The Federal Government is to begin the prosecution of about 2,000 Boko Haram militants captured for terrorist acts, and has appointed eight judges to preside over the special trial.
The trial will be held in Kainji, Niger State, in a safe atmosphere supplied by a special security unit called Operation Safe Corridor, with many of the suspects already detained there.
According to top security and ministry officials, the framework for the suspects’ trial was completed by the Ministry of Justice during the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari, but some logistical challenges hampered the move.
The ministry, it was learned, wrote to the Nigerian Air Force to airlift the judges and lawyers who will serve as prosecutors and defense counsel for the suspects, but did not receive a good response, therefore delaying the start of the trial.
“We have taken steps to try the suspects; you know some people who are due to be transferred to Operation Safe Corridor,” a top ministry official told one of our correspondents. We have asked the air force to assist us with logistics in transporting some of the suspects who will be undergoing rehabilitation from Kainji to the Operation Safe Corridor in Gombe State in order to free up the detention facility, and we have also asked them to make arrangements for in-kind transportation of judges and lawyers.
“We are waiting for the CJ to give us a date (for the start of the trial).” We have written to him (CJ) to request that he provide us with a date, something at the convenience of the court; so, we are awaiting communication from him to tell us when it is convenient.”
When asked how many suspects will be sent to the Operation Safe Corridor, the source stated that around 1,000 would be transferred.
According to the source, approximately 2,000 people will face trial for their roles in Boko Haram’s deadly onslaught against fellow citizens and security agents in many parts of the North, particularly in the North-East, where the group has taken over some territories, hoisted its flag, and forcibly collected tributes from farmers before they can return to their farms.
When asked if there was a timetable for the suspects’ prosecution, the source replied, “No, we do not have a timetable.” Because the judges who will hear these cases will simultaneously be hearing their regular cases, we usually stagger the trials. We will be there for two weeks; everyone will return to their offices, do a few things, and then leave.
“The trial will be expedited, but I wouldn’t say we have a timetable.” Once we get started, we’ll be able to say that we’ll be able to finish all of the instances in a reasonable amount of time. I’m not sure at this moment.”
additional suspects may face prosecution, according to the source, because “the insurgency is ongoing, so as they arrest (more suspects) at the frontline, we will profile them and take them (for trial) unless the insurgency stops.”
“I think the CJ has designated eight judges to handle the trial,” the insider said, “but I’m not sure if all eight will sit at the same time.”
“There can’t be dedicated judges solely for the trial of Boko Haram suspects unless we hire new judges, because the ones on the ground are already trying cases.” If they are criminal cases, taking them away and telling them to go face terrorism cases implies that all of those cases would start over, so you will be taken from here and sent to that location, depriving the other place.
“It means regular cases will suffer, but I think that’s okay because the arrangement is okay; it’s even the prosecutors who will feel it more; if we move the 20 lawyers to Kainji, the department will suffer and be empty.” If you travel there for two or three weeks and then return, we will be able to attend to business here and accomplish everything we need to do before returning; after all, regular courts take adjournments.”
More than 205 people have been convicted on charges relating to their connection with the militant Islamist group, which launched an insurgency in the North-East in 2009 with the goal of establishing an Islamic state.
The sentences ranged from three to sixty years in prison, with over 1,500 people reportedly linked with Boko Haram freed for rehabilitation over the years.
Since the conflict began, more than 35,000 people have been slain and two million have been forced to evacuate their homes.
Mrs Beatrice Jedy-Agba, Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice, told journalists in January that the Federal Government would begin the second phase of the prosecution of Boko Haram suspects detained in Kainji, Niger State.
“The Federal Government is taking steps to reconfigure the military holding facilities to make them adaptable and conducive to the resumption of trial,” she said. The prosecution will begin by the end of the first quarter of 2023. We are remodeling and, in some cases, rebuilding facilities such as courtrooms and residential areas.
“It is critical to ensure that enhanced measures are put in place.” Because we are using military facilities, they were not designed as proper courts.
“The use of military facilities is used to ensure that trials are held in a safe and secure environment.” There are risks associated with transporting such a huge number of accused persons for trial at the same time, thus this is one crucial issue that must be addressed.”
Amnesty for insurgents
Meanwhile, President Bola Tinubu may cancel the De-radicalization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration Programme for repentant Boko Haram fighters due to the program’s high financial expenditures, Saturday PUNCH has learned.
The Federal Government, it was learned, may wind down the amnesty program, which has consumed several billions of naira and focuses primarily on increasing military operations in the North-East in order to finish the insurgency as soon as possible.
This comes as military authorities prepare to transfer 1,000 more terrorists from a jail facility in Kainji, Niger State, to a rehabilitation center in Gombe State.
General Godwin Irabor, the former Chief of Defence Staff, revealed in January that approximately 83,000 terrorists had surrendered to the Nigerian Army through the Operation Safe Corridor initiative.
Irabor made the announcement at the sixth stakeholder meeting of Operation Safe Corridor, which took place in Abuja.
The ex-CDS, who was represented by the Chief of Defence Training and Operations, Maj.-Gen Adeyemi Yekini, stated that 613 people were being de-radicalized and rehabilitated by the OPSC.
After reformation at the facility, 500 ex-Boko Haram militants were reportedly freed in March 2022 from the De-radicalization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration Camp in Mallam Sidi, Kwami Local Government Area of Gombe State.
They were also reportedly handed N20,000 grants upon their release into society, however there have been claims of many of them engaging in criminal activities or returning to the Islamist sect.
Buhari established the OPSC in September 2015 as a portal for willing and repentant terrorists to lay down their arms and participate in an organized de-radicalization, rehabilitation, and reintegration program.
The OPSC accepts voluntary defectors from Boko Haram factions as part of a long-term, non-kinetic plan to diminish militant activity in the North-East.
The initiative was created in response to the realization that the Nigerian military would be unable to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency, which it has been fighting since 2009.
However, the program has had various obstacles, including the misclassification of many civilians fleeing Boko Haram areas as terrorists, clogging the system and discouraging contributors.
Many Nigerians are likewise opposed to the insurgents’ rehabilitation, arguing that they should face justice for the horrors they committed.
However, a senior official told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that Tinubu “is not likely to continue with the amnesty for insurgents,” citing the enormous financial burden and the fact that numerous rehabilitated insurgents had returned to fight.
The Federal Government earmarked N2.4 billion in the 2023 budget for the building of two rehabilitation centers for repentant members of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups.
According to a presentation made last December to the House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence by the Coordinator of the National Counter Terrorism Centre, Rear Admiral Yem Musa (retd.), this is part of the NCTC’s capital projects until 2023.
The centers would receive N2.4 billion out of a total capital expenditure of N3.839 billion.
In response to inquiries about the program’s future, a reliable Presidency source said, “The President may not want to toe that line.” There has already been a lot of effort put into rehabilitating repentant terrorists. It’s also pretty pricey to keep up. He might not stick with it.”
Dele Alake, the President’s media aide, could not be reached for comment on the topic because he did not reply to requests.
Security experts weigh in
Chidi Omeje, a security specialist, advised the President to improve the amnesty program rather than abolish it.
He went on to say that kinetic tactics alone would not be enough to win the war, and that amnesty was one of the non-kinetic means of taming the insurgency.
“I think the President needs to tarry because the benefits of giving amnesty include encouraging others to surrender and discouraging the lumping of insurgents with some people who were conscripted into terrorism,” Omeje added.
“I am sure he has good intentions because there are some people who have found their way back into society after being released.” However, we must consider the big picture and how we can encourage more individuals to surrender. Rather than halting it, I believe reform will aid in bringing out the best in the program.”
However, Oladele Fajana, a security consultant, disagreed with proposals that the program be continued, saying, “We should stop encouraging criminality in the country.” I don’t believe in paying or otherwise bribing criminals to lay down their arms.
“What about those who have avoided crime only to have their loved ones murdered by terrorists?” Furthermore, how long do you want to continue giving them free money? Many of those surrendering were coerced into joining the group, but we should not make them live better lives than the victims, some of whom are still battling to survive.”
Speaking about the anticipated prosecution of 2,000 detained militants, Emeka Etiaba, SAN, stated the number of judges was insufficient, adding that ongoing cases “in the dockets of the assigned judges will suffer.”
However, he stated that if the accused were tried in groups, the judges’ duty would be decreased.
“It (the number of judges) cannot be sufficient.” What matters is that something would have begun. Many of the 2,000 Boko Haram suspects may be tried in groupings, so if 100 are charged together, it becomes one case, according to Etiaba.
Ifedayo Adedipe, another top lawyer, stated that the use of technology may speed up the prosecution of terror cases, noting that criminal charges were relatively easy to prove in some circumstances.
“The onus will shift on the Boko Haram suspects they have arrested in the course of committing this atrocity to explain where they got arms and why they are doing what they are doing,” he continued.
“These days, it is no longer by long hands; if you deploy technology, they will finish the cases in record time.” We wish the Federal Government all the best.”
Olalekan Ojo, a security specialist, stated that eight judges were sufficient to prosecute the militants, noting that because the offences were monolithic, sentences could be delivered concurrently.
“They all committed the same crime: taking up arms against the country.” In this situation, 50 of them can be prosecuted at the same time. So, in one to three weeks, each of them (judges) may imprison 50 people,” he contended.
Ojo, on the other hand, raised reservations about the scheduled trial, stressing that the insurgents still had political and religious supporters.
“Are we sure they’re going to prosecute these people?” I’m skeptical because they are the same people that were granted amnesty in some way. Are all of those with political and religious affiliations dead? “They are not dead,” he insisted.
“What is unclear about the plan is whether the eight judges will form the jury or each judge will preside over a court session,” said Patrick Agbambu, a security analyst. A bit more information about that is required. However, it is a great development, and Nigerians are looking forward to the accused’ prompt trial.”