By Wole Adedeji, Ilorin
A peaceful settlement suggestion by the Federal High Court, Ilorin, between a Muslim group in Kwara State and the Inspector General of Police, IGP, the Kwara State Commissioner of Police, a Divisional Police Officer, DPO, and two others had hit the rocks.
The IGP and others were dragged before the court for allegedly applying an extra-judicial force over a religious scuffle in Lafiagi, Edu Local Government Area of the state to shut down a mosque for months, withour a recourse to a judicial process.
The defendants were accused of unlawful deprivation, and unconstitutional violation of the applicants’ rights to fair hearing and freedom of religion or belief, in a suit No. FHC/IL/C5/6/2023, filed by Adeleye Smith Esq. on behalf of his clients: Abdullahi Mohammed and Aliu Mazuma, for themselves and others in an Islamic organization in Lafiagi .
The other two respondents in the suit were one Musa Ndagi and Gimba Alhassan, who are members of a rival Islamic sect in Lafiagi and the avowed opponents of the applicants’ Isamic group in the town.
According to the plaintiffs lawyer, the IGP and his men were challenged in court pursuant to Sections 36, 38 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended; and articles 1, 2, 8, 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; as well as Order Two Rule 1 and 2 of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009.
The plaintiffs were praying the court for six declarations, among others, that the continued lock up of the applicants’ mosque, Jama’atu Ahlu Sunnah Salfi-yat, by the police since 12th November, 2022 was illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional; and a violation of the applicants’ rights.
They also averred that the same continued lock-up of the mosque in Lafiagi since then, constituted a brazen infringement of the applicants’ fundamental rights to fair hearing and freedom of religion and belief or practice and observance, guaranteed under Section 36, 38 and 40 of the Constitution of Nigeria.
Also, they were seeking an order of the court compelling the IGP and his men, jointly and severally, to immediately and unconditionally open the mosque as their place of worship forthwith, while also asking the court to compel the IGP and his men to pay the sum of N50 million as general damages.
They further asked the court to grant an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the respondents jointly and severally, or anybody drawing authorities from them by whatsoever name called, from further harassing and locking-up of their mosque as a place of worship or violating their rights on any facts connected with or related to the facts of the case.
When the case came up for hearing, counsel to Ndagi and Alhassan, Ramat Temim, told the court that she was briefed less than 24 hours before the hearing date, and therefore requested for an adjournment to study the details of the matter.
Also, the counsel to the Police, A.A Aladejare, said that the DPO of Lafiagi Police division, who allegedly locked up the mosque had been difficult to contact, because of the distance between Lafiagi and Ilorin, the state capital. He also consequently requested for an adjournment to enable him do the contact for briefing.
A request for adjournment was granted by the presiding judge, Hon. Justice Mohammed Sanni, who however strongly implored parties in the case to take a peaceful option because of the sensitiveness of any religious matter which needed to be treated with caution.
However, when the matter came up for hearing on Wednesday, 15th March, 2023, Adeleye Smith, counsel to the applicants reported that as against the peaceful resolution option, his clients who went to an appointed peace meeting were attacked by their rival Islamic group.
He told the court that his clients sustained bodily injuries in the attack so much so that they were hospitalized and requested that the case be commenced since an out of court option might not work.
The lawyer told the court that he had all along been couselling his clients against any resolve to retaliate in the same bloody manner, but told the court that it looked like the patience of the applicants and their followers were running out.
However, the respondents; Musa Ndagi and Gimba Alhassan of the alleged aggressor Tijaniyah Movement at the court and at whose instance the police authorities allegedly applied extrajudicial force on the applicants’ mosque filed couter-affidavits to oppose the claims contained in the suit.
Reacting, counsel to the applicants; Adeleye Smith urged the court to take into cognizance, the religious nature of the case, which as it were, promises to threaten and jeopardize rights and the faith obligations of his clients as Muslims to participate in this years month of Ramadan.
He prayed the court to expedite action by allowing speedy hearing to accomodate possibilities of participating in Ramadan fastings that is few days away.
In his ruling, Justice Sanni adjourned the case to March 21, 2023 for the coundels’ address on both affidavit and counter affidavits.