Nigerian lawyers have expressed divergent views on the legality of the action by the Kaduna State government designating the Shiite group, IMN, an “insurgent group.”
While one of the lawyers who spoke in interviews with PREMIUM TIMES said the declaration was constitutional, others said it was not.
The Kaduna State government in a White Paper released on Monday said “for all intent and purpose, the IMN is an insurgent group and ought to be treated as such.”
The government also vowed to prosecute the group’s leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky for “crimes” committed by him and his followers for the past 30 years.
Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife have been detained without trial since December last year after soldiers killed over 300 members of his group.
The soldiers accused the IMN members of blocking the road and plotting to kill the Army Chief, Tukur Buratai; a claim the Shiites denied.
The killing was condemned by local and international rights group.
A Federal High Court in Abuja on December 2 declared the detention of Mr. El-Zakzaky as unconstitutional and ordered his release within 45 days.
The judge, Gabriel Kolawole, also awarded a N50 million fine in favour of Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife, against the State Security Service, SSS, and the Attorney General of the Federation.
He ordered that a safe place of residence be created for the cleric and his wife in Kaduna State, and that the IMN should not be demonised.
“I am of the view that the applicant need not be demonised, but that they should be allowed to practice the faith they choose,” said Mr. Kolawole.
Three days after Mr. Kolawole’s judgement, the Kaduna government announced its decision to label the IMN an insurgent group. The state government had earlier banned the group.
In his reaction, Akin Olujimi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the Kaduna government acted based on law, and therefore the declaration was constitutional.
“The terrorism act contains provisions empowering government to declare an organisation a terrorism organisation. These are security issues that rely in intelligence which you and I may not be privy to. So when they have those intelligence they can now come out to say the group is a terrorist group,” he said.
“But we must also know that the court has a power to determine a matter before it. If the court has enough evidence before it that a group is a terrorism organisation the court will make such a pronouncement. But if it does not have enough evidence to make such a declaration, it will not make such a pronouncement. It will only ensure that the fundamental rights of parties are respected.”
In a contrary opinion, another senior advocate, Simon Ameh, said the declaration is null and void.
“The people are entitled to peaceful assembly, it is their constitutional right. He (the governor) has no right to ban them. The Kaduna State government just has a duty to ensure compliance to law and order. But this declaration in law is null and void,” said Mr. Ameh.
Similarly, another lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said the declaration is a complete aberration of the provisions of law and an invitation to disaster.
“Even without a positive pronouncement of a court order, the act by the Kaduna State government is illegal and unconstitutional,” Mr. Ogunye said.
“The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution and government ought not to make it a habit to infringe on that right.
“The Shiite are a religious minority in northern Nigeria and the invasion by the northern part of Nigeria including the Nigerian government is that they are using state authority to wage a sectarian battle. Nigeria is not an Islamic state, so whatever problem the Shiites and the Sunni Muslims might have, ought to not be the problem of Nigeria. So when you use state apparatus to destroy the lives and homes of these people, declare them an insurgent group and then ban them; what impression are you creating.
“The attack of December, 2015 did not result in the death of one military officer; innocent Nigerians were reportedly killed in that incident. You cannot use state apparatus to wage sectarian battle against a religious group. When the Boko Haram issue started, that was how it was poorly managed till today it has become a Nigerian problem,” Mr. Ogunye said.
Source: Premium Times