In the tribute I paid to the late Malam Abubakar Gimba last week, I said his open letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo on August 27, 2001 was one of the three best articles I have read in the last 15 years for their precision, eloquence and profoundness of insight. Several of the texts I have received from readers have requested me to send them the articles. I have decided to oblige by reproducing the articles because of the lessons they hold for our politics today. So I will like to crave the indulgence of readers to be absent without leave from these pages for the next three weeks and publish those three articles, beginning with that of the late Gimba today. I have the permission of Professor Femi Osofisan and Eniola Bello to reproduce their articles. I guarantee readers that the journey backwards to the beginning of the current Republic would be worthwhile.
Dear Mr. President
I am aware you run a very tight schedule. And you may not have read the front page comment (editorial) of the Daily Trust newspaper of Monday, August 6, 2001. The newspaper’s comment was on the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) headed by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa. The current goings-on at the commission’s sittings apparently caused the paper to express its fears and misgivings about the goals the Oputa-led body was set up to achieve.
Most of us (have been made to) believe the HRVIC is for truth and reconciliation a la South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) under the chairmanship of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Bishop Desmond Tutu. Daily Trust believes our HRVIC may at the end of the day neither arrive at the truth nor achieve any reconciliation. Indeed, the commission could be swarmed by distortions of truth, falsehoods, and produce new landmines of acrimony, hate and irreconcilable discord. I share the opinion of the paper, and strongly too. The Oputa panel, or its abbreviation, the HRVIC is becoming as frightening as the dreaded virus whose abbreviation it almost resemble, BIV/AIDS. And unless urgent measures are taken to redirect the modus operandi of the commission, the HRVIC will carry the same stigma and life-threatening consequences for our national body politic as HIV/AIDS. Given the orchestrated threatricals at the HRVIC public hearings, often staged with venomous deliberateness to the applause of a cultivated (and rented) jeering crowd reminiscent of the inquisitorial Roman Coliseum of yore, I don’t see how the commission can achieve anything but a modicum of short-lived reconciliation.
Perhaps the commission was never intended to achieve any reconciliation. Nowhere in the panel’s terms of reference is there any mention of a deliberate effort at reconciliation as a main goal. The official name of the commission adequately sums up the commission’s terms o f reference: human rights investigation, at the end of which it is to “recommend measures which may be taken whether judicial, administrative, legislative or institutional to redress the injustices of the past…” Translate: who’s done it? Punish (from an agitated spirit full of vengeance)! And the fact that ab initio, the time period initially meant to be covered by the commission was 1993 to 1999, provided grounds for suspicion and concern that the HRVIC was a camouflaged battle-tank to get the Abacha men (principally), and Abdulsalami’s men. These are certainly no green lights for a reconciliation train.
Truth and reconciliation that bind are not made in the disorderly noise of the marketplace, nor forged out of a playwright’s scripts for a grand theatre performance to an audience that knows little difference between reality and the make-belief world of virtual reality. Any meaningful reconciliation requires a proper understanding of the concept (or word) itself: the dictionary (Collins) defines reconciliation as “to cause to acquiesce in something unpleasant; to become friendly with someone after estrangement; to settle (a quarrel)…” And since you are not so secularly inclined (despite the insistent voices that have made you to hold our nation’s flag high as a foremost secular entity), the Holy Bible fully endorses reconciliation, when it says (2 Corinthians 5:19) “that God (the Most High) was in Christ (may Allah’s peace be on him) reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word reconciliation “ (italics mine).
And between men, how do we achieve the true reconciliation outlined above? Again the Holy Bible offers some invaluable help: It says (Matthew 18:15.). “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him hit fault between you and him alone… “ (italics mine). The Alaba market atmosphere and the Hollywood syndrome of the dramatis personae hitherto at its sittings, have pushed our Oputa-led HRVIC far away from the ideal of a sanctified reconciliation. Sadly, you have not injected the most important energising tonic into the whole process. The tonic of forgiveness: only you can start the process of injecting this antidote into the rancour that has poisoned our body politic these past years. By word and action.
If the South African TRC achieved any success at all, it must be because of the forgiveness factor. Dr. Nelson Mandela was very magnanimous in his forgiveness. He did not make frequent references to his torturers for 27 years when he was in jail. You, unfortunately, have not been able to kick the habit. I don’t blame you. You are just being human. But by proclamation and actions, I know you are a Born-Again Christian. And this has heightened one’s expectations of a high moral standard based on Christ-like principles and ethics. Yes, principles, ethics, and Christian morality. I believe these are what prompted you in the first place to set up the Oputa panel. Not the bug of an imitation syndrome to be like Mandela of South Africa. But even in the South African TRC’s case, morality and Christian values played no small role. For how else do you explain Bishop Desmond Tutu’s Chairmanship of the TRC?
If you can forgive Abacha (I do not mean you should stop your efforts to recover anything he undeservedly took from our national wealth), forgive his family, forgive all those who tried you at the tribunal and got you incarcerated (escaping death by whiskers), forgive all, you would have laid a sound foundation for a proper reconciliation in the country. Again, remember the parable of a king and his servant in the Bible (Matthew 18:23-35). Those who benefit from divine grace must never refuse same to others. From the fertile grounds of your example, I believe, would sprout healthy olive plants of predisposition for forgiveness. The Abiola family, the Rewane family, the Dele Giwa family, the Ibru family, the Kaltho family, the Umaru Dikko family, and many, many more such families would want to follow the President’s noble footsteps. This would stem the rising wave of the rancorous showmanship at the Oputa sittings, the antithesis o f the reconciliation Nigeria needs. This would block the agenda of all those with sinister and personal agenda for vendetta, blackmail, humiliation and even scavengery.
These do not enhance the course of reconciliation: they only deepen and aggravate acrimony.
Over and above individual forgiveness and reconciliatory moves however, there is a great need for the reconciliation of institutions, groups and communities. Let’s remember that even the South African TRC was essentially an attempt to reconcile groups after the apartheid era, reconciling the blacks with the whites. It was not an attempt to settle personal scores per se; it was to assuage the psyche o f a people. We should borrow’ a leaf from the South Africans and keep that at the back o f our mind.
No doubt individuals are important, but the interest of the society should be paramount. First and foremost, the military as an institution has wronged the rest of the population ever since the 1966 coup. Who needs any eyidence(s) of their culpability?
The present military High Command should apologize to the nation (publicly). The National Assembly should accept or reject the apology, with or without sanctions (if accepted) .We, as a people then should stop blaming the military in our daily litany of songs of our sorrows, and get on with the business of nation building.
Then, the reconciliation efforts should shift focus to the suspicions between the North and East, the North and the West, the East and the West, the minority tribes and the so-called major tribes, then communities and tribes, Muslims and Christians, et cetera, et cetera: And by this, I do not mean the highly tendentious Sovereign National Conference (SNC), which is a conference in the mould of the Berlin Conference of the 19th Century where the then European colonial powers balkanized the African continent into its present fractious units: Reconciliation holds our oneness sacred. SNC does not: for the most vociferous of the conference advocates, nothing is sacred.
The problem, when all is said and done, is not with the Oputa panel. The problem is with the thinking and motivebehind the setting up of the commission. Both are defective. And this is why HRVIC will not live up to our expectations. Hope is far from lost though. The situation can be retrieved. But only you, Mr. President, can make the difference. You can do it. I trust you can do it. And if you want this country to survive in greater peace and harmony than you found it in your second coming, you must do it. Re-evaluate the Oputa panel. Redefine and refocus its objective and procedures, if after the exercise we want to emerge as a stronger nation. Build our nation.
You are destined to by God. Think about it: in particular Psalm 118:22, The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
Your Excellency, Mr. President, you were once rejected.
Then the Lord restored you to His grace. Now you are our chief cornerstone. You must do the Lord’s will. God bless. And long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.