Senior lawyers have condemned the Nigerian government's move to proscribe the Shiite Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN).
PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported plans by the federal government to proscribe the group after a security meeting President Muhammadu Buhari had with security chiefs.
On Friday, the government secured an ex-parte court order to proscribe the Islamic group. The court order for the proscription of the Shiite group was issued by the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Friday.
The proscription order was first published by the Punch newspaper on Saturday.
According to the paper, the court presided over by a judge, Nkeonye Maha, made the order and directed that "no person or groups of persons should henceforth associate with the Shiites for any reasons."
To complete the process of the proscription of the group, the court ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation "to publish the order proscribing the respondent (Islamic Movement in Nigeria) in the official gazette and two national dailies."
In his reaction to the proscription order, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, described the proscription as "immoral and illegal."
He said the proscription of the IMN for protesting against the disobedience of court orders by the federal government "is immoral and illegal in every material particular."
The lawyer then made reference to how he secured an appeal court ruling in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari and his party when they were still in the opposition and were being intimidated by the state for protesting.
"In 2003, General Buhari and other members of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party 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," Mr Falana wrote.
"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.
"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 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."
Mr Falana, a counsel to Shiite leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, then accused the federal government led by Mr Buhari, a Sunni Muslim, of using the instrument of state to wage war against the Shiites. The Shiites and the Sunnis are two constantly opposing factions in Islam globally.
"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."
In his reaction, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, described the declaration of the Shiite movement as a terrorist group as unconstitutional on the grounds that a religious group could not be banned.
He added that proscription was a violation of the rights of the members of the group guaranteed under Sections 38, 40 and 41 of the Constitution,
"The Constitution is ruthlessly being shredded by an intolerant and overbearing civilian dictatorship."
"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 Nigerian Constitution makes Nigeria a secular state," Mr Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said.
Mr Ozekhome also argued that the proscription is discriminatory as armed herdsmen who have killed hundreds of Nigerians have not been declared a terror group.
"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. They are demanding for the release of their leader still kept in government dungeon in spite of several court orders."
Another lawyer, Johnmary Jideobi, described the move by the government to ban the Shiite group as unconstitutional and a nullity. The lawyer argued that no arm of government has the right to take away the freedom of fellow Nigerians without a proper trial.
"Our constitution declares that it is only when a court of law finds a citizen guilty of an offence that conviction and sentencing can follow. Unfortunately, the ex-parte order of the Federal High Court appears not to have reflected this constitutional safeguard in that without any plenary criminal trial the Shiites have been found guilty of being "terrorists" which is a grave label world over.
"This is because the ex-parte of proscription has a somewhat perpetual effect of which under our laws an ex-parte can only last for a few days. In fact, the Federal High Court Rules itself proclaims in the clearest of language that every ex-parte order expires after 14 days of its issuance."
"Being labelled a "terrorist" presupposes that you have been tried and found guilty of the offence of terrorism by a court of competent jurisdiction. The National Assembly [nay the TPA] goofed by attempting to proclaim any person or group of persons "terrorist" or "terrorist group" by an ex-parte order without a proper criminal trial thereby sidestepping that time-hallowed process of determination of the guilt or innocence of a criminal suspect sanctioned by the Constitution itself," the lawyer said.
The IMN Demand
The IMN protesters are demanding the release of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaki, and his wife Zeenah, who has been detained since 2015 after soldiers killed hundreds of his followers. The soldiers accused the Shiites of blocking a major road being used by the Nigerian army chief, Tukur Buratai.
While the security agencies have always accused the protesters of engaging in violent protest, the protesters have claimed that their peaceful protests have been repeatedly attacked by armed security officials.
A formal announcement of the proscription of the IMN is expected by the federal government
The IMN will become the second group to be proscribed by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
In 2017, the Nigerian government proscribed the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group seeking secession from Nigeria.
The Kaduna State Government, where the IMN is based, had in 2016 banned the group and labelled it an 'unlawful organisation.' The ban has not, however, deterred the Shiites from embarking on protests and other religious rites in Kaduna.