johnson said despite soldiers shooting, some of the protesters kept advancing in a column towards the soldiers, with some of them carrying their injured colleagues.
“All those small children, they have mind! With the shooting you could see them advancing towards the soldiers. With the heavy sound of gunshots, the sect members would carry any of their injured colleagues,. the ones that died they put on bikes and you would see the legs of the victims scratching the ground.
Another eye-witness said he saw men and women members of the sect wearing turban and chanting.
“I stay around Mararaba and that was where they were coming from. They caused a lot of (traffic) hold-up and disturbed movement of people and businesses. As they got here (Nyanya Market), we started hearing gunshots from afar. It was now like there was a stampede among them, the way some were running and some advancing.
“And we that were here, we started packing our things. Before you know it, we started hearing more gunshots and people started running. It was later we heard that the military first asked them to go back, that they were not allowed into the city.
“But they insisted that they must go into the town and the clash got more intense. One of the sect leaders came out with his chest opened, some said he was with a charm, challenging the soldiers. That was when the soldiers started shooting.
“With the shooting, some were going back while some were moving forward, (chanting) that they would not agree. Before the clash, there was a military post just under the bridge with about four Hilux jeeps. When I was coming, I saw military police there and some police officers there too and it was later that the army now came.
“We did not stay long before we all packed and we moved out around 6 p.m. to our homes.
We heard that the group said they would still come and repeat the protest.”
“So whoever is their sponsor, the government should find them out,” Mr Johnson said.
“Before, I don’t like commenting on their issue,” said another trader at Nyanya Market.
“But the day I saw them at Nicon Junction in Abuja trying to take an armoured tank from policemen who were spraying hot water. They were trekking without shoes, with women not up to 15 years, marching from Area 1 to Secretariat (in the Central Business District), just because they said they are protesting!”
When our reporter arrived at the scene of the clash Tuesday morning, normalcy had been restored. People were going about normal businesses as police officers mounted a check point searching vehicles going towards the municipal area.
Earlier on Saturday, the FCT police command had assured residents of adequate security against the planned protests by the sect in the territory.
Later, the army confirmed that three sect members were killed and four soldiers injured in the Monday incident.
A similar protest, however, continued on Tuesday in Abuja.