The Shi’ite leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, is safe and in protective custody in a very secured facility, his wife is safe and also in protective custody, the General Officer Commanding, 1 Mechanised Army Division, Kaduna, Adeniyi Oyebade, has said.
Speaking at a joint press conference with the Kaduna state Commissioner of Police, Umar Shehu, on Monday at the 1 Division headquarters in Kaduna, Mr. Oyebade, a Major General, defended the army’s action saying it is the responsibility of the security forces to bring law and order back to society within the rules of engagement.
He said: “The Shi’ite leader and his wife are safe and in protective custody even though I do not know how many wives he has since it was reported that his wife is dead and in the course of time, he, himself will be speaking to his members.
“You will recall that on the 12 of December, 2015, Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, was in Kaduna state for the convocation of the Kaduna state University and the music festival at the Ahmadu Bello University which myself and the Commissioner of Police as well as staff officers also attended, including the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.
“Just after Mr President left Kaduna to Abuja after a successful official visit, I decided to go to Zaria to meet up with the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, who was to pay a courtesy visit on the Emir of Zazzau and also attend the passing out parade of our recruits in Deport Nigerian Army.
“He (COAS) was coming in from Dutse, because that same week, we held the COAS conference in Dutse, in Jigawa State. He got to Zaria at about 14.30 hours (2.30pm) and the advance security team had cleared the road up to and including the city centre. There was no problem. The same security team made a U-turn to now bring in the COAS’ convoy which is our normal security routine whenever we are escorting our boss.
“But shockingly enough, members of the Shi’ite sect, lead by El-Zakzaky, blocked the Sokoto road to be precise and we found that that was unusual, but because we thought that they were being overzealous so two senior officers in the COAS’ convoy came down from their vehicles appealing to these hoodlums to please clear the road so that the COAS can go ahead with his scheduled programme.
“All entreaties, appeals to this Shi’ite sect members, in their hundreds, refused to budge. It got to the point that they started throwing dangerous missiles, stones, machete and all kinds of traditional or crude weapons I would say at the COAS convoy.
“It was at that point that it dawned on the security forces, especially the bodyguards of the Chief, including our quick response group stationed in Zaria, that this was not something that happened spontaneously. It was in our calculation premeditated and of course whenever any VIP or any facility is under our charge, we must secure that person or the property, in this case, the COAS. And it came to the quick conclusion of the security forces that the life of the COAS was under threat and they had no other option than to force their way through the blockage including the use of lethal weapons.
“That is allowed within the rules of engagement. As if that was not enough, as he was moving through, they we mobilizing in their hundreds. Thankfully, the COAS was able to wade through these hoodlums and went on to pay homage to the Emir before getting to Deport Nigerian Army.
“While this was going on, recall I said we had just seen off the president in company of the CP, I got a report from my commanders in Zaria of what was happening and of course, I started racing to the scene to find out exactly what was happening. But thankfully, by the time I got there the COAS had passed through. But then, we got reports that the Shi’ite members where mobilizing across Zaria in their various enclaves, shrines or what have you.
“As the GOC of 1 Division I take that very seriously that the life of the COAS is under threat and within the rules of engagement permissible by law, I had to bring the forces available to me to bring the situation under control and that was exactly what I did. But because we are operating in a city, we also informed the police of what was happening and they also provided the mobile police force to be able to restore law and order.
“My initial orders to the security agencies were just to keep everywhere cool and calm but little did we know that we were in for a bloody night. As you all know, the Shi’ite members numbered in their thousands and they were mobilizing and attacking security forces across Zaria.
“Again within the rules of engagement, we had to use the force available to bring it down and that was exactly what we did. Quite a number of our security forces were also casualties in this dastardly act by the sect so also some members of the Shi’ite sect. And because of the report we had that they were mobilizing at their three key strong points including the big temple called the Hussaniyya, the area occupied by the sect leader in Gyelleus and another temple somewhere on Danbo road, I decided that I had to bring the situation under control by securing those three sites.
“In the course of this engagement, of course there were casualties, there were also causalities among the security forces. In that operation, I made one categorical statement to my men, we must within the rules of our engagement make sure as much as it was feasible then to bring in the leader of the sect alive. We do not want him dead. He is a citizen of Nigeria. But we felt that, given the raging violence in the city, it was important that we bring him into protective custody. At about 9.15 today (yesterday) morning we successfully executed that.
“I want to send a message across all the Shi’ite members across the length and breadth of Nigeria especially in North-West zone under my charge, I urge them to keep the peace, I urge them to be law abiding, I urge them not to offer violence to members of the security forces, I urge them to go about their activities peacefully,’ he said.
He accused the sect of denying the communities surrounding their shrines freedom, adding that “I want to assure them that the security forces have nothing against the sect and in fact, I see them as my brothers and sister for the simple reason that we are all Nigerians and we all have the same rights under the law.”