The fate of dozens of persons arrested over suspicion of financing Boko Haram and other criminal gangs in Nigeria hangs as the government is yet to charge them to court over six months after arrest.
Daily Trust had in April reported a nationwide crackdown led by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the Department of State Services (DSS) where over 400 Bureau De Change (BDC) operators and other businessmen were arrested.
- PODCAST: Female genital mutilation: the survivors story
- PODCAST: Do People Living With HIV Still Face Discrimination?
A security source at the time disclosed that an initial list of 957 suspects comprising BDC operators, gold miners and sellers and other businessmen was being acted upon.
The source said about 400 persons had been arrested in a series of arrests in Kano, Borno, Abuja, Lagos, Sokoto, Adamawa, Kaduna and Zamfara.
In Kano, a major focus for the operation, traders at the foreign exchange open market in Wapa, Fagge Local Government Area, were picked up on March 9, 15 and 16.
But over six months after the arrests, lawyers and family members said the suspects are being detained incommunicado even as they were yet to be charged to court.
The federal government had repeatedly promised to unveil and charge the alleged Boko Haram sponsors to court.
This has not happened amid apprehension by families and acquaintances of those in custody.
Some lawyers who spoke to our correspondent highlighted the need for relevant agencies to act, carry out diligent prosecution, sentence those found wanting and then release those that have no skeleton in their cupboards.
Suspects’ fundamental rights suit stalled
On the case of those arrested this year, Justice Ahmed Mohammed had on September 17 returned the fundamental rights enforcement case file of 45 suspects to the chief judge of the court, Justice John Tsoho for re-assignment to another judge following the end of the court’s vacation.
By the return of the case file, the hearing of arguments on the federal government’s fresh remand application and their fundamental rights enforcement have been further delayed as the country awaits clarity on the actual sponsors of terrorism in Nigeria.
The 45 suspects, who were arrested between March 15 and 22 by troops of Operation Lafiya Dole in Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Borno, Lagos and Zamfara states, had filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit in September, challenging their continued detention beyond 90 days as provided by law.
Following the arrests, the Ministry of Justice, on March 23, applied for a 90-day remand of the suspects in the custody of the Nigerian Army Intelligence Corps, Wu Bassey Barracks, Asokoro, Abuja, which was moved on March 24.
After the remand lapsed on June 24, the prosecution, on July 16, filed a fresh application under section 27 (1) of the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013, seeking to extend the period for another 90 days to enable it to conclude an ongoing investigation into the matter, which on August 26 could not be heard because of the pending fundamental rights enforcement application.
The federal government’s application for further remand, which is now pending before Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, is expected to be heard within October.
The federal government had alleged that ongoing investigations revealed that the suspects were facilitating the transfer of money to Boko Haram through some Nigerians in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In the application by the Federal Ministry of Justice, the assistant chief state counsel, Suleiman Labaran, averred that the prosecution required more time to conclude the investigation and charge the suspects to court, adding that further remand is necessary as “there are chances that the investigation will be compromised if the suspects are released on bail.”
In their counter-affidavit to the application for extension of remand, which was deposed on behalf of the suspects by one Francis Nicholas, they averred that they are mostly Bureau De Change (BDC) operators, who have been engaged in forex business for many years.
They further averred that on March 8, 2021, after they honoured an invitation of the security agency “as law-abiding citizens” they were thoroughly interrogated and detained.
“Since then, nothing was heard about them, nor access granted to either their respective families or their lawyer. The situation has continued to cast doubt as to whether they are still alive or not,” he said.
The suspects said the action of the federal government in taking their statements without releasing or arraigning them before a court of competent jurisdiction constituted a gross violation of their fundamental human rights and unjustly done in bad faith.
The suspects denied any link to the Boko Haram terrorist group or any other illegal or unlawful group, maintaining that they have “never been involved in any malpractice arising from their said respective businesses, neither did they engage in unlawful dealings with anybody.”
Ali Jamilu, a lawyer, further contends in the counter affidavit filed on September 8 that the federal government’s application was not brought under the remand proceedings of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 but under the Terrorism Prevention Act, and therefore, should be dismissed.
Speaking on the matter, Jamilu said that by the processes in court, it is obvious that his clients may have transacted with them one way or another “but they don’t know what these people were doing in Dubai.”
According to him, “Some of them are not even BDC operators, they were arrested while doing their normal businesses,” he said.
FG not prosecuting case diligently – Lawyers
Reacting, the chairman of the Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and former second vice president of the association, Onyekachi Monday Ubani, said such practice of holding suspects before investigation by security agencies amounted to incompetence, lack of diligence and abuse of the Nigerian constitution.
“We see what other countries do in terms of crime investigation. Before they arrest anybody they first carry out a comprehensive investigation, most times, almost 100 per cent completed before they come in and arrest. Immediately they arrest, they take statements and charge to court.
“They don’t waste time asking for 90 days, 100 days, all in a bid to make you confess to the crime. It shows a lack of competence. It shows we have not deployed technology, which is what they use in investigations.
“Detaining somebody before asking for a warrant or detention order for 90 days is a violation of rights. It can only happen under a military dictatorship, not democracy. What they are doing is a violation of the constitution, which has specified how many days you can be detained when arrested,” Ubani said.
He advised that such violations of fundamental human rights be challenged in court.
Similarly, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, also a lawyer, said the federal government ought to be more diligent in prosecuting suspects.
“The federal government, in my humble view, needs not to wait for the remand period granted by the court to elapse before applying to the court for further remand.
“This is also important because any detention beyond the time allowed by the court would amount to the arbitrary detention of the suspects/defendants, hence a violation of their fundamental rights to personal liberty, free movement, among others, and can attract compensation and apology from the government.
“Also, our courts have their internal challenges that slow down justice. This, to my humble view, ought to have been heard expeditiously, but you can see the delay in hearing the suit and the frustration of the alleging applicants’ fundamental rights suit.
“The fate, in my observation, might be a remand in the correctional centres or bail, or further remand in government’s custody for further days, depending on the discretion of the court,” he said.
Daily Trust reports that brothers of two of the six Nigerians jailed in the UAE, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan and Bashir Ali Yusuf are among the 45 being held by the federal government.
Some family members of the suspects had told Daily Trust that their inability to communicate with them had left them traumatic.
They said the president of the Association of Bureau de Change Operators of Nigeria (ABCON), Alhaji Aminu Gwadabe, who had earlier appealed to the authorities concerned to speed up investigation on the issue, had hired a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to represent them in court.
We are following judicial process – Malami
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) had, while speaking to the press at the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York, announced that the federal government had obtained judicial orders to further detain some of the suspects.
“As far as that aspect is concerned (terrorism financing and funding), we have succeeded in identifying those responsible, blocking the leakages associated with the funding and embarking on an aggressive investigation.
“As we are talking, the investigation is ongoing and advancing. And for investigation, I wouldn’t want to be pre-emptive in terms of making disclosures that would be capable of having effects of undermining the successes we are recording.
“What I can tell you for sure is that whatever we do, in terms of arrests and detentions, are indeed backed by judicial process. We have obtained legitimate court orders, taking into consideration what we have presented before the court. The court eventually exercised its discretion in terms of granting the order, which would have them in custody pending the conclusion of the investigation,” Malami said.
Daily Trust had in November 2020 exclusively reported how six Nigerians were convicted by an Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over alleged funding of Boko Haram.
Two of the convicts, Surajo Abubakar Muhammad and Saleh Yusuf Adamu were sentenced to life imprisonment while the remaining four, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan, AbdurRahman Ado Musa, Bashir Ali Yusuf and Muhammad Ibrahim Isa were handed ten-year imprisonment respectively.
The convicts, according to a court judgment exclusively obtained by Daily Trust were tried and convicted in 2019.
The court judgment also showed that between 2015 and 2016, the convicts were involved in different cash transfers allegedly in favour of Boko Haram to the tune of USD782, 000.00 even as those close to them said the transactions were for legitimate purposes.
However, families of those affected told the Daily Trust that the victims were “framed up” considering that they had been doing legitimate bureau de change business in the UAE before their arrest.
Most of the family members were still expecting the Nigerian government to intercede.