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A STUDY OF NIGERIA TRUTH COMMISSION, AND WHY IT FAILED

 

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A STUDY OF NIGERIA TRUTH COMMISSION, AND WHY IT FAILED

 

ABSTRACT

This work a astudy of Nigeria truth commission, and why it failed. With its 130 million inhabitants Nigeria is the most populous country on the African continent. The state was consolidated by the British in 1914 before it gained its independence 46 years later in 1960. This geographically diverse region is home to more than 350 ethnolinguistic groups (Sklar 2004: 39). Ethnic and religious cleavages have been a source of conflict since pre-colonial time, but have been greatly exacerbated since the military overthrew the government in 1966. The military coup d‟état was initially considered to be a temporary corrective measure to a civilian leadership. Questionnaires were distributed among people from selected states in Nigeria. Interviews and surveys were also conducted.

Primary and secondary data will be used in the analysis.

This work discusses the factors which can explain the failure of the Nigerian truth commission. We argue that the Oputa Panel was never endowed with the sufficient resources and powers to investigate its extensive mandate nor did it enjoy the governmental support necessary for the implementation of its recommendations which included recommendations of criminal investigations into 150 human rights crimes. The outcome can be explained by the invasive role of the military in Nigerian politics. Military officers remain a coherent force in Nigerian politics. They enjoy the loyalty of the Armed Forces and remain a threat to democratic stability. By virtue of their unique positions they have access to political decision-making channels and can circumvent any efforts to hold the military accountable for the brutal and systematic human rights atrocities which were committed during the military era. explained by the invasive role of the military in Nigerian politics. Military officers remain a coherent force in Nigerian politics. They enjoy the loyalty of the Armed Forces and remain a threat to democratic stability. By virtue of their unique positions they have access to political decision-making channels and can circumvent any efforts to hold the military accountable for the brutal and systematic human rights atrocities which were committed during the military era.

It is therefore observed that lack of political will, too much endemic socio-political and socio-economic corruption, amongst others have a strong and significant effect on the progress of the Nigeria truth commission.

The Nigeria truth commission the Oputa Panel was set up in 1999 to investigate and recommend the appropriate redress of human rights violations committed between 1966 and 1999. Facing several delays and dangers of shut down the Commission finally handed over its report in May 2002. The Nigerian government responded by annulling the Commission and consequently refused to implement any of its recommendations.

Although restorative justice as practiced in Timor Leste seemed to yield positive results, many scholars are cautious in their praise of truth commissions. As van der Merwe observes: “Reconciliation is not an event. People cannot simply one day decide that they want to forgive and forget” (2001: 157). Although truth commissions can open up spaces where forgiveness, personal healing and the restoration of human dignity may take place, these sentiments are individual-driven and depend on the unique and individual experiences of the victims. Thus when restorative justice is promoted by bodies such as truth commissions one can question whether such private feelings of human dignity and worth can at all be administered by an administrative organ (Wilson 2001: 544). Hayner also recognises this point and notes that reconciliation generally is too complex and “(...) difficult to achieve by means of a national commission” (2001: 154).

A limitation to truth commissions and reconciliation is their temporary nature: Truth commissions only exist for a finite period of time. They have limited powers and resources, consequently their contribution to reconciliation will also be limited. Reconciliation is a process and cannot be expected to happen over night. It is in Wilson's words “wishful thinking” that one public hearing can lead to long-lasting results (Wilson 2001: 550). A truth commission can however “open up a public space to grapple with past injustices” (Nesiah 2005: 283). Nevertheless “(…) a truth commission is not an adjudicator of truth, but merely a catalyst for that dialogue” (ibid). This dialogue is important insofar as it changes people‟s perceptions and attitudes towards each other. This is probably all that truth commissions hope to do: “(…) to help realise the public conditions which encourage these internal moral transformations” (Wilson 2001: 547). Based on these observations we suggest the following hypothesis:

Summarily, a truth commission is more likely to contribute to reconciliation if it successfully pursues reconciliation strategies (such as creating an account of the past which is agreed upon to the extent that it (the past) no longer interferes with future policy-making; and public hearings where victims and perpetrators can meet agree to some terms of reference for future co-existence).”

As a recommendation, a truth commission must enjoy the necessary legal powers in order to conduct exhaustive investigations and obtain a complete picture of the past. Daly in fact considers legal powers to be one of the two most important factors for the fulfilment of the mandate (2001: 98).[1] Extensive search and seizure powers are considered to contribute to more thorough investigations by giving the commission the necessary powers to call for evidence from official sources, state archives, databases and sources otherwise which may contribute to unearth the truth about human rights crimes. Moreover, a truth record is likely to be more comprehensive if the commissioners can summon witnesses to give testimony: It is not uncommon that both victims and perpetrators are unwilling to testify (Burgess 2007). Perpetrators will not implicate themselves in criminal activities and victims may fear the repercussions from perpetrators or consider testifying about past abuses to be too traumatic. In these situations a truth commission with summoning powers can compel witness to come forward if this considered appropriate. In cases where the danger of repercussion is real, witness protection powers are a logical extension of a commission's legal powers. 

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[1] A truth commission can be established by the legislature (South Africa), the executive (Chile) or through a peace agreement (El Salvador) (Freeman 2006: 28). It is important to note that the powers to imbue truth commissions with the legal powers such as the power to “compel testimony or to search premises and seize evidence” rests, in most states, with the legislative branch (ibid).   

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