For many watching the unfolding drama at the Rivers State Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) from the sidelines, there are many points to ponder. Former Governor Peter Odili’s income and expenditure account which he so freely flaunted before the commission at Abuja would have served a better purpose if it had been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with whom the former Governor had been engaged in the sort of hide and seek game that ends up making Nigeria’s legal system seem like a farce in the eyes of the enlightened global community. On the whole, Odili’s testimony was very interesting even if some of his submissions (such as the one about meeting militant gadfly, Ateke Tom for the first time at the Presidential villa,
Ousted Governor of Rivers State, Celestine Omehia, who also testified in
But it was Abiye Sekibo that most bluntly exposed the venomous hatreds, the deep seated discord and outright distrust existing between the past and present leadership in
To the credit of the Rivers TRC and in spite of the vitriolic exchanges and ding-donging going on at it’s hearings, some good ideas are already wafting through the testimonies of key witnesses. While punching holes in the allegation that he patronized cultism, Sekibo told the commission that the only way to end armed struggle and related cult related violence in the Niger Delta was for the Federal Government to grant amnesty to militants and cultists. According to Sekibo, it is only by inducing militant youths and cultists to renounce violence and surrender that the Federal Government could hope to end violence in the Niger Delta. Ikwerre ethnic nationality spokesman, Prof. Otonti Nduka, attributed the violence in
Still, one thing the Rivers State TRC has not quite been able to do is to shrug off the slur cast on it’s integrity: Odili, Sekibo and Omehia were united in contending that the commission was incapable of getting to the root of the crisis in the state being, in their view, primarily set up not to reconcile warring parties but to demonize some of them. There is no doubt as some parties implied that TRCs could and have often been used to serve the purpose of demonizing preceding regimes or legitimizing new governments. The 1986 Ugandan commission and the case of
However, whatever their inherent defects may be, institutions such as the Rivers TRC hold a great potential for therapeutic outcomes. While the goal of a criminal trial, as Ronald Slye of Seattle University (and a former consultant to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission) contends, is to determine that “we have sufficiently minimized the possibility that we may be about to punish an innocent person,” the goal of a TRC is to extract as much information as possible which, from experience, is often higher in quantity, and probably also in quality than the information that can ever be elicited from any criminal trial. Whereas victims’ testimonies are treated with great suspicion by defense attorneys and even by the court during trials, TRCs give victims the chance to deliver their testimonies to a sympathetic audience. The effect is positive for all parties and for the society.
Whatever, a serious moral question is raised when justice is subordinated to “truth”, “reconciliation,” or any other goal. The natural reaction of most persons after hearing the lurid details of an act of violence against a loved one is to desire that justice be done. This desire may only be moderated by the religious or spiritual inclination of the hearer. In Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions published by Princeton University Press, Gutmann and Thompson couched this tendency in a cliché: “once you know who did it, you want the next thing — you want justice.” They derive the statement from the account of a woman who listened to testimony by the killer of her husband. After learning for the first time how her husband was killed, she was asked if she could forgive the man who did it. Speaking slowly, in one of the native languages, she replied through the interpreters: “No government can forgive.” Pause. “No commission can forgive.” Pause. “Only I can forgive.” Pause. “And I am not ready to forgive.”
To this extent, the dilemma of TRCs as a substitute for the criminal justice system is that it short-circuits the very mechanism which most societies have established to right societal wrongs by punishing wrongdoers. The findings of TRCs in other countries have proved that exposing the truth about violence and human rights abuses in a particular era whets the ground for meaningful reconciliation and sustainable restoration of harmonious relations. From experience, however, for this goal to be realized, the final outcome must include some form of reparation or compensation to those whose fortunes have been unalterably affected by the incidences related at the commission. Already the Ikwerre ethnic nationality through the Prof. Otonti Nduka led Ogbako Ikwerre have catalogued the losses which the people have suffered and tabled a hefty N5b reparation demand. Public expectation is that the Rivers TRC should not ignore such demands in it’s final report even while it highlights the institutional factors that facilitated the perpetration and perpetuation of cult related atrocities in
So far, part of the failure of the Rivers TRC could be said to be the small number of oil companies that submitted memoranda or made presentations at its hearings. Already, an Ijaw group, Ijaw Republican Assembly (IRA) has posited that the Eso commission will be a failure if it fails to tackle conflicts between the oil-producing communities and oil companies. According to media reports, the IRA claims that ‘’many oil-bearing communities rarely receive any compensation for land taken by oil companies, or rendered useless by oil spills, acid rain, and other forms of pollution. Protests against environmental degradation and loss of land rights by local communities have frequently met with violent repression by the armed security forces with the complicity of the oil companies’’.
Indeed, if there are any victims in the
From proceedings at the sittings of the commission, witnesses have either been accusing others or defending themselves. Can it serve the course of truth and reconciliation when witnesses are being economical with the truth? And can reconciliation be achieved when witnesses are neither willing to admit facts or to show remorse. The palpable animosity, bad blood and violence in