A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday convicted five members of the dreaded Islamic Boko Haram sect for bombing the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, office and the All Christian Fellowship Church in Suleja and Abuja.
Four of the convicts got life imprisonment.
The bombings, masterminded by the terrorists, resulted in killings of scores of innocent Nigerians in Abuja, Niger and Nasarawa states where they launched their coordinated attacks.
The trial judge, Justice Bilikisu Aliyu, in an 87- page judgement, which lasted about two hours said the Federal Government proved the case of terrorism against the convicts beyond reasonable doubt.
The convicts are Shuaibu Abubakar (a.k.a. Abu Quatada), Salisu Ahmed, Babagana Umar, Mohammed Ali and Umar Ibrahim.
She, however, acquitted and discharged another, Musa Adamu, saying that there was no substantial evidence linking him with the crime. Adamu, who could not hide his feelings in court, collapsed into a chair, thanking Allah for absolving him. For about five minutes after he was discharged, he was speechless.
Adamu, an Islamic scholar, who later spoke with newsmen in Hausa inside the courtroom, said that he was the happiest person on earth by the judgement. Justice Bilikisu held that the convicts were not fit and proper persons to live among sane persons.
The fifth accused person, Umar Ibrahim, was given 10-year jail term.
Their counsel had pleaded with the court to temper justice with mercy, saying one of the convicts was a family man with aged parents who would suffer if given the severest punishment. Another was said to be a student whose career would be truncated if slammed with life term. One of them, again, was said to be an indigene of Niger Republic struggling to make ends meet and that sending him to life imprisonment would scuttle his life ambition.
The maximum penalty for the terrorism charge preferred against them is life term. But Mr. Thompson Olatigbe, who led the Federal Government’s team, begged the judge to discountenance their allocutus, reminding her of what the Boko Haram sect did a few days ago, attacking a school, killing 24 students in the most callous way.
He urged the court to give them life term to serve as deterrent to others who might want to follow their path. But the judge gave the severest punishment on four of the five convicts. Justice Bilikisu said that she considered the nature of the charge and the penalty it attracts, the facts of the case, the weight of evidence adduced by the prosecution against them and the allocutus rendered by counsel to the convicts in sentencing them. She said: “I have taken into consideration all the evidence in this matter.
These convicts used the explosives meant for blasting rocks and mining on their fellow human beings, who did nothing to them and took their lives in the most heinous way. “All human lives are sacred. What they have done is a good example of the most cruel way to take life of human beings.
The convicts deserve to be removed from the public sphere. “The first four convicts- -Shuaibu Abubakar (aka Abu Quatada), Salisu Ahmed, Umar Babagana Umar, Mohammed Ali, are hereby sentenced to life imprisonment.
“For the sixth accused person, Umar Ibrahim, who was said to have been used as an errand boy but who claimed he refused all entreaties by his brother to lure him into terrorism, he is also sentenced to 10 year jail term.
“The same way he refused to be lured into terrorism, he should have also refused to be used as an errand boy in this crime. He is sentenced for aiding terrorism activities.”
Justice Bilikisu, however, added that the exhibits, including the explosives retrieved from the convicts, should be released to the relevant authorities for destruction while the car used to carry the explosives be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Yesterday’s judgement was the first in the history of legal battle against Boko Haram members in Nigeria.
Although there are various court cases against suspected members of the sect at various stages of trial, the case of bombing of public institutions and innocent people in Niger State was the first to be concluded within two years.
But moments after the judgement was delivered, the convicts dismissed the verdicts as political.
They also alleged that the judgement was against the weight of evidence and vowed to appeal. Their counsel confided in National Mirror that they would file an appeal before the end of the week. But the Federal Government said that the judgement was a major legal victory in its onslaught against terrorism in Nigeria.
It said that it would tackle the convicts even at the Court of Appeal. The convicts were arraigned in 2011 for committing acts of terrorism by causing the death of 16 persons, including serving National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members at the INEC office in Suleja, Niger State, on the eve of the rescheduled National Assembly elections through the use of an improvised explosive device on March 3, 2011.
They were also said to have conspired with others at large to cause grievous bodily harm by unlawfully planting deadly substances, which led to the death of another three persons at a political rally in Suleja.
They also allegedly detonated explosives which resulted in the deaths of three peace officers in Dakna village, Bwari. The offences are contrary to and punishable under Sections 97 and 248(1) of the Penal Code Law.
The Federal Government also alleged that the convicts, at various locations in Suleja, Niger State; Azare, Nasarawa State and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, engaged in terrorism by training persons now at large in the use of arms and ammunition and the preparation, planting and detonation of improvised explosive devices contrary to section 15 (2) the EFCC Establishment Act 2004 which stipulates a life sentence upon conviction.
But the convicts pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them by the SSS, an agency of the Federal Government.
Following their pleas, the Federal Government opened its case against them by calling 16 witnesses, who gave oral and documentary evidence to prove that the accused persons were indeed the criminals who committed the crimes.
The accused persons thereafter told the court that there was no prima facie case against them. They brought a formal application to the effect, which was thrown out.
In fact, three of the accused persons denied the confessional statements ascribed to them in court, making the judge to conduct a trial within trial proceedings to ascertain the veracity of the statements.
The only accused person, who was set free yesterday was among those that challenged the confessional statements in court.
Umar, who bagged 10- year jail term, also challenged the confessional statement tendered in court by the SSS, while the third was given life jail yesterday.
All the convicts whose status changed yesterday from awaiting trial inmates to convicts were handcuffed and led to a waiting van, which took them to prisons.