Nigeria: No to Special Courts for Bandits

18 April 2021

In a bid to find solutions to the general insecurity in the country, particularly the menace of banditry, kidnapping and ransom payment, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and an Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi, recommended that special courts be established to deal promptly with matters arising from those anti-social behaviours and others related to them like unlawful possession of firearm.

This stance was part of the outcome of a closed-door meeting in Abeokuta recently between the two who also asked the federal government to rehabilitate bandits who are willing to surrender.

The communique issued at the end of the meeting suggested that the government should wean those who are ready to be weaned out of the bushes and crime, settle and rehabilitate them, give them skills, empower them and let them have employment.

It went further to recommend that the hardened criminals must be hard hit with stick, unlawful carrying of arms should be very seriously punished, special courts should be created to deal promptly with cases of banditry, kidnapping, ransom demanding, and unlawful carrying of weapons.

There is no denying the fact that the twin scourge of banditry and kidnappings is yet to abate in the country and something needs to be done fast. However, in the considered opinion of this newspaper, creating special courts to try bandits will not necessarily solve the problem and our reasons are not far-fetched .Previously, special courts did not reduce or tackle the crimes they were created to address.

We can recall that special tribunals created by the successive military regimes to try armed robbery cases didn't yield the required results. Although some notorious criminals like Oyenusi, Lawrence Anini and their ilk were arrested, tried and sentenced speedily, it still didn't change the scourge of armed robbery in the country. Indeed, creating a special court for bandits will be superfluous as the court of Practice Direction 2013 has already taken care of it.

This newspaper notes that the Practice Direction shall, save to the extent and as may otherwise be ordered by the president, Court of Appeal, pursuant to Section 248 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), apply to: All Criminal Appeals relating to the offence of Terrorism, Rape, Kidnapping, Corruption, Money Laundering and Human Trafficking.

Instructively, the purpose of this practice direction is to establish, a specialised system of case management in the Court of Appeal, that will provide for the fair and impartial administration of criminal and civil appeals arising out of cases listed in 3(a) (i) and (ii) below, and the rules made under this Practice Direction shall be construed and applied to eliminate unnecessary delay in the transmission and conduct of appeals and reduce the expense and time spent on appeals by all parties before the court; This Practice Direction shall enable the Presiding Justice of the Divisions of the Court to fast track the hearing and determination of appeals in respect of cases which fall under the offences of Terrorism, Rape, Kidnapping, Corruption, Money Laundering and Human Trafficking.

Also, for appeals of criminal cases, on May 1, 2013, Zainab Bulkachuwa, as acting president of the court of appeal, also ruled on the same practice direction for the appeal court while a former Chief Justice of Nigeria had on July 15, 2013, made the practice direction applicable to cases brought to the Supreme Court.

Indeed, banditry which is a violent crime has already been addressed by the court of practice direction. Sadly, administration of criminal justice system has been slow in Nigeria as it takes almost eternity for criminal or civil cases to be concluded. Experts have attributed the lack of use of technology by some judges as the reason for the delay in the judiciary.

We have consistently advocated that the government should not negotiate or rehabilitate insurgents or bandits as it will be setting a bad example just as it will also demoralise officers and soldiers of the armed forces who have continued to make, in some cases, the supreme sacrifice in the war against insurgency. That, to us remains the best position on this issue.

We, therefore, call on the judiciary to apply the court of direction practice in dealing with cases of insurgency, banditry and kidnapping. Similarly, we also urge the courts and the judges to embrace technology to make court proceedings faster and more transparent. We insist that the nation does not need a special court to handle issues relating to banditry or the like.

As a matter of urgency, we urge the security agencies to get more resolute and smoke out the insurgents, bandits and kidnappers, and ensure that the full weight of the law is brought upon them. They must be made to pay for the crimes they committed against humanity. Nothing less will assuage the pain and anguish brave Nigerian soldiers and their families have to endure in the course of fighting insurgency.

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