Politics

Boko Haram: Fresh thoughts around prosecution of suspects

For the governors of North East, one of the ways the scourge of terrorism and terror groups can abate is if the Federal Government grants prosecutorial rights of suspected terrorists to state governments in the zone. WALE ELEGBEDE reports

 

The North-East is one of the six geo-politico zones of Nigeria and has an estimated population of 23m representing 13.5 per cent of the country’s population.

 

The zone occupies slightly less than one-third of Nigeria’s total area and comprises of six of states, namely: Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe and Taraba.

 

 

Although Nigeria is affected by several conflicts based on overlapping ethnic, religious, political and regional divisions, the rise of Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East appear to be the most severe as it has left thousands of civilians and security operatives dead and displaced millions of others.

 

The Boko Haram uprising, which is in its 11th year, after starting in Bauchi in 2009, has been characterised by wanton killings, bombings, mass shootings, abduction and executions especially in the North-East. Expectedly, people in the nonconflict states have certainly been affected by the crisis, but the entire population of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states are considered worst hit by the impact of the Boko Haram insurgency.

 

According to a recent report by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), Nigeria, for the sixth consecutive time, since 2015, was ranked as the third country with the worst impact from terrorism, across the globe.

 

The report said despite the rise in the number of casualties from Boko Haram attacks in the north-east, Nigeria is the second country to record a fall in violent deaths after Afghanistan in 2019.

 

The annual Global Terrorism Index, now in its eighth year, is developed by leading think tank, the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and provides the most comprehensive resource on global terrorism trends.

 

“Despite an overall decline in terrorism, Boko Haram, Nigeria’s deadliest terrorist group, recorded an increase in terrorist activity mainly targeted at civilians. Terror-related deaths and incidents attributed to Boko Haram in Nigeria increased by 25 and 30 per cent respectively from the prior year

 

“In 2019, Boko Haram carried out 11 suicide bombings causing 68 fatalities. Suicide bombings accounted for six per cent of all terror-related incidents by Boko Haram in 2019, marking an 89 per cent decline from their peak in 2017,” the report read.

 

The North-East is one of the most backward geopolitical zones in the country where most of the people wallow in abject poverty.

 

The Boko Haram insurgency unfortunately compounded the plight of the people of the region. There are also huge development challenges in most of the states that those in the position of authority have failed to address or draw attention to. As a result, people in the zone lack the most basic dividends of democracy while accountability in governance    are brazenly abused.

 

While the federal and state governments, as well as their global partners are adopting multidimensional approaches to ensure the activities of the insurgents is brought to its knees, a recent call by the Northeast Governors Forum (NEGF), comprising of the Governors of Adamawa,

 

Bauchi, Borno Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states appears to be another masterstroke to make the zone peaceful. Speaking at the meeting of NEGF in Yola, Adamawa State, Borno Governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, who is also the chairman of the forum, expressed the need for a transfer of prosecutorial right of terrorists to the state governments.

 

Zulum, said, “As we deliberate on the scourge of terrorism and terror groups within the Nort- East, we need to fashion out ways of facilitating the prosecution of those charged with terrorism activities.

 

“At the moment, the process is a bit cumbersome as all suspects charged with terrorism and terrorist-related offences have to be transferred to Abuja for prosecution, as only the Attorney- General of the Federation has the statutory powers to prosecute terrorists; according to the provisions of anti-terrorism law.

 

“We need to obtain prosecutorial fiat from the Attorney-General to enable us to prosecute those charged with terrorism in our respective states, instead of referring them to Abuja.”

 

He also said governors in the region needed to take far reaching measures to ensure incidents of house kidnapping as reported in some states did not extend to the North-East.

 

Recently, the Ministry of Justice during the defence of its 2021 budget proposal, said of the proposed N2 billion to cover its legal services for the 2021 fiscal year, about N350 million was budgeted for the trial and prosecution of Boko Haram criminals

 

According to the Solicitor-General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, the amount is small when compared to  what it is meant to do.

 

“On the trial and prosecution of Boko Haram, you will recall that last year, we had to create a jurisdiction in Kanji Dam in which 3000 inmates were prosecuted.

 

How do you prosecute 3000 inmates in a place? We had to bring four judges from the federal high court, and pay the legal aides. “When we look at the N2billion, it’s a tip of the iceberg of what it intends to do. Presently, there is a camp in Maiduguri which we are going for another prosecution.

 

This is what the N2 billion is going to do. So, there is no overlapping,” he said. Regardless of the funding challenges, the Human Rights Watch, in one of its reports, said prosecution of suspected Boko Haram terrorists has been characterised by serious shortcoming, adding that the authorities are failing to prioritize prosecution of those most responsible for the group’s atrocities. “Nigeria needs to pursue justice for those responsible for Boko Haram’s atrocities and end the prolonged detention of thousands of suspects.

 

“However, to achieve justice and deter extremist attacks, the Nigerian government’s overall strategy and trial procedures need to conform with constitutional safeguards and international standards.” Anietie Ewang, a researcher at HRW said.

 

The HRW said in 7 of about 60 cases it monitored, Federal Justice Ministry prosecutors brought charges for murder, kidnapping, and other crimes, including during gruesome attacks in Damaturu, Bama, and Baga in 2015, and the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in April 2014. It said most defendants were prosecuted solely for providing “material and non-violent support” to Boko Haram, including by repairing their vehicles, laundering their clothes, or supplying them with food and other items.

 

“The proceedings were very short, with some lasting less than 15 minutes, raising several fair trial and due process concerns. Most charges were couched in ambiguous and vague terms without the crucial information

 

Nigerian law requires, like the specific date, place, and details of the alleged offense. “Other procedural lapses included a lack of official interpreters and the use of untrained unofficial interpreters; reliance on alleged confessions; charging previously discharged defendants again for the same offenses; and unclear orders for rehabilitation for some defendants whose releases were ordered.”

 

The government courted controversy recently after it announced that it had released about 1,400 Boko Haram suspects. The reason given was they had repented and were to be re-integrated into society.

 

The federal government said the releases – which happened in three tranches – were part of its four-year old de-radicalisation programme called Operation Safe Corridor. Some of the queries raised by those opposed to the government’s action include, “How can we ensure that the ‘former terrorists’, if re-integrated into the society, or end up radicalising others in the community, or becoming spies to their former terrorist masters?

 

Also, they asked if it is fair to rehabilitate the combatants without also rehabilitating their victims?

 

However, some other school of thought averred that with the challenges the government is confronting, it had no other alternative than to release the suspects. But that, for all it is, shouldn’t stop criticism of the way in which programmes are run as it was handled badly, not least because the public was told after the event.

The timing was also inauspicious. In 2017, a special court commenced the trial of terrorism suspects beginning with the over 1,600 suspected Boko Haram members held at Wawa Barracks in Kainji, Niger State.

 

Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, who disclosed this the plan said a list of prosecutors has been approved to handle the trials.

 

Four judges from the Federal High Courts were also drafted to give accelerated hearing to the cases and ensure their expeditious adjudication.

 

While analysts queried the ratio of the suspects to the number of judges assigned to handle these cases as quite low, the long delay in the commencement of the trials has sorely tested the principle of delayed justice.

 

Clearly, there are many more terrorism and Boko Haram suspects held in other detention facilities, they deserve their day in court and that is where, perhaps, the call by Governor Zulum for the decentralization of prosecution become poignant. Aside from seeing justice being served, it also serves as a warning to others to desist from insurgent activities.

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