10th May, 2018
ARREST AND PROSECUTE ORO PRIESTS IN IKORODU
Social and economic activities were paralysed in Ikorodu town, Lagos State, on Tuesday 8th May, 2018 as Oro worshippers unilaterally imposed curfew on the town to celebrate Oro Festival. This was in spite of the assurance given by the police and the traditional institution on free movement. Banks and shops were shut down and there were no vehicular and human movements in many parts of the town. All motor parks in the neighbourhood remained deserted.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) observes that the unilateral declaration of curfew by Oro priests is illegal, illegitimate and unconstitutional. It is therefore ultra vires.
Chapter 4 Section 41 of the 2011 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says, “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.” Only the the state government on the advise of the state commissioner of police can impose curfew on a town. Even then, such imposition must be based on adverse security report.
Historically, curfews declared by the priests used to be for the night but due to the pervading general lawlessness in the society, Oro priests have started imposing curfews during the day. This shows that Oro priests are becoming daring and this is instructive. It should not be allowed to continue. Apart from this traditionalists have become more combative and security operatives need to more vigilant.
We all agree that there is freedom of worship so long as no worshipper encroaches on the right of others in any way. But Oro priests are stretching their freedom of worship beyond its limit as their curfews infringe on the citizens’ right of movement.
Masqueraders have attacked churches in many parts of the South East. A mosque was vandalized while worshippers were severely injured by masquerades in Ekiti State. Several skirmishes have also been recorded in other parts of the South between traditional worshippers and Christians or between the former and Muslims.
The negative impacts of the imposition of curfew on any city are too dire to trivialize with. A nation’s economy is run by the movement of homo sapiens and goods. Consequently, billions of naira are lost on every single day a curfew is imposed. Lives are also lost as those seriously sick may find it difficult and sometimes impossible to reach hospitals. All forms of learning and research are also suspended.
Nobody can guaranty the safety of any woman who unknowingly drives in or just enters the town during the Oro festival. Market women cannot buy or sell. Married women cannot leave their residences to purchase vital items for the family. This is likely to breed hunger. Most importantly, the lives of women who are seriously ill or in labour and their unborn infants are imperiled. Even students who are to write examinations have to withdraw, relocate or sleep in unhealthy and unsafe school environments. What kind of people are we? How can we expose our young ones to such dangers in the name of tradition?
The imposition of curfews by Oro priests is therefore archaic, retrogressive, counter-productive, inhuman and barbaric. Also by forbidding women from moving around, Oro priests exhibit exclusive treatment of the female gender. This is discriminatory and misogynic.
MURIC had to intervene about seven years ago when Oro priests manifested their impunity once again by imposing curfew on Ikorodu on a Saturday when students were to take English language in their West African School Certificate Examination (WAEC). The publicity of our press statement on the illegal curfew about two days before the examination on radio and television forced the Oro priests to abort their primordial, parochial and pernicious agenda.
We warn that the imposition of curfews by Oro priests is a disaster waiting to happen. What if it happens on a Sunday? How would Christians attend church? A religious clash may occur. It may spread like wild fire. Church goers have been known to attack shrines in the South East. Or if it occurs on a Friday? How can we guarranty peace in such a situation? Tension has been known to have risen on occasions when the Oro priets imposed curfew during Ramadan. Must we sacrifice lives before we secure our liberty?
This is where the law enforcement agents have to come handy. Yet police complicity cannot be ruled out in the Ikorodu episode. For instance, the Lagos Police Command assured Ikorodu residents of safety and asked them to go about their legitimate businesses. But did that stop the Oro priests?
The curfew (isemo) which was imposed still remained effective. Nobody moved about except the Oro priests and their faithful. Dressed like warriors, the Oro worshippers went around with canes, knives, cutlasses and other weapons. They smoked weed publicly and vandalized markets. Yet no single policeman was in sight. This means that the police statement was ineffective. That curfew was an affront on the police. It is unacceptable.
It is not enough for the police to give assurance of safety. That is mere window-dressing. Police must do more. The police must be able to get a commitment from Oro priests. Police can reach the priests though the traditional ruler who knows them all. They must be made to recant. The problem with Nigeria is not an acute shortage of laws. We have enough laws in place but they are not being enforced. The law must be allowed to work. Our police seem to lack the will to invoke the provisions of the law. Illegal curfews will continue to pervade Southern Nigeria until the police are ready to uphold the rule of law.
Before we round up, there is an urgent need to contribute to the ongoing debate on the demand of Oro worshippers for a day to be declared as a public holiday. MURIC supports this idea on the basis of equal rights and tolerance. Afterall Christians and Muslims have their own public holidays. Traditionalists can have their own holiday but that should not be a licence for imposing any curfew on that particular day. Also, that single day must be synergised with other traditional groups like Sango and Ogun worshippers. Such holiday may also be limited to the South. This will be the responsibility of state governments in the South-West, South-East and South-South.
To cap the edifice, the state governments in Southern Nigeria should address this issue before it is too late. Lawmakers in the various state Houses of Assembly should also do the needful. In particular, the Lagos State House of Assembly must raise the Ikorodu saga on the floor of the House now that it is still fresh. Afterall they are also witnesses to the spectacular mess. We call on law enforcement agents to arrest and prosecute those behind the illegal imposition of curfew in Ikorodu on Tuesday. This should be done in earnest to serve as deterrent to others.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)