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Anxiety over FG’s delay in unmasking terrorism financiers

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Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami

Nigerians are beginning to exhaust their patience over the Federal Government’s failure to expose those financing the activities of the Boko Haram sect.

With the increasing wave of extreme violence across the country, particularly those perpetrated by insurgents, Nigerians applauded the government when it disclosed that some high profile individuals were responsible for the sustained attacks by Boko Haram, and that they were going to be prosecuted without waste of time.

However, three months after the public statement by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), nothing has been heard of it.

The absolute calm from the government over such a serious matter is no doubt unsettling Nigerians, who feel that unraveling and punishing anyone or people behind the lingering destruction of lives and property in the country ought to have been given desired accelerated attention.

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Malami had on May 4 told journalists at the Presidential Villa that the Federal Government had begun profiling well-placed Nigerians suspected of financing terrorism in the country for prosecution.

In fact, the AGF disclosed that arrests had already been made and that the suspects would be charged immediately the industrial action embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) was suspended.

According to Malami, the arrest of the suspects “followed recent convictions of some Nigerians on terrorism financing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).”

By informing the public that “investigations conducted have established reasonable evidence of the involvement of the highly placed individuals, businessmen and institutions across the country in financing the Boko Haram terrorists”, expectations were high that for the first time, those behind the nation’s woes would be exposed and punished appropriately.

The AGF stated then that, “investigation has been ongoing and it has reached advanced stage. Government is initiating processes of prosecuting.”

Although he could not state exactly how many the suspects were, since according to him, investigation was ongoing, he maintained, “the number was very large.”

He said: “As you will actually know, sometimes back, there were certain convictions of Nigerians allegedly involved in terrorism financing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“That gave rise to a wider and far-reaching investigation in Nigeria and I am happy to report that arising from the wider coverage investigation that has been conducted in Nigeria, a number of people, both institutional and otherwise, were found to be culpable. I mean on reasonable grounds for suspicion of terrorism financing.

“In essence, it is indeed true that the government is prosecuting and it is indeed initiating processes of prosecuting those high profile individuals that are found to be financing terrorism. It is indeed true.”

The AGF also sounded a note of warning that government would not hesitate to invoke the full wrath of the law on anyone found culpable in sponsoring terrorism in the country.

“The message is clear, nobody is going to be spared; no stone will be left unturned. We shall certainly and aggressively pursue those people that are involved in terrorist financing as far as the Nigerian state is concerned.”

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Unfortunately, three months after, not much has been heard or done about that weighty allegation. The level of levity with which the government appears to be handling the issue tends to validate the position of skeptics that the threat would amount to nothing since “prominent” Nigerians were allegedly involved.

The seeming cold feet by the federal government may have also influenced the recent letter to the AGF by a human rights activist, Femi Falani (SAN), demanding information on the prosecution of the individuals.

Falana in the Freedom of Information request dated August 3, urged the Federal Government to furnish him with information about charges proffered against alleged culprits.

He said: “On May 4, 2021, it was widely reported by the media that the Federal Government had concluded arrangements to prosecute about 400 alleged sponsors and financiers of terrorism in Nigeria.

“In the said publication, your office assured the nation that the suspects would be arraigned after the industrial action embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN).

“In view of the attacks being unleashed on law-abiding citizens by groups of insurgents in several parts of the country, we strongly commend the move by the Federal Government to prosecute the suspects who were reported to have been arrested in a nationwide operation a few months ago.”

Since JUSUN strike was long called off, Falana, pursuant to the provisions of Freedom of Information Act 2011, gave the government seven days within which to furnish his law firm with information on when the charges were filed against the suspects.

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In his reaction, a constitutional lawyer and former Secretary, Labour Party, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, decried the general apathy prevailing in correctional facilities across the country, stressing that keeping suspects in detention without trial was responsible for the over-crowded prisons facilities.

Specifically on the promise of the Federal Government to prosecute alleged terrorism sponsors, Ajulo expressed dismay that nothing has been done in that regard.

“If the Attorney General has already promised and mentioned it to the whole world that the prosecution would start soon, I am surprised that nothing has been done till now.

“I believe that their immediate prosecution will help in the decongestion of prisons because many people are in different detention facilities doing nothing. My worry is that many people are subjected to some penal procedures without their application of legal process (court process).

“What I am saying is not limited to alleged Boko Haram sponsors but general. When you visit any correctional facility across the country, you will find some inmates with detention warrant and some others without detention warrant. It is high time something was done about it.”

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Ajulo, however, refused to attribute the delay in the prosecution of alleged terrorism sponsors to insinuations that it was because prominent individuals were involved.

According to him, that would be too indicting on the government. “No individual is above the law”, he stated.

He rather informed that when it comes to the issue of crime, the police have the discretionary power to probe or not.

However, if the delay was to give alleged “high profile Nigerians” a soft landing, Ajulo maintained that such would be very indicting on the government “because the basic thing is that our law is no respecter of anybody.”

He added: “I don’t believe that such is the situation in this case. But if it is so, then something is wrong somewhere. Government is supposed to be powerful. That is the reason we say that government has the monopoly of violence and the only way to show that you have that monopoly is to ensure that everybody is subject to the law of the land.

“We should not allow non-state actors to take over the country. That will mean that they are making some non-state actors to be more powerful than our government agencies, which shouldn’t be.”

Responding, the Special Assistance on Media and Public Relations, Office of the AGF, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, disclosed that prosecution processes were ongoing.

“Judicial processes and legal determinations are not like school quiz competition or soccer match where winners and losers are easily stated simplicita.

“Litigation process may be complexly convoluted where multifaceted perspectives are viewed and reviewed.

“It may take nations that claim sophistication in technology and highly motivated skilled manpower with exceptional security intelligence many years to target, apprehend or prosecute some people accused of terrorism activities.

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“Yes, speed is essential in justice dispensation, this is relatively different depending on the nature and complexity of certain cases,” Gwandu said.

He concluded that “the matter is being dealt with” and that it may amount to subjudice to divulge information at a certain level of the process.

“Be assured that the general public would be adequately informed of the outcome of the processes at the appropriate time,” he stated.

But a Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Chief Festus Oguche, totally disagreed with the explanations given by the Office of the AGF.

To him, there could be no good reasons for the delay, especially when one recalls the earlier statement from the Minister that investigations had gone far and that ample information had been gathered for the commencement of trial of the suspects.

Stressing that the menace of Boko Haram has taken massive toll on the security of lives and property in the country, particularly the North East, and the fact that their activities were transcending to other parts of the North and the South, the lawyer insisted that the Minister would have matched his words with actions.

With some Nigerians already prosecuted and convicted in UAE for financing terrorism, Oguche stated that citizens were expectant of a prompt follow up from the Nigerian government to ensure that identities and connections of such people were made public.

“With his earlier announcement, he increased our hopes that at the end of the day, sponsors of the sect would be brought to book but it is a very sad development that nothing has happened since then.

“Such apathy could boil up terrorism activities in the country because they know that they will finally get away with it.

“I don’t think there is any reason anybody will give me this moment because the AGF was very emphatic that evidence abound and facts necessary for their prosecution already gathered.

“So, what are they waiting for? I doubt if they have any explanation to make. I don’t want to say that the AGF could speak in vain,” he said.

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Oguche aligned himself with some Nigerians who hold the view that the delay could be attributed to the status of the suspects. According to him, it could be a matter of some waters passing under the bridge.

“It is not happening for the first time. We had the Halliburton and cement trial. A lot of people in the United States and other parts of the world have gone to jail and come out but nobody was convicted in Nigeria because of the high profile of individuals involved.

“I think that should be a good reason for the office of AGF to be foot-dragging in this very case. I would want to believe that the powers that be are trying to crush that investigation and crush the prosecution as much as can be done. It is not new in Nigeria. It has always been the case.

“We have seen also that Boko Haram elements who managed to appear in courts were treated with kid-gloves by the government and most times, sent on rehabilitation and given some comforts.

“Bandits are also treated in that manner and the government will prefer to negotiate with them and beg them.

“So, how would you expect different treatment for their sponsors? It still falls within government’s undisclosed clandestine agenda not to hurt any member of the sect or bandits and it should be extended to their sponsors as well,” Oguche stated.

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