Nigeria: Senate, House Approve Anti-Terrorism Bill

On February 22, 2011, Nigeria’s House of Representatives adopted an anti-terrorism bill that had been passed on February 17 by the Nigerian Senate (An Act to Provide for Measures to Combat Terrorism and for Related Matters). It gives government agencies broad powers to investigate terrorist activities and gives the authority to try terrorism suspects to the Federal High Court of Nigeria.

Having cleared its final major hurdle in the House of Representatives, the bill will almost definitely become law soon. After its adoption by the Senate, the bill needed the approval of the House of Representatives and the signature of the President of Nigeria to become law. Its fate in the House of Representatives had been unclear after that body suspended deliberations indefinitely on its own version of an anti-terrorism bill in August 2010 because of wide disagreement among its members on some of the provisions.

Although the bill needs presidential assent in order to become law, this phase of the process is only a formality, because the bill enjoys the strong support of the President, who has been calling for its quick passage.

The bill provides a broad definition of what constitutes an act of terrorism. An act “intended or [that] can reasonably regarded as having been intended” to force a government or an international organization to carry out or abstain from carrying out a certain act is an act of terrorism.

Researching or developing a biological or chemical weapon without lawful authority is an act of terrorism. Dissemination of information (be it true or false) “calculated to cause panic, evoke violence or intimidate a government, a person or group of persons” is also considered an act of terrorism.

The bill gives broad powers to government without any judicial oversight. A Security Intelligence Officer may enter and search any place, person, or vehicle without a warrant if he has “reason to suspect” that an offense is being committed and there is evidence of a commission of an offense under the bill. (Id. at §23.)

The Officer may also search, detain, and arrest anyone if he has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person has committed or is about to commit an offense under the bill (id.) The Director General of State Security Service (DG) may use communication service providers as he deems fit. (Id. at §24.) The DG also has the authority to seize funds if he has reasonable grounds to suspect that they were obtained through acts of terrorism, they belong to a terrorist organization, or they were intended for use to further terrorist activities. (Id. §11.) A Senior Security Officer has the authority to order the detention of a terrorism suspect for 48 hours without access to anyone, including his/her attorney. (Id. at §26.)

The bill gives law enforcement officers immunity from civil or criminal liability for the use of force “as may be necessary for any purpose” that results in injury or death to any person or damage or loss to any property. (Id. at §10.) Law enforcement officers include employees of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of State Services, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Persons, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, the National Intelligence Agency, Nigerian Immigration Services, Nigerian Customs Services, and the Nigerian Police Force. (Id. at §33.)

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