Abuja — The Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, on Saturday escaped an attempt on his life when members of the Shiite Islamic Sect attacked his convoy in Zaria, Kaduna State. The attack, which was repelled by his security detail, may have left at least three people dead with over 20 others injured.
Disclosing the news of the assassination attempt, Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Col. Sani Usman, said the attack on Buratai by the sect led to exchange of fire between the military and members of the sect.
"The Shiite Sect on the orders of their leader, Ibrahim Alzak-zaky today afternoon in Zaria attacked the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff while on his way to pay homage on the Emir of Zazzau and attend the Passing Out Parade of 73 Regular Recruits Intake of Depot Nigerian Army, Zaria.
"The sect numbering hundreds carrying dangerous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tyres. They refused all entreaties to disperse and then started firing and pelting the convoy with dangerous objects. The barricade was obviously a deliberate attempt to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff and members of his entourage while on a legitimate official assignment as Special Guest of Honour at the passing out parade which has earlier been widely publicised," Col. Usman noted in a statement.
According to him, the troops responsible for the safety and security of the Chief of Army Staff on hearing explosion and firing were left with no choice than to defend him and the convoy at all cost as well as open up the barricaded road for law abiding citizens.
This, he pointed out, was "in line with the Nigerian Army Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct." "This kind of behaviour will not be tolerated from any individual or groups and should not be allowed to repeat itself," he warned.
Usman implored all Nigerians to continue to be law abiding and remain conscious of other people's right to life, freedom of movement and passage.
The sect, headed by Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky has its headquarters in Zaria. In 2014, A similar incident occurred resulting in the killing of three of El-Zakzaky's sons.
Yesterday's incident occurred around the PZ area of the city when the soldiers, said to be driving in two vehicles reportedly opened fire on members of the movement during a procession marking a religious rites.
A source noted that the Passing Out Parade of the 73 Regular Recruit Intake of the Nigerian Army Depot in Zaria, coincided with that of the Shiites who were to hold the annual "Maulud at Hussaimiyya" in Zaria.
The source explained that as early as 12 noon, members of the Shiite sect barricaded the road where the CoAS was to pass. The security detail attached to the CoAS was said to have come down from the vehicle to plead with the congregation.
"From the distance, we could hear gun shots," he said. The convoy of the CoAS succeeded in clearing the way for him to pass, but immediately he left, some soldiers in three trucks reportedly arrived the scene.
The incident was said to have caused panic and confusion among residents of the city. However, speaking with THISDAY in a telephone interview, a member of the Media Forum of the Islamic Movement, Ibrahim Usman, denied any assassination attempt on the chief of army staff and frowned on the alleged killing of member of the Shiite sect by the soldiers.
According to him, "It was an offensive by the military on innocent people. What actually happened was that we were supposed to have a programme at our centre in Zaria, around PZ. As we were preparing, we took cognisance of the security situation in that kind of crowd as well as ensuring traffic control. "
He explained further that when the soldiers, who were driving in two vehicles arrived, "we told them what we were doing, but they insisted on bulldozing their way and then they started shooting.
Usman added that "The chief of army staff was not even there. It was just his boys, they shot and killed some people and took them away and blocked the road
"Right now as I am talking to you (6:30pm), they have surrounded our centre with some injured people that we could not collect. In brief this was what happened."
"I am not in a position to give the correct casualty figure, but three people were killed and over 20 others were injured." Asking, "for what reason can we assassinate him?, Usman recalled that "even when the three children of our leader and 21 people were killed in 2014 by the military we did not try to assassinate anybody."
"It is a blatant lie. They are just giving a dog a bad name to hang it. It is very unfortunate. They were not in convoy, they came in about two cars and they wanted to pass. It was later that they reinforced with about 20 vehicles. They started shooting and blocked the whole place," he added.
According to him, "everybody was passing on the road, there were commercial vehicles going to Samaru. Normally people know when we are holding our programmes. On Friday we had a programme up to 9:00pm and people were passing. It was a provocation." Meanwhile, an eye witness gave an account of how Buratai escaped the over one-hour siege by members of Shiite Islamic Sect.
The eye witness was with the entourage of Buratai, who were on their way to Zaria to pay homage to the Emir of Zazzau and attend the Passing out Parade of 73 Regular Recruits Intake of Depot Nigerian Army, Zaria when the incident happened. He told THISDAY the Shiite Sect members led by Ibrahim El-Zakzaky blocked their way and exit point and we were under siege for over an hour within which over 30-minute negotiation for right of way were denied.
"It was a scary moment because we were at a standstill and the processing Shiite members were charging at us and throwing stones at first.
"When this thing started, we were blocked for over an hour and some of the officers had to come down to speak with the Shiites and this went on for over 30 minutes. They refused to open the way for the convoy but after several appeal the men negotiating for them left to speak with their leaders but after 30 minutes they came back charging at us.
"They put women and children first who started throwing stones at us. It was at this point that the soldiers attached to CoAS and the convoy shot in the air to scare them and create way for us to charge through. What happened immediately was that their members with weapon took charge and took positions against us.
"Everybody now took position and those with bullet proof vest wore theirs and those of us who could not get took positions and it was in this moment of confusion that we charged through to break the siege. So I could not ascertain if there was actual exchange of gunfire or if anybody was killed", the witness explained.