FOLLOWING the recent face-off between members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and the security agencies, the Federal Government obtained an ex-parte court order proscribing the organisation last week. It was a move reminiscent of the earlier proscription and declaration of the self-determination group, Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), as a terrorist outfit. Naturally, IPOB’s agitation has continued till date.
In a similar move, the government once proscribed the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS), but it thereafter morphed into the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to continue as a pressure group promoted by Nigerian students. Indeed, if you proscribed NANS today, it would only morph into the National Organisation of Nigerian Students (NONS) or some other group. It is simply delusional to expect that an idea or movement can be legislated out of existence by any sitting government just because it doesn’t like the faces of its adherents. The more pragmatic approach is to provide an avenue for consistent dialogue with the pressure group in the bid to find a lasting resolution to the persistent grievances. Proscription could even be counterproductive at the end of the day if the said movement or idea is driven underground while gaining popularity. Then, any government effort to ensure peace in the polity would be thwarted by the proscribed group.
Boko Haram, which has compelled the government to spend trillions of naira in prosecuting an expensive warfare, is not a legitimate group, yet there are enough reasons to believe that the government still negotiates with it. Boko Haram has, for many years, turned parts of the country into killing fields and its proscription is not even on the cards. Similarly, proscribing the Shi’ite movement through an ex-parte court order cannot be the solution to the perceived problem which the government seems to have with the sect. In a democracy, proscription is never a realistic strategy; it is always best to follow due process. This is to avoid the perception that a particular group or interest is being suppressed or persecuted out of toxic sentiments by the establishment. Sadly, the present administration is not known to favour judicial due process and is more comfortable with military tactics.
Such a style of administration certainly bodes ill for the polity that is just heaving a sigh of relief from the many years of repression by past military administrations. Indeed, it is a legitimate question to ask whether the terrorist tag can be usefully attached to the Shi’ite sect which has always been approaching the courts for reprieve from perceived aggression by the government. Approaching the courts is clearly not the style of terrorist groups. In any case, it has not even been established that the bullet which felled the slain DCP recently during the unfortunate fracas between members of the IMN and the police in Abuja came from the Shi’ites. If caution is thrown to the winds, the crisis would escalate needlessly. Already, the crisis has attracted undue international attention, wit1h the interest shown in the case of the IMN by the Islamic Republic of Iran.Boko Haram which gets the government’s attention by force is being negotiated with but the Shi’ite sect whose leader is being held in detention illegally by this administration has been labelled a terrorist organisation. We are astounded by this illogic.
We do not accept the logic that Boko Haram and the IMN are on the same page. What is more, not many leaders of terrorist groups are being held by the government and the Shi’ite leader in detention, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, ought not to have had his fundamental rights abruptly suspended in a democracy. Happily, though, on Monday, he obtained the nod of a court in Kaduna State to get medical treatment abroad. The fact that the Shi’ite sect has chosen the legal option makes it a law-abiding group. Driving such a group underground might be a dangerous gambit, making it vicious and intractable. It is always best to negotiate with an identifiable group, not an amorphous one. The Shi’ite sect is not yet a terrorist group in this country. This government should not turn it into one, thereby compounding the problem of insurgency that the country is currently battling with.