Isese: Lawyer Sues IGP, Kwara Imams, Others For Violating Traditionalists’ Rights, Asks For N100m Damages

Set Of Traditional Worshippers During Isese Day celebration

A lawyer and Activist, Olukoya Ogungbeje, has instituted a fundamental rights enforcement suit against the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and seven others, for violating the fundamental rights of traditional worshippers in Kwara State.

Others listed as second to nine respondents in the suit numbered FHC/L/CS/1674/2023, are: Kwara State Police Commissioner; the State Government; Registered Trustees Of Council Of Ulama (Islamic Clerics);

Justice Salihu Mohammed, Executive Secretary of Council of Ulama; Sheikh (Dr) Mohammed Bashir Saliu, Chief Imam of Ilorin and Chairman of Council of Ulama; Alfa Abdulsalam Baba Tonile Okuta-Agidu; Kwara State Magistrates Court, Ilorin, and Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) Ilorin, Kwara State.

The lawyer is suing the all the respondents in public interest on behalf of traditional religion adherents and worshipers in Nigeria.

He stated that the suit is pursuant to freedom of religion, thoughts, belief and conscience, under Sections 36, 38, 42, and 46 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999; Order Ii Rules 1 And 2 of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009; Order Xi of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 and under the court’s inherent jurisdiction as imbued by Section 6(6)(b) of the Constitution.

The lawyer prays the court for the determination of the following questions: “a determination of the question whether he can approach the court in public interest for the enforcement of any of the Fundamental Rights expressly enshrined under Chapter IV of the Constitution in accordance with the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 seeking redress for violation or breach of any of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) whether the reliefs sought are personal to the Applicant or not

“A determination of the question whether the fundamental rights to freedom of religion guaranteed under Section 38 of the Constitution extend to traditional religion adherents who are Citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and can enjoy the right to freedom of religion and practice their religion and celebrate cultural festivals without any let or hindrance by the Respondents in any part or State in Nigeria.

“A determination of the question whether the stoppage of ISESE cultural festival slated for 20th of August 2023 and the arrest, arraignment and remand of traditional religion adherents and worshippers by the respondents without any cause and under the guise of defamation of character, does not constitute a brazen violation of traditional religion adherents rights to freedom of religion, thoughts and conscience

“A determination of the question whether if the above questions are in the affirmative, the stoppage of ISESE cultural festival slated for 20th of August 2023 and the arrest, arraignment and remand of traditional religion adherents as Nigerian Citizens is not a violent violation of the rights to fair hearing and right to freedom of religion, as enshrined under sections 36 and 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and ought not to be deprecated  and declared unconstitutional.”

The lawyer stated that if the above questions were answered in his favour, he prays the court for the followings: “a declaration that he can approach court in public interest, for the enforcement of any of the Fundamental Rights expressly enshrined under Chapter IV of the Constitution in accordance with the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 to seek redress for violation or breach of any of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) whether it is personal or not

“A declaration that the fundamental rights to freedom of religion, thoughts and conscience guaranteed under section 38 of the Constitution extend to traditional religion adherents who are Citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and can enjoy the right to freedom of religion and practice their religion and celebrate cultural festivals without any let or hindrance by the Respondents in any part or State in Nigeria as constitutionally guaranteed under section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended)

“A declaration that the stoppage of ISESE cultural festival slated for 20th of August 2023 and the arrest, arraignment and remand of traditional religion adherents and faithfuls by the Respondents without any cause and under the guise of defamation of character and violation of same which CANNOT ground criminal liability, is a nullity and thus constitute a brazen violation of traditional religion adherents rights to fair hearing and rights to freedom of religion, thoughts and conscience guaranteed under sections 36, 38 and 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended).

“An order compelling all the respondents jointly and severally to tender a public apology in Five (5) widely read Newspaper publications to all the traditional religion adherents, faithfuls and members and to pay the sum of N100, 000,000.00 (One Hundred Million Naira) only as general and exemplary damages for the flagrant violation of their fundamental rights expressly created by the Constitution without recourse to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“AN order of perpetual injunction restraining all the respondents jointly and severally, whether by themselves, their agents, officials, servants, privies, officers and/or howsoever called from arresting, detaining, harassing, embarrassing, humiliating, interfering, disrupting, disturbing and further violating the rights to freedom of religion, thoughts and conscience of traditional religion adherents and faithful as enshrined in section 38 under Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) as it relates to the planned ISESE cultural Festival to be celebrated in Ilorin, Kwara State or any other cultural festival to be celebrated in any part or State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in connection with the facts or related to the facts of this case.”

Ogungbeje in a 42 paragraph-affidavit in support of the motion, stated that by virtue of his Call to the Nigerian Bar, he sworn to uphold the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in line with  Rule 1 of the Rules of professional conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria. And that he has a duty as a Minister in the Temple of Justice and Legal Practitioner to protect and defend the sanctity of the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from any constitutional contravention or infraction and or violation

He stated that he has roots traceable to traditional religious worship as bestowed by his grandfather and great grandfathers before his conversion to Christianity, hence his name OGUNGBEJE, meaning (the gods have accepted my promise or gifts), and that it was based on that he filed the suit in public interests pursuant to the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement procedure) Rules 2009.

Ogungbeje further averred in the affidavit “that sometimes in July 2023, traditional religion adherents planned for the annual Isese cultural festival in the Yoruba-speaking States in Nigeria including Ilorin, Kwara State to be celebrated on the 20th of August 2023.

“That I am aware as a fact that Isese cultural festival is being celebrated in Lagos State, Ogun State, Ondo State, Ekiti State, Oyo State and Osun State and the Governments of Lagos State, Oyo State, Osun State and Ogun State have declared Monday, the 21st of August 2023, as public holiday on account of the celebration of the annual Isese cultural festival that fell on Sunday the 20th of August 2023.

“That based on the above, on the Sunday, the 20th of August 2023, Isese cultural festival was celebrated by all traditional religion adherents and worshippers in Lagos State, Ogun State, Oyo State, Ekiti State, Osun State and Ondo State only for traditional religion adherents be to stopped and deprived of their rights to freedom of religion, thoughts and belief by the Respondents in Ilorin, Kwara State

“That the recent disturbing developments wherein the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh respondents have openly threatened to stop the planned Isese cultural Festival in Ilorin, Kwara State by traditional religion adherents and worshippers in Ilorin, Kwara State without any cause.

“That precisely on the Tuesday the 15th of August 2023, the fourth respondent through a press conference held by the fifth, sixth and seventh respondents threatened that Ilorin is an Islamic State that will not tolerate the celebration of Isese cultural Festival slated to be held on the 20th of August 2023 in Ilorin, Kwara State prompting the postponement of the festival to await judicial redress. 

“That the subtle press statement by the first and second respondents directing the traditional religion adherents to hold Isese cultural Festival elsewhere constitutes a brazen violation of the right to freedom of religion against Nigerian Citizens. And that the act and action of the respondents on the stoppage of Isese cultural festival in Ilorin, Kwara State by traditional religion adherents is clearly unconstitutional.

“That I am aware that Nigeria is secular State whose Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to freedom of religion, thought and Conscience. And that the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh respondents have continued to use the agents of the first and second respondents to clampdown on every dissenting traditional religion adherent and worshipper in a bid to silent the proponents of traditional religion in Nigeria nay Kwara State

“That on the 31st of July 2023, one Madam Efunsetan Abebi Aniwura Olorisha. a.k.a Iya Osun, was arrested on the guise of defamation of character, arraigned on the 1st of August 2023 before the eighth respondent and remanded in prison custody.

“That again, on the 16th of August 2023, one Mr. Adegbola AbdulAzeez. a.k.a Tani Olorun was also arrested, arraigned on the 17th of August 2023 and remanded in prison custody under the guise of defamation of character.

“That the duo of Madam Efunsetan Abebi Aniwura Olorisha. a.k.a Iya Osun and Mr. Adegbola AbdulAzeez. a.k.a Tani Olorun were arrested and arraigned without being afforded the opportunity of any legal representation or counsel of their choice. 

“That the allegations against the duo of Madam Efunsetan Abebi Aniwura Olorisha. a.k.a Iya Osun and Mr.Adegbola AbdulAzeez. a.k.a Tani Olorun who are traditional religion adherents are trumped-up and civil in nature that cannot ground any criminal liability.

“That the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh respondents in conjunction with the first, second and third respondents are hell bent to continue to violate and deprive traditional religion adherents and faithful from exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of religion, thoughts and conscience constitutionally guaranteed  under the guise of defamation of character.

“That the planned Isese Festival scheduled to be held on the 20th of August 2023 in Ilorin Kwara State has been truncated by the Respondents without any cause. And that the act and action of the respondents have brazenly and oppressively infringed on the rights of traditional religion adherents and faithfuls without any recourse to law.

“That this instant application has been filed in public interests against the Respondents for the protection of the rights of the under-dogs and oppressed traditional religion adherents in Nigeria necessitating judicial intervention for appropriate enlightenment and redress in a court of competent jurisdiction. 

“The acts and actions of the Respondents are not justified by law in the face of the brazen and oppressive violation on the rights of the Traditional Religion Adherents to freedom of religion, thoughts and conscience. And that if the respondents are not restrained through judicial intervention by Honourable Court, there will be further violations on the rights of traditional religion adherents in Nigeria by the Respondents.

“That this Honourable Court has the power and jurisdiction to jealously guard the provisions of Chapter IV and other provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

“That it is in the interest of justice that this Honourable Court of law intervenes to uphold the rights of Nigerian citizens and the sanctity of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And that it will be in the interest of justice to grant the reliefs sought this application.”

The respondents are yet to file any response to the suit, while no date has been fixed for hearing of the applicant’s motion on notice.