Over 3,000 Boko Haram cases stall in courts
Over 3,000 Boko Haram case files are pending in various courts across Nigeria, a source at the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) has told Daily Trust on Sunday. Many of such cases border on the enforcement of fundamental rights of detainees, who claim to have been erroneously held by the security agencies without trial. According to our source, at least 1,000 core terrorism trials are among those that are pending. For instance, the cases involving Mohammed Nazeef Yunus, a lecturer in Kogi State University; Salami Abdullahi, businessman; and Musa Umar, who are charged with attempting to unleash terror in Kogi State in 2014, are still on, with all the defendants now on bail on health grounds.
The case involving Aminu Ogwuche, who allegedly masterminded the April 2014 Nyanya motor park bombing, alongside Ahmed Abubakar, Mohammed Ishaq, Ya’u Saidu, alias Kofar Rama; Anas Isa, and Adamu Yusuf, is still ongoing.
Again, the case of five persons implicated in the October 2, 2015 Kuje and Nyanya bomb blasts - Abdulazeez Muhazab, Ishaku Salisu, Mohammed Jimoh, Abdulwaheed Nasiru, Abdulahi Nasiru and two others at large - are ongoing. Some of the suspects initially pleaded guilty to the charges but later recanted after their lawyers protested, suggesting that they were either cajoled or did not understand the charge.
Also ongoing is the case on the killing of 11 foreigners in northern Nigeria, involving Mohammed Usman, alias Khalid Albarnawi, who allegedly leads a Boko Haram splinter group, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, also known as Ansaru. Others are Mohammed Bashir Saleh, Umar Bello (Abu Azzan); Mohammed Salisu (Datti); Yakubu Nuhu (Bello Maishayi), Usman Abubakar (Mugiratu), and a lady, Halima Aliyu. Abubakar was discharged after the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) introduced Mohammed Sani and Abubakar Habib as new defendants.
The case of Abdullahi Mustapha Berende and Saidi Adewumi, who are accused of recruiting new members for an Iran-based terror organisation, is still pending before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
A senior official in the Ministry of Justice informed Daily Trust on Sunday that there could be about 5,000 suspects being held on account of the Boko Haram insurgency. This has swelled the regular prisons, where out of at least 68,288 inmates, 46, 351 are awaiting trial, according to the Comptroller General of Prisons, Ja’afaru Ahmed. He said this had stretched the facilities of security agencies beyond limit.
Out of the over 1,000 cases involving the Jama’atu Ahli Sunna LiddaawatiwalJihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, pending in the courts, only a handful have been concluded, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has said. Their fate has been hanging in the balance, courtesy of Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
The Federal Government recorded the first conviction against a former spokesman of the sect, Ali Sanda Konduga on December 6, 2011. Standing trial before an Abuja Magistrates Court, he pleaded guilty to circulating threatening text messages to politicians, including Senator Ali Ndume of Borno State, who was recently acquitted of allegations of links with the sect.
One of the cases concluded was that of Kabiru Umar, alias Kabiru Sokoto, who is the mastermind of the December 25, 2011 bombing of the Saint Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State. He bagged life imprisonment on December 20, 2013 with two others when Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja found him guilty on the two counts of terrorism brought under Section 15(2) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Establishment) Act, 2004 and Section 71 of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011. Similarly, on November 15, 2013, Mustapha Umar was found guilty by the same Federal High Court, Abuja, over the April 26, 2012 bombing of the SOJ Plaza on Kontangora Road, Kaduna, jointly occupied by Thisday, The Sun and The Moment newspapers. The court upheld the prosecution’s claim that Umar and others rammed a bomb-laden Honda Academy car with registration number AL 306 MKA into the operational premises of the newspapers.
Also, the masterminds of the April 2011 bombing of the INEC office in Suleja, Niger State - Shuaibu Abubakar, Salisu Ahmed, Umar Babagana-Umar, Mohammed Ali, Musa Adam and Umar Ibrahim - were sentenced by Justice Blikisu Aliyu of Federal High Court, Abuja on July 9, 2013.
In some of the concluded cases, the accused persons were not convicted. For instance, a Federal High Court discharged and acquitted five police officers who were accused of murdering a Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, his father-in-law, Baba Fugu, and major financier of the sect, Buji Foi, in 2009. On December 17, 2015, Justice Evo Chukwu, now late, discharged assistant commissioners of police, John Abang and Mohammed Akeera Yoonus, CSP Mohammed Ahmadu, ASP Mada Buba and Sergeant Adamu Gado, for want of evidence against them. He upheld the submission of the defence, that even if the defendants were charged with murder, none of the witnesses or the police report presented in court proved that any of them was involved in the shooting incident.
Also, on June 6, a Federal High Court in Abuja discharged Usman Abubakar, who was charged over the killing of 11 foreigners in the North. His name was struck out by the prosecution.
Since the war on insurgency began, there has been mass arrest of suspects, which gave rise to many detention centres in Maiduguri, Abuja, Niger, Kogi, Lagos and other places. There are claims that at least 10,000 suspects are still being held in the various cells operated by the Nigerian Prisons Service, Nigerian Army and the Department of State Security (DSS).
The Federal Government, through the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Danbazzau, has announced plans to build new prisons, but this has been criticised by human right organisations, which said there was the need to first reform the criminal justice system.
“We have had few convictions in courts in Abuja, Jos and Bauchi. The attorneygeneral is planning a programme to deal with Boko Haram cases. Many detainees who have no case will be discharged. We are not interested in persecuting anybody,” an official of the Ministry of Justice said.
The Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), in a study in collaboration with the Nigerian Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP), which was funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), identified lack of evidence, legal representation for defendants, absence of prosecutors, among other things, as causes of the stagnation of 939 Boko Haram cases in courts. The study, which was titled, Dealing with the Past: Justice, Reconciliation and Healing in the North-East of Nigeria, was concluded in July, 2017.
During the presentation of the ministry’s report for the 2016/2017 legal year on August 29, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice announced plans to profile some 1,000 Boko Haram suspects, including those in custody and those whose cases are not being prosecuted.
But the Deputy Director, Legal, Nigerian Army, Col. T.S. Nurseman, during the presentation of NIALS/NSRP report, called for more action from the AGF and Ministry of Justice. He pointed out that while serving, military personnel accused of misconduct in the frontlines of the conflict are summarily tried, but insurgents can only be prosecuted through the regular courts.
“The Ministry of Justice should do their work. The AGF has not articulated any policy to expeditiously prosecute some of these Boko Haram or crime suspects,’’ he said.
In a reaction, a representative of the Solicitor-General of the Federation, Tijanni Gazalli, identified lack of synergy and inadequate evidence from the army against the suspects as some of the reasons for the stagnation of cases of Boko Haram suspects. The lack of synergy in prosecution is believed to have influenced the recent announcement by the AGF to set up a coordinating centre and investigating unit for all criminal prosecutions in the country. He anchored this on the constitutional powers conferred on him as the chief law officer of the federation and by virtue of Section 105 (1) and (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
The institutions expected to come under the purview of the AGF’s control include the DSS; Nigeria Police Force; the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC); the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); the National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP); the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA); the Directorate of Military Investigation (DMI); the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
“The problem we are having with some of these Boko Haram cases is that the files are mostly confessional statements: no independent, corroborative evidence, and that causes delay in courts.
“There are guidelines for prosecutors and code of conduct for public prosecution. Under the guidelines we will not charge any case to court unless there is reasonable prospect of conviction. If there is insufficient evidence, we won’t go to court,” a former Director of Public Prosecutions of the Ministry of Justice, Akinlolu Akintewe said.
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