The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has warned the military against provoking another Boko Haram-like insurgency, after troops apparently raided the headquarters of a minority Shiite Muslim sect in northern Nigeria. The council said in a statement Sunday obtained by local media that it was shocked by the reported killings of several members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria following a confrontation with the Nigerian army.
“While there are claims and counterclaims on what actually precipitated the latest heart-rending incident, the NSCIA urges the authorities to exercise restraint,” the council’s secretary-general, Is-haq Oloyede, said in the statement obtained by Nigerian newspaper Premium Times.
Nigerian forces arrested Islamic Movement of Nigeria leader Ibrahim Zakzaky Sunday in early-morning raids on his house and other buildings affiliated with the group in the northern city of Zaria in Kaduna state. The raids occurred a day after sect members tried to block a convoy carrying Nigerian army chief of staff Lt. Col. Tukur Buratai to an inauguration ceremony for recruits in Zaria, witnesses told Reuters. At least seven people, including Zakzaky’s deputy and chief spokesman, were apparently killed in the clash.
A spokesman for the Nigerian army, Col. Sani Usman, accused Islamic Movement of Nigeria members of trying to assassinate Buratai and said soldiers were forced to shoot in defense when the group’s members refused to move out of the convoy’s way.
"The sect, numbering hundreds and carrying dangerous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tires. They refused all entreaties to disperse and then started firing and pelting the convoy with dangerous objects,” Usman told Reuters on Sunday.
Zakzaky denied the accusations prior to his arrest and said the altercation occurred as members of his sect were conducting their annual “Changing of the Flag” ritual to mark the start of Maulud, the birth month of the Prophet Muhammad, at their headquarters in Zaria.
"We learnt that [Buratai] was visiting ... newly graduated recruits and that coincided with our day of Changing of Flags, which we do annually. We had no intention of doing anything as claimed by the soldiers," Zakzaky told Reuters Saturday.
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria is generally viewed as peaceful, but a similar incident between the Shiite sect and the Nigerian military occurred last year during a procession. Zakzaky said 30 supporters and three of his children were killed.
Nigeria has one of the largest Muslim populations in West Africa and a majority of them are Sunni, including the Boko Haram militant group that has killed thousands of people in northeast Nigeria since launching an insurgency in 2009.