A pall of gloom descended on the Bakin Ruwa area of Kaduna state in northwestern Nigeria Thursday evening after at least six Shi’ite men were killed and dozens of others were injured amid protests. A group of local Shi’ites, members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), were holding a peaceful weekly demonstration against the government’s controversial decision to withhold the travel documents of IMN leader and leading Nigerian cleric, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky.
Zakzaky’s followers have long been pressing Muhammadu Buhari’s extremist government in Abuja to release his passport so he can travel abroad for much-necessary medical treatment.
The Nigerian cleric and his wife suffer from multiple life-threatening ailments and their condition continues to deteriorate in the absence of proper medical care, according to IMN insiders.
Since December 2015, when they were brutally tortured by Nigerian government forces and their house was razed to the ground, they have spent over five years in illegal incarceration.
Despite courts in the West African country delivering verdicts in favour of the massively popular IMN leader, the Buhari government continues to deny him permission to leave the country.
In August 2019, when Zakzaky and his wife were for once permitted to travel to New Delhi for medical treatment, he said they had bullets and shrapnel in their bodies that needed to be ejected.
“It is a disgrace that the West-backed Buhari regime sees Sheikh Zakzaky as an existential threat and keeps him under de-facto incarceration, not even allowing him to travel abroad for medical treatment,” Ramadhan Yahya, a Nigerian activist and IMN member
The latest carnage in Kaduna on Thursday, Yahya said, brought back “harrowing memories” of the 2015 Zaria massacre in the same state when hundreds (according to some accounts more than a thousand) of Sheikh Zakzaky’s supporters were killed in cold blood, including women and children.
Among the victims in the 2015 massacre included the cleric’s elder son, Ali Zakzaky. His three other sons – Mahmud, Ahmad and Hameed – were murdered in a similar military crackdown in July 2014.
Eyewitnesses and IMN members told the Press TV website that the Nigerian police “on the direct orders of Governor El-Rufai” on Thursday opened indiscriminate fire at peaceful protesters in the Kaduna metropolis, one of the strongholds of the Shi’ite movement.
“The governor’s convoy stopped at the protest site and without any provocation his security opened live fire at peaceful demonstrators, killing five of them, including an 18-year-old engineering student at Kaduna State Polytechnic,” an eyewitness said, wishing anonymity owing to safety concerns.
IMN spokesman Abdullahi Musa in a statement on Friday said the protest was organized to press home the demand for the lifting of travel restrictions on Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat.
He said the Kaduna governor had a few days ago “incited the members of his political party” in Zaria city against Sheikh Zakzaky and his movement, urging them to vote for his favoured candidate Uba Sani as the next governor “to finish off the remnants of Zakzaky’s Shiites in Zaria”.
“Incidentally, less than 48 hours to the state’s governorship election”, Musa said in the statement, when followers of Zakzaky “came out to protest against tyrant Buhari’s refusal to remove the illegal travel ban on their leader”, El-Rufai’s convoy “ran into the protestors and opened fire” at them.
The official website of the IMN identified the six slain Nigerian men as Ali Sulaiman, Yasser Ismail Abdulaziz, Muhammad Rabil, Abba Abubakr Nura, and Abdulmalik Ibrahim.
Hassan Bala, a senior IMN official and representative of Sheikh Zakzaky’s office, confirmed the incident to the Press TV website on Friday evening, saying the convoy of the Kaduna state governor attacked the followers of Sheikh Zakzaky, killing six and injuring dozens of others.
“The leader of the movement (IMN) Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife, who spent over five years in detention, was granted bail by the Nigerian court,” he said. “They have since applied for their passport to be released by the Nigerian government for them to seek medical attention abroad, but the government declined, and the duo’s health has been deteriorating.”
Bala asserted that the cleric’s followers have “vowed to continue protests” until the Nigerian government releases travel documents of Zakzaky and his wife, adding that peaceful protests “mostly turn into bloodbaths” due to the government’s brutal crackdown.