Curious mass trial of Boko Haram suspects
The current Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami is not new to controversies and it appears he is not tired of raising more curiosities about administration of justice in this dispensation.
That is why his announcement the other day that the Federal Government was set to begin the arraignment of suspected Boko Haram members in various detention facilities across the country was not a big surprise, after all.
According to the AG, 13 cases had been concluded with nine convictions secured. While 33 cases were still pending, the total number of suspects awaiting judicial proceedings and de-radicalisation was put at 1,670.
Having been accused several times of persistent abuse of human rights, owing to detention of accused persons in spite of court orders to the contrary, the AG’s action can somehow be understood,
Notable amongst the alleged human rights abuses are those of the former National Security Adviser, retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki, and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who was eventually granted bail after serial disrespect of court orders stating his right to bail by the Federal Government.
However, the trials should be of considerable public interest now because prosecution of accused persons are constitutionally guaranteed rights. Besides, what is obtainable in the Nigerian legal system is that the accused are still presumed innocent until found guilty by a court of law.
But it should be noted that the sweet deliverable to the people, in this connection, would be when the government reports on a reasonable number of convictions secured as part of its fight against the Boko Haram insurgents.
But it is not gratifying too to note that the nation may have to tarry a while as the AG was quick to list perceived challenges to be encountered by the prosecution team, which include lack of credible, forensic evidence, poorly investigated case files, poor facilities in transporting defendants to court, among others. This pronouncement, the government should be made to realise, does not inspire much confidence from victims of the terrorist group and concerned Nigerians who look up to the government for protection and quick dispensation of justice.
The consequence of loss of confidence in the justice system is recourse to self-help, a sad development that is on the rise at the moment. According to the renowned psychiatrist, Thomsa Szasz, “If he who breaks the law is not punished, he who obeys it is cheated. This and this alone, is why lawbreakers ought to be punished: to authenticate as good, and to encourage as useful, law-abiding behaviour. The aim of criminal law cannot be correction or deterrence; it can only be the maintenance of the legal order.”
The Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima had in February this year stated that the Boko Haram had then displaced over two million people, with over a 100,000 killed. Certainly, what Nigerians deserve and demand at this time is not an honest admittance of incompetence and procrastination.
The challenges enumerated by the government are the very bane of our criminal justice system, as a cursory visit to our court rooms on a daily basis will reveal the shoddy way with which criminal prosecutions are handled. A number of cases are regularly struck out for want of diligent prosecution, usually bordering on failure of the state to produce accused persons, failure to secure attendance of state witnesses, and lack of sufficient evidence, owing to slipshod investigation.
Although this administration has continuously pledged its commitment to the fight against the Boko Haram insurgence, which is particularly exhibited in the battlefield, it must however, realise that the defeat of members of the terrorist group in our court rooms, is as effective as a defeat in Sambisa forest. Thus, government owes Nigerians a duty to address these concerns with some seriousness. That is the only way it can instil confidence in the people who are generally believed to be distraught about perceived impunity, in this regard.
Specifically, the authorities in Abuja should exhibit some political will to stamp out this menace that has placed the nation in third place on the global insurgency index. Nigeria is on an ignoble scale of global watch list on insurgency even as herdsmen’s menace has been added to this blight.
The Federal Ministry of Justice should not discount the prime place of thorough investigation and use of modern forensic evidence collection skills. And so the budget officials in the federal establishment should note too that thorough investigations can sometimes be more expensive than prosecution proper. It is the foundation upon which cases are built. The evidence procured therefrom is the secret weapon of prosecutor. The classical burden of proof cannot be discharged without evidence – from diligent investigations.
Meanwhile, members of the public have seen cases of inexperienced prosecutors handling delicate cases of insurgency and corruption. There should be strong investment in procurement of experienced prosecutors. Specifically, there should not be room for ad- hocism such as different intelligence and security agencies prosecuting suspected insurgents without coordination from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation. The AG should be man enough to face his constitutional responsibility, in this connection, lest the public would conclude that the mass trials of suspected insurgents is just a public relations gimmick.
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