A Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday warned Nigeria’s government against demonising Shiites and their Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN.
Delivering judgement in a bail application sought by the IMN leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the trial judge, Gabriel Kolawole, said Nigeria’s government must allow its citizens enjoy the fundamental right to freedom.
“I am of the view that the applicant need not be demonised, but that they should be allowed to practice the faith they choose,” said Mr. Kolawole.
The judge said Nigeria’s law allows a person or group to practice whatever religion they choose and in whatever manner that they deem fit.
He said although it is a known fact that most Nigerian Muslims are Sunnis, the constitution allows freedom of thought and worship.
Mr. Kolawole described the Shiite’s relationship with the Nigerian government as “delicate and slippery”.
He said his court was set to give its judgement since October 5 but decided to allow parties settle out of court, considering the sensitive nature of religious issues.
“They are much more delicate and judicially speaking, slippery in nature,” Mr. Kolawole said.
The judge added that despite repeated claims by the respondent’s lawyer, Tijjani Gazali, that the arrest was a constitutional step aimed at safeguarding the life of the applicant, he (Mr. Gazali) has not been able to back his claims with constitutional provisions.
Mr. Kolawole said “not even a microscopic view of the provisions of the constitution of Nigeria revealed any provision where an adult is allowed to be held in detention for his safety.”
He added that the documents before the court have not shown that the applicant gave his approval for the said “protective detention.”
“It is my conclusion that the applicant deserves to have judgement given in his favour,” said the judge while granting the application for bail.
“I have not been shown any incident report or any complaint lodged by residents around the neighbourhood that the applicant has become a nuisance to his neighbourhood,” said the judge.
He said the decision of the government to hold the applicant for so long amounted to great danger.
Citing the death of former leader of the Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, in detention, the judge said; “If the applicant dies in custody which I do not pray for, it could result in many needless deaths”.
Mr. Kolawole said the government should within 45 days release the applicant and his family to the police, who shall within 24 hours take them, guarded by escort, to a safe place. Failure to comply with the action, Mr. Kolawole said, will attract a fresh course of action by his court against the respondents.
He added that the respondents namely; the SSS, Inspector General of police and the Attorney General of the Federation, will pay a fine of N25 million each to Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife, making N50 million.
Mr. El-Zakzaky was arrested by the military on December 14, 2015, after a clash between the movement and officers of the Nigerian army.
The army killed at least 347 members of the group.
Mr. El-Zakzaky approached the court to demand his release, months after he was arrested without being charged to court.
He asked the court to declare that his arrest and continued detention violated his fundamental rights.