Nigerian police and Shi’ite Muslim protesters clashed in Abuja on Monday, with at least a demonstrator, journalist and a senior policeman killed, highlighting security challenges faced by the country with Africa’s biggest economy.
A youth leader among the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) protesters said he saw six dead bodies, while a Reuters correspondent spotted a corpse, vehicles ablaze and bloodstains along a main street following bursts of gunfire.
Police said a senior officer was killed and three other policemen were injured during the protest. Police arrested 54 suspects who would be brought to court.
A reporter died after being shot during the rally, international organisation the Committee to Protect Journalists Africa tweeted. Local television station, Channels TV, confirmed the tweet.
A spokesman for Islamic Movement in Nigeria said 11 people were killed and at least 30 others injured. He said police attacked a peaceful march in Abuja, where they were marching to demand their leader Ibrahim Zakzaky be freed.
Ibrahim Musa, president of the Media forum of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, said in a statement trouble started when police prevented the group on their way in Abuja.
The clashes in Abuja’s business district, which lasted for about an hour, underscore security problems in Africa’s top oil producer and most populous nation – a country central to regional stability.
In recent days, bandits in the north-west killed at least 37 people, Islamist insurgents are suspected to have kidnapped aid workers in the north-east and pirates abducted Turkish sailors in the Gulf of Guinea.
IMN members regularly take to the streets of Abuja to call for the release of Zakzaky, in detention since 2015. They say Zakzaky requires medical help. Live ammunition and teargas were reportedly used by security forces recently.
IMN youth leader Abdullahi Muhammed saw more than 20 casualties on Monday, including people who had been shot in the legs and stomach. “I saw six corpses,” he said, adding police took away bodies.
He said the protest began as a peaceful march but police “started shooting ar us with live ammunition”.
Nigerian broadcasting company Channels TV said in a tweet that one of its reporters was shot in the stomach.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said IMN protesters set two of its vehicles on fire.
In a statement, Amnesty International called on Nigerian authorities to investigate and bring to justice those responsible.
‘SECURITY FOR EVERY CITIZEN’
The inspector general of police briefed President Muhammadu Buhari on the situation.
“The president asked us to make sure we provide security for every citizen and not to leave space for some groups of people to create breakdown of law and order,” he told reporters in Abuja.
Clashes between police and Zakzaky’s backers raise fears IMN might turn to violent insurgency as did Sunni Islamist group Boko Haram after police killed their leader in 2009.
Zakzaky has been in detention since December 2015, when the army killed roughly 350 followers at his compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground in northern Kaduna state.
Zakzaky faces trial on charges of murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace and other offences following the 2015 violence. He pleaded not guilty.
Buhari, a former military ruler, began a second four-year term in May after winning re-election in February following a campaign in which he vowed to improve security nationwide. He repeated that pledge recently.
The presidency, in a statement, urged IMN members to cease protests on the grounds the matter was being dealt with in the legal system and not by government.