Commission Headed by Chief Justice Chukwudili Oputa
(Commission sometimes referred to as " Oputa's Panel" )
December 6, 2004
Posted to the web November 30, 2004
The Commission has attempted in this Report, to capture the faltering, if slippery threads of Nigeria's chequered history. Africa's most populous nation has faced challenges of enormous proportions. It has been battered and bruised.
Its national history reflects an undulating landscape, made up of curves, hillocks, valleys and little mountains.
2. The questions persist: Where did Nigeria take the wrong turn?
What is the root of its problems? Is it with its leadership or the followership?
Have its resources been its undoing or is it the inability of the ruling elite to manage or distribute these resources in a prudent, accountable and transparent manner? What went wrong? Can we put Nigeria back on track again? Or, as a famous Nigerian playwright has asked, Are the gods to blame? Or else why would a nation so richly endowed turn so suicidal?
3. These and several other questions go to the heart of the interlocking problems of democracy and development, and of peace and security in the country. The problem of the Nigerian State, and of good governance in the country is ultimately bound up with the oxymoronic formulation of the federal idea as unity in diversity.
4. The Nigerian State is a multinational State in conception; yet the possibility of a Nigerian nation, demanding overarching loyalty from its diverse ethno-national groups, seems perpetually constrained and contradicted by the primordial demands of its multinational diversity. This has been, and continues to be the fundamental problem of nation-building, of democracy and development in the country.
5. How do we transform the Nigerian State into the Nigerian nation, thereby confounding the cynics who contend that, almost 87 years after amalgamation in 1914, Nigeria is no more than a mere geographical expression, or who refer to her as the mistake of 1914.
6. Despite the lingering multifaceted and complex crises it has been going through since independence in 1960, the country has remarkably held together, always pulling away from the precipice, except for the civil war years between 1967 and 1970. Indeed, many would argue that perhaps the countryís resilience is both its strength and its weakness.
7. In short, as if in a stupor, the country has tottered on, all the fears, anxieties and frustrations of nation building, notwithstanding. Many have concluded that indeed, rather than being seen as evidence of weakness or fragility, the sense and sentiments of nationhood actually run deep in the veins of Nigerians. Nigerians love their country. They want to see it united and strong. The real problem is, at what cost and who bears the brunt?
8. The missing link appears to be the inability of the ruling elite and the political class to establish a nexus between the yearnings, desires, hopes and aspirations of its young and coming generation and the design and construction of a new future for Nigeria.
9. It is arguable that the continuing frustration about the character of the polity is not unconnected with the general feeling among the Youth in the age brackets of 30-40 and below that earlier generations of the political class have squandered their hopes and future.
10. There is the feeling that the country's political leadership has been greedy, self-serving and lacking in serious political will, contributing in no small measure to the crises of democracy and development, which have delayed the country's march to nationhood.
11. When the military seized political power in January 1966, there was a general feeling in the country that they were motivated by altruistic intentions and objectives to save the country from descent into political chaos and instability.
12. As time passed, the countryís military rulers and the military as an institution by and large lost their sense of direction. The greed of the military dragged the nation further and further away from the project of nationhood.
The result is that by the end of almost thirty years of military rule, Nigeria is far more fragmented than it was in January 1966, when the military first seized power.
13. The democratic struggle against military rule in the country, whose high water mark was the return to democratic civilian rule on 29 May 1999, symbolizes and marks the return to the project of the three Rs (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation), which the military enunciated after the end of the civil war in January 1970.
14. After wandering in the wilderness, the country seemed ready and prepared to return to the path it had abandoned through the military option.
15. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that, in a way, the noble and patriotic project of the three Rs was a forerunner to the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission. Yet, the setting up of this Commission could be considered an indictment of the Nigerian political military class.
LAYING THE BASIS FOR A REGENERATED NIGERIA
16. This is why we believe that there is need for this country, this nation-in-the-making to reflect more seriously on its future, so as to render the establishment of a similar Commission in the future unnecessary.
17. The preceding volumes of this Report have tried to show how the Commission grappled with the problems of providing a platform for Nigerians to confront their gory past, in order to gear themselves for the difficult but essential battles of laying the foundation for a just and democratic Nigeria.
18. Generally, it was evidently clear, from most of the petitions received by the Commission and from the verbal presentations and arguments canvassed during the Commissionís Public Hearings, that there were genuine concerns among the petitioners and the generality of our people, the citizens, that Nigerians need a nation to belong to, a nation cemented by a social contract of mutuality and reciprocity in cultural, economic, political and social relations, a nation to be proud of, one that provides its citizens with an enabling umbrella of equality of opportunities, social and distributive justice, protection and security.
19. From the sentiments re-echoed in messages received and the keen interest demonstrated in the mandate and work of the Commission by innumerable Nigerians, within and outside our country, we are convinced that, with the right social, economic and political atmosphere, a united, powerful, purposeful, compassionate and egalitarian nation will emerge from 21 the frustrations expressed and captured by such expressions as marginalization, stranger, indigene, discrimination etc.
20. There is enough evidence on the ground to suggest that, were Nigerians to see a leadership that can synchronize public sentiments for the emergence of a Nigerian nation with genuine policy programmes of national reconciliation, reconstruction and national integration, in the next ten or so years, the country could achieve harmony.
21. In view of this, our aim in the present Volume is to highlight some of the major institutional and structural changes that the Federal Government of Nigeria needs to embark upon to ensure justice to its citizens and thus lay a durable and solid foundation for a democratic Nigerian nation.
22. After reviewing the tons of petitions submitted to it, the Commission has had to come face-to-face with the profoundly deep level of frustrations among the various communities in Nigeria.
23. But as we listened to the various petitions, we also detected the flaws in many of the assumptions. A very interesting picture emerges, when we put all the petitions together in perspective.
24. For example, it was interesting to find that there was hardly any consensus on what really constitutes marginalization. What is more, it was interesting to note that while the Ohaneze petition on behalf of the Igbos pointed accusing fingers at the Federal Government, their allegations were challenged by both the Arewa Consultative Forum, on the one hand, and the Southern Minorities on the other.
25. While the Arewa Consultative Forum claimed to represent the North, the Joint Action Committee of the Middle Belt also leveled accusations against the North, which the Arewa Constultative Forum claimed it was speaking for.
26. Indeed, from the submissions received by the Commission, it is possible to conclude that as clusters of ethnic or regional blocs, we are all marginalized, but as Nigerians, the story is different. For example, although a rather unsteady picture has emerged, most of the Memoranda received by the Commission constituted a documentation of frustrations among ethnic blocs.
27. This ethnicised anger focused on the negative and did not give much thought to the substantial progress in many other areas that the country and the communities had made together in earlier periods of our national history.
28. We are of the view that a more consistent and objective reading of the countryís history will lead to the inevitable conclusion that much progress had been made in the countryís earlier post-independence history. For example, despite the excesses of military rule, we heard very commendable stories among various communities relating to what some patriotic and imaginative military administrators or governors had done when they governed States that were outside their own immediate States.
29. Evidence exist of the great works done by Muslim administrators in non- Muslim States and vice versa. We also recall periods when the nation knew tolerance and accommodation across ethnic and religious divides.
30. We are therefore of the view that there is need for the country to trace where the cracks set in and seek the best means of closing these cracks, in order to re-establish trust among the various segments of Nigeria.
31. We hold that this is possible and also very much desirable. It is a much easier goal to pursue under a democracy than under military rule. This prospect opened up by the nascent democratic dispensation in the country posed a challenge to the Commission. How could the Commission contribute to charting a course for this noble objective, which is seemingly beyond its immediate Mandate?
32. The Commission was of the view that there was need to go beyond the Mandate, in search of pathways along which the project of nation building must proceed. This is more so, because the Commission is uniquely the best opportunity that Nigerians have had in several years to forge an informed understanding of their country's past and to put in place the necessary foundational building blocks on which a new Nigerian nation would rest.
33. After consultations with a broad spectrum of the stakeholders, it became clear to the Commission that the nature of Nigeriaís chequered and fractured history demands that the Commission ís work should serve as a mirror to reflect the trials and tribulations of our country. This was not easy.
THE GLOBALIZING CONTEXT OF HUMAN RIGHTS PROTECTION
34. The terrain the Commission traversed was long and excruciatingly tortuous. In spite of this, the Commission believes that it has laid a firm 24 basis for a proper understanding of its work and of the imperative need for reconciliation in the country. But the work of the Commission and the recommendations put forward in this Volume must be set in a wider globalized and globalizing perspective setting.
35. Contemporary Globalization has brought in its wake, as its predecessors had done before it, a wide range of challenges, problems and prospects. The Commission believes that every nation must work out its own modus vivendi in making choices that will enhance its national image and advance its national interests.
36. It is in the context of the challenges of globalization that, in making our recommendations, we have taken cognizance of the fact that the choices Nigeria makes to strengthen respect for human rights and consolidate the nascent democratic experiment in the country will have an impact on the rest of Africa. Nigeria must be a model for Africa in this respect.
ESTABLISHING THE CAUSES AND NATURE OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
37. Among the first tasks of the Commission, when it began its work, was the identification of the causes and nature of all gross human rights violations in the country. This particular task required paying special attention to all cases of human rights violations committed in the country during the period (15 January 1966 to 29 May 1999) under the Commissionís purview.
38. After reviewing the petitions, the Commission came to the conclusion that the issue was not a simple or straightforward one as such.
It discovered from the evidence tendered by the representatives of various interest groups and communities that there have been accusations and counter-accusations targeted at particular communities, institutions or groups.
39. But on the whole, it was indisputably clear, from the evidence tendered before the Commission that the citizens of Nigeria generally believe that they have suffered badly in the hands of successive governments in the country, since independence, although this was more pronounced under military rule. However, it is clear that, beyond the accusations and counter-accusations of various ethno-communal, religious and other interest groups, the roots of bad governance in the country, historically and primarily, lie deep in the colonially-inherited structure and character of the post-colonial Nigerian State, and in the manner of its continuing incorporation into the world system.
40. As we shall try to show in the recommendations, justice and the protection of human rights in Nigeria must be anchored on fundamentally redesigned and restructured institutional (constitutional-legal, cultural, political and social) and structural (economic and resource-distributive) frameworks, which will help to forge and create in every Nigerian, a civic sense of belonging to a nation where we can all live with relative peace and security, a nation in which there is enough space for Nigerian citizens to be what God wishes them to become.
41. One of the major facts to emerge from the work of the Commission was that neither the federal government of Nigeria nor the Commission itself as well as the generality of informed Nigerians had an idea of how the work of the Commission would turn out. We have tried, in this Report, to explain the many difficulties that the Commission encountered.
42. However, the Commission felt strongly that there was no way it could answer all of the questions the country needed to address. Yet, the Commission was of the considered view that its greatest strength might lie in its ability to provide Nigerians with the rare opportunity to tell their own stories, even beyond the period covered by the Commissionís mandate and with the possibility of drawing out some of the unanticipated consequences of a broader interpretation of its mandate.
43. This is why, as we have already indicated in this Volume, members of the Commission believed that, in spite of its limitations, the Commission offered the country one of the best chances of resolving some of the thorniest and seemingly intractable issues in its political and social history.
THE ARGUMENT OF VOLUME ONE
44. In the Introductory Volume of this Report, we drew attention to the historical context for understanding not only the development of constitutional provisions for human rights but also the violations of those rights in the country. The Introductory Volume also provided a theoretical basis for understanding and appreciating the burden of our colonial legacy and its implications for, and impact on human rights violations in the country.
45. It is clear from the analysis in the Volume that our present predicament is a product of a particular historical conjuncture. It is evident that colonialism by itself constituted a gross violation of the highest order of the human rights of the peoples of Nigeria. But the colonial inheritance can no longer be presented as the only or major reason for that predicament. Independence provided the opportunity for dissociation from that inheritance and for a new beginning. Unfortunately, the countryís political class trifled with and, therefore, lost that golden opportunity for a national renaissance.
46. A proper understanding of the nature and character of the Nigerian State, as it is presently constituted and structured, and of current political practice in the country, is, therefore, fundamental to resolving the problematic issues of the future promotion and protection of human rights, the national question and democracy and development in the country.
47. In the same Volume, the Commission also gave the background to its establishment and highlighted some of its subsequent travails. Given the fact that this was a road that the country did not tread before the Commission was established, the challenges were enormous. What was even more frustrating was the fact that it became clear that the Federal Government had not made the necessary budgetary provisions for the work of the Commission. This led to a lot of unnecessary delays.
48. The Commission is of the considered view that a work of this nature clearly needs to be insulated from the vagaries and red tape of the bureaucracy. Given that the Government has always been perceived as the accused in human rights violations, it is important that the Commission be seen to be insulated from or independent of the government. If this is seen to be the case, the better are the chances of the Commission being seen to be objective. This is more so in a society where suspicion of governments and their agencies runs high.
SUMMARIZING VOLUME TWO
49. Volume Two of this Report considered the implications of the challenges posed by contemporary processes of globalization for the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria by looking at the International Dimensions and Contexts of Human Rights. Globalization has made it impossible for any nation to try to be an island unto itself even it wished to be so.
50. The Volume examined at considerable length the implications of this internationalization or universalization of the core moral imperatives and values of the evolving international law and practice of human rights for Nigeria's municipal law generally and more specifically for its human rights domestic law and practice.
51. It is clear that membership of such sub-regional, regional and universal organizations like the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union (the successor to the Organization of African Unity) and the United Nations, impose on their member-states the obligation not only to subscribe to the common values enunciated in the relevant human rights provisions of treaties, conventions and other international legal instruments to which they have duly acceded by virtue of their membership of such supranational organizations, but also to reflect them in their domestic laws and practice and to implement them as public policy accordingly.
52. In the Volume, we traced the historical and philosophical- (jurisprudential) legal origins of some of the major themes relevant for our work and we concluded that, in the main, the international community remains an important moderating force in guaranteeing the promotion and protection of human rights in the world generally and, particularly, in many developing nations.
53. In Africa in particular, the issues of human rights can no longer be left to the whims and caprices of its political leadership and the state.
For example, it is of great significance that, even in the harsh and dark days of the military regime of the late General Sani Abacha, the regime sought international legitimacy by setting up a National Human Rights Commission, despite its atrocious and abysmal human rights record. This is obviously evidence of what international pressures can do to memberstates.
54. Because the Commission believed that it did not possess all the wisdom and skill necessary to undertake its work, it commissioned researchers to help it unearth some very important aspects of human rights violations during the period under review, which had either been inadequately covered or neglected by the various petitions received by the Commission.
THE RATIONALE FOR VOLUME THREE 55. Volume Three of this Report, Research Reports, attempts to capture this neglected aspect of the countryís history and politics. The Volume summarized the findings of the commissioned researchers by compressing them [the findings] into one volume.
56. The Research Reports underscored the fact that there are aspects of Nigeriaís public life and public service that we need to take more seriously.
57. For example, given the prejudices and partisanship of both government-owned and privately-owned mass media, what happens when the rights of citizens who do not have access to sympathetic media, are infringed? This was the point or justification of the Commission's Public Hearings to provide such an access to aggrieved citizens and communities who have had no opportunity to present their cases to the Nigerian public.
58. The Commission realized in listening to evidence of witnesses, during the Public Hearings, from various communities, especially in the Niger-Delta and in other parts of Nigeria, that there were many other communities, which had experienced and are still experiencing gross human rights violations and immiseration similar to, or worse than those experienced by the Ogonis.
59. However, the cases of such aggrieved communities never really got national or even international attention, perhaps owing to either their lack of a celebrity of the status of a Ken Saro Wiwa, or their lack of resources as vital as Oil is to the national economy or to the peripheral or politically inconsequential nature of their location in the geopolitical calculations of the ruling elite.
VOLUME FOUR: PROVIDING VOICE FOR THE WEAK
60. We hope that by introducing this dimension of the Commissionís work, we have enabled those without a voice to be heard through this outlet provided by the Commission. In Volume 4, we have looked at the Public Hearings.
61. This is perhaps one of the most significant Volumes in the Report.
Its significance lies in the fact that it is the Volume that almost everyone who followed the proceedings is sufficiently knowledgeable about.
62. Despite the initial logistical problems over whether the Commission should have Public Hearings, it became clear that, beyond drawing public attention to the work of the Commission, the Public Hearings were likely to create the most interactive phase of the work of the Commission.
63. For a population that is largely illiterate, the public hearings provided them the best opportunity to see things with their own eyes. The effect, by all accounts, was indeed electrifying. The victims unburdened themselves of the latent agonies they suffered and in some instances reconciled in the full glare of the public. It was therapeutic.
64. The objective of the Volume is primarily to capture those events, without imposing our own or some other interpretation on the material that had been assembled.
CONFRONTING THE PHILOSOPHICAL AND POLICY PROBLEM OF REPARATION: VOLUME FIVE 65. Volume Five, titled Reparation, Restitution and Compensation, examined the philosophical and legal basis for reparation, rehabilitation and compensation. Each and everyone of these three concepts, by raising ethico-philosophical issues, is loaded with a largely subjective meaning.
But for the record, it is important to make a fundamental observation, in order to place the issues and controversies generated by the practical application of the concepts in proper context.
66. It is important at this juncture to state that when the Federal Government set up the Commission, it was more concerned with finding the truth and working towards reconciliation than dealing with the consequences or the spill-over effects of the work of the Commission.
67. Reparation and Compensation are largely consequences of the establishment of guilt and responsibility. The Commission's Public Hearings were not Victim Hearings, as such. Thus, the issue of Reparation and Compensation became a bit problematic. For example, as we have indicated in the preceding paragraphs, there are ethico-philosophical questions, which we also need to pose.
68. What really constitutes compensation and how do you compute it? How much can compensation cure and is it such an important component in reconciliation? How much compensation is enough compensation? Who determines if compensation meets the standard? Who sets the standards?
How do you compensate for Life, Injury (whether physical, psychological or structural?)? How do you even quantify it?
69. These questions might on the surface sound escapist or abstract, but they are important if we are to take these con cepts with the seriousness they deserve.
70. This Volume is important, even if it is to underscore the fact that in the final analysis, arbitration to determine, and the knowledge of the truth, attribution of guilt and admission of guilt are all part and parcel of the compensation that many seek for in, and expect from a Commission of this nature.
71. During our Public Hearings, almost all petitioners claimed some form of compensation and/or reparation. What is more, we need to underscore the fact that no matter how we may try, there can be no adequate compensation for life, but there is consolation when those in power or the perpetrators at least acknowledge the truth of the loss and sufferings of victims and their families. In Chile for example, the President, Patrcio Azocar Aylwin apologized to Chilean people over the violation of his people's rights.
Also Pope John Paul apologized for the excesses of the Catholic Church during the Crusades. Following this, we recommend that all the Presidents between 1966 and 1999 should apologize for all the human rights violations that took place during their tenures. Failing this, the President should apologize on behalf of his fellow former Heads of State.
72. In making our recommendations, we have not lost sight of these problems. What is more, we are also not unaware of the fact that bringing many of the contested issues regarding the loss of loved ones is one major step in another direction. Indeed, in the final analysis, this must be considered the beginning of a long road for many of the victims and the petitioners.
73. As we see from the discussion of Rehabilitation in the Volume, the Commission has attempted to draw public attention to this much neglected theme. It is impossible for society to visualize a period when it will rid itself of deviants and criminals.
74. The process of sin, repentance and forgiveness as an endless circle of human life is not just a philosophical issue. This is why rehabilitation and renewal must be integrated into our national agenda.
75. To this end, our attitudes towards penitents and penitentiaries must be radically overhauled. It is to be hoped that our society will realize that, as St. Francis of Asisi is quoted as having said, at the sight of every less fortunate person, we must always say, "There goes I but for the grace of God!" This is what is sometimes referred to as metaphysical guilt, following Karl Jasper's articulation of the concept.
76. Such an attitude or "categorical imperative" will instill in us a sense of concern for one another's welfare and security. This attitude will facilitate both the process of national reconciliation and ensure the guarantee and protection of individual and communal rights of citizens.
77. Finally, in making our Recommendations, we have had to fall back on the relevant sections of the Instrument that set up the Commission, as a basis for finding the way forward.
78. For us, we see the driving force for the setting up of the Commission is the search for the truth about our past as the basis for the establishment of a framework for a just, fair and equitable Nigerian society.
79. Drawing from this, we found the relevant sections to be: i. To find out the root causes of human rights violations in Nigeria with special emphasis on gross human rights violations committed during the period covered by our mandate.
ii. To identify the persons, authorities, institutions or organizations which may be held accountable and to also determine their motives.
iii. To determine whether the state embarked on these as a state policy or whether its agents were merely overzealous.
vi. To recommend measures to be taken either against the institutions or persons identified.
80. To be faithful to our Terms of Reference in making our recommendations, we are conscious of the fact that certain persons and institutions would have to be CLEARLY IDENTIFIED AS BEING DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR CERTAIN ASPECTS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN THE COUNTRY.
81. We are not unaware of the fact that not all the agents and agencies of State appeared before the Commission. But whether we rely on the testimony of petitioners, the result of our research or even our personal reflections as citizens on the Nigerian situation, there are certain conclusions that Nigerians are familiar with.
82. The Commission noted over and over again that it was not on a witch-hunting mission nor was any one directly or even indirectly on trial, as such.
83. However, in reviewing the material that was submitted to us both by our researchers and by the petitioners, we have come to the following conclusions, regarding the agents and institutions responsible for gross human rights violations in Nigeria.
84. We shall briefly identify them and try to show how certain State policies have enabled certain institutions and individuals to engage in human rights violations.
THE DIFFICULT TASK OF CRAFTING VOLUME SIX
85. Volume Six of the Report, entitled Findings and Recommendations, however, presented the big but exciting challenge of sifting through the tons of material before us and stating the Commission's interpretation of the data before it.
86. There were many questions that emerged, as the Commission embarked on the task of analyzing and interpreting the data and the evidence it had gathered in the course of its work.
87. In so doing, the Commission found it necessary to go back to its Terms of Reference which demanded that it should try to establish not only what happened but also the nature of the circumstances that made human rights violations possible in the country.
We thematically summarize the findings as follows:
THE SCOURGE OF MILITARY RULE
88. From the evidence before us, we hold that military rule has proved to be a cure that was worse than the disease.
This much was admitted or conceded by military officers who appeared before the Commission.
89. It is plausible to argue that that in its heydays, military rule was indeed propelled by patriotism and the need to set Nigeria on a sound footing.
Tragically, we all now know that things have worked differently. Military rule has left, in its wake, a sad legacy of human rights violations, stunted national growth, a corporatist and static state, increased corruption, destroying its own internal cohesion in the process of governing, and posing the greatest threat to democracy and national integration.
90. Clearly, the military are to be held accountable for gross human rights violations in the country, during the period under review. This is exemplified by cases of torture at the Intercentre, DMI headquarters in Lagos and Jos Prison by the military. All the other prisons in Nigeria fall so far below the standards of the United Nations that they became torture centres.
OIL: BLESSING OR CURSE?
91. Oil, one of the greatest blessings God has showered on our nation, has turned out to be a curse. Instead of providing the basis for national economic, political, scientific/technological and social growth and development, cushioning its citizens from the scourge of abject poverty, squalor and want, oil became, in the hands of the ruling elite and the political class, an instrument sounding the death-knell of such key principles of good governance as democracy, federalism, transparency, accountability and national growth. Oil was the mainstay of the economy and the junta saw any inhibition to its flow as a breach of security. Consequently, legitimate complaints/agitations against oil pollution by host communities were violently suppressed. We therefore had to pay a heavy price in lives and human rights violations.
CIVILIAN COLLABORATORS OF THE MILITARY: THE BUSINESS/ POLITICAL CLASS
92. The long years of military rule in the country were due as much to the greed of the military elite for power as to the collusion of equally greedy members of the country's political class. From the testimonies of senior military officers, those allegedly involved in coup plotting and investigations, it was clear that rich and powerful civilians played critical supportive roles to the military in destabilizing the political process and preparing the way for the military coups that overthrew various civilian and military regimes.
93. Unable to accept defeat, some politicians often turned to their military contacts as a means to regain access to political power and the access to the state coffers flowing from it. Given that politics is essentially about capturing power, the business class has often been unable to subordinate its interests to those of the nation. The result is that wealthy and influential Nigerians have used their resources to bankroll coup plotters.
We therefore hold that they were accomplices and therefore should be held accountable for the resultant human rights violations. The politicians should imbibe democratic spirit. This is because the desperation to win at all costs propels them to use the army to resolve political problems through coups with resultant violation of human rights.
PRESCRIBING CONDITIONS FOR A VIABLE DEMOCRACY
94. If democracy is to take firm roots in Nigeria, then the various segments of the stakeholders in the polity must realize that, no matter the nature of their interests, such interests can only be attained within the boundaries of a democratic and stable nation.
95. This means that politicians must learn to accept the rules of the game. Those who win elections must realize that they have not won a prize for themselves and their party, but that they have won a national trust. Those who lose elections must realize that it is easier to go back to the drawing board and wait for the political calendar to turn around than to resort to the military solution, which has no timetable, as such.
WHAT ROLE FOR RELIGION?
96. One of the missing links in Nigerian politics has been in determining and reaching a consensus on the exact role and place of religion in the political process. The country has remained in the firm grip of so-called believers of the two Abrahamic religions: Islam and Christianity.
97. Sadly enough, both Islam and Christianity have never really been able to rise above the limitations of their intra- and inter- denominational and sectarian cleavages.
The result is that the country is now caught up in what has come to be known as the problem of religion in Nigeria.
Religious intolerance has been the main cause of communal clashes with attendant loss of lives and gross human rights violations.
98. The role of religion in politics is, therefore, largely seen in negative terms. Although we did not receive particular petitions from either Christians or Muslims as religious groups, there were submissions from various sections of the society that alleged religious discrimination, while also complaining of being under the stranglehold of religiously-inclined hegemonic groups. This much was clear in the submission by the Hausa Christian community in Northern Nigeria.
99. However, the religious bodies ought to have done much more than they did in the struggle against human rights violations, especially during the dark days of the late Abacha regime. On the whole, the politicization of religion has undermined religion.
100. A new responsibility has now devolved on both the leadership of Christianity and Islam to respond appropriately to the challenges of nation building and to help in laying a solid foundation for a Nigeria that promotes and respects human rights under the rule of law.
SECURITY AGENCIES AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
101. It is evident that under military rule, the security and survival of the Head of State and of his regime at all cost became an obsession. Regime security was equated to national security. Power became so personalized that the state became synonymous with the government of the day and its leader. Regime security became an excuse for the excesses of state security agencies, leading to various gross human rights violations.
102. As we found out during the public sittings, security agencies tended to resort to extra-judicial methods of extracting information from suspects.
Most of these agents and operatives were guilty of the torture, and sometimes even the murder of innocent suspects.
103. We received petitions of the alleged deaths of many suspects in police custody. By and large, these deaths were sometimes the result of excessive torture by overzealous individual security agents. Nonetheless, it is clear that these tendencies are inevitable in a military environment, where violence is largely glorified and or, celebrated, and where due process is thrown overboard.
104. As was noted in Volume Five, our findings have led us to the conclusion that security agencies will require a fundamental restructuring, so as to re-orient them to respect due process and the human rights of Nigerians, including those of suspected individuals under interrogation or investigation.
RESIDUAL EFFECTS OF MILITARY RULE: ALIENATION, ANOMIE, ATOMIZATION AND POLITICAL VIOLENCE
105. One of the very obvious fallouts of military rule has been its impact on individual, family, communal and national identities. Dictatorships function through a strategy of divide and rule.
106. Thus, the emergence of ethno-religious cleavages and the subsequent hardening of these identities led to the persistence of violence, well beyond the life of the dictatorship. This climate is often ripe for treachery within many opposition groups, as government tends to co-opt willing members of these groups into its service.
MILITARY RULE AND THE JUDICIARY
107. The courts form the citizen's last line of defence in his unequal combat with power and its abuse. The military, by suspending the fundamental rights provision of the Constitution and by its various decrees containing ouster clauses, emasculate the courts and turn them into toothless bulldogs. During military dictatorship, the courts found it difficult to perform their necessary function of upholding the fundamental human rights of the citizen.
108. Executive lawlessness and disregard for the rule of law became the order of the day. Although in theory, Nigerians are said to be equal before the law, in reality, this was not so. There were two laws: one for the ordinary Nigerian and the other for those in power. Those in power were perceived to be above the law. Impunity and abuse of power created conducive climate for human rights violations, as security officers operated well outside the boundaries of their powers.
MINISTRY OF JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
109 We observed during our public hearings that some State Counsels in the Ministries of Justice, when asked by the Police for legal advice, turned themselves into judge and jury and decided cases submitted for advice. This attitude may be as a result of ignorance. But we regret to say that in most cases, it looked like a deliberate attempt to protect perpetrators. We refer to the cases of Dr. Eneweri from Bayelsa State, and some cases from Kaduna, Kano and Plateau States.
110 We recommend that the Federal Ministry of Justice should try to educate Nigerians on the nature of the country's international obligations, as we have noted in Volume Two of this Report.
111 The knowledge of these obligations will assist government functionaries and the generality of our people in knowing what our international and domestic obligations are with respect to human rights issues that have been settled internationally. In this respect, the African Charter of Human and People's Rights should be popularized in the country through seminars, workshops and publications.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL CUM MINISTER OF JUSTICE
112. In Nigeria, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation is usually fused with that of Minister/Commissioner for Justice. In England and America, the two offices are separated for very good reasons. We will recommend that what obtains in those developed countries be made to apply to Nigeria. We therefore recommend a separation of the two offices, so that the Attorney-General becomes, as his name implies, the Chief Law Officer of the Federation or the State, bound by the unwritten laws of the legal profession. The Office of Minister/Commissioner for Justice should be a political office. When the two offices are separated, it will make far easier and more impartial discharge of the duties of the two offices.
CORRUPTION IN PUBLIC LIFE
113. Nigerians agree that corruption in public life, which was pronounced under military rule, has reached alarmingly pandemic proportions, and should now be a matter of very serious and pressing public policy concern.
114. From the evidence, which the Commission received, it is clear that the quest for political power personal enrichment was largely the driving force for military interventions in politics. The military tended to treat the state as a conquered territory and proceeded to treat the proceeds of state as spoils of war to be shared among the members of the military, the conquering forces of occupation.
STATE POLICIES AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
1. It is our contention and conclusion that the state in Nigeria has failed its citizens. This much was clear from both the petitioners and their petitions. It is clear to us that the colonial nature of our historical experience is to a large extent responsible for the incapacity of the state to live up to its duties to its citizens.
2. It is easy to argue that colonialism was not peculiar to Nigeria and that indeed, many other nations, which had their own colonial experiences, have since moved on.
However, Nigeria's peculiar regional, religious and cultural history sets it apart from other nations. But this is not an excuse.
3. It is clear now that the decision of the colonial administration to merge both the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 was informed by reasons of British economic interests and not those of Nigeria. The legacy of dual administration and separateness, bequeathed by amalgamation, has become an albatross, casting a pall of mutual distrust, recrimination and antagonisms over the countryís experiment in nation-building.
4. For example, the regional arrangements, which were introduced gradually through constitutional changes between 1945 and 1954 created more problems than they were designed to solve. They deepened the centrifugal tendencies, which amalgamation had set in motion and which were encouraged by colonial administrators.
5. What is more, the long period of preparation, during which regions became gradually self-governing, did not facilitate the process of integration after independence, especially in relation to national economic development and minority ethnic groups' demand for self-government.
6. The impression had been created that all three regions would function independently, each protecting its turf and with little emphasis on inter-governmental cooperation among the regions and between them and the federal government, in what has been described as a classic case of dual and coordinate federalism.
7. Thus, at independence, it was evident that the three regions had progressed differently, in such major areas as education, health, social infrastructures and economic development, generally.
8. The result has been that post independence politics threw up challenges that ought to have been thrashed out much earlier. This largely explains why political parties were formed along ethno-regional and, sometimes, religious lines.
9. Our constitutional and political history is replete with many inherent contradictions, which show very clearly that there were discrepancies between what the colonial government sought and what Nigerians themselves wanted.
Having inherited this skewed arrangement, our political class is responsible for not quickly addressing these visible discrepancies.
10. The result is that we have continued to tinker with the inherited system. Unfortunately, our national history has followed the logic of post-colonial states in many respects. The inheritance elites in many post-colonial states have tended to see their roles as being merely inheritors of the apparatus of power from the departing colonial masters. This is why we ended up with a situation whereby local elites took up residences in what is still referred to even today as European Quarters, Government Reservation Areas etc. These were some of the privileges that set them apart from the rest of their societies.
11. The project of broadening the political space was delayed mainly because the new local elites were preoccupied with defending their local spheres of power and influence.
12. Let us take the character and nature of the Nigerian state in three areas, to illustrate the argument advanced here.
THE CHARACTER OF THE STATE: PARTY POLITICS
13. We noted, while examining the texture of Nigerian history, that not much effort was made in the first years of independence to form broad based political parties. The fact that parties were largely formed along regional and ethnic lines bears witness to this observation.
14. There were four main parties that dominated the landscape in immediate pre- and post- independent Nigeria. These were the Northern Peoples' Congress (NPC), with a base mainly in the North, the Action Group (AG), with its base in the South West, while the East was dominated by the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, later re-named the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC).
15. The NCNC was by and large the most broadly based party that had substantial presence beyond its catchment political base in the East.
16. There was also the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), which was based on a radical populist ideology, drawing the core of its membership and electoral support from the radical, anti-feudal elements in the North, and with hardly any presence outside the Northern region.
17. What is evident is that these political parties combined and manipulated regionalism, ethnicity and religion as a resource in competitive electoral politics.
18. But what is also evident from the structure of electoral politics in the immediate post-independence years is the emergence of the state as the prized terrain over which the major ethnic groups staked out their hegemonic claims for political power. Control of the state by an ethnic group or combination of ethnic groups, under a zero-sum approach to electoral politics, was to the exclusion of other ethnic groups. In this way, electoral politics became a matter of life-and-death affair with its resultant effect on human rights.
EXPANDING THE POLITICAL SPACE
19. The Minorities Commission Report was testimony to the reluctance of the leadership of the majority ethnic groups in the three regions to accede to state-creation demands from minority ethnic groups in their respective regions. We have elaborated at some length on the politics of state creation in the penultimate years of colonial rule in Chapter 3 of Volume 1 of this Report.
20. Even when concessions were grudgingly made in some of the regions to demands of minority ethnic groups for representation in institutions of governance, it was with a view to ridding certain ethnic blocks of members of other ethnic groups.
21. With independence in 1960, it did not take a long time for the system to begin to overheat, as the agitations for home rule in their own sub-regional heartlands by the various minority ethnic groups in each of the three regions, persisted.
22. Since the expansion of the political space was a project that the political class among the three major ethnic groups was largely averse to, it was left to the military to start and accelerate the project of state and local government creation. But, as events since the military took the initiative in this respect have shown, state creation has been beset with serious problems.
23. We are saddened that the successive fractions of the country's minority ethnic group-based political class have tended to use less noble objectives as a basis for championing the creation of new states and local government councils in the country, under military rule.
24. While state creation was designed initially to go into the heart of the country's ethnic minority problems, it appears that, much later, it became an instrument for pacifying or compensating political brokers or clients, through the creation of ethnic fiefdoms. The result, as we can see, is that state and local government council creation has tended to generate tension and crisis in its wake. What is evident is that these faulty starts, rather than hasten national integration, have only increased the pressures and resentments among the various minority ethnic and sub-ethnic groups whose demands for self-determination and self-rule were not satisfied, leading to acrimony and accusations against the state and its functionaries.
25. The Commission discovered that the roots of many of the ethnic or communal crises are to be located in this crisis of confidence and the sense of exclusion on the part of minority ethnic and sub-ethnic groups, generated by the partisan and unfair manner in which state creation exercises were perceived to have been carried out.
26. In many cases, the state seemed to have had very good intentions in responding to the problems of inter-communal relations, but these were often diluted by the voices of men and women of influence, political entrepreneurs who deliberately misled government, regarding the composition of the various communities in the country. The result is that every time the state tried to liberate certain communities from their so-called enemies, it tended to create more problems for the project of nation-building in the country.
27. Given the interminable and seemingly intractable crises generated by geo-political re-arrangements of the states and local government councils, it is evident that the problems will persist because government is essentially trying to cure the symptoms, and not the disease.
28. The real disease is the general perception of injustice of the state, its lack of concern for the welfare of its citizens and the high handedness of government agents, which all give the impression that the state is partial to some ethnic groups, and is indeed an active protagonist in inter-ethnic or intraethnic conflict on the side of some ethnic groups.
29. The result is that many citizens have come to rely on this process of tinkering with the state as a means of creating a feeling of belonging. To the extent that this process has created so much pain, suffering and death, as we have seen in some states in Nigeria, the state is solely responsible for the sad and ugly developments that have often led to death during state creation exercises and the inter-communal violence that followed them.
30. For example, the government of General Sani Abacha must assume full responsibility for the tragedies that attended the creation of new local government councils in places like Osun and Delta States.
31. There is need for us to turn our attention to the specific nature and character of the state in Nigeria that has generally turned state creation exercises into opportunities for some to engage in gross violations of the human rights of their fellow citizens.