Saturday’s clash between army personnel and the adherents of the Shiite sect has left thick dust behind. Those to bear the brunt of the incident are mostly the residents of the ancient city of Zaria.
Even before the December 12 incident, tension has been building in the ancient city of Zaria. The development stemmed from a misunderstanding that has been brewing between Shiites and the members of the Dariqa sect over a Juma’at (Friday) mosque at the Gabari village on the outskirts of Zaria. This, according to the late spokesperson of the Shiites, Ibrahim Usman, led to the killing of four of their members last Friday, December 11. Usman in an interview with our correspondent said their problem with the Gabari residents started over pre-Khutba (sermon) preaching, which the Shiites members conduct at the mosque every Friday.
The events of Friday, according to Usman, forced the Shiites to block the PZ-Samaru Road on Saturday as part of security measures to safeguard their centre, Hussainiyya, and members that gathered to hoist a flag to mark the commencement of the Maulud, birthday celebration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Usman, who spoke in Hausa, said: “Three of our members were killed on Friday, and one was killed last week. To forestall reoccurrence, security measures were put in place when our members gathered.”
However, a resident of Gabari, Sani Danasabe, said the Shiites were mobilising on that Saturday to move to the area on a revenge mission when the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, ran into them.
“On Friday, December 11, Juma’at prayers did not take place at our mosque in Gabari, because the residents and security agents had taken over the mosque. However, on that Friday night, intelligence reports reached us that the Shiites would storm this village on Saturday to avenge the killing of their members. This was why everyone deserted the area out of fear.
“On that Saturday morning, only the aged were left in Gabari mosque praying to Allah not to allow anyone to come here to attack the village. While that was going on, later in the afternoon, we learnt of the clash between the Shiites and soldiers. So our people returned to their homes,” Danasabe said.
In a state-wide broadcast on Thursday night, Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufa’i, mentioned the Gabari incident as part of the threats that the Shiites pose to security in the state.
The COAS plea
Apart from the lurking dispute between the Shiites and the residents of Gabari, the Army Depot, Zaria was having its 73rd Passing out Parade (POP) of their recruits, and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, was scheduled to be the reviewing officer and special guest of honour. Daily Trust’s investigation revealed that the COAS was to come to Zaria from Jigawa State after he attended the Army officers’ conference. Obviously, any visitor coming to Army Depot, Zaria has no alternative route than the PZ-Samaru Road, which has the alias of Samaru Road.
Residents who know the terrain of Zaria that can manoeuvre their way to the Depot Nigerian Army through other routes, but perhaps being visitors, the COAS team were not aware of those alternative routes, hence their insistence on using Sokoto Road.
From the morning of that Saturday to about noon, Sokoto Road was accessible to motorists and other users, as nobody had blocked it at that time. But afterwards, the Shiites barricaded it from the road’s Karaduwa Motor Park and Nigerian Railways Hospital axis.
By this, the road, which is the major link between Zaria and other major cities of Northern Nigeria, became inaccessible, and it was in the midst of this that the convoy of the army chief arrived.
An eyewitness said: “At about 2pm, we were sitting in PZ when we saw an armoured tank and military men in Hilux vans. I saw an army officer leading the team discussing with the youths that blocked the Karaduwa axis of Sokoto Road, perhaps, trying to persuade them to open the road. But the youths were brandishing clubs, chanting Allahu Akbar (Allah is great). The next thing I heard were gunshots and we all took to our heels. When the gunshots stopped, we came out from hiding and we learnt that the soldiers had taken over Hussainiyya and the road was then opened for motorists.”
A video clip of the incident showed army officers led by Colonel Sani Usman Kukasheka pleading with the Shiites to open the road for the COAS to pass.
After the exchange, the next thing that the video clip showed was the convoy of the COAS manoeuvring through rocks, bonfires and other objects on the road. No Shiite member was seen on the road at that point.
The army siege
As if that was the end, news soon spread that the army had mobilised and took over the Shiite centre, Hussainiyya, at Samaru Road. Many residents thought that that was the end of the episode, but at about 10pm of that Saturday, gunshots and explosions could be heard. The sounds were from soldiers’ efforts to take control of Gyellesu, where Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky’s house is located, and to fortify their hold on the Shiite Hussainiyya.
As of Sunday morning, December 13, the soldiers reportedly took full control of the Gyellesu area. Thereafter, they restricted movement along the PZ-Samaru Road and the Gyellesu quarters. This situation remained the same up to yesterday.
The Shiite statement that followed the siege, which was issued by Ibrahim Musa, the President of the Islamic Movement Media Forum, said the raid of the Zakzaky’s house and Hussainiyya has led to the death of about 1,000 Shiites. These, according to the statement, included Zakzaky’s deputy, Muhammad Turi, wife, Zeenatu and son, Ali.
Later, another statement by Musa said some of those that were earlier mentioned as among the ones that lost their lives were still alive. This is after it was confirmed by the army that Zakzaky and his wife were still alive.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, it emerged that soldiers had rescued about 220 members of the Shiite who took cover inside a septic tank (popularly called soak-away pit) at Hussainiyya. This was confirmed by Musa who said those rescued were handed over to the police by soldiers. He said the police have since handed the rescued persons to the group.
At the hospital
The only reliable official figure of casualty was the one that was confirmed by the Chief Medical Director of the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Professor Lawal Khalid. He said 61 corpses were taken to the hospital in batches.
However, Musa, on behalf of the Shiite, said his group was not satisfied with the mass burial given to the deceased that were deposited at the ABUTH, saying that the authorities ought to have handed them over to the group for burial according to Islamic rites.
Mixed views from Gyellesu
Residents of Gyellesu and other areas of Zaria hold different views in regards to what happened. They were however unanimous that both the army and Shiites should have taken different steps. Resident Maikudi Shehu said: “It is true that the activities and behaviour of some Shiites is uncivilised. Sometimes, some of them behave like thugs. Their leaders should have called them to order, to avoid a situation like this.”
“However, one cannot also deny the fact that many Shiites are humble and civilised. Starting from Zakzaky, he assists the less-privileged, especially his neighbours. In emergencies, Zakzaky would give out the group’s ambulance for a sick person to be taken to hospital, among many other humanitarian activities. But as you know, no matter the good you are doing, a single bad egg can render everything useless.”
Another resident, Isma’il Abubakar, said the activities of the Shiites has made the whole Gyellesu area to become a prison of sorts. “Those of us living in Gyellesu are not in support of killing any individual, otherwise we would have taken the laws into our hands to stop the atrocities of these people. Many people have sold their houses and left. Those who were not lucky couldn’t find buyers because nobody wants to come here.”
He added: “There was a time [the Shiites] mounted checkpoints all over Gyellesu, similar to those of soldiers. No matter who you are, you would have to submit yourself, and even your wife, for checking. There was a time the checkpoints led to a dispute, but the intervention of community leaders calmed nerves at that time.”
Abubakar added: “Also, at a time, no security personal in uniform can enter Gyellesu, because he would be intercepted by the Shiites. You could also recall that Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, as the then governor of Kaduna State was made to disembark from his car to trek to an associate’s house because he was stopped by the Shiites. If you remember, that led to the protest that resulted to the destruction of all the gates of Gyellesu. This is apart the fact that whenever the convoy of Zakzaky was on the road, motorists would be stopped so he could pass. During their festivities, Zaria would usually be on standstill, because they would take over all the roads. There were many things that these people were doing that would force one to ask whether there is a government in Nigeria.”
The Minister of Interior, retired Lieutenant-General Abdulrahman Dambazau, was in Zaria as the leader of a federal government delegation for on-the-spot assessment. Leading a delegation that comprises the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Solomon Aranze, and other top brass of the ministry, to the emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris, Dambazau said that they were in Zaria to see things for themselves. He said at this crucial time of Nigeria’s development, the country needs peace more than ever before.
Dambazau commended the fatherly role that the Emir of Zazzau has been playing in promoting peaceful coexistence not only in Zaria but Kaduna State and Nigeria, in general.
In his response, the Emir said Zaria is known for peace, saying that his emirate would continue to do everything possible in ensuring that peace continues to prevail. He urged all residents of the city to continue to be law- abiding.
Before leaving Zaria, Dambazau visited Gyellesu quarters where Sheikh Zakzaky’s house is located, and their centre Hussainiyya at Sokoto Road.
‘Zakzaky must be released!’
The Shiites in some states of Northern Nigeria like Kano, Kaduna, among others, poured out on the streets, protesting what they called the killing of their innocent colleagues and the arrest of their leader, Sheikh Zakzaky.
The protesters called on relevant authorities to immediately release Sheikh Zakzaky for proper medical care. Except in Kaduna where violence characterised the protest, in other states it ended peacefully.
El-Rufai’s big hammer
In a broadcast on Thursday night, governor Nasir El-Rufai, outlined some of the reasons why his government would not continue to tolerate the activities of the Shiites. He said they have no respect for constituted authorities. “Recently, they took over major highways for days without permission. In the process of their trekking they took over our schools and stopped the studies of our children. Their Hussainiyya was built without the permission of the government.”
He added that a demolition notice was served to them, “But they continued their building. Recently, they went to take over a mosque at Gabari village and they were not the ones that built it. We are not stopping anybody from practicing religion, but should do so in accordance with the law without infringing the rights of other citizens.”
The governor said street protests without permission have been banned in the state, and blocking of roads in the name of any gathering was also outlawed.
Normalcy gradually returning
Yesterday, soldiers were still in control of Gyellesu area and the PZ-Samaru Road. Cars moving into Gyellesu were thoroughly searched while those riding motorcycles were made to disembark before passing the Army’s checkpoints. The PZ-Samaru Road was completely barricaded by the Army. Motorists and other users have to take alternative routes. Apart from these two areas, normal activities, including banking operations, were moving on peacefully in all parts of Zaria.
Daily Trust on Saturday