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Corruption, truth and reconciliation


Justice Chukwudifu Oputa

Justice Chukwudifu Oputa

Reconciliation, in relation to humans, is synonymous to healing; it’s a spiritual activity strictly actuated by truth, akin to the manner full confession leads to forgiveness. Truth is the preserve of witness. The truths of human evolution are only told by that eternal witness of all time, history. A seeker of truths, therefore, cannot afford to fight shy of history. Unfortunately, Nigeria did the diametric opposite of this during her first attempt at Truth and Reconciliation.

In setting up a seven-member Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (a.k.a. Oputa Truth and Reconciliation Commission) in 1999, the Federal Government forbade the Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa-led commission to look beyond 1966. In so doing, the sponsors of the commission failed to recognise that major social infractions had precipitated the 1966 crises in the first place. The Federal Government thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, inhibited the commission from arriving at the entire truth of Nigeria’s multiple recurrent problems.

The interfacing years (1959-60) during which the British formally handed over the administration of the country to indigenous leadership, ought to be an appropriate time boundary for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. My reason is simple: the truth of what went terribly wrong with the indigenous political leadership would logically be located in the foundational years of 1959 to 1966. A cursory look at the events of those years would prove rather instructive.

The results of the 1959 general elections are common knowledge. National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) controlled Eastern region scored the highest number of votes; Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) controlled Northern region came second; while Action Group (AG) controlled Western region scored the least number of votes. However, the issue of coalition arose because the NCNC votes didn’t constitute a simple majority. NCNC and NPC eventually formed a coalition with the understanding that NCNC would produce the prime minister, while NPC produced the federal commissioner (minister) of finance. AG became the leading opposition party.

However, when it was time to execute the terms of that “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the NPC curiously insisted it must produce the prime minister, else the country reverted to the 1953 Lancaster House Agreement; that is, split Nigeria along her regional boundaries. NCNC conceded, thus awkwardly surrendering the supreme executive position to the junior partner in the coalition.

That signal treachery was nothing short of a coup d’etat. It could well be inferred that that treachery sowed the seeds of distrust and ill-will in Nigerian national politics. Post-1960 events showed that NPC was not only disposed to employing all manner of subterfuge to obtain power, but also did the same to retain power. The Federal Government’s first major assignment, the 1962 Census exercise was replete with unprecedented controversies.

It was roundly rejected by the opposition parties; and eventually cancelled. Major opposition politicians were subsequently arbitrarily arrested and detained on questionable charges. A recount in 1963 only heightened the political tension in the country. The leader of the main opposition party, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was controversially sentenced with a number of his colleagues to varying years in prison in the same year.

The last straw that broke the Nigerian camel’s back occurred barely a year after in the 1964 general elections. The elections were allegedly massively rigged, as were the 1965 regional elections in the West; in which the Federal Government was said to have shown unbecoming interest. It is pertinent to state that ranking members of the NCNC, inclusive of its eloquent leader and ceremonial president of the country, the inimitable Nnamdi Azikiwe, had openly disagreed with the Federal Government on the census, the 1964 general elections, and the 1965 Western regional elections, results. Then January 15, 1966 happened.

The young majors mentioned the controversial jail sentences on the opposition leaders, and the latent plan to convert Nigeria to an Islamic state as part of the principal reasons they had struck. Post-1966 history would seem to have vindicated them. John Paden, that authoritative biographer who recently presented his work on Muhammadu Buhari to the public, stated in his book on the late NPC leader that Islamicisation of Africa was a cardinal objective in the life of Sir Ahmadu Bello.

General Yakubu Gowon, the residual legatee of the twin-coups of 1966, not only promptly released the jailed opposition politicians, but he also made the AG leader a de facto prime minister in the dual capacity of federal commissioner of finance and deputy chairman of the federal executive council. Little wonder the new Head of State couldn’t justify court-marshaling his former junior comrade-in-arms, whom he referred to as “misguided officers.” Another army general who had been significant in the immediate post-1966 years authored a biography, entitled Nzeogwu, extolling the noble qualities of one of those “misguided officers.”

Even Emeritus Justice Oputa of the “Truth Commission” didn’t fail to see the altruistic thrust of the January 1966 coup d’etat. In spite of this weight of overwhelming evidence, some Nigerians insist to this day that the January 1966 putsch had an “Ibo Agenda”??? This deliberate falsification of our history is the worst form of corruption confronting Nigeria, because it distorts the healthy development of the present and future generations of Nigerians for purely selfish reasons. Eradicating corruption from Nigeria would take much more than running after allegedly corrupt persons. As the experience of similarly circumstanced climes clearly shows, the effective eradication of corruption in a polity is subsumed in Truth and Reconciliation.

Perhaps that was the point the politically learned Bishop of Sokoto, and secretary to the Justice Oputa Commission, Matthew Kukah, and former Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar, were trying to impart at the inception of the Buhari administration, when both men advised the new president to spend less time pursuing supposedly corrupt Nigerians. Having previously familiarised myself with the conclusions and recommendations of the Oputa Commission, I had half-expected the outspoken Catholic bishop to remind Buhari and Abubakar of the commission’s recommendations respecting three former Heads of State who refused to honour its invitation. (The trio had evidently fought shy of confronting history; but that, is grist for another mill).

For Nigeria to resume her upward journey to true greatness, she must holistically, if courageously, confront her post-independence history, and make appropriate restitutions; a la “Righteousness exalts a nation…” Proverbs 14:34.
• Nkemdiche, is a consulting engineer, writes from Abuja.

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