By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Onozure Dania, Monsuru Olowoopejo, Luminous Jannamike, Abdulmumin Murtala & Henry Ojelu
ABUJA — Strong reactions, yesterday, trailed the Federal Government’s proscription of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, otherwise known as Shi’ites, as the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Senator Shehu Sani and some senior lawyers warned of the implications of the move, saying it was unconstitutional.
This is even as the group said in Lagos, yesterday, that it had no plans to attack South-West states, noting that it was also studying the government’s proscription and consulting with its lawyers on the matter, with a view to taking a position on the matter soon.
Proscribing IMN is like quenching fire by raising walls of cotton — Shehu Sani
Reacting to the development yesterday, immediate past senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Shehu Sani, described the proscription as a wrong move capable of creating more problems for the country.
He spoke to Vanguard in Kano weekend while on a visit to the state, describing the Federal Government’s decision to use court a order to ban the four decades-old movement as quenching a fire by creating walls of cotton.
He said: “We have a culture of hiding our pepper in our nose or trying to quench a fire by creating walls of cotton. That is what we are doing. A court of law cannot address the problem of either insurgency or agitation or crush this kind of idea.
“We have had several laws on terrorism and it’s ten years today that we a are still battling Boko Haram.
“Second, which one do we prefer, is it an Islamic Movement that has a leader we can arrest, that has members we can see, that has an identity that we can prosecute or a group that will be forced to go underground and pose a serious security danger to our country?
“I think the option is ours. It’s either we prefer an organization like this — one we can see or the one we cannot see. We have not been able to crush the one we cannot see and we are already creating a new one.
“A nation that can go so low to sit down with bandits and negotiate is a contradiction for it to say that it cannot talk to any other group.
“If you can sit down on a bench and discuss, if you can open your gates for bandits, if you can shake the hands of bandits in order to find peace by talking to them, the solution to IMN problem, in my own personal opinion, are four-fold.
“The first is that the Sultan of Sokoto and other religious leaders should provide guarantee to the Federal Government for which the leader of the Islamic Movement should be released to them, standing as his guarantor. Second, the Islamic Movement should cease all forms of protests, whether peaceful or violent.
“The government should move towards addressing the problems of those of their members that were killed and their homes that were destroyed, in compliance with previous court judgements.
“The fourth solution is that the IMN should cease all its alleged relationship with nations outside of Nigeria that could cause a security threat to our country. If they are a movement, they should be a Nigerian movement to pursue their ideas, their beliefs and also whatever they want.
“When these issues are put on the table, I believe we can have a better way. But we must avoid a situation where a movement we can see, movement we can feel, movement we can touch, movement we know the houses of their members, their leaders and their structures than a movement that will suddenly disappear out of our own radar and do something sinister.
“The movement has been existing for the past four decades and they have faced persecution from successive governments and we must not in any way create more problems than the one we are confronting now.”
FG acted with impure intentions — CAN
On its part, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, said the move by the Federal Government to declare the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, as a terror group was made with impure intentions.
According to CAN, the failure of government to subject the issue of IMN’s proscription to a rigorous judicial process in order to prove beyond doubt that they possessed the qualities of a terror group betrayed its insincerity of purpose.
Barr. Samuel Kwamkur, Head of CAN’s National and Legal Affairs Directorate, who stated this in a chat with Vanguard, insisted that it was not enough in the face of the law to declare any set of people as terrorists based on mere ex-parte order.
He said: “The issue of IMN aka Shi’ites is not new. We are aware some of their practices are offensive. We are also aware that they were killed extra-judicially by government forces. We are also aware their leader has been in detention.
“We will only speak as responsible religious leaders that the law should take its full course. So, the issue of proscribing them through an ex-parte application is not enough, because such thing should go through a rigorous court process to confirm that they truly possess the characteristics of a terror group.
“We have seen the damage they have caused to the public and the damage the government has also caused them. The proscription of any group should not be about the might the strong can exercise over the weak.
“Government should treat them fairly. Nigerians should hear that the court has tried Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and found him wanting. We should also hear that their matter has been fully tried in court and found that they deserve to be proscribed and labeled as terrorists. We would now know that they have been given fair hearing.
“When you use government might to just take a decision on proscribing any group, it is tantamount to intimidation and hatred for a set of people.”
He also expressed concern over the Federal Government’s reluctance in declaring armed herdsmen and bandits terrorists but swift to proscribe the Shi’ites.
“We know Nigeria has been battling with a lot of crimes, though perpetuated by armed herders across the country. Many Nigerians have called that the herders be proscribed and declared as terrorists but we have not seen government showing any positive desire to even prosecute them, let alone declaring them a terrorist group.
“So, we are concerned that the issue bothering Nigeria is not handled properly but government is quick to deal with issues that discomfort those in the corridors of power. Some of us are disappointed.
“Why can’t government take decisive measure to deal with kidnappers, bandits and criminals and nip Nigeria’s insecurity in the bud? We feel there is no sincerity of purpose in the proscription of the Shi’ites.
Falana, Ozekhome blast FG
Reacting in a similar manner, Femi Falana, SAN, lawyer to the leader of the group and Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, stated: “The proscription of the IMN aka Shi’ites for the demonstrations of the Shi’ites against the disobedience of court orders by the Buhari regime is immoral and illegal in every material particular.
“It is particularly opportunistic on the part of the Sunnis occupying public offices to use the instrumentality of the state to liquidate the Shi’ites.”
In his reaction, constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said: “The proscription by the government of the Shi’ites religious group is highly discriminatory, unconstitutional, as was the case of IPOB.
“What group could be more terrorist than the herdsmen that have held Nigeria down by the jugular for years, killing, maiming, burning, raping, turning Nigeria into a crimson field with bloodbaths?
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Lagos State University, Gbenga Ojo, said in his reaction: “That is taking the matter too far. You don’t have to call a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Terrorists don’t operate openly with offices, headquarters and members known.
“Terrorists operate in secret and use coded names for operations. Can you liken them to even Boko Haram? I do not think that they are terrorists. They can call them any name but not terrorists unless terrorism has lost its meaning.”
FG’s action against IMN unconstitutional, SANs insist
More Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, and other constitutional lawyers who spoke to Vanguard in separate interviews yesterday, berated the Federal Government’s action, insisting the order was illegal.
The legal practitioners were unanimous in their opinion that the sect was denied its constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing.
Mohammed Abeny, SAN, said: “As far as the Nigerian laws are concerned, what happened in court on Friday is an illegality and unconstitutional. Assuming the government wanted to proscribe IMN, it will sue and serve the processes on them. It will be commenced with proceedings where they will be given the opportunity to be heard on why they should not be proscribed.
“But to go to court with an ex-parte application and take such far-reaching decisions of proscribing them, to be gazetted and to be called a terrorist organization without hearing them, is a violation of Section 36 of the 1999 constitution.
“The judge ought not to have entertained the ex-parte application. It seems to me that the court did not do justice at in this case.”
On his part, a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Silas Onu, said: “The court was unfair to hear and determine a question that borders on the rights of citizens to freedom of religion, without hearing the other side.”
Minister-designate, Mr. Festus Keyamo, declined to comment on the matter.
Also reacting to the issue, human rights lawyer, Larry Ajanaku said: “With the recent happenings around the Federal Capital Territory and its environs lately, the best thing to do under the circumstances was to approach the court for an order as pronounced. If an order could be got against IPOB, this is in order too.”
Also reacting, Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Evans Ufeli said: “The Federal Government of Nigeria has failed to employ diplomacy and tact in its approach to the conflict between it and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. First, I believe the government would like to have the court order proscribing the aforementioned group enforced tacitly against them but the same government failed to obey the order of court to release on bail the group’s leader, El Zakzaky, on this same issue.
“Would the government’s act of contempt not become a veritable excuse for the group to put up resistance or refuse to be so named a terrorist organization? The proscription isn’t a judicious mechanism in addressing this kind of religious cum ideological expletives because this is capable of raising passion that may lead to a further breakdown of law and order.”
Another lawyer, Emmanuel Ochai, said: “Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution makes Nigeria a secular state. You cannot ban religion, a people’s belief. Shi’ites are Muslims practising their religion.
“You cannot ban or proscribe them as a terrorist group. There is also freedom of religion in Section 38 guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.”
Proscription order: We are studying the situation — IMN
Meanwhile, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, aka Shi’ites said yesterday it was carefully studying the purported order by a Federal High Court in Abuja that it be declared a terrorist group and proscribed, noting it was in consultations with its lawyers.
The group in a statement signed by Ibrahim Musa, President Media Forum, said although it was yet to receive the copy of the order, its scholars and lawyers were already studying the development and would provide an appropriate and adequate response in due course.
The statement, titled, “Proscribing the Islamic Movement is a huge joke, read: The Islamic Movement has learned of the fallacious court order for its proscription by a High Court in Abuja, that it is a terrorist group.
“We are in consultations with our lawyers and we would, as a peaceful people who have been victims of Buhari’s government-sponsored terror attacks throughout his first term and now in his second term, give an appropriate response.
“We want to assure the general public and the international community that we will not be pushed into taking any rash decision, no matter the provocation.
“This order, we believe, was hastily obtained to sweep under the carpet the glaring human rights abuses suffered by the Islamic Movement in the hands of Buhari’s administration since the Zaria genocide of December, 2015.
“We reject any false-flag terror attacks that the authorities would be plotting in our name, and by this assure the general public that we have never contemplated the use of terror tactics in our ways. This is not about to change.
“It is all part of the blinding official stereotypes against the Islamic Movement. We would, however, not relent in calling for the immediate release of Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife, using all lawful and peaceful means as we have done all this while.”
No plan to attack S-West states — IMN
Also yesterday, the group allayed fears of residents of South West states, saying any act put up by the Federal Government would not force them to attack any of the government facilities in the states or engage in acts that were at variance with 1999 constitution.
IMN added that rather, it would continue to demand for the release of its leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenat.
The South-West Co-ordinator, IMN, Muftau Zakariya, while reacting to alleged plans by the group to attack government facilities in South West states, in an interview with Vanguard, urged residents not to panic, since IMN members, otherwise known as Shi’ites, were law-abiding citizens.
He said: “What we are seeking is the release of our leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife. That is all. We have never taken arms against law enforcement agencies. Rather, they are the one that have continued to use arms against us.
‘’We are law-abiding citizens and we believe in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. So we urge everyone in South West to disregard any information claiming we are planning to attack government facilities.”
IMN whipping up sentiments — Presidency
Meanwhile, Mallam Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, has accused the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, of whipping up sentiments.
Responding to the position of the group on the court which ordered its proscription, the presidential spokesman said the sect was trying to divert attention from its “terrorist activities”.
Abdullahi Musa, secretary to the academic forum of the movement, had said the Federal Government planned to stop the sect from practising its religion.
“I don’t think any court has the right to ban any religious group. Islamic Movement in Nigeria is not an organisation registered under the government, it is a religious group. Are they trying to stop us from saying our daily prayers?
“They want to stop us from going to Mecca? We are practising religion and we will continue to practice our religion, there is no killing or act of intimidation that will stop us from practicing our religion,” Musa had said.
But in a statement yesterday, Garba Shehu said government had nothing to do with the sect’s religion but the wanton violence, murder and willful destruction of public and private property.
The statement read: “The proscription of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, has nothing to do with banning the larger numbers of peaceful and law-abiding Shi’ites in the country from practicing their religion,” he said.
“The Presidency explains that contrary to the claim by IMN that it had been banned from practicing its religion, President Buhari’s administration has not banned Shi’ites from observing their five daily prayers and going to Mecca to perform the Holy pilgrimage.
“Their position is blatantly false and deceptive. The IMN is deliberately changing the narrative in order to gain sympathy and divert the attention of the world from its terrorist activities, including attacking soldiers, killing policemen and a youth corps member, destroying government ambulances and public property, consistently defying authority of the state.
“The Presidency agrees that the constitution protects freedom of worship, but not to the detriment of the society, especially where such freedom harms others, and breaks law and order.
“The Presidency insists that such criminal behaviour and disregard for rights of others and human life will not be tolerated by any responsible government, explaining that everywhere in the world protesters operate within legal boundaries and conduct themselves peacefully without molesting others, or engaging in murder and killing of security personnel or destroying public and private property.
“The Presidency regrets that despite all efforts by the government and other well-meaning Nigerians to make the IMN militants to see reason and abandon violence, such appeals fell on deaf ears as they killed, maimed and destroyed willfully, constituting daily nuisance to workers, commuters and other innocent citizens.
“Having defied appeals to operate peacefully, and given their seeming determination to destabilize the country, the government had to act before the situation goes out of control, after admonishing many times over that people should not use religion to perpetuate lawlessness.”