Dealing with ‘repentant’ terrorists

FOR years, Nigeria has suffered from heinous attacks by Boko Haram insurgents. Since its inception, the terrorist group has been responsible for the loss of over 35,000 lives and destruction of people’s properties. It has made many homeless and wifeless. It has made many women widows and many children to orphans. No remedy, no successful counter attack and no victory. Yet the governments and its officials are celebrating the repentance of Boko Haram members, an action which is capable of encumbering our nascent democracy and putting lives and properties in jeopardy. To start with, Nigeria is a democratic state governed by the tenets of the rule of law, social justice and equity. The Nigerian Army is really trying its best but a question which deserves an answer: what is the cause of the persistent failure against the country’s enemy? Recently, a lot of success has been recorded, which resulted in large numbers of terrorists repenting and surrendering in the North-East. This was a consequence of the relentless efforts of the armed forces, intelligence and the security agencies  but instead of strong measures of the law being taken by the government, concerned authorities have unlawfully discharged, pardoned and released Boko Haram terrorists and bandits who hid under the guise of repentance, pangs of conscience, remorsefulness and contriteness.

We have peaceful agitators who are protesting against terrorism in detention but terrorists that have killed scores of thousands are pardoned. This is saddening. The glory and future of our democracy and the corporate existence of our country lies in jeopardy. Nigeria as a federation is governed by the principle of constitutionalism and the doctrine of the rule of law. Section 1(1) of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria states that: “This constitution is supreme and its provision shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. Since the constitution is unchanged and still valid till date, then we cannot agree that Boko Haram members whose actions are punishable under the law should be forgiven by the government without any trial in a court. This is a miscarriage of justice. The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression under section 39(1) which states that; “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without inference”. Though this also has exemptions but can we really compare merely exercising the right to free speech to the case persons who are killing Nigerians unjustifiably without no constitutional backing, but are still being pampered by the authorities?

It is only the executive president who has the power to grant the prerogative of mercy and not the military. One thing I love about the Nigerian constitution is its clarity on all matters. Any criminal arrested by the army should be handed over to the Attorney General for appropriate action. That is why we have separation of powers. The duty of one organ of government cannot be taken over by another organ. The Nigerian military is not a court. Then, why should it convict and free a presumed innocent person under the law? How do you know he is a Boko Haram when a court of law has not pronounced him to be a Boko Haram? Section 36(5) of the 1999 constitution as amended states that; “every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty”.

There are presumed differences between terrorists and activists who are arrested and jailed. Terrorists fight with guns, activists fights with words. Terrorists make people cry, activists give them hope. Terrorists destroy the hope of a better future, activists renew that hope. There are hundreds of differences far beyond my juxtaposition between terrorists and activists. Then why should a constitutionally governed state punish activists who are only voicing their displeasure and trying to make the country healthy and livable? Furthermore, the government neglecting its role in protecting and safeguarding the lives and properties of the people which is one its primary aims as provided under Section 14(2b) of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria is unfair and unlawful. As my people will say, “the government is leaving leprosy to kill ringworm.” Instead of facing the real problem, instead of meting out punishment to the country’s enemy, the government of Nigeria is busy pampering the enemy by granting them unjust amnesty while it treats activists like the real enemy, punishing them unconstitutionally, jailing them without due process of the law.

Boko Haram is playing a tune and the government is dancing along. You cannot quench a fire by setting more places ablaze. Nigeria should not sit limply while those who defy its laws walk freely. The Nigerian government should not treat terrorists with courtesy but as criminals. The government is not handling the current security issues well and will be questioned for neglecting its responsibility in this regard.

  • Olomu writes in via: samueldewright@gmail.com

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