Despite the ban on protests and processions imposed on members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) otherwise known as Shiites, the sect has vowed that no force in Nigeria will stop them from carrying out their Ashura procession nationwide on Tuesday, stressing that it’s their religious rights as enshrine in the Federal Constitution.
Spokesman of the group, Ibrahim Musa, told BusinessDay on Sunday that “Ashura is a religious duty; nobody will ask us to stop it just like that.”
The Ashura procession is embarked upon by the Shiites worldwide in memory of the death of Husayn Ibn Ali in the battle of Karbala in Iraq. He is believed to be the third Shia Imam. Husayn was the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, believed to be the first Shia Imam.
According to the Shia history, Husayn was killed in the Battle of Karbala on October 10, 680 when his army engaged the army of the Second Umayyad caliph Yazid 1 in a fierce battle. He is considered a hero and a martyr in Shia Islam and highly revered.
Because of the significance of this event the Shiite members insist that despite the order by the police authorities banning such processions, they will stage the procession in Abuja and all over the federation even if they are shot by the police. Musa also told BusinessDay that they are willing to be martyred like their revered imam Husayn and dared the police to prepare more bullets.
“We are commemorating the death of our imam who was martyred. So if somebody is trying to martyr us that is his problem. So we are going out on Tuesday for our normal Ashura procession. Our procession is a peaceful one and it has been ending peacefully only that now the police want to disrupt it. But if they disrupt it they are the ones causing the chaos not we,” he said.
When reminded that the procession could put their members in harm’s way, the IMN spokesman said “whenever we are observing our processions we don’t carry arms, we don’t burn shops, we just go out chanting our slogan, which is a constitutional right. We have the right to observe our procession peacefully. So if somebody says we are not going to observe the procession, that is his problem, he is the one causing chaos and confusion and killing people. Up to date nobody has said that the IMN has killed one single person.”
Also responding to the proscription of the group and tag of terrorist group slammed on the sect by the government, Musa said “they proscribed us wrongly and we even challenged them in court. So what they are accusing us of are all lies. Among even the shameful lies is that we kill somebody in Sokoto. We went to court and the court absolved us from that, acquitted us and even awarded us damages, which up till now the Sokoto state government has not responded.”
He said further that “In broad day light they have been killing us even here in Abuja. We have not been carrying weapons and there are no plans to carry weapons. So it is illegal for us to be declared as terrorists. Terrorists are those known to be carrying arms, we have not been carrying arms, so this government is just trying to kill us and if they have enough bullets , then let them continue. But nobody will stop us from carrying out our religious duties. We are doing something which is lawful, constitutional and legal and somebody is threatening to kill men, women and children, who are armless.”
Meanwhile the Nigerian police according to sources may have to deploy their men nationwide, especially in the northern states and Abuja in readiness for the planned procession of the sect, which they said was to forestall the breakdown of law and order by the group.
Force Public Relations Officer of the Police headquarters, Frank Mba, could not speak on the matter as at the time of filing this report. But a police source said they will not watch the sect or any other group disrupt the peaceful atmosphere adding that the police “will maintain law and order and deal with miscreants who may try to disturb the peace.”
The police and other security agencies have had some tough times containing the rage of the Shiites, who staged successive protests over the incarceration of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zak Zaky, detained in December 2015 after the group clashed with the convoy of the chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, which led to the death of many of the sect members.
The last protests by the Shiites was in July which led to the death of a Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations in Abuja, Umar Usman and a member of the National Youth Service Corps attached to Channels Television in Abuja, Precious Owolabi and about 6 of the sect members.
After this clash the government secured a court order and proscribed the group and tagged it a terrorist organization. Justice Nkeonye Maha of the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled that the Federal Government should publish the Shi’ites proscription order in its gazette and in two national dailies, which was done.
However, a High Court in Kaduna state eventually ordered the release of the Shiite leader to go for medication in India. He was accompanied to India by state security agents where he was scheduled to receive treatment at the Mendata Hospital, but he hurriedly returned to Nigeria after rejecting the arrangement for his treatment. He has since been taken into custody by the Department of State Service (DSS).
Following this development, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, also ordered for the arrest of all identified Shi’ite leaders across the country and directed a team of special police to dismantle the IMN structures in the country. He gave a stern warning that the police would not allow the Shi’ite group to violate its proscription by the court.
The die is cast. The IMN members have vowed to stage their procession on Tuesday but the police insist on maintaining law and order. An ugly confrontation might be imminent.