A Group known as the Judiciary watchdog, Access to Justice, A2J has faulted the proscription of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria by the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Convener of the group, Joseph Otteh, described the court’s pronouncement as “unconstitutional and deeply unfortunate.” Describing the court’s approach as flawed, A2J said Justice Maha’s final decision betrayed the long-standing judicial practice of not deciding a case based on a one-sided account
Recall that following an ex parte application by the Federal Government, Justice Nkeonye Maha had on Friday declared the IMN a terrorist group and proscribed it as prayed by the government.
The group said it was dismayed that Justice Maha would grant such an order in a way that sacrificed the rights of the IMN adherents, popularly known as Shi’ites, to present their side of the story.
The group said, “A legitimate judicial process takes account of, and hears the cases and defenses of everyone accused of misconduct and/or whose interests would be affected by a court decision and orders. To that extent, Justice Maha’s ruling is strongly objectionable. It did not follow nor respect basic constitutional standards applicable to a judicial proceeding, but disavowed inexplicably and without justification.
The statement continued “In a democracy, legislation must pass the tests of constitutionality to be enforceable by a court. The court ought to have satisfied itself that the legislation under which it acted, which so gravely imperils the fundamental rights of citizens to assemble and move freely, champion their causes and practice their religion, passes constitutional muster. It did not do so, unfortunately.”
A2J said Justice Maha’s orders were tantamount to condemning and criminalizing the IMN without affording the Shi’ites “the basic right to even challenge how the federal government – which has persecuted them over a long period and extra judicially killed hundreds of their members – characterized them.”
It added, “Many Nigerians are expressing growing concern that our courts, in a period when they ought to stand resolute as bulwarks of constitutional freedoms, are drawing a blank at critical moments, and giving the raw might of executive power unrestrained leeway over the rights of citizens. It probably bears repeating that when a judiciary fails to step up to the plate and safeguard the rights of individuals or groups when threatened, including those who suffer political persecution because of their beliefs or their unpopularity, democracy fails, and then the people are effectively silenced and unable to hold power to any form of accountability.
“Justice Maha’s decision has done far-reaching damage, at least now, to the rights of a group and its members to defend their rights peacefully and legitimately. The court has criminalized them by the stroke of a pen, labelling them as terrorists and exposing them to further risks of criminal jeopardy. It is a hugely unfair and inequitable thing for a court of justice or of law, to do.”