9 March 2013

Nigeria: Efficacy of Anti-Terrorism Law


The coming into force of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 on June 3, 2012, has not brought relief for Nigerians. The Act prohibits acts of terrorism and other ancillary offences. Specifically, sections 1, 2, 3 and 33 of the Act aspire to bring the existence of organised hoodlums to an abrupt end.

Unfortunately, bomb blasts have been recurring in unusual places -- beyond the north-east of the country to hitherto secured places like the Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State, and the high-profile Special Anti-Robbery Squad in the nation's capital. Is the Act a pageant that dances to an imaginary drum? It seems to be an abstraction.

Obviously, the law, made with a curative thinking, cannot address the species of insecurity in the country. Boko Haram has been unrepentant, just as the practice of hostage-taking in the Niger Delta has been on the increase. That is a big knock on the head of the National Assembly's statute that was made to criminalise these acts.

Part of the solution lies in an amendment to the Anti-terrorism Act, 2011, to compel the trial of terror suspects, their sponsors and others suspected to have aided and abetted terror suspects under military law. It is sad that the executive bill before the National Assembly is generating furore over death sentence and trial of suspects under military law. Some say it negates democracy designed as a form of lois scelerates to unjustly repress all manner of popular protests.

Bombings, hostage-taking, assassinations and kidnapping cannot be treated as elements of protest in a democracy. People have also argued that death sentence has not quelled the spate of armed robberies or murders. But that is tenuous. A situation where people take pride in denying other people their right to life requires that they themselves should not be spared.

Furthermore, sections 308 and 220 of the Criminal and Penal Codes respectively recommend death as punishment for any person who caused the death of another, directly or indirectly, provided the element of Actus Reus, that is, deliberately causing the death of another human being in circumstances that are not authorised by law, is established.

We support any law that prescribes death as punishment for taking another person's life unjustly. We are not impressed by the slow pace of the passage of this law, neither are we persuaded by contestations that capital punishment is widely condemned by rights groups in the western world.

The government has to be firm and unequivocal about the war that is raging daily, especially as many of our top jurists and security officers have claimed that there is no clear-cut law against terrorism in the country. The chief justice of Nigeria, Aloma Mukhtar, during her screening by the Senate, was the first to say this; later, the inspector-general of police, MD Abubakar, re-echoed it. Obviously, they were wrong. The existing laws only need to be strengthened to meet the present challenge.

A peculiar situation that has led to the death of over 3,000 people and the maiming of more Nigerians requires an equally peculiar antidote, alongside doses of good governance and strategic thinking and surveillance. Terrorist activities in the country cannot be handled like a civil matter in regular courts. We support the proposed amendment meant to hasten the trial of suspects and prevent them from exploiting any loopholes in the existing Anti-terrorism Act and the nation's legal system to escape justice.

Article 40 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act (2002) defines terrorism as "any act in violation of the Criminal or the Penal Code, endangering lives, physical integrity or freedom of, or cause serious injury or death to, any person, any number or group of persons or causes or may cause damage to public property, natural resources, environmental or cultural heritage and is calculated or intended to (i) intimidate, put in fear, force, coerce or induce any government, body, institution, the general public or segment thereof, to do or abstain from doing any act or to adopt or abandon a particular standpoint, or to act according to certain principles". It takes more than that to deal with this monster called terrorism.

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