The arraignment of 5,000 suspected Boko Haram insurgents being held across various detention facilities in the country would soon begin.
Director-general of Legal Aid Council, Aliyu Abubakar, said this yesterday during a visit to Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum.
He said the inmates were detained at Giwa Barracks, Maiduguri, and Kainji correctional facilities, among others, for their alleged involvement in insurgency.
He said the trial would be conducted by the office of the attorney-general of the federation (AGF), Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in collaboration with the theatre command of Operation Lafiya Dole.
He added that the Legal Aid Council was mandated to provide defence for the inmates. Abubakar said the council has so far interviewed about 283 of the inmates to ascertain the nature of the crimes they committed.
“As their defence counsel, we have to interview them from time to time to enable us to know their own part of the story. It’s so because, regardless of the generous crimes they committed, it is possible that, out of hundreds, you may find out that one or two persons were innocent of the charges that they are being detained for. It was necessary for them to be represented by council to make sure the official fulfills all the requirement of the provisions of the law. All evidence must be presented against them before the court of the law so that those that are found guilty are prosecuted and face the consequences of their action.”
Abubakar said regardless of the nature of the crimes they committed, “under our laws, they are innocent until proven guilty”
He praised efforts of Operation Lafiya Dole in providing the council with access to its detention facility to meet the inmates.
Meanwhile, former Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has said before criminals are given amnesty by the government, there must be evidence of true repentance.
Speaking on a television interview, he said though he believed criminals should be forgiven when they repent, he there is a problem of figuring out if they have truly repented or not.
“I believe firmly in what the Bible says that it is not the will of God that a sinner should die but that he should repent and live. So obviously, if a criminal sincerely repents, he should be forgiven. But the question is when it comes to the real facts of whether he has repented or not, the state must have a way of making sure that this is not a joke. The whole idea of amnesty is not only to be applied to armed bandits; in that case, it is true for everybody in jail in Nigeria. For the sake of law and order, to protect the rest of us, the few who are making life difficult have to be restrained. The armed dogs should be tied down. The armed bandits should be disarmed.
“Before we talk of amnesty, there should be clear evidence that there’s a sincere repentance and that the people concerned have decided not to pick up arms anymore, that they’re ready to go back to their normal way of life and if they’re foreigners, they’re ready to go back home. All this must be part and parcel of the process of amnesty.
“The bandits must be reconciled with society, they must change, they must decide to be really repentant and show it clearly; and not be put in a position to brag around to appear that they have actually won, and defeated the nation.”
On dialoguing with criminals, Onaiyekan said: “I don’t think we should reach a stage where the nation simply says we’re unable to deal with the situation. We should be able to deal with it and on the one hand, we must be open to amnesty, forgiveness, and on the other hand, we need to keep law and order and not make it an incentive for others to pick up arms and wait for amnesty and rehabilitation,” he said.