The trial of Boko Haram suspects

It is heartwarming that a special court is to commence 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 plan said a list of prosecutors has been approved to handle the trials. The Legal Aid Council has also constituted a team of defence counsels for the suspects. Four judges from the Federal High Courts have been drafted to give accelerated hearing to the cases and ensure their expeditious adjudication. 

Although we consider the number of judges assigned to handle these cases rather low, we are happy that some of the suspects who have been in detention since 2009 are finally going to have their day in court. The long delay in the commencement of these trials has sorely tested the principle of delayed justice. However, because of the very sensitive nature of their alleged offences, their prosecution is better late than never.

Now that the trials are to commence apace, nothing should be done to further delay them. Nigerian laws hold that every suspect is innocent, until  proved guilty. All parties involved in the trials must note this important point of law and work hard to discharge their duties with utmost sense of patriotism and professionalism.

The number of suspects is quite high.  It is possible that some of them will be found innocent. The judges must have the courage to set such ones free, not minding the very sensitive nature of the charges they face and the urge to pander to public emotion in this matter.

Terrorism, especially as perpetrated by Boko Haram and its foreign collaborators, has brought untold suffering and agony to our country and anyone even remotely involved in it deserves the full wrath of the law. There is no doubt about the resolve of the government and people of Nigeria on this point and those saddled with the onerous task of adjudicating this matter must be acutely aware of the importance of this extremely sensitive national assignment.

Even if no time frame for the trials has been given, they must realise the urgency of the assignment and discharge it within reasonable time, while not sacrificing the need to ensure justice for each suspect. This latter point is a fundamental principle of law which the calibre of judges involved in this case must be very well acquainted with.

From Malami’s briefing, there are many more terrorism and Boko Haram suspects held in other detention facilities. Those ones deserve their day in court also, and we urge that their own trials commence immediately after the disposal of the first batch of cases. The nation puts very high premium on the speedy prosecution and adjudication of these cases so that we can have a closure on the matter. Thousands of Nigerians have been murdered in cold blood and over a million more displaced from their ancestral homes are now refugees in various Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and host communities.  The nation is still counting its many losses and those who brought this calamity upon the nation cannot expect to escape justice.

Government must not take the possibility of an attack on the venues of the trials lightly and should, therefore, provide maximum security at such venues. The insurgents have been badly depleted, and their capacity to inflict maximum damage on lives and property, seriously circumscribed. They are, therefore, wont to resort to what they do best – which is to spread terror and panic by hitting soft targets. Government must ensure that they are not able to do this at the trial venues or at any other place in the country while the trials last, and thereafter.

The objective of our military and intelligence agencies should be to make it impossible for the insurgents to launch further attacks on the people.

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Author: Uche Atuma