By Saheed M. Toyin*
[Opinion] Is The Terrorism Act A Toothless Bulldog? (Part I)
Nigerians thought there would be a sigh of relief by the coming into force of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 on the 3rd of June, 2012, which prohibits the acts of terrorism and other ancillary offences. The provision of Sections 1, 2, 3 and 33 of the Act (alone) should have brought the activities of the organised hoodlums to an abrupt end. Unfortunately, bomb blasts recur in the country especially in the Northern axis. Is that to say the Act is a pageant that dances to an imaginary drum? The Act seems to be an abstraction because of the daedal situations we experience after the 41-dose “panacea” provided by the National Assembly.
Obviously, the law was made with a curative effect to the species of insecurity. The unrepentant Boko Haramites’ display of bombing prowess and the custom of hostage taking in the Niger-Delta gave the National Assembly a big knock on the head to string together a statute that will make these acts crimes. The illusory nature of this giant stride is better understood when we venture to think that terrorism in Nigeria is a matter of substance rather than orientation. It’s now I understand the witty admonition that ‘prevention is better than cure.’
I would have offended myself if I fail to recognise the fact devoid of fallacy that in a country where there is ideal democracy, rule of law, social justice and good governance, terrorism is less likely. Then, what role can law play when these core thralls of man are virtually absent? The government is trying to ward off terrorism when its hands are dirty. We must not forget the maxim of equity that ‘he who seeks equity must do equity’.
In a more pragmatic sense, can we safely say that the terrorists are spirits? Well, it’s a common knowledge that there is always responsibility claim by the BH for some suicide and bomb attacks, even on the mass media. There are also reports of suicide attackers who have bombed religious precincts, market and schools. There is no room for doubt, therefore, that the terrorists are visible men in veil. In an attempt to unveil this emblem of destruction, the Act has only provided that failure to disclose useful information about the acts of terrorism is an offence under Section 7 with the maximum of 10 years imprisonment on being found liable. The same Section 7 under sub-section 2 has provided a defence for a person who has reasonable excuse for not making the disclosure. How can the terrorists be unveiled despite the defence under Section 7(2) of the Act?
The electronic and printed media have not been brought under Section 7 of the Act for their failure to disclose information that will be of material assistance to securing the apprehension and prevention of terrorists and terrorism (despite disseminating news on their (BH) vows to disturb peace and responsibility for bomb blasts), because they will have reasonable excuse for not disclosing such pieces of information. How has the Act cured this deformity?
It stands good to reasoning that terrorists communicate with one another before their attempt becomes a reality. It will not be out of place to think that phones, email, posts, video recordings and other communication gadgets can be used to actualise the act of terror. The Intelligence gathering provided under Section 26 of the Act has focused on data received by telecommunication service providers. Has this Section covered data on email or Youtube? An attempt to gather information on data received, sent or stored without resort to International electronic media outfit may foil the Intelligence gathering.
The proliferation of prosecution presented as consolidation of criminal proceedings under Section 30 of the Act makes it difficult to shift the blame of inefficiency from the Attorney-General to the investigating agency. Ordinarily, an investigating agency may not be necessary where the Attorney-General is up and doing. Even if the need for an investigating agency is felt, it should not be an alternative to the prosecution of the offence of terrorism. At best, the issue of delegation should not set in, if consolidation is to be achieved. Without prejudice to the powers of the Attorney-General under Section 174 (1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to institute and undertake criminal proceedings, the investigating agency should have the same power in respect of the offence of terrorism for efficiency. It is unimaginable that the investigating agency would have to wait for the Attorney-General before instituting criminal proceedings against offenders under the Act. Do we really need an investigating agency despite agencies responsible for investigation already in place?
It is widely blown that the government has been able to get the contact of some terrorist leaders with a view to negotiating with them to end the act of terror. The fears I allayed on the information about the acts of terror and intelligence gathering will be understood better when we realise that the government got their contacts without getting these terrorists apprehended. This makes rubbish of the whole process of intelligence gathering. How has the government been able to get their contacts for negotiation without getting same for prosecution? One would not be wrong to say that the government is Bokophobic. Not only that, the government seems to be insincere for telling us there are sponsors of terrorists at the top echelon without bringing them under Section 4 of the Act. Funny enough, this “disclosure” was made by the father of the nation. Which works better: prosecution or negotiation? The government has opted for which of the duo? Is this working? A confused government!
A clear perusal of the whole Act reveals that the whole thing is one-sided. There is no Section that gives a cause of action to any authority or person to institute an action against the government if it fails to work out a pragmatic solution to terrorism. The Act has laid emphasis on hating the offenders without any attention to a “weak” government that may not pay attention to implementing the Act to the fullest. This is a leeway for the government to do what it deems fit in implementing the provisions of the Act. This problem would have been partly solved if the provision of Section 14(2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) had been made justiciable. The security and welfare of Nigerians has been placed at the mercy of the government and we cannot but watch the hapless situation we have found ourselves.
If there are known terrorists and sponsors, persistent terror and hostage taking, in what way has the coming into effect of the Terrorism Act ameliorated the menace? What other provisions of the Act slow the pace at which terrorism is ameliorated? How is the government contributing to reduction in terror act? I know we are not hopeless, but what can we do as patriots?
* (MToyin) is a Public Analyst and a peace advocate who writes from Ilorin. You may contact him on [email protected],[email protected], or visit his blog at http://mtoyin.blogspot.com.