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300 Boko Haram Suspects Face Trial

Gowon Audu:

Boko-Haram

For their alleged involvement in insurgency in the country which led to several loss of lives and properties, Federal Government recently arraigned 300 Boko Haram suspects under secret cover at a Court Abuja last week. Three hundred suspects were officially remanded in custody last week, as hearings got under way in the first mass trials linked to the resurgence. The Government banned media from coverage of the trial, saying it’s on security grounds. The Federal Ministry of Justice in a statement said that three separate cases, each involving 100 defendants, were heard in three of the courts. Ministry spokesman Salihu Othman Isah said the Judges ordered all the defendants to be remanded in custody for 90 days, pending further investigations and preparation of charges. Hearing will resume on January 9, 2018.The arraignment of the suspects in detention commenced on Monday, October 7. According to Othman Isah, spokesman to Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, he gave update on status of terrorism cases as at September 2017.

These were: concluded cases: 13; convictions: 9; ongoing trials at various Federal High Court Divisions: 33 cases; charges filed awaiting trial in Kainji: 116 cases; Detainees recommended for release deradicalisation programme for want of evidence: 220. Detainees profiled at the Kainji Detention Facility awaiting judicial proceedings/ deradicalisation programme: 1670; Detainees remanded at the Federal High Court, Maiduguri and transferred from Giwa Barracks to Maiduguri Prisons: 651.The statement listed challenges affecting the prosecution as: “Poorly investigated case files due to pressure during the peak of conflict at the theatre; over reliance on confession based evidence; lack of forensic evidence; converting military intelligence to admissible evidence.” Others are: “Absence of cooperation between investigators and prosecutors at pre investigation stages; Poor logistical facilities to transport defendants from detention facility to court for trial; Scarcity of skilled/trained forensic personnel to handle investigation of complex cases; Inadequate security for counsel handling terrorism cases.” “Categorisation of the suspects:

It will be noted that there are four categories of suspects at the Kainji detention facility mentioned above. These suspects are; “Boko Haram suspects who were hitherto investigated by the Joint Investigation Team set up by the Defence Headquarters otherwise known as DHQ/JIT and case files transmitted to the AGF and after a careful review of the cases based on their individual merit. “It was discovered that they have no prima facie cases that will sustain a charge against them in any court of law hence were recommended for release and handed over to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) for rehabilitation and/or de-radicalisation. “The second category is the set of suspects that the Honourable Attorney-General found prima facie cases against them and charges already filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja Division who are also mostly in the detention facility under reference and may be willing to plead guilty for a lesser sentences.

“The other category are the suspects whose case file are either recommended for further investigation or that have no investigation conducted on them at all hence they do not have case files that will warrant the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation to form any opinion in respect of their case. “Lastly, the fourth category is the suspects whose cases were reviewed and a prima facie were found and may be willing to opt for a full trial.

“From the above categorisation, it is important to state that the number of the suspects affected by any of the aforementioned categories would only be determined when the trial has commenced.” Amnesty International last week reacted that it had “huge concerns” about the mass trials of Boko Haram suspects, with the press and the public banned from the hearings on security grounds. It said justice will remain a mirage for the suspects unless they got fair trials from the Nigerian authorities. In a press statement issued by Isa Sanusi, Media Manager, Amnesty International Nigeria, the Director, Osai Ojigho state that the trials should provide a much-needed opportunity to deliver justice for the many victims of human rights abuses and crimes allegedly committed by Boko Haram members. However, the fact the trials are taking place behind closed doors, with no access for the media or the public, raises huge concerns.

Public hearings are crucial for protecting an individual’s right to a fair trial and due process. “The Nigerian authorities must ensure that all fair trial rights are respected. Defendants must have access to lawyers and interpreters if required, and that witnesses and victims are protected from potential reprisals. “In instances where no prima facie case has been established, as is reportedly the situation in some of the cases, detainees should be immediately released,” the global outfit said.Amnesty International has repeatedly documented how thousands of people have been rounded up in mass arbitrary arrests with little or no evidence and held in detention for years.

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