Nigerian troops and police clashed on Tuesday with Shi’ite Muslim protesters in the capital Abuja and gunfire could be heard, according to a Reuters witness.
The air was thick with teargas as soldiers and police officers made arrests. The Shi’ite group marched in protest against the continued detention of its leader, despite a court ruling that he be released.
The violence happened a day after at least three people – including a journalist and senior policeman – were killed in a similar confrontation in the administrative heart of Abuja. As many as 10 more people may have died in the violence, a spokesman for the Shi’ites said that day.
A Reuters reporter witnessed the funeral in Nigeria’s northern state of Niger for six of those the group said were killed during Monday’s protest. A man whose child was killed during the protest said his son has become a martyr.
“The only thing that will stop this protest is for the government to … free our leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky,” said Abdullahi Musa.
“We are not armed. If we were armed, these people cannot face us. It’s because they see we are unarmed that is why they are killing us, shooting us and this will never deter us from what we are doing,” he said.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a Sunni like the vast majority of Nigeria’s Muslim community, warned in a statement before Tuesday’s protest: “Let nobody or group doubt or test our will to act in the higher interest of the majority of our citizens.”
“Perpetrators of the mayhem will not go unpunished (and) no government can tolerate unceasing affront to constituted authority,” he added.
Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) members regularly take to the streets of Abuja to call for the release of Zakzaky, who has been in detention since 2015. They say Zakzaky requires medical help. Live ammunition and teargas have been used by security forces in recent weeks.
Clashes between police and Zakzaky’s backers have raised fears that the IMN might turn to violent insurgency as did Sunni Islamist group Boko Haram after police killed their leader in 2009.