The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Tuesday, assured that the trial of suspected perpetrators of terrorist activities and members of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, will soon commence.
It was the umpteenth time a government official would give such an assurance.
Mr Malami gave the fresh assurance while recieving the Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Eniola Ajayi, in Abuja on Tuesday.
“Machineries are in motion to ensure the continuation of courts sitting in kainji, New Bussa for prosecution of Boko Haram cases,” the minister’s spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Federal Ministry of Justice has an arrangement with the Federal High Court that enables judges to be deployed to try terrorist suspects at the various military detention facilities holding the suspects in different parts of the country.
The arrangement helps to solve the logistical challenges of moving the large number of terror suspects to face trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja or other divisions of the court.
Three phases of the trial have held so far, the last being in 2018. This is despite thousands of suspects still awaiting trial in detention for years.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) recalled in its latest world report that the International Criminal Court (ICC) had determined in December 2020 that an ICC investigation of Nigeria is warranted for crimes committed in the Boko Haram-related conflict given inadequate domestic efforts to deliver justice for the crimes.
HRW also noted that ICC’s decision to investigate Nigeria followed its finding of “reasonable basis to believe” Boko Haram, its breakaway factions, and Nigerian security forces had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It was therefore not by coincidence that Mr Malami raised the issue of Nigeria’s readiness to prosecute terrorism suspects during a visit by the Nigerian Ambassador to Netherlands, the country that hosts the ICC in The Hague, on Tuesday.
“With due diligence to Nigeria’s mandate under Article 86 of the Rome Statute of ICC, Nigeria cooperated fully with the court through submission of relevant documents, reports of panels of enquiry etc,” Mr Malami said.
The minister praised the ambassador “for her tireless work and patriotism, noting that Nigeria had completely cooperated with the court by submitting appropriate papers, which resulted to its exoneration.”
Mrs Ajayi, on her part, expressed her willingness to continue her patriotic service in the national interest in her remarks. She has also committed to redouble her efforts to make a positive difference in the performance of her duties.
Mr Malami’s comment on the readiness of the Federal government to prosecute Boko Haram suspects came eight months after an official of the Federal Ministry of Justice gave similar commitment.
PREMIUM TIMES reported in May how a Deputy Director, Chioma Onuegbu, who was then heading a team of prosecutors handling the ministry’s “complex cases”, said the Federal government was preparing 800 suspects linked to Boko Haram for prosecution.
She said the 800 suspects were among about 1,000 terrorism suspects whose case files have been analysed by the prosecutors handling the Federal Ministry of Justice’s “complex cases”.
According to her, out of the 1,000 case files that were reviewed, 800 of them have prima facie evidence to proceed to trial, while 170 have been recommended for release due to lack of evidence.
Ms Onuegbu added that, 280 of the 800 cases have been filed at the Federal High Court charges of which were served on the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON) who is defending the suspected terrorists.
PREMIUM TIMES understands that the number of suspects being prepared for trial is a far cry of thousands of Boko Haram suspects that are being held in the military detention facilities in Maiduguri and Kainji, Niger State.
Apart from the 800 cases which the ministry of justice said it had filed, Mr Malami also said in May last year that the federal government had identified 400 suspected Boko Haram sponsors.
He promised that the suspects would soon be prosecuted, but no serious step is known to the public to have been taken in that direction since then
Boko Haram, which started in Maiduguri, Borno State, in about 2009, has waged deadly war leading to death of tens of thousands and displaced millions of residents in the North-eastern part of Nigeria.
Previous trial phases
The Complex Casework Group ( which was established some years ago) has conducted three different phases of trials, the then head of the group said.
The fourth phase was for the case files of 1,000 suspects received in 2019.
Ms Onuegbu said the prosecutions of the suspects were delayed due to the escalation of the Boko Haram attacks in 2019 and was further hampered by the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020.
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