Leading rights activists Chief Mike Ozekhome and Femi Falana, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, on Saturday described the proscription of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) as illegal and immoral.
Senior Advocates, Mike Ozekhome
While Ozekhome said the proscription was “discriminatory”, Falana, who represents IMN leader Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, urged the Federal Government to withdraw the order.
Ozekhome said: “The proscription by the government of the Shiites religious group is highly discriminatory, unconstitutional, as was the case of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
“What group could be more terrorist than the Herdsmen 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.
“They (Shiite members) are demanding the release of their leader still kept in government dungeon inspite of several court orders. The Shiite group is a religious group, like the President’s Sunni group. It is not an association that could be banned.
“Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution makes Nigeria a secular state. You cannot ban religion, a people’s belief.
“There is 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.”
For Falana, the proscription is immoral and illegal.
He noted that the IMN’s proscription by the Kaduna State government in 2016 was gazette, yet IMN has continued to operate in defiance of the proscription.
Similarly, he said IPOB’s proscription in 2017 by the Buhari regime via an ex parte order issued by the Federal High Court was also gazette, but IPOB has continued to operate in spite of the proscription.
“However, in a desperate bid to prevent the Shiites from demanding for the release of their detained leader, Elzakzaky and his wife from the custody of the State Security Service, the Buhari administration has proscribed the IMN.
“Since there are millions of Shiites who belong to the IMN, the Federal Government will soon realise that it has merely driven the body underground,” Falana said.
The respected activist-lawyer recalled that 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.
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 the 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. ANPP won the case.
“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 judgment 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 Shiites against the disobedience of court orders by the Buhari regime is immoral and illegal in every material particular,” he said.
Falana called for the withdrawal of the proscription order.
“It is particularly opportunistic on the part of the Sunnis occupying public offices to use the instrumentality of the state to liquidate the Shiites.
“The illegal proscription of the IMN should be withdrawn. It will not stand as the fundamental right of the Shiites to freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed,” Falana added.