Heavy fighting broke out late Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday, between men of the Nigerian army and members of the Islamic movement of Nigeria also known as Shiite, following the surrounding of the house of leader of the movement, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, by troops.
Following an alleged assassination attempt on the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Burutai at about noon on Saturday, when his convoy was attacked by the Shiite members, the troops returned to El-Zakzaky’s residence in Gyallesu area of Zaria, at about 11pm.
Moves by the troops to arrest the leader of the movement were resisted by his members.
Residents said heavy gunfire accompanied with chants by members of the movement were heard in the area for over two hours.
There were unconfirmed casualties in the late night attack.
A resident who confirmed the development over the phone said sounds of gunshots were heard around Hussainiyya area of Zaria around midnight yesterday.
Another resident also said Shiite members were seen carrying out solidarity protests around Zango road in Kaduna.
Trouble started about noon on Saturday after several persons were reported killed by soldiers in the clash which occurred at the headquarters of the movement in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Yesterday was the second time the COAS came close to death since his appointment this year.
Buratai escaped Boko Haram ambush when he visited troops at the battle ground in Borno State. The advance team of his convoy ran into the ambush and lost one soldier in the attack while five of the terrorists were killed by the advance team in the gun fire exchange.
Yesterday, members of the Islamic movement were said to have attacked the soldiers attached to the convoy of Burutai, who was in Zaria for a passing out parade ceremony at the Nigeria Army Depot.
Though there were conflicting reports as to what caused the clash, a witness told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the passing out parade coincided with the same date members of the Shiite movement were to hold the annual Maulud at Hussaimiyya in Zaria and changing of their flag.
“As early as 12pm, the members of Shiite barricaded the road where the COAS was to pass to the depot.
“The security details attached to the Chief of Army staff came down from the vehicle to plead with the congregation. From the distance, we could hear gunshots,” the witness said.
The source said following the gunshots, the soldiers made way for the COAS’ convoy to pass.
He said immediately the COAS left, some soldiers in trucks came to the scene and that was when pandemonium broke out, after which several persons were left dead.
Another resident who also claimed to have witnessed the incident told the paper that a truck load of soldiers came to the headquarters of the Islamic Movement along Sokoto Road, Zaria and surrounded it and “all of a sudden we heard gunshots and many people died.”
“The soldiers have killed many people here, possibly up to 20,” he said.
“The leader of the sect, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky is leaving his home to where the soldiers are. He is saying he does not care if he is killed too,” said the witness.
Explaining what happened, the Army spokesman, Colonel SK Usman, disclosed that the COAS had gone to the Emir’s palace to pay homage on the royal father and as the convoy was moving towards to military depot, the COAS vehicle was attacked by members of Shiite.
“In fact the COAS escaped assassination attempt. We were in Zaria to attend the passing out parade and to pay homage on the Emir of Zazzau and some members of Shiite blocked the road and attacked the convoy.
“Luckily enough, the Army Chief escaped unhurt. But we have taken the matter to the appropriate authorities for necessary legal action because we cannot allow such unlawful acts to continue,” he stated.
But, the leader of the movement, Zakzaky, denied the claim, saying “it was soldiers who opened fire on his members for no just cause.”
“They lied to have said we attacked them, nobody attacked them, they were the ones that first stormed our headquarters with truck full of soldiers, sealed off our headquarters on a day we were supposed to change our flag and started shooting and killing our people.”
This is even as he called for calm among members of the movement.
A similar clash between the army and Shiite members last year, which led to the death of many members, including the sons of the movement’s leader.
“At noon today, armed soldiers were seen in the precincts of Hussainiyyah Baqiyyatullah, Zaria, where members of the Islamic Movement were to carry out the hoisting of flag to usher in the new month of Maulud, the birth of the Holy Prophet of Islam.
“Similar occasion was previously carried out on the same spot with free traffic flow under the supervision of the movement’s traffic warders. When some brothers met the soldiers to understand their mission, they took position and opened fire indiscriminately, killed many and took away seven of the casualties to an unknown location,” Zakzaky said.
He said that based on what transpired, the movement was of the belief that the military had pre-planned the attack on its members and had acted according to their “mischievous script. They came with their cameramen, videotaping the whole incidence while it lasted.
“We are however surprised that, spokesman of the military Colonel Kuka Sheka Shamelessly came out in the media and issued a press statement to say, that it was an assassination attempt on the Chief of Army Staff on the order of the Movement’s leader. Why was it that there were no casualties on the side of the military, if it were to be an assassination attempt by Kukasheka?”
He reiterated that what happened was not a clash, but a continuation of acts of terrorism by the Nigerian military on the movement, as was the case in the past.
“We are not surprised by this action, as there were reports spread by the same military the night before that the Shi’ites were to avenge their dead by hired thugs on Friday in Gabari, a village in Zaria. The same military also spread rumour that the Shi’ites had killed soldiers, all in attempt to justify today’s dastardly act.
“Kukasheka should know that, once bitten twice shy. The 2014 massacre of 34 members of the Islamic Movement, including 3 of Sheikh Zakzaky’s children by the military; the attempt on Sheikh Zakzaky’s convoy by the same military are still on our minds,” he added.
el-Rufai sues for calm
Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai has appealed for calm and peace following the clash between Shiite members and men of the Nigerian Army in Zaria.
A statement by the governor’s spokesman, Samuel Aruwan said the governor had spoken on phone with Zakzaky and later proceeded to Zaria to see things for himself.
The statement further indicated that the governor later met with Buratai at the Depot Nigerian Army Zaria immediately after the passing out parade ceremony.
He said the situation was calm and security had been beefed up in Zaria.