- ‘Delayed prosecution of terrorists fuelling insecurity’
TUNDE OYESINA writes that lawyers are pushing for a speedy prosecution of arrested terrorists and their sponsors by the Federal Government as a way of curbing the rising spate of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other violent crimes in the country
Some senior lawyers have expressed deep concerns over the failure of the Federal Government to promptly prosecute arrested terrorists and their sponsors. The lawyers noted that the delay is harmful as it will further emboldened other criminal elements to carry out their evil acts, thus further compounding the nation’s insecurity woes.
The fight against terrorism has lasted for close to 13 years, and so is Federal Government’s bid to prosecute those arrested for either terrorism or sponsoring it. However, sensing that citizens were getting impatient, the Federal Government last year announced that it would begin the prosecution of arrested terrorists.
Speaking on the government’s resolve, Deputy Director at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Chioma Onuegbu, stated that “about 800 suspects linked to the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, have been prepared for prosecution, which will start as soon as the strike embarked upon by the judiciary workers was over”.
Onuegbu said the 800 were among about 1,000 terrorism suspects whose case files have been analysed by the prosecutors handling the Federal Ministry of Justice’s “complex case group”, which she heads. She further explained that out of the 1,000 case files that were reviewed, 800 of them have primafacie evidence to proceed to trial, while 170 have been recommended for release due to lack of evidence.
She equally added that of the 800 case files with prima-facie evidence, 280 have been filed in court awaiting commencement of trial. But, about a year after Onuegbu’s assurance, just a few of the 800 suspected terrorists have been prosecuted.
However, when the prosecution was still delayed, even after the JUSUN’s strike was called off, a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), wrote a letter to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), demanding an update on the suspects’ trial.
Falana’s Freedom of Information Act request titled, ‘Request for information on prosecution of arrested 800 Boko Haram suspects,’ was dated August 5, 2021 It reads in part: “In April 2021, the governors expressed their reservations over the delay in the trial of the terror suspects, demanding for a prosecutorial power from the AGF to enable their respective state governments to prosecute the detained Boko Haram suspects.
The request was also rejected”. Interestingly, In an interview with journalists in New York at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Malami said the Federal Government has been vigorously and intensively working to leave no stone unturned in the prosecution of Boko Haram financiers and the fight against terrorism. He disclosed that Nigerians would be properly and adequately informed about the investigation and prosecution process at the appropriate milestones as they unfold.
“The position, as it stands, is that investigation has reached an advanced stage and government will make a statement in that direction in due course. Time is not ripe for holistic disclosures so as not to pre-empt the investigation process. The prime object remains the attainment of peace and security of the nation.
“As for terrorism funding and financing, we have succeeded in identifying those that are allegedly responsible for funding same and we are blocking the leakages associated with funding while embarking on an aggressive investigation that is indeed impacting positively in terms of the fight against terrorism.
“The truth of the matter is that investigation is ongoing and advancing. For the purpose of investigation, I would not like to be pre-emptive in terms of making disclosures that will have the effect of undermining the successes we are recording.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that whatever we do in terms of detention and arrest is indeed backed up by judicial processes. “We have acquired and obtained legitimate court orders taking into consideration the facts and material proof of evidence presented before the court on account of which the court eventually exercised its discretion by granting orders that we can have the suspects in custody pending the conclusion of the investigation”, Malami said.
He reiterated that the Federal Government through the “complex case group” of the Department of Public Prosecution of the federation in his office reviewed over 1000 Boko Haram case files, out of which 285 have been filed before the Federal High Court based on prima facie evidence of terrorism against them.
“The delay witnessed in prosecution process was occasioned by COVID-19 lockdown, Judiciary Staff Union (JUSUN) strike and court vacation,” he said. He added that naming and shaming of suspects is against government’s policy and was borne out of sheer respect for the constitutional rights of Nigerians relating to presumption of innocence.
He maintained that the names of the suspects would accordingly be made public at the point of judicial arraignment, while the shaming remains a consequence of judicial conviction.
FG’s denial of suspects release
An online media platform had claimed that about 300 terrorism suspects were recently released by the AGF, instead of proceeding with their prosecution. However, reacting to the allegation, Malami described it as “a malicious misrepresentation of facts relating to the ongoing investigation of terrorism financing suspects in Nigeria.
“If the terrorists are granted amnesty, it definitely would be applicable to their sponsors too. So, we are invariably back to square one, where the will to enforce existing law is lacking,” he said.
Noting that terrorism is a global challenge, he warned that except suspects are prosecuted and punished for crimes against humanity with concerted global collaborations, sponsorship for terrorism would continue to evolve. He also condemned the general state of insecurity, occasioned by payment of ransom to terrorists when they abduct citizens.
“What can we call our present situation where bandits kidnap people and are paid ransom by the government? Is that not a form of sponsorship for terrorism?” he asked.
Earlier this year, the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, warned that the rising spate of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other violent crimes posed existential threat to the survival of the country.
Justice Muhammad while speaking at a Judges’ Conference organized by the National Judicial Institute (NJI) lamented that the level of insecurity in the country not only exposed the polity’s unpreparedness, but also brought a setback to the economic development and improvement in the country’s human development. He noted that the effect of terrorist- related activities, such as destruction of lives, public infrastructure private and entrepreneurial investments has continued to project Nigeria as an unsuitable bride for foreign investments.
Tanko said: “My lords, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen, we are all living witnesses to the fact that terrorism obscures every aspect of economic, social, cultural and political life, it brings instability and disrupts peace and coexistence in the society.
“In the light of the above, we cannot ignore this threat or wish it away. Preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it, demand a multifaceted response from the three arms of government”.
While emphasising the need for terrorism-related cases to be speedily determined, the CJN maintained that such trial must be fair and based on specific evidence.
“You must ensure that the investigation and prosecution of terrorismrelated criminal cases, including ‘of incitement to’ and ‘recruitment for terrorism’, should be based on specific evidence, guarantee due process and fair trials. “To this end, it is the duty of judicial officers to ensure these matters are dispensed with in line with the rule of law.
Malami’s prosecution claims
Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had few days ago said his ministry has secured no fewer than 1000 convictions on terrorism within 18 months. Malami made the disclosure at the 46th session of the State House Ministerial Briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team in Abuja.
He said that within the period under review, the Federal Ministry of Justice was involved in 312 cases ranging from terrorism to maritime offences, armed robbery, cyber-crime to kidnapping, among others. The minister disclosed that the justice sector encompassed all institutions of government involved in the administration, enforcement and dispensation of justice.
He said: “This sector extends beyond the federal level and cuts across sub-national entities and the three arms of government—the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.
“Effective collaboration and coordination are therefore at the crux of the mandate of the Federal Ministry of Justice.They are targeted at improving legislative policies, the judicial system, correctional system, law enforcement, constitutional guarantees and other critical components of the entire justice sector system.
“All these are fundamental to ensuring access to justice, safety, security and in combating corruption as well economic and financial crimes in Nigeria.
“We are happy to state for the first time in the history of this nation, we are doing wonderfully well arising from the consensus that has been built among these stakeholders in the administration of justice. “We were confronted further with the challenge of high profile anticorruption cases. Those involved in it were using the proceeds of the crime in question to pose a greater challenge to what we are doing.
“So, arising therefrom, for example, by way of criminal prosecution, the Federal Ministry of Justice, exclusively, I am not talking about the entire prosecution because other agencies of government—EFCC, NDLEA, ICPC are equally involved in direct prosecution.
“So, the Federal Ministry of Justice, within the 18 months period, I am talking about, was actively involved in the prosecution of 312 criminal cases. ”These were for various offences including terrorism, maritime offences, armed robbery, cyber-crime and kidnapping, among others.
“We have so far, as a ministry secured over 1000 convictions on terrorism within the period in consideration”.
Notwithstanding Malami’s claims, some senior lawyers are asking the Federal Government to do more at ensuring prompt prosecution of terrorists and their sponsors. The lawyers while emphasising the need to bring terrorists and their sponsors to justice noted that a breach of the law of a nation without consequences will inevitably collapse the society.
Speaking on the issue, an Abujabased lawyer, Timileyin Ojo, said it is the duty of the AGF under Section 174 (1) of the 1999 Constitution to institute criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria.
“He can take over any such proceedings that have been instituted by any other authority or person, and he can discontinue any criminal proceedings at any stage”. According to him, the AGF is the eye of the law of every country and he is always appointed by the president.
Unfortunately, the AGF, he said, is also the minister for Justice. “Being the Minister for Justice (MOJ) makes him more of a politician than an AGF. “The AGF has unbridled powers under the Constitution to prosecute suspects at any time and nothing will happen.
The highest his appointer can do is to relieve him of his appointment, but all the actions performed by the AGF cannot be reversed by his successor. “As the only eye of the law of a nation, the AGF is a servant of the law and not the servant of the President.
A breach or infraction on the law of a nation is an injury on that nation, which must be healed by prosecuting the terrorists and their suspected sponsors. “If we do not prosecute or heal the injury, the nation will continue to be ill. A breach of the law of a nation without consequences will inevitably collapse the society. It’s a matter of time”. On his part, Mr. Pelumi Olajengbesi, called for a swift prosecution and subsequent conviction of terrorism suspects .
“Having established that the actions of the suspects were in gross violation of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act 2013, the Federal Government should not hesitate to arraign the suspects for their trial to begin in earnest.
“Nigerians are keen about this matter and won’t accept any political interference and delay tactics like is currently happening to 400 BDC operators arrested for terrorism financing since 2021 but who are yet to be arraigned by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN). “The Nigerian Government should learn from the United Arab Emirates which swiftly tried and jailed six Nigerians over allegations of terrorism financing.
“Justice must be dispensed quickly lest the government give the accomplices of the suspects time to plot their escape from prison as seen in the attack on Kuje prison on July 5, 2022 where at least 69 Boko Haram suspects were confirmed to have escaped when ISWAP fighters attacked the prison”, Olajengbesi said.
In his own reaction, Bright Enado, noted that , “By Section 35(4) of the 1999 Constitution, an accused person now a defendant is supposed to be taken to court within two months from the date of arrest or in custody (detention) or 3 months for a person who is released on bail.
“Section 61(1) of the police Act is in tandem with the 1999 constitution. A defendant is expected to be taken to court within 48 hours. “In the UK, it is 24 hours, 36 to 96 hours, but in some serious cases, the police can apply for further detention of up to 14 days under their terrorism Act.
“A glimpse into our Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act, I have not seen a clear and defined length of detention in regard to arrested terrorist ( may be I am in haste). “But, be that as it may, the Federal Government seem from every indication to be treating the issue of terrorism with kid gloves. If not, why should a terrorist be kept for such a long period of time before being prosecuted.
Again, there should be a special court designated to handle terrorism cases. “The Federal Government is not willing to do the needful in prosecuting terrorist in Nigeria because those involved are seemingly from one part or section of the nation and same religion. “This bias is clearly seen in the two instance case of Wadume from Bornu and Evans from Anambra. Hole Wadume got 7 years imprisonment, Evans is slammed with life imprisonment.
“The recent case of Zamfara State Governor given death sentences for terrorist, informants and kidnappers should be applauded, the Federal Government is expected to take the lead in this regard for it to show its seriousness in fighting terrorist, informants and kidnappers.
“The term of imprisonment for terrorist is not less than 15 years and the question government should answer is why should Wadume got 7 years? In a situation where terrorist are given presidential buffet in the name of repentant insurgents is laughable.
“The breaking news that runs as streams under at news time, counting the numbers of years, months and days innocent students has been with terrorist in Nigeria is enough for government to take a drastic action setting up special court for accelerated hearing of terrorism cases and special prisons in this regards”.