By Kunle Olasanmi and Andrew Essien, Abuja
The federal government will begin the trial of about 2,540 Boko Haram suspects detained in military detention facilities across the country from next month.
Accordingly, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has assigned government prosecutors, while the Legal Aid Council has provided defence counsels, to commence trial of members of the terrorist group currently detained at Wawa Barracks in Kainji in Niger State and Maiduguri prison in Borno State.
The development is coming against the backdrop of growing concern that diligent prosecutions and convictions of Boko Haram suspects have been rare despite claims by the military that thousands of the suspected terrorists had been arrested and were in custody.
A statement issued yesterday by the special adviser on media and publicity to the AGF, Comrade Salihu Othman Isah, noted that 1,600 detainees will be tried early next month, beginning from October 9.
Isah disclosed that already, four judges “have been deputed by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to sit on the cases at Kainji and dispose of them expeditiously.
“It is expected that the special prosecutions will start with the detainees in Kainji followed closely by the disposal of the cases of the detainees in Giwa Barracks, Maiduguri until the cases are exhausted”, he added.
According to the statement made available to LEADERSHIP, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), in its capacity as the coordinator of terrorism matters, is expected to assist the court by providing the relevant detainees access to deradicalisation programmes where necessary.
It noted that after exhausting the cases in Kainji, the cases of 651 suspects currently detained at Maiduguri prison, would be taken up by the special arrangement.
It added that due to lack of evidence for any successful prosecution, 220 other suspects detained in the Kainji detention facility would be released and subjected to “de-radicalisation programme”.
The AGF’s spokesperson stated that the 220 suspects constituted one of the four categories of terrorist suspects detained in the Kainji facility.
Isah said, “These 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 Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation.
“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 for rehabilitation and/or de-radicalisation”.
He continued: “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”.
Isah further listed some of the challenges facing the government in the prosecution of the suspects to included 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 and absence of cooperation between investigators and prosecutors at pre investigation stages.
Others are 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 and converting of military intelligence to admissible evidence.