11 March 2009

Nigeria: Truth Commission Blames Rivers Crises On Odili, Obasanjo Govts

Port Harcourt — THE Rivers State Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Kayode Eso, set up by the Rivers State Government to find a lasting peace in the area yesterday blamed the crisis in the state on both the state and the Federal Governments, particularly the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Justice Eso who presented a 517-page report and transcript of evidence to the governor before a gathering of stakeholders in the state said the Commission had evidence that politicians made use of insurgents while the government also treated the insurgents with kid gloves. Justice Eso assured that the recommendations, if implemented, would lead to the desired peace in the state.

Reading what could pass as a synopsis of the findings and recommendations of the Commission, he blamed much of the crisis that engulfed the state, which resulted in the death of several thousands of people and total destruction of communities like Okurama in Okrika, on failed governance, chieftaincy tussles, cultism, politics of acrimony and insurgency. According to him, they were all interwoven.

It was sad to note, he said, that most of the chiefs in the state were not aware of the Chieftaincy Law, Cap 25 of the Laws of Rivers State that regulates chieftaincies in the state, so they carried on as though they were laws unto themselves. "The law empowers the governor to suspend or withdraw recognition from a chief if it is necessary in the interest of the state."

Continuing, he said the state and federal governments were also largely responsible in building up image of insurgents, just as he wondered why the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo chose to treat insurgents like Ateke Tom and Asari Dokubo with kid gloves at a time insurgency was being hunted.

"Ateke Tom was in and out of Aso Rock during the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and this was a period when insurgency was being hunted. Such hobnobbing, of course, made Ateke Tom to become larger than life and Asari Dokubo a national hero. We have evidence of the use by politicians of the insurgents."

On cultism, he said the then government of the state did not take any serious step to wipe it out, but rather came up with what the Commission termed ineffective law prohibiting people from joining them. "That airy, fairy piece of legislation was never effective, it is sufficient evidence and proof positive that such inconsequential and ineffective legislation was never meant to be obeyed. In the memoranda before us, we listed 16 cults apart from the government's list of 100."

Eso called on the state government to immediately come up with laws proscribing these cult groups. According to him, a similar step was taken in former Cross River State, old Mid-West and the East, and it worked. He said the insensitivity of governments to the fears and feelings of people of the region also contributed to the sad security situation. According to him, on the issue of the economy, people from the region regarded as unfair the distribution of wealth, when they compare the Niger Delta with other places.

"Rightly or wrongly, they saw a virgin land in Abuja transformed into wealth they believed came from the Delta, whereas people in the Delta lived in squalor."

On politics, he said some people carried on in the area as though politics was business and took all steps, whether negative or positive, to protect their interest in this 'business'

How we came by conclusion

He said they arrived at the conclusion after a careful, critical and objective appraisal of the over 215 memoranda filed before the commission. "We went through all of them most carefully. We picked out the representative memoranda therefrom and set to work. Towards the end of our public sitting, there was an avalanche of memoranda poured upon us, signifying to us the confidence which the citizenry of the state has come to repose in us."

He said though the Commission was not able to take evidence on all the issues before it, it was satisfied that there was nothing substantial in the ones they could not take evidence on that would rubbish findings and recommendations of the Commission.

Eso, who said the summarised report he read did not contain much of the findings and recommendations in its 517-page document it presented to the state government, said the Commission was able to reconcile fifteen communities that were hitherto at daggers drawn, physically killing and maiming themselves and also devastating their properties. In addition to this, he said the Commission reconciled twenty-two other matters.

Effort to reconcile Amaechi with former Governors failed

He said effort of the Commission to reconcile Governor Rotimi Amaechi with the two former civilian governors of the state, Dr Peter Odili and Sir Celestine Omehia, were futile as some of them came up with two many excuses for their inability to show up for reconciliation. He said one strangely enough said he "would first like to know the contents of our report and study the white paper thereupon before he could present himself for reconciliation.

These are, of course, not only jejune, but also impossible conditions. Not even His Excellency, the governor has seen the cover of this report until it is now being presented."

Chides Odili

Sadly enough, according to Eso, Dr Peter Odili believed the Commission was set up to rubbish him with himself (Eso) and other members of the Commission as the tools.

The retired jurist, who looked visibly angry at this point, took time to dwell on the integrity of members of the Commission and altruistic goal of the body. Contrary to allegations by Odili that the Commission was set up to smear his image, justice Eso said the idea of the Commission was a product of a stakeholders' forum in the state.

He said this was made known on the floor of the Commission by the duo of the Secretary to the State Government, Magnus Abe and a former governor of the state, Chief Rufus Ada George, when they appeared before it at separate times.

He said shockingly, neither Magnus Abe nor Ada George was cross-examined on this claim by any of the counsel at the Commission, so the evidence of those on the subject of the emergence of the truth and reconciliation Commission went in unchallenged.

"Magnus Abe had told the commission that the decision to set up this commission was not that of the governor, but that of the stakeholders in the state. Another witness, a former governor, was Chief Rufus Ada George. He was actually one of the stakeholders referred to by Magnus Abe. Unsolicited, Rufus Ada George corroborated the evidence of Magnus Abe.

The important thing is, neither Magnus Abe nor Chief Rufus Ada George was cross-examined by any of the counsel, including the Senior Advocate representing Sir Odili on this point, and so the evidence of those two, on the subject of the emergence of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, went un-challenged."

Eso said despite what he termed 'ridiculous', the attempt by Dr Odili to smear the integrity of members of the commission, the former governor was still given an opportunity to prove his case and other allegations against him.

But unfortunately, according to him, the former governor came up with thirty "I can't remember" on several allegations against him.

"What evidence did Odili give that we would test? Sir Peter Odili, in giving evidence, suddenly developed a so-called amnesia. He could not remember the most crucial events. That performance was on camera (NTA) and it was watched all over the world.

The transcript is also available unedited in the verbatim reports. Dr Odili could not or he elected to refuse to remember many things.

In this report, we have set out a good number of "I am not aware", "I cannot remember", "I do not know", coming from a governor who was given the honour by the electorate and who, in pursuance thereof, ruled this most important state for eight years and under whose charge Okuru Ama was destroyed.

We were told two weeks to Dikibo's killing - Amaechi

Governor Amaechi, while thanking the Commission for the job, described the day as one of the saddest in his life. He assured that his government would implement the recommendations of the commission despite his emotions.

"Today is one of the saddest days of my life. Many of you would think I would have been happy with the report. But all of you know my relationship with Dr Peter Odili."

He said though he was part of the government, but he was really never happy with some of the things that went wrong in the state then. "I was the closest person to Dr Peter Odili. Anybody close to us then knew I wept, I complained when I made public comments on Okrika situation. Then I was accused of having gubernatorial ambition

"I spoke with passion, but today I cannot even speak because I speak with tears. I was among the five people driving bullet proof cars then in the state. But what of others? Two weeks to when A.K. Dikibo was killed, we were told. They said I was among those to be killed too. I met Dr Peter Odili in 1988 and he has always been there for me no matter what they say.

I can't stand blood. I am conscious of the fact that you can't create life. Ateke's life is not better than those he killed. Despite my emotions and sentiments, we shall implement the recommendations of the commission, no matter the challenges. It will not be one report to be dumped."

Commission, waste of public funds - Odili

In a swift reaction, former Governor Peter Odili yesterday described the Commission as one set up primarily to tarnish his image and reputation, saying the recommendations did not take him by surprise.

Odili noted that the entire exercise was a waste of public funds, set up not to find out the true position of things or to truly reconcile anybody in the state.

In a statement signed by his Media Advisor, Mr. Emma Okah in Abuja, Odili said: "Clearly, no truth and reconciliation was intended by those who conceived the idea of the commission, and given the trend so far, I dare say that no reconciliation can be achieved.

"It is obvious today that while there is no effective reconciliation of many Rivers people, the only truth revealed by Justice Eso's Commission report is that malice and vendetta was the essence of the commission.

"I consider the commission's report an outright failure and embarrassment to decency."

We'll take legal action in due course -Sekibo

Also reacting, former Minister of Transport, Dr Abiye Sekibo said "it is pertinent to reiterate that despite knowing the deceit and guile which informed and underpinned its formation, I and some other Rivers patriots appeared before the TRC in part to; "to expose and ridicule the "trap" set by a component which had envisaged our non-appearance and was prepared to exploit same to present us as not being interested in peace and reconciliation.

"The second component of their strategy was to exploit our anticipated appearance in Port Harcourt to foment violent crisis at the venue which would then be attributed to us. This was avoided by our decision to ask that the commission move to Abuja for our appearance.

"We equally appeared to demonstrate our respect for and commitment to the rule of law and institutional principles of democratic governance.

"In our case in Rivers State, this is happening because we have been forced into a peculiar dilemma where our State is being governed by an individual for whom Rivers people did not have the opportunity of exercising their constitutional right to express an electoral opinion. Indeed expecting any reasonable action from such leadership is tantamount to expecting good fruit from bad seed.

"Because of our fundamental belief in the institutions of constitutional democracy in Nigeria, we shall take appropriate action according to law, to respond to that charade of a report in due course."

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