Human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has condemned the order obtained by the Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Akpata, on behalf of the Federal Government to proscribe the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN). He said the FG’s move is not only “illegal”, but also “immoral.”
Backstory: A court ordered on Saturday that the activities of the Shi’ite group led by the detained Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky be designated “as acts of terrorism and illegality” in any part of Nigeria.
Considering that the group was protesting against the illegal disobedience of court orders by the federal government, several Nigerians, including Falana who represents the movement in court, found Saturday’s ruling bewildering.
Falana made three key points about the proscription of the sect:
The oppressed have become the oppressors: Falana referenced a 2003 incident in which the police violently attacked President Muhammadu and his All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) following a protest after that year’s election. Falana represented Buhari and the ANPP in court, where they won against the police. During the appeal, a Court of Appeal panel “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.”
- Although Pres. Buhari went through all that victimization, his government appears to have forgotten that ruling and is now following the same playbook in attacking Nigerians protesting against what they consider to be unjust.
The proscription strategy always fails: It appears now that whenever the government is unhappy about protests by citizens, it moves to proscribe. Falana pointed out that Kaduna Gov. Nasir Elrufai tried it with the same Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) group in 2016, and the FG did same with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement in 2017. In both cases, it failed as both IMN and IPOB have “continued to operate in defiance of the proscription.”
- The lawyer argued that the latest “desperate bid” by the FG will also fail and the “federal government will soon realise that it has merely driven the body underground.”
Opportunistic attack by the Sunnis occupying government offices: The prominent Muslims in power are Sunnis, while members of the IMN are Shiites. Falana argues that the proscription of the IMN is “particularly opportunistic on the part of the Sunnis occupying public offices to use the instrumentality of the State to liquidate the Shiites.”
Way forward: Falana said in his statement that “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.” Considering the historical precedence of the current government on respect to constitutional rights, it is unlikely they would be taking Falana’s advise.