Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The presidency last night in Abuja denied stopping peaceful and law abiding Shiites in the country from practising their religion, saying the proscription of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) was rather meant to discourage wanton violence, murder and willful destruction of public and private property.
In a statement, presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, explained that contrary to the claim by IMN that it had been banned from practising its religion, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari did not ban Shiites from observing their five daily prayers and going to Mecca to perform the Holy pilgrimage.
“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 notes that the banned organisation was taken over by extremists who didn’t believe in peaceful protests and instead employed violence and arson, driving fear and undermining the rights of others and constituted authority,” Shehu said.
However, he said whereas the presidency agreed that the constitution protects freedom of worship, it must not be to the detriment of the society, moreso when such freedom becomes harmful to others, and violates law and order.
Describing the activities of Shiites as criminal behavior, which violates the rights of others and human life, the statement threatened that such behaviour would not be tolerated by any responsible government.
According to the statement, 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.
It also said the presidency regretted how all efforts by the government and other well-meaning Nigerians to make the IMN militants see reason and abandon violence fell on deaf ears, while the group allegedly continued to kill, maim, destroy willfully and constitutes daily nuisance to workers, commuters and other innocent citizens.
Furthermore, the statement said having defied appeals to operate peacefully, and seemingly determined to destabilise the country, the government was left without option than to act before the situation goes out of control.
He said that action became imperative, moreso that the federal government had counselled many times that people should not use religion as the platform for lawlessness.
“We are fighting lawlessness and criminality and not pursuing a policy of discrimination against any group. “You cannot be in court, while at the same time engaging in violent protests, molesting people and inflicting pains on others, which includes taking innocent lives,’’ the statement said.