With the recent conviction and life sentencing of four members of the Boko Haram sect by a court in Abuja, however, the third high profile terrorism conviction since 2011, a number of Nigerians are beginning to think the country’s judiciary is likely to be on a path of restoration.
Shuaibu Abubakar, Salisu Ahmed, Umar Babagana and Mohammed Ali (often referred to as Suleja bombers) were given life jail sentences for participating in bomb attacks in Suleja, Niger State, and Dakna village of Abuja in 2011.
Rightly or wrongly, it is a popular belief that the Nigerian criminal justice system still battles with archaic laws (which is only part of the problem) and a number of legal practitioners, themselves, have at different times admitted that the system is morally bankrupt.
This cannot be ruled out as entirely untrue.
While the trial of the Suleja bombers and the case of the purported spokesperson for the Boko Haram sect, Ali Konduga, as well as Edmund Ebuware, who was given a life term for his role in the Independence Day bombing, have demonstrated that criminal terrorism prosecutions do result in convictions and sometimes long sentences. The same cannot be said in the case of five policemen standing trial for allegedly participating in the killing of the Boko Haram sect leader and his followers.
This case has left onlookers asking so many questions and has also created more doubt in the justice system, particularly as the judge handling the matter is now said to have withdrawn.
It is no news that the challenge of terrorism faced by Nigeria today reflects a combination of domestic and international dimensions (the case of the Lebanese men with Hezbollah links) and federal prosecutors have continued to focus on cases with high level charges, with several terrorism related cases in different courts across the country.
While it is unarguable that a good job is being done trying to bring the alleged perpetrators of terror attacks to justice, the question is whether our courts have the facility to handle the growing number of terrorism cases without delay, so as to avoid remanding innocent persons in prison for no just cause.
For example, the case of the Suleja bombers, which luckily didn’t drag like most cases before our courts, one of the suspects (Musa Adam) was discharged and acquitted.
The court, in its judgment, said there was no evidence brought before it, in the five count charge linking Adam with the alleged offense committed.
Now, while some say Adam is lucky considering the fact that four out of five others he stood trial with got life terms and the fifth got 10 years, it left me wondering why the courts are often blamed for delays in trials when the prosecutors themselves share a large part of the blame.
Several respondents, when asked, said the convictions have in a way reassured them that the criminal justice system is taking a turn for the better; but a few others disagree with this position.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yahaya Mahmood, said there are numerous problems associated with criminal justice system; starting from the fact that the police, who have responsibility of preventing and investigating crimes are not well equipped and trained.
“The ministries of justice (federal and states) are understaffed, underfunded and not well equipped. Same with the judiciary. Until urgent steps are taken to address these, we shall continue to have problems.”
Mahmood said until the police, courts and prisons are effective, the people will continue to lack faith in the system.
On Adam’s acquittal, like that of Hamza Al Mustapa, who was freed after 15 years in detention and trial, he said it can only be blamed on a faulty criminal justice system.