By Femi Falana
IT is public knowledge that the dangerous criminal elements who kidnapped the Chibok and Dapchi secondary school girls in the North-East Zone in 2014 and 2017 respectively were not referred to as bandits.
They were called terrorists by the Federal Government and the media. The description was correct as the abductions carried out by the criminal elements were acts of terrorism.
But for reasons best known to the Federal Government the criminal elements who are currently involved in the brutal killing of innocent people and abduction of thousands of people including primary school pupils in the North-West Zone are called bandits and not terrorists.
A few weeks ago, the so called bandits downed a fighter jet belonging to the Nigerian Air Force. Curiously, it was reported by the Federal Government and the media that the dastardly act was perpetrated by a gang of bandits.
But contrary to such misleading description of terrorists as bandits the mayhem and violent attacks unleashed on unarmed people and wilful destruction of properties by the dangerous criminal elements are classified as “acts of terrorism” under the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 as amended by the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013. For the avoidance of doubt, section 2 of the Terrorism Prevention Act states as follows:
“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 organization;
(b) is intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended to –
(i) unduly compel a government or international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act,
(ii) seriously intimidate a population,
(iii) seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organization, or
(iv) otherwise influence such government or international organization by intimidation or coercion; and
(i) an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death;
(c) involves or causes, as the case may be-
(i) an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death;
(ii) kidnapping of a person;
(iii) destruction to a Government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility, including an information system, a fixed platform located on the continental shelf, a public place or private property, likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss;
(iv) the seizure of an aircraft, ship or other means of public or 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 of 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 of fire explosions or foods, the effect of which is to endanger human life;
(vii) 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.”
From the foregoing, it is undoubtedly clear that the criminal elements who abduct unarmed citizens, kill them or release them after collecting ransom to the tune of several millions of Naira are terrorists.
The criminal elements who attack and down military planes are terrorists. The criminal elements who attack police stations and seize weapons to attack innocent people are terrorists. The criminal elements who attack correctional centres and release inmates therein are terrorists.
The criminal elements who destroy government properties or public facilities are terrorists. But the Federal Government has deliberately refused to declare the bandits terrorists and prosecute them.
In May this year, the Federal Ministry of Justice announced the arrest and detention of 800 terror suspects and 400 sponsors of terrorism. It was further announced that the suspects would be arraigned once the industrial action of the judicial staff was called off. The strike was called off over three months ago.
But the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation has not deemed it fit to filed charges against the suspects and arraign them at the Federal High Court. As part of its anti-corruption policy the Buhari administration regularly engages in naming and shaming alleged looters of public funds from time to time.
Armed robbery suspects are paraded by the police from time to time. But the Federal Government has ruled out the publication of the names of the sponsors of terrorism on the ground that it is prejudicial to fair hearing!
In total frustration the North East Governors Forum recently applied for the fiat of the Attorney-General of the Federation to prosecute the hundreds of terror suspects languishing in military custody in Maiduguri, Borno State for years without trial.
The request was turned down without any justification. A few days ago, the report of the panel of inquiry set up by the Zamfara State Government to probe the activities of terrorists in the State was published. Two former governors and some Emirs were indicted in the report.
The State Government has since accepted the recommendation of the Panel that the suspects be prosecuted. Although terrorism is a federal offence the authorities in Abuja have not ordered the arrest and prosecution of the highly placed sponsors of terrorism in Zamfara State.
Prosecution of political opponents got terrorism
In 2017, the Federal Government announced the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for agitating for the establishment of the State of Biafra. The leader of the IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu is currently facing a charge of terrorism and treason at the Federal High Court.
The Federal Government has since declared a full scale war on IPOB members in view of the killings and destruction of properties being perpetrated in the South East region by alleged gunmen.
In 2019, the Federal Government proscribed the Movement for Islam in Nigeria (MIN) was proscribed for allowing its members to embarrass the Federal Government by demanding for the release of their leader, Ibrahim Elzakzaky from the illegal custody of the State Security Service which had defied the order of the Federal High Court to release him and his wife.
In a desperate bid to silence the radical wing of the mass media in the country the Federal Government has stigmatised some journalists and charged them with terrorism.
For instance, Messrs Emperor Ogbonna and Abba Jalingo were arrested and charged with terrorism charges at the Federal High Court for daring to accuse the Governors of Abia and Cross River State Governors of corruption.
In August 2019, the State Security Service arrested and detain Mr. Omoyele Sowore for planning a peaceful rally against the Buhari administration. While he was in detention the SSS secretly applied for an ex parte order to have Sowore detained for 90 days for the purpose of investigating his alleged terrorist activities.
Even though there was no evidence to support the application the Federal High Court ordered that Sowore be detained for 45 days. At the end of the investigation the SSS confirmed that there was no scintila of evidence linking Sowore to terrorism.
Recently, the Kaduna State High Court dismissed the charge of culpable homicide against Sheikh Ibrahim Elzakzaky and his wife. Completely dissatisfied with the verdict the Kaduna State Government has charged them with terrorism.
And sequel to the proscription of the MIN the police and the army engage in routine extrajudicial execution of scores of Shiites for embarking on peaceful protests in Abuja and other states in the North.
However, while the Federal Government is waging a full scale war against the Shiites, IPOB members and journalists it has continued to treat the so called bandits with kid glove. For instance, parents are allowed to negotiate and pay ransom to secure the release of their abducted children while the security agencies look away.
Embarrassed by the reluctance of the Federal Government to deal decisively with the so called bandits the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, in separate sittings, unanimously passed resolutions last weekend requesting President Buhari to declare the dangerous criminal elements as terrorists and proscribe them in accordance with the provisions of the Terrorism Prevention Act as amended without any further delay.
The federal lawmakers also asked President Buhari to declare all the known leaders of the bandits wanted and track them wherever they are for arrest and prosecution. So far, the Federal Government has ignored the resolutions. However, as the Federal Government is not prepared to declare them as terrorists we call on the media and the Nigerian people to stop referring to terrorists as bandits.
*Falana, Interim Chair, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, (ASCAB), wrote from Lagos.