UNODC holds moot court on terrorist crimes against children in Nigeria

Boko Haram has become infamous worldwide for the persistent attacks it has mounted against schools, universities, teachers, and students in the northeast of Nigeria for more than decade. The group's name, which can be translated as "Western education is forbidden", reflects a key element of its ideology, which opposes secular education. The violence perpetrated by Boko Haram and affiliated groups has severely affected children's access to education, particularly in Yobe and Borno States.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), by 2018 more than 1,400 schools in Northeast Nigeria had been destroyed since the conflict began, at least 2,295 teachers killed, and more than 1,000 children abducted. Boko Haram attacks against schools continue to this day. UNICEF reports that over 170 schools in Northeast Nigeria were closed in 2022, including 30 which had been attacked by Boko Haram factions, effecting approximately 67,000 boys and girls.

To show its commitment to protecting students, teachers and schools from terrorism and the worst effects of armed conflict, Nigeria endorsed the international Safe Schools Declaration in 2015, which aims to promote the safety and security of schools, particularly in conflict-affected regions. In October 2021, Nigeria hosted the Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration.


The commitments under the Safe Schools Declaration include investigating attacks on schools, teachers and students and holding perpetrators accountable. Nigeria has detained thousands of Boko Haram suspects; and Nigerian prosecutors have obtained more than 600 convictions on terrorism-related charges. However, surprisingly, there has been no recorded conviction for an attack targeting schools, teachers and students to date.


As part of its technical assistance to Nigeria’s efforts to bring terrorists to justice, UNODC has been working with the Nigerian justice system to address the practical and legal challenges hampering the investigation and prosecution of terrorist attacks on education.


At the beginning of July 2023, UNODC organized a mock investigation and trial using a scenario based on the facts of an actual attack on a school in Yobe State in 2013. Participants included investigators from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), prosecutors from the Complex Casework Group of the Federal Ministry of Justice (FMOJ-CCG), defense lawyers from the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON), and representatives of the National Judicial Institute (NJI). Two Federal High Court judges presided over the mock trial.

The moot court considered a terrorism-related case scenario that had been developed by UNODC trainers on the basis of the Boko Haram attack on the Yobe State College of Agriculture, Gujba, on 28 September 2013 which killed more than forty students and a teacher. Experts from UNODC gave presentations on the collection, preservation and use of digital evidence; and considerations surrounding potential child witness. Discussions were facilitated on potential investigatory avenues and charges against the suspect.

Participants fully engaged in the hands-on exercise over three days, focusing on the evidence to be provided, the witnesses to be heard and the specific legal issues to be litigated. In addition to complex legal questions and issues related to the collection and presentation of digital evidence obtained by forensically exploiting a smartphone, participants discussed the delicate balance between the demands of terrorism investigations and the imperative of protecting child witnesses.  

Ms. Valerie Chmara, a Psychosocial Support Specialist working for UNODC’s STRIVE Juvenile project, worked with participants on good practices regarding the assessment of potential child victims and witnesses. She remarked: “In all actions concerning children undertaken by courts of law, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in order to mitigate the risk of secondary victimization and re-traumatization. It is essential that professionals work as a multidisciplinary team to determine if it is in the best interests of the potential child witness to engage them in this specific terrorism investigation and prosecution.”

Reflecting on his experience of participating in the moot court, Mr. Una Matthew Odu, Prosecutor within the Complex Casework Group of the Federal Ministry of Justice, stated “The moot court offered me the opportunity of peeping into the mind of the judges in a manner that I would never have. The atmosphere was congenial, and it was a time of introspection, reflections, learning, unlearning and relearning". 

The moot court was organized as part of UNODC’s Project to Strengthen the Capacity of Nigeria to Collect Evidence and More Effectively prosecute Terrorism and Other Serious Crimes with Respect to the Rule of Law, funded by the United States Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), in collaboration with UNODC’s project “STRIVE Juvenile: Preventing and Responding to Violence against Children by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups”, funded by the European Union.