President Muhammadu Buhari has on Sunday defended the proscription of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria for its “criminality” of resorting to violence, but clarified that it did not ban the majority of “peaceful and law-abiding” Shi’ites in the country from practicing their religion.
A State House statement issued in Abuja said that the clarification became necessary because the group made an allegation that the government has stopped its members from observing their daily prayers and going to Mecca for pilgrimage.
The statement, which was signed by the Senior Special Assistant to Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, reads in part: “The Presidency explains that contrary to the claim by IMN that it had been banned from practicing its religion, President (Muhammadu) Buhari’s administration has not banned Shiites from observing their five daily prayers and going to Mecca to perform the Holy pilgrimage.
“Their position is blatantly false and deceptive.
“The IMN is deliberately changing the narrative in order to gain sympathy and divert the attention of the world from its terrorist activities, including attacking Soldiers, killing Policemen and a youth corps member, destroying government ambulances and public property, consistently defying authority of the State” Buhari said
“The Presidency notes that the banned organisation was taken over by extremists who didn’t believe in peaceful protests and instead employed violence and arson, driving fear and undermining the rights of others and constituted authority.
“The Presidency agrees that the Constitution protects freedom of worship, but not to the detriment of the society, especially where such freedom harms others, and breaks law and order.”
It added that any behaviour that would endanger the lives of other Nigerians would not be welcomed by Buhari’s administration.
It said: “The Presidency insists that such criminal behaviour and disregard for rights of others and human life will not be tolerated by any responsible government, explaining that everywhere in the world protesters operate within legal boundaries and conduct themselves peacefully without molesting others, or engaging in murder and killing of security personnel or destroying public and private property.
“The Presidency regrets that despite all efforts by the government and other well-meaning Nigerians to make the IMN militants to see reason and abandon violence, such appeals fell on deaf ears as they killed, maimed and destroyed wilfully, constituting daily nuisance to workers, commuters and other innocent citizens.
“Having defied appeals to operate peacefully, and given their seeming determination to destabilise the country, the government had to act before the situation goes out of control, after admonishing many times over that people should not use religion to perpetuate lawlessness.”
The Presidency further argued: “We are fighting lawlessness and criminality and not pursuing a policy of discrimination against any group…
“You cannot be in court while at the same time engaging in violent protests, molesting people and inflicting pains on others, which includes taking innocent lives.”