Cardinal John Onaiyekan

Catholic's Cardinal John Onaiyekan says President Muhammadu Buhari's proscribing the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) is a step taken too far and forbodes a bad omen for Catholics living in Nigeria too.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Onaiyekan said the government crackdown was unjust and a move that sets a worrying precedent for religious freedom in the country.

“Nobody is safe: today it’s the Shiites, tomorrow it could be us Catholics too,” he said.

Cardinal Onaiyekan explained that recently, for the government in Nigeria, the question of Shiite Muslims has become an issue.

He said IMN followers had been holding protests to demand the release of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, who has been detained in prison for the last four years.

Various tribunals and courts, he noted, had ordered that he be released, and the government has refused to obey the courts’ order.

Thus, Cardinal Onaiyekan said, the established Sunni majority in Nigeria “doesn’t want to recognize that the Shiites are also Muslims, and because of this the government treats them with serious violence”.

He said the Shiites had been holding almost daily protests in the streets of Abuja for over a month.

“From my own understanding, the protests were always peaceful and we never saw them armed,” he said.

And yet, he noted, the government soldiers and policemen had attacked them with arms, rubber bullets, and tear-gas canisters.

"As for us Catholics", the cardinal said, "we are deeply concerned about this development: “if the government can influence a Court to declare a religious group proscribed, then nobody is safe – today it is the Shiites, tomorrow it might be us Catholics too.”

Noting there has not yet been an official response by the Catholic Church to the situation, he said he expects it is soon to come: “Personally my own position is that we cannot keep quiet and allow this kind of thing to keep going on”.

“If the Shiites break the law of the land they should be held accountable,” the Cardinal said, “but to simply proscribe them, it is going too far.”

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