A secret trial of more than 2,300 Boko Haram suspects began this week (10th October) with the arraignment of 1,670 alleged terrorists at a military base in Kainji, Niger State, Central Nigeria.
Attorney-General and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami said four judges have been assigned the trial by the
judiciary. A further trial will be held of another 651 alleged members of Boko Haram at the Giwa barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State, the home base of Boko Haram.
The media is barred from the court set up in a military facility for ‘security reasons.’ Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, associate professor of political science at Lagos State University, said, “The government seems to have chosen a military facility to prevent an attack by Boko Haram.”
Umar Ado a Kano defense lawyer said this is “as good as denying the public the right to know how the trial is carried out,” he said. “It sends the wrong signal that justice is not served or the process is compromised.”
Clement Nwankwo, a human rights lawyer in, Abuja, said an open trial, to the media, would have proven that justice is being served. Secrecy makes that harder.
“The Nigerian authorities have not been known to be diligent in investigating and properly prosecuting suspects,” he said, warning that a sense of injustice could breed resentment and possible future radicalization among dissatisfied relatives.
Ryan Cummings, a South Africa-based expert, has raised concerns about the capacity of the Nigerian judiciary to
fairly and competently execute these trials. “Does the judiciary have the capacity to give so many people charged with very serious offences a fair trial?”
He asked whether the judges are “taking into account the fact that a lot of those who committed violence for Boko Haram did so under duress. All these are red flags and very concerning in terms of the broader strategy.”
The Nigerian government has “shrouded any discussions about people involved with the Boko Haram terrorists with
secrecy,” according to one analyst in an interview with Global Christian News, “Government officials had insinuated that they had names of people sponsoring the insurgency yet none has been prosecuted, including a Senator from the region.” He said. “Chibok girls have been prevented from narrating the stories of their experiences and now the trial will be in secret, what or who is the government protecting here?”
A pastor, working with internally displaced people, (IDPs) in Adamawa State said, “When politics, money and corruption are mixed together and Islam, as a religion, is factored in, there can never be justice in the country.”
He added: “There are many things we know going on, even with this so-called trial. What we simply want, as Christians, is to have our communities rebuilt and our churches rebuilt, just as the Borno State government is rebuilding other Muslim communities. We have lost so much and so many members of our families to Islamic fanatics. Go around all the reconstruction going on. Compare the ratio of Muslim communities built and the Christian communities, then tell me where there is justice.”
The Nigerian justice department had noted challenges the judges will be facing which will include poor investigation techniques, lack of forensic evidence and “over-reliance on confession-based evidence.” This is in addition to the fact that since the outbreak of the insurgency in 2009, with over 20,000 killed, only 13 suspected Boko Haram militants have been put on trial and only nine convicted, according to the Nigeria’s ministry of justice.
Fatima Akilu, a former head of government’s counter violent extremism program, argued that secrecy was needed because Nigeria does not have a witness protection program for judges or anyone else. Witnesses have been afraid to come forward, he suggested.
Justice Binta Nyako said, “We are here to ensure that nobody is persecuted. We are here for prosecution and so we have come with open minds,” she said. A source at the judiciary said, “The trials will be conducted on an individual basis. Of course, where some suspects are accused of committing a particular crime, they will be tried in a group.”
Matthew Page, a former US state department analyst and a specialist on Nigeria, expressed his concern about the legal representation for some of the people detained for years before this trial. “There are good reasons to believe that large numbers of the detainees have very little or no connection at all to the group,” said Page.
Maryam Iliya, whose husband and son were killed by Boko Haram, said, “Our trust and hope is in Jesus Christ. The trials, all the politicking and all the activities are just to make people think that the government is doing something. For me these do not impact or affect how I leave my life. Only Jesus does.
“I can continue to live my life because of Christ. If I look up to people or government I would have long been dead. If they need to set up the courts to show the world they are doing something that is well, that is all the world want to see anyway. I depend only Christ. He has given me peace,” she declared.
Hassan John is West Africa Edito, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos