By Dayo Benson, Abdulwahab Abdulah & Oamen Areguamen
The last Thursday bombing of Louis Edet Force Headquarters in Abuja allegedly by an Islamic fundamentalists has once again signposted worsening security situation in the country and the need for government to rise up to the occasion.
At the twilight of the last administration, President Goodluck Jonathan gave his assent to anti-terrorism Act passed by the Sixth National Assembly.
The House of Representatives had initially objected to some contents of what was then anti-terrorism bill. But after smoothing the rough edges, the two chambers passed the bill into law.
The Senate passed it on February 17 while the House of Representatives followed suit on February 22. Indeed, what necessitated early passage of the bill into law was the orgy of kidnapping that at a point became a fad in parts of the country, especially the South East.
Lately, the spate of bombing and killings in the north are the worrisome dimension the nation security situation has assumed.
It is against this background that concerned Nigerians are asking how far can the Anti-Terrorism Act go to curb the scourge this potent threats to the nation’s stability and unity.
The Act gives government agencies broad powers to investigate terrorist activities and gives the authority to charge terrorism suspects to the Federal High Court of Nigeria.
The Act also provides a broad definition of what constitutes an act of terrorism. An act “intended or (that) can reasonably regarded as having been intended” to force a government or an international organization to carry out or abstain from carrying out a certain act is an act of terrorism.
“Researching or developing a biological or chemical weapon without lawful authority is an act of terrorism. Dissemination of information (be it true or false) ,calculated to cause panic, evoke violence or intimidate a government, a person or group of persons” is also considered an act of terrorism.
The Act gives broad powers to government without any judicial oversight. A Security Intelligence Officer may enter and search any place, person, or vehicle without a warrant if he has “reason to suspect” that an offense is being committed and there is evidence of a commission of an offense under the Act.
The Officer may also search, detain, and arrest anyone if he has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person has committed or is about to commit an offense under the Act.
The Director General of State Security Service may use communication service providers as he deems fit and he can also has the authority to seize funds if he has reasonable grounds to suspect that they were obtained through acts of terrorism or they belong to a terrorist organization.
A Senior Security Officer has the authority to order the detention of a terrorism suspect for 48 hours without access to anyone, including his/her attorney.
The Act also gives law enforcement officers immunity from civil or criminal liability for the use of force “as may be necessary for any purpose” that results in injury or death to any person or damage or loss to any property.
Law enforcement officers include employees of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of State Services, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Persons, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, the National Intelligence Agency, Nigerian Immigration Services, Nigerian Customs Services, and the Nigerian Police Force.
The Act also provides that a person who knowingly causes destruction to a government or public facility, or endangers human life or causes major economic loss, commits an offence.
“A person who belongs or professes to belong to a proscribed organization commits an offence under this Act and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment of a maximum term of 20 years,”
Speaking on the issue, some legal practitioner who expressed opinion on the issue, spoke along the same line. According to Omoba Labi Okusanya, “the problem of terrorism in the country is not an issue of legislation but good governance and implementation of these laws , in a situation where those found guilty of crime are not brought to book we only succeed in empowering others to go into crime.
Also, Nigerians should learn to give information to the security agents to work with. Doing so, we will be rest d that crime in the country will reduce. The President also have to look at the issue of unemployment and poverty which are major issue. The youths of this country have to be fully engage to take their mind off crimes.
Another lawyer, Prince Rotimi Agunlejika, said, “we have to go back to the root cause of these problems of terrorism in the country, corruption has taken the whole process of governance. In a country where resources are not evenly distributed it pose a lot of problems.
“The voice of the people has been suppressed and they are reacting to this injustice, which they have been subjected to over time. In a country where the elites do not care about the poor masses, the result is to take to arms. The law is not enough to tackle the problem. It is unfortunate that we need to go back to the root. The people only take care of themselves. In Nigeria we have law for the poor and not the rich.”
Also speaking, another lawyer, Abayomi Bisuga said, “we need to have good structure in place to tackle the immediate needs of the people, reducing poverty in the land, empowering the youths. Also, we need to implement already existing laws.
“It is very unfortunate that it has become a way of life that terrorism law cannot tackle the problem but the Nigeria police have to beef up security toward creating a better society. The present law can only cure the effect and not the cause of the problem, thereby resulting to a vicious circle. We need to reduce poverty and avoid teaching wrong doctrines.”
Bayo Omotubora added, “ the problem is not the law but its implementation. The law are not being enforced and the inefficiency of the police also pose lots of problems. Nepotism and godfatherism are some of the numerous causes of terrorism in the country. Poverty is not a criteria for crime, any one who has the propensity to steal will do so “