Governors of the states battling with Boko Haram terrorism in the North-East have asked the Federal Government to issue a special fiat, different from the general one issued earlier, to enable them to speedily prosecute suspects arrested for terrorism.
In separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH, the governors of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states who spoke through their Commissioners of Justice and Attorneys General, noted that the fiat issued by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, which allowed states to prosecute federal offences, was not enough to prosecute suspected terrorists.
Boko Haram insurgents had been at war with the Nigerian state since 2009 and the terrorists have killed thousands of Nigerians, including women, children and pupils; many more have been displaced while some have gone missing for years with no trace of their whereabouts.
Reports said there are about 5,000 Boko Haram suspects located in different custodial centres in the country, and the Federal Ministry of Justice had proposed N2bn for its legal services in the 2021 fiscal year.
The Solicitor-General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, said in November during the ministry’s budget defence at the Senate that N350m from the sum would be used for the prosecution of Boko Haram suspects.
He added, “On the trial and prosecution of Boko Haram (suspects), you will recall that last year we had to create a jurisdiction in Kanji Dam in which 3,000 inmates were prosecuted. How do you prosecute 3,000 inmates in a place? We had to bring four judges from the Federal High Court and pay the legal aides.
“When we look at the N2bn, it’s a tip of the iceberg of what it intends to do. Presently, there is a camp in Maiduguri which we are going for another prosecution. This is what the N2bn is going to do. So, there is no overlapping.”
Already, there are concerns over the delay in the prosecution of thousands of arrested Boko Haram suspects. This is in addition to a lawsuit filed by about 101 suspects against the Federal Government challenging their continuous detention for 12 years without prosecution. In the suit filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos, the suspects also asked the court to free them and direct the Federal Government to pay them N303m as compensation.
In November 2020, however, governors in the North-East, under the auspices of the North-East Governors’ Forum, at a meeting in Yola, the Adamawa State capital, asked the AGF for fiat for the states to prosecute terrorist suspects instead of transferring the cases to Abuja.
The chairman of the forum and governor of Borno State, Prof Babagana Zulum, said at the event, “At the moment, the process is a bit cumbersome as all suspects charged with terrorism and terrorist-related offences have to be transferred to Abuja for prosecution, as only the Attorney-General of the Federation has the statutory powers to prosecute terrorists; according to the provisions of the anti-terrorism law.
“We need to obtain prosecutorial fiat from the Attorney-General to enable us to prosecute those charged with terrorism in our respective states, instead of referring them to Abuja.”
Meanwhile, The PUNCH reported on October 7, 2016, that the AGF issued the fiat at a meeting with the state AGs on the said date in 2016.
The Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Dr Umar Gwandu, and some state Attorneys General also confirmed to our correspondents on Thursday that the minister wrote all the Attorneys General, giving states the permission to prosecute suspects arrested for federal offences in their domain.
Sequel to the fresh request by the governors that they needed a fiat amid concerns over the delay in prosecuting the Boko Haram suspects, Sunday PUNCH asked some of the affected states why they were requesting for a fiat when one was issued since 2016.
The attorneys general of some of the states told our correspondents that they needed a special fiat from the AGF to prosecute the suspected terrorists, claiming that the one issued previously did not cover terrorism.
The Commissioner for Justice in Borno State, Mr Kaka Shehu Lawan, confirmed receiving from the AGF the “general fiat” to prosecute federal offenders but noted that they needed “specific” fiat for cases related to Boko Haram.
Shehu, who spoke on behalf of Zulum, told one of our correspondents in an interview, “Yes I am in receipt of the general fiat by the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute all offenders who commit federal offences in any of the 36 states of the federation but he (Malami) didn’t give us a specific fiat to prosecute Boko Haram insurgents.
“What we want from the Attorney General of the Federation is for him to give us a specific fiat and collaboration to prosecute Boko Haram insurgents in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states where the Boko Haram insurgents commit crime against the Nigerian federation.”
Similarly, the Commissioner for Justice in Yobe State, Saleh Samanja, admitted receiving the fiat from the AGF, noting however that the state would need a special fiat to prosecute Boko Haram suspects if it had any in its correctional centres, but that it did not have any of the suspects at the moment.
Samanja, who spoke on behalf of Governor Mai Mala Buni, said, “Yobe has no Boko Haram suspect in any of the correctional centres in the state, but even if we have any, we will need specific fiat from the AGF to prosecute the terrorists because terrorism is a federal offence. We have the general fiat to prosecute federal offences, but with a specific fiat, we can prosecute the insurgents.”
In Gombe State, which had been hit by the terrorist group in the past, the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Zubair Umar, also confirmed as true that the Attorney General of the Federation granted fiat for states to prosecute some federal cases and not all cases.
Umar, who spoke on behalf of Governor Yahaya Inuwa, added, “I can recall a fiat from the Attorney General of the Federation, but it’s not for all (federal) cases if I remember correctly. I think there was a letter from the AGF sometimes back, giving states fiat to handle some but not all cases.”
Umar explained that he could not ascertain whether there were Boko Haram suspects in the state, but that if the state had any and was empowered to prosecute them, it had qualified personnel to do it.
He added, “There may be one or two (suspects) but it has not come to our attention officially. I don’t have such information at the moment, as you know it (terrorism) is a federal offence and we don’t normally know what is happening because it is handled by some agencies different from state ministries. So, I can’t say whether there are some or not.
However, we have qualified personnel to prosecute them. It is one of the decisions of the North-East Governors’ Forum that the Attorney General of the Federation should give state governments the fiat to prosecute Boko Haram cases and we are ready. We are just waiting for the case files and the fiat.”
But the Adamawa State Commissioner for Justice, Chief Afraimu Jingi, said on Friday that he had yet to receive such correspondence from the AGF, noting however that they needed such fiat in the North-East to prosecute the suspected terrorists.
Jingi, who spoke on behalf of Governor Ahmadu Fintiri, said, “I am not aware of such correspondence or directive. If there is ever such a directive, it will be made through the governors and the governors would direct us. The directive will not come to us. In fact, we have been looking forward to that instruction.”
States free to prosecute all federal offences – Malami
Meanwhile, the AGF told one of our correspondents that the fiat issued to states by the AGF was open-ended and since then states were free to prosecute all federal offences because it had not been withdrawn.
He said, “On the 30th day of January, 2017, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), wrote to the Attorneys General of the 36 states of the federation granting them non-transferable fiat to prosecute federal offences committed in their jurisdictions without further recourse is real and not a hoax, and the fiat granted has not been withdrawn.
“This is in the exercise of the powers conferred on the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice by the provisions of Section 174(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Therefore, the AGF authorised all the Attorneys General in the 36 states of the federation to exercise on his behalf.
“The said powers conferred upon me with particular reference to the prosecution of Federal Offences which may arise within your jurisdiction and which may be practically impossible for the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute.
“I am not certain that the state’s Attorneys General who are legal luminaries will be demanding for ‘Special Fiat’ through PUNCH Reporter. Which fiat is special? Which fiat is not special? What constitutes ‘Special Fiat’? Were there any efforts of/by such states’ Attorneys General to convey their “insistence” to the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice since five years ago?”
When asked if the AGF would again write to the states to remind them of the power already transferred to them by virtue of the fiat following the request by the North-East Governors’ Forum, Gwandu said the media should continue to sensitise the general public to the operations, policies, decisions and activities of the government.
He added, “The fact that such fiat was granted was never in doubt. What remains now is for the media to sensitise (them to it) and make the information on such fiat widely available to the general public. There are laid-down processes of conveying information and seeking for such in a governmental operation.
“The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has always been available to serve public interest within the context of extant laws. Abubakar Malami (SAN) as the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is not averse to whatever is of public interest and that which does not violate the provisions of the extant laws.”
“The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is ready to do the needful as swiftly as possible within the context of extant laws and regulations governing the operations of service. It might interest you to inquire about the corresponding steps taken by the states Attorneys General to see to the effective implementation of the fiat that was sent to them five years ago that is in 2017.”
The actions and inactions of the government in respect of the Boko Haram suspects has remained a subject of public discourse. Apart from the fact that some of them escaped during the jailbreaks in Bauchi and Maiduguri correctional centres respectively, about 1,400 of them have reportedly been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society by the government.
The pardon granted the repentant terrorists was largely criticised by many, including lawmakers, security experts and persons knowledgeable about terrorism. Some also kicked against the move because the victims, stranded in different Internally Displaced Persons camps, had been abandoned and starving while the suspects were being resettled.
For example, Senator Ali Ndume, Governor Zulum and many others warned against the move.
Zulum said during the forum’s meeting in March, “It has been confirmed that the concept of deradicalisation or Safe Corridor is not working as expected. Quite often, those who have passed through the Safe Corridor initiative, or have been deradicalised, usually go back and rejoin the terror group after carefully studying the various security arrangements in their host communities, during the reintegration process.”
Ndume, who is also from Borno State, the epicentre of the terrorism, in November accused one of the deradicalised terrorists of being responsible for the murder of an army colonel, D. C, Bako, who was killed on September 21 in an ambush. He added, “I am in disagreement with the government on the issue of de-radicalising and reintegrating (them). I still maintain that. You can’t be resettling people, pampering them while the war is on.”
States don’t need special fiat to prosecute terrorists – Lawyers
A lawyer and public affairs analyst, Mr Liborous Oshoma, described the governors’ demand for a special fiat from the AGF as buck-passing, saying they already have unlimited powers to prosecute criminal offenders in their respective states and do not need any order from the AGF’s office to prosecute some criminal suspects.
Oshoma said, “We are not in the habit of punishing criminality here; we always find a way to dress it. That is why you see this back and forth. In some cases, some of these criminal acts committed in these states do not even need a fiat of the attorney general of the federation to prosecute. Murder, for example, is a crime against the state. So, if somebody kills another, if you cannot prosecute him for terrorism, you can prosecute him for murder.”
He argued that some of those who end up as terrorists were jobless persons armed by politicians to foment trouble during elections, adding that if there had been good governance in the country, there wouldn’t have been an army of young people roaming the streets, which is an attraction for terrorist groups.
He added, “If we really want to punish criminality, fiat won’t be a problem. So, I see this (request for special fiat) as lack of the willpower to do what is right. I also think that some of these state governors are scared of the backlash; they don’t have the facilities to keep some of these persons, so they want full support. They should look for another name for it and not fiat because they already have the power to prosecute some of these offences.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Chukwunyere Uruakpa, also said the northern states did not need to wait for any special fiat to prosecute suspects arrested for committing federal offences, including terrorism.
Uruakpa explained that acts that constituted federal offences like terrorism, unlawful possession of firearms, kidnapping and others had for a very long time been in the criminal laws of the states.
He said, “In Lagos State, Sections 403 and 404 of Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015 provides for/stipulates what terrorism is and the punishment for same. Lagos State can conveniently prosecute such. In the same vein, any other state of the federation that has similar provisions can prosecute person(s) who are alleged to be involved in the said crime (terrorism and other federal offences).
“However, in this particular instance, the extant laws of the various states, whether the Penal Code or other Criminal Laws of States, will suffice; especially because some of them provide for capital punishment. So, what the northern governors and their Attorneys General need is to know how to prosecute suspected terrorists without waiting for any special fiat. Again, where any law provides for fiat from the AGF to prosecute a case, that fiat ought to be properly given.”
UN suspends operations in Borno villages after Boko Haram attacks
Following attacks on some of its assets and staff by Boko Haram insurgents, the United Nations has suspended humanitarian operations in Dikwa and Damasak both in Borno State, North-East Nigeria.
UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator In Nigeria, Edward Kallon, made this known in a statement on Saturday, titled, ‘Statement On UN Operations In North-East Nigeria’.
Kallon said, “I am deeply concerned about the recent attacks on humanitarian operations in Dikwa and Damasak, affecting humanitarian assets and personnel.
“We have temporarily suspended operations in these areas in order to safely relocate humanitarian staff and are closely monitoring the situation.
“We intend to resume operations as soon as possible, so that civilians affected by the conflict continue to receive the assistance they need.
“I condemn in the strongest terms attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure which may constitute violations on International Humanitarian Law.”