Access to Justice, a human rights body, has condemned a statement credited to the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Malam Garba Shehu, alleging that the presidential spokesman has given an open invitation to security forces to commit genocide against the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN).
Shehu had said security agencies now have the powers to take any necessary action against IMN members as was done to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and that with their proscription, they were not allowed to protest anymore.
But the Coordinator, Access to Justice, Joseph Otteh said if Shehu's statement represents the policy of government, it means government has issued an open invitation to security and law enforcement agencies to scale up acts of violence and dehumanisation against members of IMN, otherwise known as Shi'ites.
"The open call escalates an already tense and volatile situation affecting the group, who have been at the receiving end of repetitive acts of violence from security and law enforcement forces, and this makes them even more vulnerable to abuses.
"Even acting as individuals per se, Shiites can still carry out protests to express any grievances they have, and they do not need to belong to a specific organisation to exercise their constitutional rights. Proscribing a group - as constitutionally questionable as that is - is no authority, therefore, for objectifying members of the group, or saying they are open game for security forces," he said.
According to him, Shehu's statement will likely be received and interpreted by law enforcement and security forces to mean that persons associated with the Shiites were expendable, and should be regarded as legitimate targets of unrestrained lethal force.
He said it was virtually an open call to security forces to commit acts of genocide against persons affiliated to IMN in any way, adding that this assures security forces that government approves of their actions when they do anything, including killing summarily and arbitrarily.
"Furthermore, given Nigeria's context, this statement by Shehu can be used to justify violence even against other persons who may not be associated with IMN at all; law enforcement or security forces can simply place an IMN label on anyone to justify or legitimise an extrajudicial killing, or a violent or brutal treatment of that person, taking advantage of government's green light to treat anything IMN as liable to serious repercussion.
"We deplore the statement as a reckless and dangerous one and denounces it. Statements like that have no place in constitutional democracies; they undermine the essence of democracy as well as cheapen the value of human life. Mr. Shehu must immediately withdraw it and give a clear rebuttal clarifying that the statement erroneously misinterpreted the legal effect of a proscription," he stressed.