Nigerians are growing impatient with the federal government’s failure to identify those financing the Boko Haram sect’s activities.
With the rising tide of extreme violence across the country, particularly by insurgents, Nigerians applauded the government’s announcement that some high-profile individuals were responsible for Boko Haram’s sustained attacks and that they would be prosecuted without delay.
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However, three months after Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), made a public statement, nothing has been heard of it.
The government’s absolute calm in the face of such a serious matter is undoubtedly unsettling Nigerians, who believe that tracing and punishing those responsible for the country’s lingering destruction of lives and property should have been given the priority it deserves.
On May 4, Malami told journalists at the Presidential Villa that the Federal Government had begun profiling high-ranking Nigerians suspected of financing terrorism in the country and that they were being investigated.
In fact, the AGF revealed that arrests had already been made and that the suspects would be charged as soon as the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUNstrike )’s was called off.
The suspects’ arrests “followed recent convictions of some Nigerians on terrorism financing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE),” according to Malami. By informing the public that “investigations conducted have established reasonable evidence of the involvement of highly placed individuals, businessmen, and institutions across the country in financing the Boko Haram terrorists,” the public’s expectations are raised.
“Investigation has been ongoing and it has reached an advanced stage,” the AGF said at the time. Although he couldn’t say how many suspects there were because the investigation was still ongoing, he said, “the number was very large.” He added, “As you will actually know, there were certain convictions of Nigerians allegedly involved in terrorism financing in the United Arab Emirates” (UAE).
“As a result of the wider and far-reaching investigation that was conducted in Nigeria, I am happy to report that a number of people, both institutional and otherwise, were found to be culpable. I’m referring to reasonable suspicions of terrorism financing.
“In essence, it is true that the government is prosecuting and initiating processes against high-profile individuals who have been found to be financing terrorism. It is true.” The AGF also issued a warning that if anyone is found guilty of sponsoring terrorism in the country, the government will not hesitate to use the full force of the law against them.
“The message is clear: no one will be spared, and no stone will go unturned. In terms of the Nigerian state, we will certainly and aggressively pursue those who are involved in terrorist financing.” Unfortunately, three months later, little has been heard or done about that serious allegation. The apparent levity with which the government is handling the situation tends to validate sceptics’ claims that the threat would be meaningless because “prominent” Nigerians were allegedly involved.
The federal government’s apparent apathy may have influenced a recent letter from Femi Falani (SAN), a human rights activist, to the AGF, demanding information on the individuals’ prosecution.
Falana asked the Federal Government to provide him with information about charges filed against alleged criminals in a Freedom of Information request dated August 3.
“On May 4, 2021, the Federal Government announced that it had reached an agreement to prosecute about 400 alleged sponsors and financiers of terrorism in Nigeria,” he said.
“In the said publication, your office assured the nation that the suspects would be arraigned following the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria’s industrial action (JUSUN).
“In light of the attacks on law-abiding citizens by groups of insurgents in several parts of the country, we strongly commend the Federal Government’s decision to prosecute the suspects who were reported to have been arrested in a nationwide operation a few months ago.” Since the JUSUN strike was long over, Falana used the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 to obtain information about the suspects who were reported to have been arrested in a nationwide operation a few months ago.
Dr. Kayode Ajulo, a constitutional lawyer and former Secretary of the Labour Party, expressed his displeasure with the general apathy in correctional facilities across the country, claiming that keeping suspects in detention without trial was to blame for the overcrowding.
Ajulo expressed disappointment that the Federal Government has failed to follow through on its promise to prosecute alleged terrorist sponsors.
“I am surprised that nothing has been done so far after the Attorney General promised and announced to the entire world that the prosecution would begin soon.
“I believe that their immediate prosecution will aid in the decongestion of prisons because many people are wasting their time in various detention facilities. My concern is that many people are subjected to criminal procedures without going through the legal system (court process).
“What I’m saying isn’t just about alleged Boko Haram backers; it’s about all of them. You will find some inmates with detention warrants and others without detention warrants in any correctional facility across the country. It’s past time for something to be done about it.” Ajulo, on the other hand, refused to blame the delay in prosecuting alleged terrorism sponsors on allegations that prominent individuals were involved.
That, he believes, would be too damning for the government. “No one is above the law,” he declared.
He rather stated that when it comes to criminal matters, the police have the discretion to investigate or not.
If the delay was intended to give alleged “high-profile Nigerians” a soft landing, Ajulo said it would be very indicting on the government “because the basic thing is that our law respects no one.” He added, “I don’t believe that is the situation in this case.” However, if this is the case, something is wrong somewhere. Government is supposed to have a lot of power. That is why we say that government has a monopoly on violence, and the only way to demonstrate that monopoly is to ensure that everyone is bound by the law of the land.
“Non-state actors should not be allowed to take control of the country. That means they’re making some non-state actors more powerful than our government agencies, which shouldn’t be the case.” In response, the Office of the AGF’s Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, said that prosecutions were still underway.
“Judicial proceedings and legal decisions are not like a school quiz or a soccer match, where the winners and losers can be easily stated.
“Where multifaceted perspectives are viewed and reviewed, the litigation process can be complicated and convoluted.
“It may take many years for nations that claim technological sophistication and highly motivated skilled manpower with exceptional security intelligence to target, apprehend, or prosecute some terrorist suspects.
“Yes, speed is important in the administration of justice,” Gwandu said, “but this varies depending on the nature and complexity of certain cases.”
He concluded that “the matter is being dealt with” and that disclosing information at a certain point in the process could be considered subjudice.
He stated, “Be assured that the general public will be adequately informed of the results of the processes at the appropriate time.”
However, Chief Festus Oguche, a Port Harcourt-based lawyer, completely disagreed with the Office of the AGF’s explanations.
There could be no good reasons, he believes, for the delay, especially given the Minister’s earlier statement that the investigation had gone far and that sufficient information had been gathered for the suspects’ trial to begin.
The lawyer insisted that the Minister would have matched his words with actions because the threat of Boko Haram has taken a massive toll on the security of lives and property in the country, particularly in the North East, and because their activities have spread to other parts of the North and South.
Due to the fact that some Nigerians have already been prosecuted and convicted in the UAE for financing terrorism, Oguche stated that citizens expect the Nigerian government to act quickly to ensure that the identities and connections of such individuals are made public.
“With his earlier announcement, he raised our hopes that, at the end of the day, the sect’s sponsors would be brought to justice, but nothing has happened since then, which is a very sad development.
“Such apathy could fuel terrorism in the country because terrorists know they’ll eventually get away with it.
“I don’t believe anyone will give me this opportunity because the AGF stated emphatically that evidence abounds and facts necessary for their prosecution have already been gathered.
“So, what are they waiting for?” says the narrator. I doubt they’ll be able to provide an explanation. He added, “I don’t want to say that the AGF’s words were in vain.”
Oguche has aligned himself with some Nigerians who believe the delay is due to the suspects’ status. It could be a case of some waters passing beneath the bridge, he believes.
“This isn’t the first time it’s happened. We had the cement and Halliburton trial. Many people have been imprisoned and released in the United States and other parts of the world, but no one has been convicted in Nigeria due to the high profile of those involved.
“I believe that should be a good reason for the AGF to be dragging its feet in this case. I’d like to believe that the powers that be are doing everything they can to suffocate the investigation and the prosecution. It is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. It’s always been like this.
“We’ve also seen how government officials treated Boko Haram members who managed to appear in court with kid gloves, sending them on rehabilitation and providing some comforts.
“Bandits are treated in the same way, and the government prefers to negotiate and beg with them.
“How would you expect their sponsors to be treated differently?” It is still part of the government’s undisclosed secret agenda not to harm any members of the sect or bandits, and it should be extended to their sponsors as well,” Oguche said.
Credit : The Guardian