In 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo's government set up a commission to investigate the human rights violations in the country--including assassinations and attempted killings - that occurred between January 1966 and May 1999. But the commission's findings were never published. Now, as Mercy Eze reports, one of the commission's members, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, has published a book on the commission's work. and what a fascinating book it is!
BISHOP MATTHEW HASSAN Kukah's book contains highly sensitive, compelling and, as some would say, infuriating and controversial material. Witness to Justice: An Insider's Account of Nigeria's Truth Commission is a masterpiece. The 500-page book is his personal account of how he sees Nigeria.
He draws extensively from the confessions, complaints, and disturbing testimonies gathered by the Judicial Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Violations, set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo's government in May 1999 to investigate human rights and other abuses that happened in the country between January 1966 and May 1999.
The Commission was headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, and thus became known as the Oputa Panel. Its remit included identifying individual perpetrators, institutions or state actors behind the atrocities. The aim was to prevent future abuses, but the government never published the Commission's findings. Now, using human rights violations as a backdrop to his book, Bishop Kukah (who also chairs the Ogoni-Shell Reconciliation Commission) examines the implications of military rule and its attendant culture of impunity, wanton killings, disappearances, corruption, and other ills. The civilian class is, however, not spared as it had a good hand in the chaos.
On the vexing issue of Ogoniland in the Niger Delta, which is globally regarded as a huge scar on the conscience of Nigeria, Kukah explores the troubles stirred by the execution of the writer and campaigner Ken Saro Wiwa, and nine others by General Sani Abacha's military government.
He also delves into the mystery shrouding the assassination of the editor and copublisher of the Newswatch magazine, Dele Giwa, who was killed by a parcel bomb on 19 October 1986.
At the recent launch of the book in London, the veteran journalist, Peter Cunliffe-Jones (a former editor of the French news agency, AFP) asked "Is there a way to avoid what brought about the human rights panel from happening again?" Cunliffe-Jones, an...