Lawyers doubt government’s capacity to try 1, 670 Boko Haram suspects
Bulkachuwa charges counsel on frivolous applications
The capacity of the Federal Government through the office of the Attorney General Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) to successfully prosecute 1, 670 detained Boko Haram suspects is in doubt, say lawyers.
Such mass prosecution, they said, would add to the number of the already stressed court dockets and put serious pressure on the facilities as well as the required manpower to get the prosecution going.
The Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the AGF, Mr. Salihu Isah, had in a statement announced government’s plans to commence the trials of the suspects, totaling 2,541, who are detained at Wawa Barracks in Kainji, Niger State and Maiduguri Prison in Borno State.
Isah had, however, stated that due to lack of evidence, a number of other suspects detained in Kainji would be released and made to go through a “de-radicalisation” programme.
Worried about the challenges the prosecutions may pose, former national secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mazi Afam Osigwe, said the trial would be difficult both for the AGF’s office and the courts.
His words: “And it is also going to be very difficult in getting witnesses to testify in those cases, considering the number of trials. Currently, some of the trials are going on in Abuja. I doubt whether it is not going to pose a logistical nightmare both for the AGF, the defendants and the courts. It remains to be seen how the recent directive by the CJN that courts should create criminal divisions would also help in reducing the effect of already tight dockets of the judges.
“There is also security challenge. There will be heightened security once those guys are brought to court. And the capacity of the lawyers and other court users to access the court during the time they will be arraigned or during their trial would be impeded. I hope they would work it out so there will be a free flow of movement inside and out of the courts.”
Mr. John Odubela (SAN) wondered which court would try the suspects. “Where were they arrested? Was it Borno? If it is Borno, then, where in Borno are they going to charge them or are they going to bring them to Abuja? Definitely, the Ministry of Justice does not have such capacity because it shows that, first of all, they must have been investigated and the appropriate authorities must have reviewed the evidence and witness. Are they going to be jointly charged or one by one?
“My candid view is that the office of the AGF does not possess that capacity. One of our challenges in this country is prosecution. Sometime, proper investigations are not carried out and they just take people to court and say they preferred charges. In advance countries, they must have done a lot of investigation before they come to the conclusion that they will charge one or two people,” he stated, adding that the number of people to be tried is overwhelming.
According to Odubela, there is no need for special court to handle terrorism matters.
“ My view is that if proper investigation has been conducted and they are charged, the trial will move smoothly, but we know our prosecution that they would not be ready and they will go to court asking for adjournment because it is either the witnesses are not there or they are still expecting certain files from certain quarters.”
But Lagos lawyer and activist, Mr. Toluwani Adebiyi, said the Federal Government and the courts have the capacity to handle the matters. According to him, although there should be a special court or tribunal to handle cases of this nature, there are so many ways of doing it in the absence of those specialized courts.
The cases, he noted, should be given some level of priority so they would be dispensed with expeditiously.
Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) told The Guardian that there are more suspects in detention who are yet to be listed for trial. “We still have about 5000 that are not captured yet. I think in doing the prosecution, it is going to be a special task force. They are also working to get the court to manage the cases, because you cannot detain people indefinitely.
“It will require something like a special court, but there is already a practice direction by the chief judge of the federal high court that allows a court to speedily determine cases of terrorism, money laundering and corruption. I think there will be a special designation of court for these trials,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the President Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, has challenged lawyers to stop filing whimsical applications that could lead to needless delays in the court process.
Bulkachuwa who spoke in Lokoja, Kogi State yesterday during a special session of the Court of Appeal charged the bar to avoid frivolous briefs no matter how lucrative they may seem.
“I call on my brothers at the bar to desist from filing frivolous applications or adopting measures that may cause unnecessary delay in proceedings. Try as much as possible to present your matters simply and briefly so that the court can have a smooth and successful session.”
She used the occasion to announce on-going reforms, which will aid the quick dispensation of justice.
According to her, there are special task forces made up of justices of the Court of Appeal. These justices, she said, move from less busy divisions to very busy divisions to hear and determine a backlog of pending appeals.
She said: “The fallout of this initiative recorded 323 judgments delivered within two weeks. I acknowledge this extraordinary milestones recorded by my brother justices of the Court of Appeal.”
She stated that it had been the tradition of the court of appeal for the division to move to one of the states within its jurisdiction to determine matters expeditiously and to bring the court closer to the people.
Bulkachuwa explained that the sitting of the Abuja division and a panel of Sharia Appeal justices in Lokoja in the next two weeks is aimed at reducing the need for litigants who go through the hassle of travelling all the way to Abuja in search of justice.
Earlier the Chief judge of Kogi State, Justice Nasiru Ajana ,requested a division of the Court of Appeal to be established in Kogi considering the number of appeals emanating from the state.
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