By Justice Usman B. Bwala

THE world welcomed the 21st century with pomp and pageantry, hoping that it will usher in peace and prosperity across all the continents. However, barely after the celebration died down than the world was confronted with two major problems: an increased world-wide terrorism and COVID-19.

These two have impacted the entire planet earth negatively and the world is still suffering from their effects. Terrorism has been with the world for many millennia, but its barbarity, destruction of both human and properties now is unprecedented. It is still raging with all intensity and ferocity.

Terrorism can be classified into national terrorism e.g. Boko Haram in Nigeria and international terrorism like Al-Qaeda, Taliban, etc. What is terrorism? Terrorism has both legal and political impact on any society and the world at large. Terrorism has both national and international definitions though both are closely related. In Nigeria, terrorism has been defined in the Nigerian Law Dictionary, p.575, by Suleiman Ismaila Nchi as: “The use or the threat of using unlawful force or violence for political ends.”

Terrorist has been defined in Legal Dictionary by Salwan and Narang p.352 as: “A person who uses force and violence to intimidate, subjugate people and the society particularly as a political policy.” A terrorist indulges in bombing, killing, shooting, arson or any such other activity that can help in terrorising people to obtain political demands.

At the international level, terrorism has been defined in Blacks Law Dictionary by Black, p. 1473 as “act of terrorism” which means an activity that involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life that is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state, or that would be a criminal violation, if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any state, and appears to be intended:  i) to intimidate or coerce civilian population; ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; iii) to affect the conduct of a government by assignation or kidnapping.”

A terrorist is, therefore, a person who commits any of the above ingredients of terrorism. An accused who commits terrorism is a terrorist. The punishment for terrorism differs from country to country but is viewed by governments as a serious criminal act deserving death sentence or life sentence.

To a terrorist, he is a fighter fighting a just political, religious, etc., cause; to a victim of terrorism, a terrorist is a mass murderer ready to kill and maim people, a person devoid of human sympathy. In Nigeria terrorism has been defined in S1(2) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2011 as: “(2) In this section ‘act of terrorism’ means an act which is deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which:

(a) may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organisation;

(b) is intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended or can reasonably be regarded as having intended to (i) unduly compel a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; (ii) seriously intimidate a population; (iii) seriously destablise or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an internal organization; or (iv) otherwise influence such government or international organization by intimidation or coercion and (c) involves or causes as the case may be an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death;

(i) kidnapping of a person (iii) destruction to a government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructural facility including an information system, a fixed platform located on a continental shelf; a public place or private property, likely to endanger human life or result in a major economic loss; (iv) the seizure of an aircraft, ship or other means of public goods transport and diversion or the use of such means of transportation for any of the purposes in paragraph (b) (iv) of this subsection, (v) the manufacture, possession, acquisition, transport, supply or use of weapons, explosives or a nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, as well as research into, and development of biological and chemical weapons without lawful authority, (vi) the release of dangerous substance or causing fire, explosions or floods, the effect of which is to endanger human life; (viii) interference with or disruption of the supply of water, power, or any other fundamental natural resource, the effect of which is to endanger human life;

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(d) an act or omission in or outside Nigeria which constitutes an offence within the scope of a counter terrorism protocols and conventions duly ratified by Nigeria.” Both the Penal Code and Criminal Code are silent about terrorism. Thus, terrorism is a federal offence triable before a Federal High Court only.

What acts or omission that will constitute terrorism has been clearly spelt out in the Terrorism Act 2000 of the U.K. to be: “Terrorism the use of threat of violence for political ends, including putting the public in fear… The Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism in section 1 as (a) the use of threat of action that involves serious violence against a person or serious damage to property; endangers a person’s life, creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public or designed to interfere with or disrupt an electronic system, or (b) the use or threat of violence designed to influence the government or intimidate the public or a section of the public in both cases the use of threat of such action or violence is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause”(Oxford Dictionary of Law page 295-6).

Whether national or international terrorists have links with each other and train and equip each other e.g. Boko Haram fighters are trained and equipped by terrorists from India, Pakistan and Al-Shabab. Cross-border activities constitute a hall mark of terrorists. For example, in 2008, ten terrorists from Pakistan entered India and attacked Mumbai, killing many people; Al-Shabab terrorists from Somalia entering Kenya attacking shopping mall and public places.

On October 12, 2002 two Bali nightspots were bombed by Jemaah Islamiyah where over 200 people were killed. A terrorist can carry out his nefarious activity in the air; example: the Lockerbie bombing which blew up a passenger plane killing 243 passengers onboard; on sea the attack on U.S.S Cole in Aden Yemen on October 12, 2000 or on land exemplified by the attack on U.S. Embassy in Kenya; the attack on Madrid, Spain on September 11, 2001, and London subway on July 7, 2005.

However, terrorism has no clear cut definition. Terrorists are fluid group. “The war we face is not against a sovereign nation but against a fluid group who move from one country to another. They are almost invisible,” Senator James Inhofe quoted in Jerusalem Count Down by J. Hagee, 201. The FBI defines terrorism as: “The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objective… it is intended to coerce or

Hon. Justice Bwalla is a retired judge of the Borno State High Court.intimidate governments or societies”, on line definition. The lack of definite definition of terrorism is a clog in international efforts to internationally tackle it. In a General Assembly debate by the United Nations, it was observed that “the absence of a definition seriously undermined international efforts to tackle a grave threat to humanity”(Terrorism Nigerian and Global Dimension by Ade Abolurin p.8). It is clearly held in Terrorism as Controversy: The Shifting Definition of Terrorism in State Politics by Ziyanda Stuurman of 24/9/2019 as: “The definition of terrorism is a difficult concept to map and has been the source of contention in academia and policy for several years now… scholars and experts have chosen to work ended definitions…”

The greatest fear of the world today, particularly the advanced countries is a nuclear weapon falling into the hand of a terrorist. Such an event would create mega terrorism further compounding what is terrorism or terrorist. To understand the word terrorism or terrorist, therefore, one may have to go back to basic English and start by understanding the meaning of the word “terror”.

It is defined in the New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language page 1297 as: “Terror, an overwhelming impulse or fear; extreme fight or dead”. From the word terror, terrorism derives. A person who causes terror can therefore be a terrorist. The act of causing terror is terrorism. In the legal context it is not this simple.

In fact when America was attacked on November 9, 2001 popularly called 9/11 the then American President George Bush declared war on terror, as terror has been practised in all cultures and countries “… characterized by President George W. Bush as a ‘war against terror’. To be sure terror is not new, its seed can be traced to the origin myth of most cultures and religions. Indeed, history is full of tyrants and conquerors and terrors they wield”(Hope for the World by Roland Chia p 13).

The central theme in terror, terrorist, and terrorism is the causing of fear and panic in a third party who is an innocent victim. Causing terror or panic to the public or a section for the purpose to gain political, religious or tribal advantage is terrorism. The clear and acceptable definition of terrorist or terrorism is still evolving.

*Hon. Justice Bwalla is a retired judge of the Borno State High Court.

Vanguard News Nigeria


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