The government of Nigeria has once again made the claim that the Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram no longer has the ability to freely operate in the nation’s northeast, as its courts prepare to be overwhelmed with over 1,600 cases against individual members of the jihadist group.
“They’ve been completely degraded. They don’t have the capacity to launch the kind of attacks they did before,” Minister Lai Mohammed told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “But like with all asymmetrical wars, you cannot stop the suicide bombs or the attacks on soft targets. But clearly, the government is winning. It’s a war that can be won.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, who won the 2015 race largely on a campaign promise to totally eradicate the group, claimed in late December of that year that “technically, we have won the war.”
“We have dealt with them,” he told reporters.
The group has nonetheless continued to terrorize the country’s northeast Borno state for years since then, most recently attacking a Borno village last week. A large number of Boko Haram terrorists stormed Kurmiri village, killing the chief imam in the town and using female suicide bombers to maximize the damage. Boko Haram has increasingly resorted to forcing women and girl captives to strap on explosives and attack population centers like Shia mosques and marketplaces, exploiting the fact that children arouse less suspicion than adults.
The report on the Kurmiri attack also notes that the terrorists have increasingly stabbed and butchered civilians to death with knives and machetes to avoid scaring away other villagers with gunshots.
Police arrested one person in relation to that attack.
Nigerian authorities are currently holding thousands of men suspected of working for the ISIS group, however, and soon over 1,600 will have to stand trial for their crimes. According to Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, trials will begin on October 9 for 1,670 individuals believed to have aided Boko Haram or committed acts of terrorism for the group. “All is now set to begin the arraignment of suspected Boko Haram suspects in various detention facilities in the country,” he told reporters.
Malami warned, however, that police did not adequately collect evidence in many of the cases, creating a situation where courts may not be able to find Boko Haram terrorists guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of their crimes. Among the issues plaguing the evidence at hand are “over-reliance on confession based evidence, lack of forensic evidence, absence of cooperation between investigators and prosecutors at pre-investigation stages,” he said. He added to the list, “poor logistical facilities to transport defendants from detention facility to court for trial. Scarcity of skilled/trained forensic personnel to handle investigation of complex cases. Inadequate security for counsel handling terrorism cases and converting military intelligence to admissible evidence.”
An official in Nigeria’s Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) told the national Daily Trust newspaper this month that over 3,000 suspected Boko Haram terrorists are still awaiting trial nationwide. That report also suggested a variety of legal problems with the cases at hand, including suspects protesting that the military coerced them into confessions or detained them illegally without a trial.
Nigeria’s the Guardian newspaper cites multiple Nigerian attorneys who have expressed concern that the judiciary does not have the capacity to process so many terrorism trials. “Definitely, the Ministry of Justice does not have such capacity because it shows that, first of all, they must have been investigated and the appropriate authorities must have reviewed the evidence and witness. Are they going to be jointly charged or one by one?” asks attorney John Odubela in one article. Another attorney and former national secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mazi Afam Osigwe, tells the Guardian, “it is also going to be very difficult in getting witnesses to testify in those cases, considering the number of trials” and heightened security at the trials may hinder access and mobility for legal teams.