Between Truth and Justice – The Dilemma of the Rivers State TRC (Part 2)



Between Truth and Justice

The Dilemma of the Rivers State TRC  (Part 2)

By Uche Ohia

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, Abuja) required a pinch of salt to digest. But his fears of possible victimization by commission appeared exaggerated. The presence of Ambassador C.D. Orike, said to be Odili’s maternal uncle in the TRC makes it more so: Orike, an elder statesman, was Odili’s ambassadorial nominee and was appointed Ambassador to Uganda during the Obasanjo regime. In fact, Odili’s critics have pointed out that rather than being biased against him, the commission should be watched for possible bias in favour of the ex-governor!

Ousted Governor of Rivers State, Celestine Omehia, who also testified in Abuja reportedly broke down in tears while relieving the ordeal his aged mother, Cecilia, went through in the hands of cultists who kidnapped her shortly after his election that was nullified in court. In his testimony, Omehia referred to Governor Rotimi Amechi who took over from him on the orders of the Supreme Court as his “brother” but fell short of leveling a direct accusation against the governor for the death of his father six months after the arrest of the old man over land and chieftaincy disputes allegedly at the instance of Governor Amechi when he was the Speaker of the State House of Assembly. Prompted on the possibility of reconciliation between them, Omehia stated that any serious reconciliation between him and Amechi should take place not in public glare but in the confines of a room with their wives present. It was a notable point by a man generally seen as a pawn, a victim of circumstance unschooled in the art of doublespeak but one of the few that raised the spectre of possible reconciliation.

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 Rivers State to maximally high levels of youth unemployment, illiteracy, injustice, gas flaring, systemic neglect and pervasive poverty. Peter Odili recommended that the panacea for youth restiveness in the Niger Delta is to arrest frustration and idleness through provision of jobs and to address prolonged systemic neglect through massive and robust infrastructural development – especially construction of roads and bridges in riverine areas which, he opined, could only be driven by the strong political will of the Federal Government. Is the Federal Government listening?

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 Rivers State that ballooned into incessant violence in the Niger Delta. In any case, the report of the TRC must be made public in order not to raise more suspicion about the role of the Rivers State Government past and present in violence and other criminal activities.

        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 Rivers State saga that have suffered the severest misfortunes both in terms of business losses, physical violence, environmental degradation and economic deprivations, it is the oil companies and local communities. The expectation, therefore, was that the TRC would be a forum for them to meet and thrash out their problems. So far, this has not been the case. This raises a crucial question: what reconciliation can come out of a TRC in Rivers State where the activities of irresponsible oil companies and the impertinence of a deaf federal government unwilling to address simmering concerns about a skewed derivation formula and abysmal dearth of infrastructural development have combined to create a Frankenstein that is threatening to consume the nation? Whether the federal government cares to admit it or not, peace in the Niger Delta and particularly in Rivers State the operational headquarter of the oil industry in Nigeria is imperative if the nation is to survive for much longer as an entity. It is, therefore, in the national interest that oil companies are encouraged to attend the Rivers TRC.

uchebush@yahoo.com; 0805 1090 050.

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