Imperative Of A Second Truth And Reconciliation Commission
Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku & Innocent Edemhanria, Communications Manager and Project Officer, respectively of Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice(ANEEJ),in this piece, canvass for the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the President-elect,General Muhammadu Buhari to address the endemic issues of corruption in Nigeria…
Relying on a paper published by Kevin Avruch and Beatriz Vejarano titled Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: A review Essay and Annotated Bibliography, nearly 73 Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been established from 1973. Some have been set up by the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and transitional governments. Of them all, more have been set up by transitional governments ‘seeking to end cases of violation of crimes and civil, human rights abuses’. Most as well seek ‘restorative’, rather than retributive justice, based on African values of healing, so as to promote social and economic relations at the expense of retribution and vengeance. The formula, according to Avruch and Vejarano, is based on criteria wherein a perpetrator acknowledges that a crime was perpetrated against a victim by the perpetrator who asks for forgiveness, and forgiveness actually granted to the perpetrator by the victim. In 1999, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established from June 14, 1999 – May 2002 against the background of a military government notorious for the violation of human rights and many cases of corruption. Therefore in 1999 after the inception of a democratically elected government that brought in Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military Head of State himself, he introduced a series of reforms including Nigeria’s first Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission known as the “Oputa Panel”.
Sixteen years after, with the Peoples Democratic Party, having been in power as a civilian administration, there do not seem to be any obvious cases of human rights abuses comparable to the cases recorded with the military junta of Sani Abacha. But there are indeed. There were many cases of corruption and corrupt enrichment involving very many serious members of the Jonathan administration that need to be analyzed, and seen from the point of view of their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, there was the petroleum subsidy, the pensions, employment scams together with unaccounted for monies from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The explanations for these incidents are still hazy and shrouded in the kind of official secrecy that has no room in a government that follows the rule of law and is transparent. Quite apart from these as well, more than 365 days ago, over 300 school girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists. Government seeming inability to rescue the kidnapped girls, irrespective of Nigeria’s superior firepower against a ragtag army, and against the huge amounts already budgeted to the military, remains a key talking point worldwide. A report, submitted to the United States Congress by the Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013, alleged massive corruption at all levels of the Nigerian government. The document entitled: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012” states that “massive, widespread and pervasive corruption has affected all levels of government and the security forces in Nigeria.” The report chronicled some major financial scandals within the period under review and how the issues were handled by government. The report specifically mentioned the report of the House of Representatives Committee that investigated Fuel Subsidy programme from 2009 – 2011, the outcome of which revealed massive fraud, corruption, and inefficiencies in the operation of the program. The report alleged misappropriation of nearly half the subsidy funds, with poor or nonexistent oversight by government agencies.It estimated government money lost to “endemic corruption and entrenched inefficiency” amounted to 1.067 trillion naira ($6.8 billion). The report recommended reform of the oversight and enforcement mechanisms and further endorsed investigation and prosecution of culpable officials.” The report also cited the stealing of 32.8 billion naira ($210 million) Police Pension Fund, which led to the arraignment of six suspects including a director at the Police Pension Office, Atiku Abubakar Kigo, who later rose to become permanent secretary in the Ministry of the Niger Delta, and the criminal charges against former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, for laundering close to five billion naira ($32 million) of funds belonging to state. Other corruption cases cited in the report were the arrest of former Minister of Works and Housing, Hassan Lawal, for 24 counts of fraudulently awarding contracts, money laundering, and embezzlement of 75 billion naira ($480 million); the arrest of former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, former Oyo State Governor, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, former Nasarawa State Governor, Alhaji Aliyu Akwe Doma, and former Gombe State Governor, Muhammed Danjuma Goje for allegedly misappropriated or stole 58 billion naira ($372 million), 25 billion naira ($160 million), 18 billion naira ($115 million), and 12.8 billion naira ($82 million), respectively. Their trials began in December 2011 and continued at year’s end”, the report noted.
We believe that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission akin to those that have been set up since 1973 should examine the sixteen years of the PDP as a democratically elected government. Even though the objective is not to seek retribution for these many cases of impunity, graft and theft of public funds, it would be a platform to minimize the risk of a repetition of these flagrant abuses and restore to Nigeria her pride of place as economic power house of Africa. Nigeria is at a critical stage where looting of public funds and abuse of public interest for private gain must be interrogated. Nigeria has reached the point where the concept of change must be seen beyond the mere sloganeering for the sake of capturing power. Change begets change. Change is painful. Change takes root with innovativeness. Change is not a newness of a way of doing things. We cannot as a nation continue to build on foundations of corruption. Therefore, if there is any time in the life and history of Nigeria when genuine change must come, the incoming administration must not toy with the idea of a Reconciliation Commission to be headed by a respected jurist. Its terms of reference must include giving public officials who have served Nigeria in the past decade a chance to give an account of their stewardship live on national television. That platform will provide the opportunity for those Nigerians and their foreign partners who have in one way or the other milked the resources of Nigeria, to come clean. The incentive behind this idea is that a former government official or private person who has colluded to steal from Nigeria has the opportunity of the Truth Commission to ask for an amnesty if those highly placed people who stole from the public purse provide eloquent testimony that would lead to the recovery of Nigeria’s monies stashed away locally and internationally.
Part of the terms of reference of the Truth and Reconciliation of the in-coming administration would be to look at ways of empowering whistleblowers. There are many atrocities being committed in government under the obnoxious practices of secrecy in government. The Truth and reconciliation Commission must also investigate the tax collection system in Nigeria. Civilized countries that survive on an efficient tax system and structure do so on the premise that an efficient tax structure, reduces the changes of external borrowing that monies realized thereof, is ploughed into formulating an efficient social security network on behalf of the teeming army of unemployed youth in Nigeria.
If the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to address the endemic issues of corruption in Nigeria within a stipulated timeline of 12months, it must be completely removed from the person and office of the incoming president. We propose that while the Commission is ongoing, Mr. President can set up an anti-corruption court independent of the law courts that should look into the untoward activities of any public official within the last decade. We are of the view that to strengthen the fight against corruption in Nigeria through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this body should work closely with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, to investigate individuals and corporate institutions that have not participated in the economic Truth commission and returned monies they have stolen.