Alex Enumah in Abuja
The ruling by a Federal High Court in Abuja, which labelled the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) a terrorist organisation and ordered its proscription by the federal government, received a lot of criticism at the weekend. Human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN, condemned the ban order as immoral, and Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said it represented a terrible shredding of the country’s constitution. A United Kingdom-based group, Islamic Human Rights Commission, said outlawing IMN was a ploy to frustrate the release of its leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, who is held by the federal government despite court orders.
Justice Nkeonye Maha had on Friday issued the proscription order while ruling on an exparte application brought by the federal government. Maha designated the activities of the Shiite organisation in any part of Nigeria “as acts of terrorism and illegality.”
She restrained “any person or group of persons” from participating in any form of activities involving or concerning the IMN “under any name or platform” in Nigeria.
But reacting to the development, human rights activist, Falana described the proscription and designation of the group as both immoral and illegal. In a statement, Falana said, “The IMN was proscribed by the Kaduna State government in 2016. The proscription was gazetted. But IMN has continued to operate in defiance of the proscription.
“IPOB was proscribed in 2017 by the Buhari regime via an ex parte order issued by the federal high court. In line with the court order, the proscription was gazetted. But IPOB has continued to operate, in spite of the proscription.
“However, in a desperate bid to prevent the Shi’ites from demanding for the release of their detained leader, El-Zakzaky, and his wife from the custody of the State Security Service, the Buhari administration has proscribed the Islamic Movement in Nigeria.
“Since there are millions of Shi’ites who belong to the IMN, the federal government will soon realise that it has merely driven the body underground.
“In 2003, General Buhari and other members of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) held a rally in Kano to protest the rigging of the 2003 general election by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime. The rally was violently attacked by the police on the ground that the ANPP leaders did not obtain police permit.
“On the instructions of General Buhari and other ANPP leaders, I challenged the disruption of the rally and the legal validity of police permit for rallies and political meetings at the federal high court. The case was won by the ANPP. Apart from condemning the violent disruption of the rally by the police, the court declared that police permit for rallies was illegal and unconstitutional.
“The appeal filed against the judgement by the police was dismissed by the Court of Appeal. In fact, the Justices of the Court of Appeal unanimously held that the right of Nigerians to protest against the policies of the government is part of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
“Therefore, the proscription of the IMN 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. The illegal proscription of the IMN should be withdrawn. It will not stand, as the fundamental right of the Shi’ites to freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed.”
Ozekhome described the proscription as discriminatory, noting that members of the IMN are only pressing for the release of their leader, who is being held in custody by the federal government, in spite of a valid court order for his release. He said the government should show more seriousness in the fight against insecurity in the country by banning known groups and associations currently destabilising every part of the country, instead of those asking government to obey court orders.
Ozekhome said, “The proscription is highly discriminatory, as in the case of IPOB. What group could be more terrorist than the herdsmen and their known anchor, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, that has held Nigeria down by the jugular for years – killing, maiming, burning, raping, turning Nigeria into a crimson field of bloodbath? Until the government bans and outlaws these, it is certainly not serious.”
He stated that the Shi’ites group was a religious group, like the Sunni, which he said Buhari belonged to, and as such could not be proscribed.
According to him, “It is not an association that could be banned. Section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution makes Nigeria a secular state. You can’t ban religion, a people’s belief. Therefore, also freedom of thought, conscience and religion in section 38, while sections 40 and 41 allow for freedom of movement and association.
“The constitution is ruthlessly being shredded by an intolerant and overbearing civilian dictatorship.”
Islamic Human Rights Commission berated the federal government for proscribing IMN and refusing to release its leader, Sheikh El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Mallima Zeenah. In a statement tilted, “New levels of cruelty from the Buhari regime”, released in London yesterday, IHRC Chair Massoud Shadjareh stated, “If the reported proscription of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria is true, then this is a spectacularly cynical move on the part of the authorities. It is clear they wish to frustrate the growing pressure from inside Nigeria and around the world to release Sheikh El-Zakzaky and Mallima Zeenah.
“It is clear that the movement and its leaders are the innocents in this situation, and the Buhari regime the terroriser.”
But a senior lawyer, Ahmed Raji, SAN, called for caution by all Nigerians, stating that the current security challenge in Nigeria predates the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and would require the cooperation of all Nigerians to overcome. Raji lamented that the proscription would impact negatively on the economy, as it would scare foreign investors away from the country.
“It is a delicate balance. The more we admit that we have a good number of terrorist organisations in our country, the more the foreigners will become wary of coming in to do genuine business,” he said.
Raji said though he detested the activities of some persons, the society would gain more by embarking on a holistic approach to major social problems.
He said, “This administration met most of these problems. All hands must be on deck to save our country and future. It is the future of our dear country that is at stake.
“The president means well for the country by my assessment and reading of him. Men of goodwill and substance should rally round and help to navigate out of the major social problems.
“In the face of dwindling resources, the little that we have should be channelled towards improving our decayed infrastructure instead of this self-inflicted and avoidable internal crisis/strife. Nigeria must survive, God willing.”
While he said the claims by the Shiites that it could not be banned, being a religious group, might not appear tenable, care should be taken so as not to mix up the crisis with religion.
The federal government had on Thursday approached the court through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation for a Proscription Order as protests by the group demanding the release of El-zakzaky consistently turned violent, resulting in deaths. A senior police officer and a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) attached to Channels television were among those killed in the latest clashes.
In the ex parte application marked FHC/ABJ/CS/876/2019, the government prayed the court for “a declaration that the activities of the respondent (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) in any part of Nigeria amounts to acts of terrorism and illegality.
“An order of this honourable court proscribing the existence and activities of the respondent (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) in any part of Nigeria, under whatever form or guise either in groups or as individuals by whatever names they are called.
“An order restraining any person or group of persons from participating in any manner whatsoever in any form of activities involving or concerning the prosecution of the collective intention or otherwise of the respondent (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) under any other name or platform howsoever called or described in any part of Nigeria.
“An order directing the applicant (the AGF) to publish the order proscribing the respondent (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) in the official gazette and two national dailies.”
Maha, in her ruling, granted the application as prayed.