The claim by Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubakar, that the trial of arrested members of the Boko Haram sect has been delayed because of failure of the National Assembly to pass the Anti-Terrorism Bill required for their prosecution is embarrassing. It is a preposterous excuse because the Terrorism Prevention Act was passed by the National Assembly on June 1, 2011, and signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan on June 3 of the same year, which is 18 months ago.
There are, in addition, many other extant laws under the Penal Code Act and the Criminal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, under which the suspects could be tried. The hinging of non-prosecution of terrorists who had been arrested in the country several months ago on alleged non-passage of the Terrorism Prevention Act does not suggest that the police authorities are serious about prosecuting the suspects. It also paints the police legal department as clearly out of date on the extant laws of the nation.
Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, has rightly expressed the surprise of the legislative house on Abubakar’s ignorance of the passage of the Terrorism Prevention Act in 2011, and the amendment of the law on October 17, 2012 to expand parts of its provision. He affirmed that everything that is needed to prevent terrorism and prosecute offenders is already in the Act, and advised the force to look elsewhere for excuses if it is unable to tackle terrorism in the country.
The failure of the police to bring Boko Haram suspects, including Kabiru Sokoto, the man suspected of masterminding the attack which claimed the lives of about 40 worshippers at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, to trial, several months after their arrest, has been a source of concern in the country. In spite of the havoc that the Boko Haram sect has wreaked in the country and the high number of suspects in the custody of the police, it is questionable that none of the suspects is facing trial, either for terrorism, treason, arson or murder.
None of the terrorists arrested for involvement in mass murders in the country has been charged to court for the crime, thereby questioning the seriousness of the police and the nation to end the terrorism spree in the country. There is also as yet no information on the exact number of persons arrested in connection with the Boko Haram insurgency in the country, neither is there any indication that any action is being taken against those in custody as the IGP was reported to have said that the police and other security outfits in the country are just now comparing notes to arrive at the exact number of suspects in custody.
This lackadaisical approach to the persons involved in this insurgency is playing out at a time that over a thousand Nigerians have died as a result of terrorist acts, and homes and churches have been lost to terrorism-related arson. Even without the anti-terrorism law, there are provisions in our law books covering charges for murder, arson, insurrection, treason and other acts against the State. The Penal Code Act operational in the Northern part of the country has some of these provisions.
These can be used to bring persons arrested for terrorism to justice if the police have the mind to do so. The police and the country’s other security agencies need to be proactive in the fight against terrorism. The leadership of the force should not be begging the issue on a matter as serious as terrorism. The extent of terrorism in Nigeria dictates that arrested persons be speedily brought to trial and severely punished when found guilty, to deter similar acts. A situation in which suspects are held briefly and released, or allowed to escape, will not deter this unconscionable insurgency.
It will only encourage terrorists to carry out more vicious campaigns, knowing that they will always get away with it because of the tardiness and unwillingness of government and its agencies to confront and bring them to justice. We urge the police to arraign Boko Haram suspects in its custody for terrorism based on the nation’s extant laws.
The suspects cannot be tried based on any new laws as such legislations cannot have retroactive effect, as provided for in Section 36(8) of the Nigerian Constitution, which states that “no person shall be held to be guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence.” In essence, the police should not wait for any new laws to charge terrorists with, but go ahead to charge them under the nation’s current laws that are adequate to deal with the offence.