culled from VANGUARD, Friday 13, 2004
The investigation and prosecution of IBB for serious human rights violations, including massive corruption, will in the long run help to strengthen the rule of law, bring justice to victims and erode the entrenched culture of impunity of the country’s leaders. Unless IBB is brought to justice promptly (and fairly), the Obasanjo government cannot claim credibility or legitimacy, nor enjoy public confidence and support necessary for the eradication of the ‘culture and legacy’ of corruption.
Rather than compromise the country’s democratization process, the investigation and prosecution of IBB would strengthen it, and return Nigeria back to the comity of civilized nations. Because the continuing impunity being enjoyed by IBB and others poses a serious threat to the fragile democratization process, the civil society, including human rights non-governmental organizations, must turn their efforts and resources to combating this legacy.
President Obasanjo’s electoral campaign in 1999 emphasized the need to address and eliminate corruption in the public sector. This message was well received by the voters, who cast their ballots hoping for a change. Now, Nigerians expect President Obasanjo to translate the rhetorical commitment to sanction corruption into reality by taking action in the IBB matter. Because corruption is well entrenched in Nigeria, fighting it requires not only a minimum level of political will and an adequate and sensible strategy, but also involves being ready and able to confront powerful interest groups that clearly benefit from the status quo and will resist any such initiatives.
Therefore, the Obasanjo government should be very careful not to let allegations of human rights violations, including corruption against IBB go unpunished. There is a very pervasive effect in sending a message to society that impunity is unacceptable. IBB should not be allowed to buy himself out of the most negative consequences of his alleged wrongdoings. Otherwise, the message to everyone in the country will be: it is virtually certain that the corrupt, especially the rich amongst them, will not be punished. Impunity arises and thrives when there is a lack of accountability among high ranking government officials, whether past or present. Eliminating impunity requires increased accountability and transparency if Nigeria is to reclaim its lost glory in the comity of civilized nations. A widespread culture of impunity under which leaders’ abuses of powers are neither investigated, exposed, prosecuted nor sanctioned will continue to leave victims without effective remedies. It may also force them to seek revenge.
Therefore, a thorough and effective investigation into the allegations against IBB is required, if only to restore the legitimacy and effectiveness of Nigerian judicial and political processes. There can be no better barometer for measuring the professed commitment of the Obasanjo administration to end corruption and impunity of perpetrators in Nigeria. Looking ahead over the next two years, the important question of the responsibility of IBB for past wrongs and misdeeds seems set to assume an increasingly crucial place in the political and legal arenas. Will justice ever prevail in this matter? Rays of hope may come from the increasing pressure of citizens and human rights NGOs to see justice done and the ever-increasing impact of the media. In the words of Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “You have to be an optimist if you deal with human rights.”
Dr. Kolawole Olaniyan is the Legal Advisor (Africa) for the International Law and Organizations Program of Amnesty International, London.