Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Tuesday urged the Federal Government to reverse the proscription of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), saying Nigeria’s global image as a democratic nation is under threat.
According to him, there is the urgent need for the government to reaffirm its commitment to respecting the rights of religious groups to exist and operate freely in the country without undue interference.
Onaiyekan, who stated this in Abuja during a State-of-the-Nation address to mark his 50th anniversary as a cleric, maintained that the members of IMN better known as Shites had a right to express their grievances against the state through street protests and demonstration.
He said, “The proscription of a religious group is certainly not seen our character in Nigeria. But government has an allergy to admitting they have made an error.
“I hold to the Presidency’s statement that they are not proscribing any religious organisation. The issue now is to press the government to reconfirm that they are committed to respecting the rights of religious groups to exist and to operate in Nigeria. That right should be given not only two the Catholics, the Sunnis, the Anglicans and other groups but also to the Shi’ites.
“My hope is that having made that blunt mistake, the government will reverse itself because the impression the Shi’ite proscription gives about Nigeria around the world is terrible.
“It portrays us as a country where government can wake up one day, get a court order from nowhere that particular religious group is proscribed. If we allow that to go, it means Catholics and my own religion to can be prescribed any day by any government who manages to get any judge to an ex-parte or non-ex-parte order.
“The Shi’ites have told us why they are protesting. The fact that I have not joined them in their protest does not mean that I don’t believe they have the right to protest. Their leader has been under detention against the same court.
“If I were a Muslim I will also fight for the freedom of every Muslim because freedom of religion is not only the freedom between different religions; there is also freedom within religions. I don’t know what will happen if I was detained unjustly and the court orders my release and the refuse to allow me to come out, I don’t know if anybody will be able to stop the Catholics from protesting.
“If a religious group goes against the existing laws of the nation, hold them accountable and prosecute them. From that point onwards, it is the job of the judiciary to determine for them. But, for the government to just wake up and prosecute them is a mistake. It is one step too far. We cannot allow Sheikh El-Zakzaky to die in the hands of government.”