Insecurity: Can special courts do the trick?

Banditry, terrorism and kidnappings have reached a crisis point and everyone agrees that the country must find a way to stem the tide. But can establishing special courts to try these crimes be the solution, writes ADEBISI ONANUGA

Last Sunday, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi led a delegation to meet with former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Discussions at the meeting was said to have centred on the need to find solutions to banditry, kidnapping and all other forms of insecurity bedevilling the country.

Gumi, on arrival at Abeokuta Obasanjo Hilltop mansion, went into a private meeting with the former president.

Gumi was accompanied by Prof Usman Yusuf; Mallam Tukur Mamu; Dr Umar Ardo; Dr Ibrahim Abdullahi; Suleiman Gumi; Alhaji Suleiman Yakubu and Mallam Buba Mohammed.

The visiting team was received by Chief Obasanjo; Agura of Gbagura Oba Babajide Bakre; Ogun State chapter Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); Bishop Tunde Akin-Akinsanya; Chief Imam of Egbaland Sheikh Sa’addallah Alade Bamigbola; Chief Kenny Martins; Chief Ola Babajide Jaiyeoba; Rev. Tony Ojeshina; Chief Imams of Oke-Ona, Gbagura, Owu and Mr. Vitalis Ortese.

In a statement issued after their meeting, they agreed among others that special courts should be created to deal promptly with cases of banditry, kidnapping, ransom-demanding and unlawful carrying of weapons.

Obasanjo and the cleric appealed to Nigerians not to advertently or inadvertently encourage or support criminality, lamenting that the security situation had gone beyond tolerance.

They identified the various forms of insurgency, particularly banditry and herdsmen crisis as “micro ethnic conflict” between the Fulani and their host communities and the remote causes as educational and economic disparities, the negative use of religion and ethnicity by unscrupulous politicians.

The meeting provided short, medium and long term based solutions which they said must be composed of stick and carrot for the offender and the vulnerable.

They said: “All well-meaning Nigerians have to be involved in finding solutions by: desisting from blame game; desisting from ethicising these crimes; desisting from religionising these crimes; desisting from regionalising these crimes.”

They agreed on the slogan: ‘Security is the responsibility of all Nigerians.’

They also agreed to continue to work together for the security of Nigeria and to seek others to join them in this new cause.

Prior to his last Sunday’s visit to Abeokuta, Gumi had attracted notoriety for speaking for the cause of the bandits, notwithstanding the havoc, including deaths they had caused in many villages that they attacked in many parts of the North.

Gumi was reputed to be the campaigner for amnesty for bandits and ‘killer’ herdsmen. He was also reported to have held meetings with some banditry gangs in Kaduna, Niger, and Zamfara to negotiate their peaceful surrender on their behalf.

On Friday, February 19, 2021, Gumi reportedly met with Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, to discuss the result of his negotiation with some bandits that allegedly kidnapped the Government Secondary School  (GSS), Kagara, students.  Gumi had then told reporters that the bandits were victims themselves, that “They were persecuted, arrested, lynched. The Federal Government should give them a blanket amnesty.”

He stated that the easiest and safest way to end insecurity in the north is to negotiate peace with the bandits.

Endless banditry, kidnapping waves

A March 2, 2021 report by UNHCR, a United Nations refugees agency, stated that about 77,000 Nigerians are taking refuge in Republic of Niger’s Maradi region, following the spread of banditry and armed attacks.

Only a few days into 2021, gunmen attacked Rambadawa, in northern Nigeria, to loot the village and steal cattle.

The attack on Rambadawa is one of a growing number in north-west Nigeria. The surging violence is driving displacement into Maradi, which now hosts nearly 100,000 displaced people, including the 77,000 Nigerian refugees, 7,660 of whom have fled to the place since the start of the year.

According to UNHCR’s representative in Niger, Alessandra Morelli, “The rise in cross-border activity by criminal groups since the start of the year is a cause of real concern. We are adapting our response to the waves of forced displacement caused by growing insecurity and we are providing protection and access to basic services such as health, education and access to water.”

On Friday January 29, 2021, according to a BBC report, gunmen ambushed the Kungi village in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State and carried out house-to-house search before kidnapping 30 people.

Although, there are security personnel in the village, their presence did not stop the gunmen from invading.

According to reports, Birnin Gwari is now full of internally displaced people, fleeing continuous attacks by bandits in neighbouring villages.

In the North, kidnap-for-ransom industry seems to be growing as each kidnapping seems to inspire another and it is not just the well-off who are at risk, but poor villagers and ordinary schoolchildren who are the victims.

In the Southwestern state of Ogun, residents of Yewa and Imeko-Afon Local Government Area have of late been fleeing to Benin Republic towns as refugees, following attacks by herdsmen which have become a frequent occurrence.

Herders

As the nation continues to groan under the pains of insecurity, stakeholder hold divergent views on events in the country.

Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) Secretary-General, Othman Ngelzarma, explained that herders are lured into crime due to ignorance and poverty. He said some of the herders were impoverished after their cattle were stolen.

Ngelzarma who was addressing the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) National Executive Council (NEC) led by Chief Audu Ogbe in Kaduna said the solution to herdsmen attacks is to settle the pastoralists within a place and educate them.

According to him, the criminal herders have powerful backers.

“The merchants take advantage of the ignorance of the young Fulani and their poverty to engage them in crime. Crime is everywhere. When you catch criminals, you always get Fulani among the group because of their lack of education, their ignorance and their poverty,” Ngelzarma said.

Acting IG to the rescue

Last Thursday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while decorating the new acting Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, told him that that there was a lot to be done and charged him to rebuild trust with the Nigerian public.

Osinbajo said: “The organisation you are leading is one that is itself facing several challenges; your officers work in extremely difficult conditions and some face the threat of physical harm by terrorists and hostile non-state actors while in the line of duty.

“Under your leadership, the Police must now rebuild some bridges of trust and regain the confidence of the citizens. This is an on-going challenge and task that the Police Force and all the senior members of the Police must take on as a responsibility.”

The VP also charged him to implement the Community Policing Policy which had already taken off as well as restore the dignity of the Nigeria Police.

“One of the ways you can restore confidence and build trust is by implementing the Community Policing Policy which has already taken off and reconceptualising policing as a task carried out in partnership with local communities and officers who are members of these communities”, he said.

Responding, Baba pledged to tackle insurgency and other security threats in the shortest possible time, restore security and order, and return the country to the path of national unity.

To achieve the task, Baba said he would rejig Police operational strategies, asked Nigerians to “expect improvement in the security situation” and pleaded for their collaboration and cooperation.

Special Courts

Agitation for specialised courts is not a new concept in Nigeria. Specialised courts are often established to adjudicate and fast-track the trial of special criminal offences and minimise delays. Some special courts in the country include the National Industrial Court which handles disputes in work places; the Courts of Arbitration, the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse to quicken civil matters among others.

Challenges in the trial of high profile corruption cases, increase in criminal matters like kidnapping and sexual assault led to the establishment of the Special offences courts and Domestic and Sexual Offences Courts in Lagos State by its former Chief Judge, Justice Opeyemi Oke in February 2018. The decision followed a directive and issuance of necessary practice direction by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen issued in 2017 to heads of courts in the country for the establishment of such special courts. The special courts took off in Lagos as pilot scheme for other states to emulate.

Special Court for banditry, kidnapping

A special court for banditry, kidnapping, unlawful possession of firearms and others as proposed by Obasanjo and Gumi is not alien to the Nigeria’s judicial system. But some stakeholders consider this as unnecessary, a waste of effort and a duplication of various criminal courts across the country with practice directions giving vent to acceleration of criminal trials. Those of this opinion noted the situation has already been taken care of by a 2013 practice direction from the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) with specific direction on accelerated and speedy trials of criminal matters.

Stakeholders’ concern

Banditry, kidnappings, and other violent crimes have increased in many parts of the country and no part of the country is spared from insecurity. There is the Boko Haram issue in the Northeast, banditry in the Northwest , Northcentral and the Middle Belt, herdsmen attacks in the west and the east while kidnapping is in every part of the country. Stakeholders noted that several possible solutions to address the country’s hydra-headed insecurity issues have been suggested to the government but none seems to be working so far.

Can special courts curtail or end banditry and other forms of insecurity?

Lawyers did not think so. Those who opposed the idea included a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Olisa Agbakoba; Dr Fassy Yusuf; a lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Wahab Shittu; and a former Commissioner, Ogun State Judiciary Service Commission, Abayomi Omoyinmi.

Special court not solution – Agbakoba

Dr Agbakoba argued that Special Courts will play “absolutely little or no role and have no influence” on the spate of banditry terrorism kidnappings etc, now engulfing Nigeria.

He said the systemic nature of violence, according to leading criminologists, has always been associated with poverty and exclusion.

“The leading authority in the world on the subject of exclusion is the indomitable Professor Thomas Pikety. His theory is simple that the cause of violence of any kind is rooted in extreme want and exclusion,” Agbakoba said.

There is no question, he added, that exclusion in Nigeria is “a massive problem.”

Agbakoba recommended that government policies should provide for and include “the fragile people living on the margins of extreme want.

“The other important factor is simply to create new economic opportunities other than the political pyramid at Abuja. I strongly suggest that devolution of political and economic power will disperse prosperity and new opportunities at the base of Nigeria, namely the local governments, where active recruitment of violent manpower occurs. So, I disagree with respect with President Obasanjo and Sheikh Gumi.”

Government must be strategic – Yusuf

Like Agbakoba, Dr Yusuf said creating special courts is not the solution.

“The solution should be more profound, should be more strategic and we need to put on our thinking cap,” he said.

According to him, “fundamentally, the security architecture of the country has collapsed and those saddled with the responsibility of ensuring security of life and property have failed in every material sense. Intelligence gathering is nil and our security operatives are not doing what they were supposed to do. The society is not cooperating with them, maybe because there is a loss of confidence or because government on its own is not sincere. The insincerity of government has led to apathy. So, when you see a crime about to be committed near you, you turn the other way because you don’t want to be involved.

“So setting up of special courts to try bandits or kidnappers, how would that solve the problem? It would only cause problems for the judiciary because those judges you are asking to try cases of banditry, kidnappers would be left with just those cases. The regular cases they are handling would be left undone and as they say, justice delayed is justice denied. We cannot afford a situation where the judiciary would become the weeping voice.

Amend constitution to accommodate State Police

To end banditry and other forms of insurgency, Yusuf said the first thing to do is to amend the constitution to allow for state police and even local government police.

He said: “The country is under policed and the federal Police, that is Nigeria Police is detached from the people. The orientation of the present crop is largely skewed. Most of our policemen and policewomen are after financial gains.

“Corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of Nigeria Police. The same corruption has taken over nearly every spectrum of the country including other security agencies, the SSS, the military intelligence, Customs Service, Immigration Service, Naval intelligence. How do we explain to the outside world, the massive and the humongous arms and ammunition that we see in this country, all in the hands of criminals?”

Yusuf expressed worry over how hoodlums nearly overran Owerri during Easter Monday. “Criminals, hoodlums took over Owerri, bombed Nigerian Correctional Service overpowered Nigerian Police state command headquarters and other areas! Look at the way bandits have taken over in other parts of the country. Look at the insecurity we are experiencing in the Southwest, in the Southsouth. In fact, no place is spared. We have people charged with the responsibility of ensuring security of life and property. These are indices of a failed state.”

He contended that Nigeria can only get out of this situation “if we are serious with ourselves and are ready to take the bulls by the horn.

Yusuf said: “Let us decentralise the Nigeria Police Force and let every state including the local government have its own Police force, let them carry arms and let us spread our intelligence network. The government should be proactive. Anybody that is found culpable or not performing his or her job, should be dismissed with ignominy.”

According him, government has been lethargic, that is why the citizens, the police and other security agencies are not performing.

He lamented proliferation of arms and ammunitions in the country and indicted the police on the issue. Patriotism, he added, has dwindled.

He urged government to lead by example

Yusuf said: “The government has to set the pace. To me, it is a problem of leadership. If the leadership is willing to navigate change, is willing to make a difference, I believe Nigerians will take a cue and follow. So, we must as a nation be proactive in our security architecture and if we cannot do it, we can invite experts and give them free hands to work. The era of ethnicity, affection should stop in governance.Accountability, transparency, proactiveness must be our watchword. That is the path to ending banditry, kidnapping and other forms of insecurity in the country.”

Poverty, hunger root cause of banditry – Shittu

Shittu said putting an end to banditry, kidnapping and other forms of insecurity require a multi- pronged approach. He said the critical factor will be to address the root causes of the manifestations of insecurity in the land.

He noted that “at the heart of this needless violence are the elements of ignorance, hunger, disease, poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment and bad leadership. We need to put in place proactive policies to address of all of these symptoms of underdevelopment. Setting up special courts as proposed will partly address the effects of insecurity not the root causes of the malaise.”

Shittu suggested sustained campaigns and sensitisation aimed at changing the mindset of those who view deployment of all kinds of violence as objects of pleasure to end insecurity. According to him, “a deliberate policy of constructive engagement with the population is fundamental. Thirdly, entrenching core values in our youths vulnerable to such tendencies at all levels of society’s critical structures cannot be over emphasised.”

He argued that the family unit, the school system and all the tiers of the government structure must enlist in this crusade.

Shittu added: “Of course setting up special courts will assist in the sphere of criminalisation and penalisation as critical tools of law enforcement. Trials of suspects will be fast- tracked. This is also critical because it will enthrone a regime of consequences for criminal infractions.

“The point I’m making is that setting up special courts will be useful as part of a holistic package measures to stem insecurity in the land. It is, however, not one option alone that will deliver us from this malady. We will also need to strengthen our security agencies, institutional frameworks including enhancing international cooperation, capacity building, information and intelligence sharing including technical assistance in line with best practices for stemming insecurity.”

State Police not special court – Omoyinmi

For Omoyinmi, the government both at the federal and state should do a lot more to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to book.

He said: “Perhaps this again leads us to the issue of state police as a way out. I do not subscribe to the idea of creation of special courts as such will serve no actual purpose in solving the problems associated with these offences and crimes. The regular high courts as a creation of the constitution have jurisdiction to try all criminal offences. There is really nothing special about trial of persons or persons who commit banditry, kidnapping and other forms of insecurity that will warrant government creating special courts.”

Omoyinmi urged government to be proactive, budget more funds to security forces and manpower, invest more on acquiring equipment that will enable the security forces secure the country, pay more attention to the issue of drones as widely suggested by security experts.

He added: “The government should also create enabling environment for our youths to get jobs by also engaging them in meaningful activities like enlarging the scope for huge investment in agriculture. And perhaps the government should take a second and final look at the issue of state police.”

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