At least one police officer was shot by members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), also known as Shiites, during a demonstration at the National Assembly on Tuesday, July 9, 2019.

The Islamic sect has long protested against the detention of its spiritual leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, who was arrested in 2015.

During the group's demonstration on Tuesday, the horde of protesters disarmed a security operative before using the weapon on a policeman stationed at the National Assembly complex in Abuja.

The group managed to overwhelm the first gate of the complex, inflicting damage on the security post, and marched on the second one just before the main building that houses the upper and lower legislative chambers.

Security agents shot into the air to dissuade the determined group from advancing into the complex where lawmakers continued with their sessions. 

The group was eventually repelled after reinforcements arrived, with dozens of operatives from different security agencies present on the scene.

The policeman who was shot was taken away from the scene for medical treatment, according to an eyewitness.

The protesters also damaged a police vehicle and several other vehicles on the premises. Some workers of the National Assembly were also stoned by the protesters.

A Police vehicle was also damaged by the Shiite protesters
A Police vehicle was also damaged by the Shiite protesters

Many Shiite protesters sustained injuries in the chaos that ensued when they were dispersed with teargas and pushed back from the premises of the complex.

Police arrests 40 Shiite protesters

In a statement signed by the spokesperson of the Abuja Police Command, Anjuguri Manzah, the protesters shot two police officers and injured six others in their attempt to forcefully invade the National Assembly.

"The group which started its activity, camouflaged in a peaceful procession became violent and were trying to force their way into the National Assembly.

"Police operatives on the ground, however, acted proactively, professionally and used minimum force to disperse the unruly protesters.

"Members of the sect during the violent protest shot two police personnel on the leg, while clubs and stones were used to inflict injuries on six other policemen," he said.

Manzah also disclosed that 40 members of the sect have been arrested in connection with the violent protest, and warned that further attempts to cause the breakdown of law and order will not be tolerated.

"Those arrested in the process will be dealt with in accordance with the appropriate law of the land," he said.

A spokesman for the Shiite group, Abdullahi Musa, said they never fired at policemen, and that the officers were hit when the Police fired at them.

He also said two Shiite protesters were killed during the Police crackdown, but that it won't dampen their resolve to return for another protest on Wednesday, July 10.

Why Shiites are protesting

El-Zakzaky was arrested in Zaria, Kaduna in 2015 after soldiers killed over 300 members of the sect for allegedly throwing stones at the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, an act declared by the Army to be an assassination attempt.

Corporal Yakubu Dankaduna, a soldier, was allegedly killed by IMN members when he alighted from Buratai's convoy to disperse the group's procession during the confrontation.

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, he was eventually arraigned before a Kaduna High Court and charged with unlawful gathering, criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide. The court denied him bail.

El-Zakzaky's continued detention has led to allegations of persecution by members of his sect who have taken to the streets several times in protest, leading to clashes with authorities, most notably the Nigerian Army.

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 vehicle on fire, and arrested with 31 bottles of petrol bombs and other dangerous weapons.

A previous clash on October 27, where the Army accused Shiite protesters of attacking a convoy carrying ammunition, 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 another three Shiites were killed, the Shia sect claimed around 50 were killed by troops.