Protests erupted in Abuja on Monday, January 8, which led to violent clashes between protesters and police forces and multiple arrests. The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) reportedly organized the January 8 protest march to demand the release of IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been detained by security forces since 2015.
Protesters participating in the march attempted to enter the front gate of the National Assembly complex before police forces repelled them with tear gas. Subsequently, some IMN protesters reportedly ran into the Federal Secretariat area. Several demonstrators were arrested by Nigerian paramilitary forces, according to local media sources. No casualties have yet been reported. Additional related protests are possible in Abuja in the coming weeks.
On January 7, related protests broke out in several towns in northern Nigeria, including in Kaduna, where violent clashes took place between police officers and demonstrators.
Zakzaky, a prominent Nigerian Shi'a cleric, was arrested in December 2015 when Nigerian army forces raided his home in Zaria (Kaduna state) and killed many IMN followers. The Nigerian Federal High Court ordered his immediate release in December 2016, but he has since remained under state detention. He is reportedly in poor health as of early January 2018, and IMN protesters have demanded his release for medical treatment.
Zakzaky founded the IMN - a Shi'a missionary and political organization - in 1979 after witnessing the Iranian Revolution. IMN has reportedly received significant material and financial support from Iran since its founding, and is renowned for regularly holding pro-Palestinian and other protests in Kiduna state.
Individuals in Abuja are advised to monitor developments to the situation, avoid all protests and demonstrations due to the risk of associated violence, and adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities.
In general, the security environment in Nigeria is complex and is particularly concerning in the northeast and extreme south of the country due to the presence of armed groups, high crime rates, and the risk of kidnapping. Some Western governments consequently advise against travel to certain areas of the northeast (e.g. states of Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, and Jigawa as well as parts of Kano and Adamawa states) and the southern Niger Delta region (e.g. states of Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, and Rivers). Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to travel to these areas.