Prosecutors want Nigerian militant barred from trial

Nigerian militia leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, whose release is demanded by armed groups causing havoc in the oil-producing Niger Delta, should be barred from his own trial because of bad behaviour, prosecutors said on Monday.

Asari’s treason trial started a year and a half ago but the court is yet to hear a witness or tackle a substantive issue as it goes from one adjournment to the next.

His detention is one of many factors that have aggravated violence in the Niger Delta, which is home to Africa’s largest oil industry. Several armed groups holding foreign workers have demanded his release in exchange for the hostages.

“At the last two sittings of the court the accused rained chains of vitriolic ... utterances on the honourable judge and the prosecution,” prosecutors said in a written motion arguing that Asari should be barred from his own trial.

“The accused person went to the extent of threatening to snatch ... the rifle and pistol of the police and prison guards to use them on the honourable judge and the director of public prosecution,” the document read.

While Asari’s court case has been bogged down, his supporters have tried to broker a deal with authorities to secure his release, sources close to the militia leader say.

Their efforts fell on deaf ears until the past few weeks, when some senior government officials started negotiating in the hope that Asari’s release would help quell violence that has spiralled out of control in the run-up to landmark elections.

Nigerians are due to elect their president, state governors and legislators in April polls that should mark the first democratic transition from one civilian government to the next.

Deal or no deal?

An activist source close to Asari said the negotiations to release him had failed because he had refused to rein in the militants, instead vowing to continue his armed struggle.

Asari, like other militia leaders from the delta, says he is fighting for the impoverished people of the region to gain control of their resources instead of seeing them squandered by faraway central governments that have neglected them.

The lines between militancy and crime are blurred in the delta, where most hostage takings are resolved by the payment of ransoms and where militias often cut deals with politicians.

A group of Asari’s supporters who had flown to Abuja from the Niger Delta on Monday to see him in court had their cellphones seized by the secret police, sources in Asari’s legal team said.

Asari’s lawyers accuse prosecutors of delaying the trial so that he can be kept in detention indefinitely, while prosecutors blame the lawyers for the repeated adjournments, accusing them of holding out for a deal on the side.

Asari’s militia fought fierce battles against government forces in the creeks of the Niger Delta in 2004 and his threat to wage “all-out war on the Nigerian state” caused the oil price to rise above $50 a barrel for the first time.

He later made a deal to lay down arms in exchange for amnesty, but after a few months laying low in a guarded luxury compound in the oil city of Port Harcourt he was arrested and charged with conspiring to overthrow the government. - Reuters



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