Government must ensure that those suspected of criminal activities are given fair trial
To mark the International Day of the Disappeared recently, Amnesty International (AI) said that enforced disappearances in Nigeria were being used to instil fear into civilian population living in areas wracked by conflict and insecurity. The organisation, which feared that hundreds of people were being held in secret detentions–a conduct prohibited under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to which Nigeria is a state party–called on the government to release details on the fate and whereabouts of all those who have disappeared.
We strongly endorse this call even as we urge the relevant authorities to investigate all the claims. For instance, figures recently released by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) indicated that no fewer than 600 of their members could be accounted for. Also, two weeks ago, the Femi Falana Chambers raised the alarm over a retired senior official of the State Security Service (SSS), Abba Kaka Mohammed, who has reportedly been held without trial since July 17 this year.
It is sufficient to say that both local and international instruments allow a maximum of 48 hours for a suspect to be charged to court or be freed on administrative bail. But like Kaka Mohammed, hundreds of suspects now spend weeks, months and years languishing in Nigerian cells without arraignment. This violates the suspects’ fundamental human rights to personal liberty, dignity of person and fair hearing as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Articles five, six and seven of the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crises resulting from the activities of sundry criminal gangs, insurgency, communal and religious conflict, kidnappings, etc., have continued to pose serious challenges. Many of these activities have led to some senseless killings with monumental casualties among the civil populace aside the forced displacement and disappearance of citizens, leading to numerous cases of unaccounted and missing persons. In addition, there are hundreds of unknown victims lying in our mortuaries, hospitals and detention centres while their relatives continue to search for them.
Therefore, rather than dismiss the AI call to investigate all the cases of people who have disappeared without trace, we believe the federal government should empower the National Technical Committee on the Establishment and Management of Missing Persons Database in Nigeria (NTC). Even before the latest AI report, the NTC had been drawing public attention to all the people within our various communities whose whereabouts remain unknown. But as we stated in a recent editorial, the NTC is just an independent humanitarian mechanism that aims at responding to the rights of the families to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives. It is the responsibility of the security agencies to help resolve many of the cases.
We therefore join the call on the Nigerian authorities to investigate all cases of enforced disappearances and bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials. It is painful and sad that many families of victims of enforced disappearance spend throbbing years searching for justice, truth and reparation but are ignored or misled about the fate of their relatives. The fate of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky is classical example.
In many of these cases, the federal government hid under the nebulous ‘’national security’’ to perpetrate what amounts to illegal and unconstitutional acts. It is wrong for the executive arm of government to be a judge in its own cases. If there are suspected breach of national security by anybody, the appropriate institution to determine that is a competent court of law. We must be accountable for the life of every citizen or resident of Nigeria.