Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, has condemned the killing of Shiites by the Nigerian Army.
Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) have suffered hundreds of deaths by Nigerian soldiers since 2015 when their worship centres were invaded by soldiers in Zaria, leading to a massacre.
Mr Abubakar reacted publicly, perhaps for the first time, to the killing when he appeared on ‘The Candidates’, a televised town hall hosted by journalist Kadaria Ahmed on NTA Wednesday night.
Mr Abubakar spoke specifically about the October 27-29 violence against Shiite protesters in Abuja by the Nigerian Army, during which more than 40 protesters were killed when soldiers opened live rounds. The Shiites were widely seen not to be armed, and military only accused them of throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at troops.
Mr Abubakar said soldiers should not have been involved in clashes with civilians, notwithstanding the circumstances. He said only the police should have been involved in quelling such processions even if they turned violent.
The former vice-president had long avoided speaking about the matter, with his close associates saying it was a calculated political move to avoid driving a wedge between the Sunni dominated northern Nigeria and the minority Shi’a devotees ahead of a crucial presidential election.
The Nigerian Army fired at the protesters from machine guns mounted on military gun trucks, an act widely considered a massacre which the International Criminal Court had been called in to investigate with a view to prosecuting those involved.
President Muhammadu Buhari has not spoken publicly about the late October killings, but had appeared to justify the massacre of at least 347 IMN members in Zaria in 2015, saying they were wrong to have touched the chest of military generals during a scuffle over road passage in mid-December that year.
The ICC has already commenced investigation into that massacre and other extra-judicial killings linked to the Nigerian Army.
Since the December 2015 incident, the leader of the IMN, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah, has been detained by the Nigerian government. After about two years of detention without trial, the duo were charged with violent conduct leading to the death of a soldier.
However, no soldier has been has been charged to court for the mass killing of the Shiites.
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