Mass Boko Haram Trials in Nigeria Test Its Criminal Justice System

A policeman stands on guard at the premises of Government Girls Technical College, where 110 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists at Dapchi town in northern Nigerian on February 28, 2018.
AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images

Suspected members of Nigeria’s Boko Haram terror group currently await a trial date while in military detention, but the start date has been delayed indefinitely due to the country’s inadequate criminal justice system, Africa’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS Africa) asserted in an article published on Thursday.

For several months, Nigeria has expected to conduct the fourth phase of mass trials of suspected members of the Boko Haram terror group, but the government has taken no concrete action to start the process. In October 2019, Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Advocacy and Research Director said:

It appears that the government of Nigeria has dumped further ‘information’ on the Office of the Prosecutor [OTP] in an attempt to delay the inevitable investigation. There is mounting evidence that the government of Nigeria is willingly unable to bring perpetrators to justice and it is past time that the OTP proceeds with an investigation into crimes committed by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian military. The delay has gone on for far too long and the OTP needs to do what is right for victims of these horrific crimes who have been waiting for justice for more than a decade. The [International Criminal Court] ICC should proceed to open an investigation into atrocities committed in the North-East of Nigeria.

For more than ten years, Boko Haram’s jihadist terrorist campaign across northeast Nigeria and neighboring regions has caused Nigeria massive destabilization. Starting with a major uprising in July 2009, Boko Haram began a campaign of violence in Nigeria that, despite periodic lulls, continues to this day. Recent reports indicate that the terror group has capitalized on lockdowns caused by the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic to stage a formidable resurgence in the country.

Boko Haram often clashes with Nigerian state security forces, which has led to mass arrests and the detention of suspected members. These mass arrests “began in 2009 and reached a peak in 2013,” ISS Africa reports.

Although Nigeria has previously conducted mass trials for terrorism offenses in 2017 and 2018, these trials “exposed significant problems with Nigeria’s criminal justice system,” according to the report. “Weak investigations, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, and the absence of legal aid and evidence marred the cases,” the report said.

The three mass trials conducted in 2017 and 2018 were considered the first three phases of trials, with the fourth phase currently awaiting a start date.

According to ISS Africa, for the fourth phase of trials to finally start and be conducted fairly, Nigeria’s criminal justice system must first undergo significant “legislative reform” to “address the challenges of investigating, prosecuting, and adjudicating terrorism offenses.”

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