The Senate yesterday passed into law an anti-terrorism bill which provides that those found guilty of terrorism be sentenced to death. With capital punishment becoming largely unpopular around the world, the punishment prescribed for the crime is likely to generate a lot of controversy, analysts say. President Goodluck Jonathan had on Wednesday sent a letter to the leadership of the National Assembly urging members to pass both the anti-terrorism and money laundering bills. It was the third time the president was writing the assembly over the bills. The version passed by the Senate will be harmonised with that being debated in the House of Representatives and will only become an act of the National Assembly after it has been signed by the president.
Members at the House of Reps are midway into the third reading of the bill and are likely to pass it next week. Considering the interest of the presidency in ensuring a quick passage, a clean copy of the law may be signed by Mr Jonathan before the expiration of the current term.
Currently, Charles Okah, Obi Nwabueze, Edmund Ebiware, and Tiemkemfa Francis Osvwo are facing terrorism charges following the October 1 bomb blasts in Abuja.
The bill which seeks to provide a legal framework for the prevention, prohibition, combating and penalising of acts of terrorism in Nigeria was introduced at the Senate in September 2009 and has been lying there since July 2010 when committee level work was completed on it.
The law defines terrorism as any ‘‘act which is deliberately done with malice, effort or thought which may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organization or intended to seriously intimidate a population.’’ The bill also says terrorism include acts which seriously destabilise or destroy fundamental structures of governance in order to coerce or influence government decisions.
The anti-terrorism law passed by the Senate is not an exact representation of the original bill sent by the executive. It also encompasses the National Security Enhancement bill, an earlier version of the anti-terrorism bill sponsored by Anthony Manzo (PDP Taraba State) in September 2009.
The new bill basically proscribes the actions of individuals or groups that are in the nature of terrorism, including kidnapping, oil bunkering, piracy and hijacks. Offences described as terrorism by the law include attack on persons which may cause bodily harm, destruction of government or public facilities including information system that is likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss to the government.
Possession or use of explosives as well as research into the development of explosives – including biological and chemical ones – without lawful authority is regarded are regarded as offences under the law.
The law, however, provides a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment or death penalty if there is loss of life in any terrorist act.
Presently, acts of terrorism attract the death penalty in Algeria, Liberia, Morocco,
China, India and Indonesia. Others are Iran, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Belarus, Russia, Guyana, and Peru.
A fulfilled Senate
Other terrorist activities like training potential terrorists, passing or withholding terrorist information, aiding or harbouring terrorists and funding terrorist activities all attract a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
The bill empowers the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Inspector General of Police as the main security officers in charge of implementing the law with the final approval of the president. With the approval of the NSA, the Director General of State Security Services can seize and enforce forfeiture of property or cash upon conviction or proscription of a terrorist group.
Passage of the anti-terrorism law, even though it is coming eight months after the deadline, has made Nigeria partially compliant with the anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism regime of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The money laundering bill which is a complementary bill was also scheduled to be passed by the Senate, but the seemingly fulfilled senators led by the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu rescheduled further deliberations on the bill till Tuesday next week.
The new money laundering bill seeks to replace the Money Laundering Act of 2004 and make more comprehensive provisions to prohibit terrorism financing. The bill also makes provision for appropriate penalties for offenders and expands the scope of supervisory and regulatory authorities.
The lawmakers, however, appeared uncomfortable with the strict provisions of the bill and had it stepped down at the middle of its third reading in July last year.