The Presidency will shortly forward to the National Assembly, an amendment bill that will re-jig the existing Anti-Terrorism Act. UCHENNA AWOM in this analysis previews the single-item amendment that could raise the ante in a new, tougher drive to cage the Boko Haram insurgency.
The bloody script being written by the militant Boko Haram sect has generated considerable anxiety and anger in the land. Willy-nilly, this has led to the consideration of other options to fight the new terrorism war the country is currently enmeshed in. Interestingly, there is an existing Anti-Terrorism Act. But apparently, this lacks the teeth with which to do real war.
The Act as it were, lacks potency such that the terrorists could unleash mayhem anywhere with reckless abandon, being sure that the regular courts would clear them from prolonged rigours of trial, with hurried and near unconditional bails.
A common belief that the Judiciary and its perceived highly compromised operatives have wittingly rendered the Act prostrate and in-effective is rife. It is no longer news that some arrested Boko Haram kingpins don’t care a hoot over being arraigned knowing that some of the ‘judges; will get them of the hook.
All these and in particular the weak Act have aided the Boko Haram to become an issue in Nigeria’s story today.
Given their actions and modus operandi, it was inconceivable before now, that a group with hazy objectives would put the entire country on edge. It has even gone as far as literarily reconfiguring the country’s social, religious and ethnic landscape. Many believe that this is happening because of a law that has been ambushed by the Judiciary.
Consequently, the nation is paying dearly for this. With so much blood on their hands, Boko Haram’s, many believe that the activities of the sect have stretched Nigeria’s unity to the limit, thus eliciting a near unanimous call for the restructuring of the nation’s political system.
However, such calls and the associated general state of fear and apprehension in the land have somehow unsettled the country’s political leadership. Besides, it has called to question the workability of the present Anti-Terrorism Act, which came into effect in 2011.
The extant law, however, is yet to be put to serious test before now. Perhaps the dangerous resurgence of Boko Haram and its introduction of suicide bombing presents a very serious challenge that have forced the Federal Government to begin to mull further amendment of the Act.
The proposed amendment bill is yet to be forwarded to National Assembly though, but indications are that it is aimed at strengthening the existing Act, to make it potent. Sources disclosed that the bill could accommodate elements of martial law.
Put succinctly, the bill provides that terror suspects and their accomplices shall be tried in a military court instead of the conventional civilian court.
The idea, according to the source, is not only to quicken prosecution of suspects, but to toughen sanctions to the extent of making death either by hanging or firing squad as the minimum punishment.
Observers believe that such provisions whereby the soldiers would preside over the trial and exert the maximum courage to dispatch guilty suspects to the gallows, will put fear in the terrorists. “Already an agreement has been reached by all stakeholders for an expedited action on the new law. That is to say that the bill will be passed immediately it lands in the National Assembly from the presidency”, said a source.
It was further learnt that the government is fired up and is ready to ignore any opinion urging caution, good enough the constitution already supports court martial. The government and the people seem to be fired up, particularly with the recent occurrence where the sect is targeting media houses and Christian worship centres.
The National Assembly also gives indication of its readiness to give a unanimous backing to any legislation that would put the terrorist to perpetual flight. Senate President David Mark had in recent past promised tacit support saying: “We will do all within our powers to ensure that we don’t have a repeat of this anywhere in our country.
If there is anything we in the National Assembly can do in terms of taking a second look at the anti-terrorism Act, we will go ahead and do it. We will give maximum legislative and legal support, so that those who are involved are dealt with”.
Failure of the current act:
The question arising from this is; what are the inherent flaws in the Act?
The existing anti-terrorism legislation - the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 - was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan eight months ago, precisely on June 3, 2011.
The Act provides measures for the prevention, prohibition and combating of terrorist acts as well as the financing of terrorism. It “also provides for the effective implementation of the Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism as well as the Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and prescribes penalties for the violation of its provisions”. The penalties for offenders include a 20-year jail term and the death sentence in some circumstances.
It could be recalled that the executive bill was first read on the floor of the Senate on December 10, 2010. On February 17, 2011, the bill was overwhelmingly passed by the senators before the House of Representatives did same thing on February 22, 2011, leading to it becoming law on June 2, 2011, following the President’s assent.
The Act is divided into eight parts, with 41 sections. The provisions cover the following issues:
Acts of terrorism and related offences.
Terrorism funding and properties obtained through acts of terrorism.
Mutual assistance, information sharing and extradition where there is a mutual treaty with a foreign state on offences related to terrorism.
Investigation and prosecution of terrorists.
Revocation of licences and refusal of application for registration of charities linked to terrorist groups.
How to obtain information relating to passengers of vessels, aircraft and persons from operator of an aircraft or master of a vessel when a person(s) suspected for terrorist activity is on board.
The act seeks to:
- Provide measures for the prevention, prohibition and combating of acts of terrorism and the financing of terrorism in Nigeria.
- The effective implementation of the AU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism and the Convention and Suppression of Financing of Terrorism. Prescribe penalties for violating any of its provisions. According to section 1(2(c)(i-iii), terrorism includes attacks upon a person’s life which may cause bodily harm or death, kidnappings, as well as the destruction of government facilities or private properties in a manner likely to endanger human life or result in a major economic loss.
Some other acts of terrorism highlighted in the Act are propagation and dissemination of information in any form calculated to cause panic, evoke violence, or intimidate a government, person or group of persons.
The Act also addresses issues such as kidnapping, hijacking of aircraft, ships, or other means of public transport, as well as the manufacture, possession, acquisition, transport, supply, or use of weapons and explosives.
Some of the laudable provisions are:- Comprehensive definition of terrorism and terrorist activities.
- The power to proscribe terrorist groups or groups with terrorist tendencies.
- Several provisions enhancing collaboration between Nigeria and other countries in the global fight against terrorism.
- Provisions aimed at facilitating the ratification and enforcement of international and regional conventions and treaties on terrorism.
- Provisions allowing investigation into and the seizure of properties and cash belonging to terrorist groups and their financiers.
- The power to withdraw certificates of incorporation of business organizations that are found using the funds from their legitimate business to fund terrorist organization.
Some believe that the Act failed to adequately define who a terrorist is and was not far reaching enough as to capture crimes that constitute act of terrorism. But then observers believe that operators and in fact the interpreters of the law have failed to put the new law to test despite several related cases that ordinarily fall within the instant law.
However, Mark’s earlier pronouncement on this subject was borne out of frustration on the manner terrorism suspects are handled in the courts. Complaints abound of the frequent and quick granting of bails in the name of exercise of suspect’s fundamental human rights irrespective of whether the security agencies have carried out thorough investigations.
Human rights activists’ objections
Some of the noticeable inadequacies are those that cropped up as a result of agitations by human right groups and also some were in deference to political considerations. It could be recalled that some lawmakers kicked against some provisions in the bill, which to them were draconian and capable of arming political opponents against them, especially during elections. Today the procedural amendment to the original bill has weakened the fight against terrorism.
For instance, some right activist are of the view that; In pursuing the objectives of the Act, the lawmakers have neglected to include in the Act, provisions for the protection of the fundamental human rights of terrorist suspects. It is a fundamental principle of law that a person is innocent until declared guilty by a competent court of law, but then there should have been a visible line of demarcation to define where the right of a suspect ends and the enforcement of the law commences, to the extent of enforcing compliance.
Some of the inadequacies in the act include:
There are inadequate provisions on the supervisory functions of the Judiciary over the activities of law enforcement agencies in relation to investigation and prosecution of terrorists.
The Act is reactive and not proactive. There are no provisions to prevent people from turning to terrorism by tackling the factors or root causes of terrorism such as economic deprivation, employment, religious extremism and radicalization.
The Act is also seen to be silent on the responsibility of government to protect Nigerians and other inhabitants of the country from terrorist attack. That is to say that It does not reflect enough commitment from the government on how to reduce the vulnerability of Nigerians to terrorist attack through improved security of borders, transport and critical Infrastructure.
In the same way the Act makes no provision on how to manage and minimize the consequences of terrorist attacks, by improving capabilities to deal with it and how to promptly respond to the immediate and long term need of victims.
Again it is observed that the only court with jurisdiction over terrorist related offences is the Federal High Court. Considering the present congestion of the Federal High Court and the number of years it takes to get judgment under the present Nigerian Judicial system, it would have appropriate that provisions should have been made in the Act, for the establishment of courts specifically for trial of terrorists and terrorism related matters.
Another major criticism of the Act is the sweeping powers given to law enforcement agencies to more or less do as they please in the course of enforcing the provisions of the Act.
All said, Suffice it to say that the Act is not all that is needed to combat terrorism and as such it needs to be strengthened as been mulled by the President of the Senate. Perhaps, Mark and by extension the federal government have realized the urgency of tinkering with the Act in the light of the current reality.
What is true is that no matter how well drafted a law is, it will only amount to a mere sheet of paper if the appropriate mechanisms are not put in place to enhance its effective implementation.
In order to record more success in the fight against terrorism, a combination of anti-terrorism, counter-terrorism and other measures are required, perhaps these are at the base of the factors that prompted Senator Mark to indicate the preparedness to revisit the Act.
The envisaged amendments no doubt will take into cognizance that terrorist groups now cuts across geographical boundaries.
The truism is that as at today Boko Haram activities have made Nigeria a somewhat tinder box of violence and of hotbed of terrorism in Africa.
It was inconceivable in the time past that the Boko Haram of Nigeria has links with the Al Qaeda in the Middle East.
Consequently, to succeed in the fight against terrorism, a global collaboration is required among nations of the world. The fight against terrorism can therefore not be left in the hands of some superpowers alone. In that case, time has come for a more stringent law that will not only strengthen the fight against terrorism but also preserve the sovereignty of Nigeria.
The Act may not be easily amended owing to the creeping politicisation of the Boko Haram activities, yet the President of the Senate can still lead the pack that would engender the political will to strengthen the law, to make the fight against terrorism more effective and deter would-be terrorists.
In that case ,death sentence, through a court-martial may be it.
Nigeria’s Senate on Thursday approved the country’s first anti-terrorism act, giving law enforcers greater powers to detain and prosecute suspects and giving judges more guidance on handing down punishments.
President Goodluck Jonathan pledged in January to aid a speedy passage of the legislation after bombings in December in the Central city of Jos and the capital Abuja led opponents to question his ability to guarantee national security.
The bill gives the police and security forces powers to seal off a property or vehicles without a search warrant and allows judges to order the detention of suspects for up to 30 days if they feel it is in the interests of public safety.
All terrorism cases will now be heard at Nigeria’s Federal High Court where, depending on the severity of the charges, judges can pass sentences of up to 30 years in prison.
Anti-terror legislation in other parts of the world has been controversial, especially when dealing with surveillance, which human rights groups and even the United Nations have said can sometimes go beyond what is required to combat terror.
Nigeria’s bill gives the top law, police and government security officials the right to access post, e-mails, phone calls or other data if they believe it is in the interests of national security.