Precious Owolabi, 23, who was interning with ChannelsTV as a reporter, was shot dead as police clashed with members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), otherwise referred to as Shiite, in Abuja, Nigeria’s administrative capital, on Monday, July 22, 2019.

Owolabi was serving out a mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program with the television station. He was hit by a stray bullet to his stomach.

“The 23-year-old died of a gunshot wound he sustained while covering the clash between the police and the Shiite protesters on Monday in Abuja”, ChannelsTV reported.

The statement from the broadcast station would add that: “The management and staff of Channels Television are greatly saddened by the untimely and unfortunate death of such a promising journalist.

“We pray that God will grant his family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss, and avail his soul eternal rest”.

Recent clashes between Shiites and the police have played out in pristine Abuja, the seat of government in Nigeria.

Protesting a leader's detention

Members of the Shiite sect have been protesting the arrest of their spiritual leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky who has been in detention since 2015, following a bloody clash between Shiites and officers of the Nigerian Army in Zaria, Kaduna State.

El-Zakzaky has been complaining of a failing health at recent court appearances.

Shiite leader, El-Zakzaky in court
Shiite leader, El-Zakzaky in court

The Islamic sect has clashed with the Police and the Nigerian Army on numerous occasions since 2015. 

40 Shiites were arrested on July 9, 2019 during a protest march to the National Assembly that turned bloody as two officers were shot, although the sect said the officers were shot by other officers who opened fire on the IMN protesters.

Monday’s protest also claimed the life of the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of operations in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), DCP Usman Umar, who was confirmed dead in the hospital after a bullet was lodged in his head. 

Usman served as the Principal Staff Officer (PSO) to former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, before he was later appointed as the DCP Operations.

Eyewitnesses say policemen had opened fire on the Shiite protesters after attempts to calm and ward them off failed. 

Presidency reacts to claims it is keeping El-Zakzaky in defiance of court order

The federal government has denied that it is flouting court orders with the continuous detention of El-Zakzaky, with President Buhari's spokesperson, Garba Shehu, stating that the Shiite leader is being kept in custody because he is still being tried by the government of Kaduna State, the jurisdiction where the 2015 clash occurred.

“The presidency appeals to El-Zakzaky-led Shiite members to desist from needless violent street protests and await the decision of the court in Kaduna where their leader is currently being tried.

President Buhari and Kaduna Governor Elrufai. Presidency maintains that El-Zakzaky is being kept by the Kaduna State govt (Punch)
President Buhari and Kaduna Governor Elrufai. Presidency maintains that El-Zakzaky is being kept by the Kaduna State govt (Punch)

“The federal government no more has hands in the matter and to that extent, the government at the center can be said to be clear of any alleged violations of court orders as being trumpeted every day. 

“These rallies and street dances ostensibly to openly insult the president and other leaders, threatening bloodshed will lead nowhere because President Buhari will not ask the country’s judiciary to abandon due process and set a suspect free.

“The Buhari administration has absolutely no hand in the on-going court case and the courts are free to determine the bail request and the final outcome”, the presidency said through Shehu. 

The trial of El-Zakzaky 

Even though a Federal High Court ordered his release in December 2016, the Department of State Security (DSS) continued to detain El-Zakzaky.

In May 2018, El-Zakzaky was eventually arraigned before a Kaduna High Court and charged with unlawful gathering, criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide. The court would deny him bail afterwards.

400 IMN members were arrested by the police for disturbance of public peace and law and order in Abuja on October 30, 2018.

They were alleged to have set a police truck on fire. They were arrested with 31 bottles of petrol bombs and other dangerous weapons.

Nigerian police fired tear gas to disperse Shi’ite Muslim protesters (Sabcnews)
Nigerian police fired tear gas to disperse Shi’ite Muslim protesters (Sabcnews)

On October 27, 2018, the Army accused Shiite protesters of attacking a convoy carrying ammunition.

The clash on the day resulted in the death of three people, with a couple of soldiers also wounded.

The protesters returned on October 29 and got involved in another clash with the Army and the Police.

While the Army reported that three other Shiites were killed on the day, the Shia sect claimed around 50 were killed by troops.

On January 20, 2012, Enenche Akogwu, a cameraman with ChannelsTV, was shot three times in the chest and three times in the stomach by Boko Haram terrorists on a Kano street, as the insurgents blew up the northern city with bombs.

Akogwu was 31 years of age.