Truth Commissions only offer psychological benefits, says Kukah
By Anote Ajeluorou and Michael Orie
For those still wondering what the Justice Oputa Panel or Truth Commission accomplished after all the expose that came with it regarding several wrongs done to many Nigerians during the military era, they need not go farther to seek answers. Indeed, a principal actor in that panel has unequivocally stated that no such commission has ever succeeded anywhere else in the world, but that the panel was an important narrative that society needed to move on
It was a small gathering at the Sheraton Hotels and Tower, Ikeja, Lagos last Friday. The heavy downpour all morning had turned Lagos into another nightmare and residents were held up in their homes. But the enormity of the exercise, the presentation and discourse on a book on the Oputa Panel by that fine intellectual priest, Fr. Mathew Hassan Kukah, was an opportunity not to be missed. And so, it turned out another moment to be part of a hugely stimulating discourse on the State of the Nigerian Nation and its many missed opportunities.
Kukah, only recently elevated to the Bishophood and would be presiding over the Sokoto Archdiocese, has written a compendium on the Oputa Panel titled Witness to Justice.
It wasn’t the usual lavish book launch type; but more like a media launch or presentation. A few dignitaries were present. A former presidential candidate, Prof. Pat Utomi, poet and essayist Mr. Odia Ofeimun, poet and journalist Mr. Sam Omatseye, analylist Silverster Odhion Akaine, Austyn Njoku, Maxim Uzoator, the publisher, Mr. … of Bookcraft and a few others.
Just like its counterpart commission in South Africa, Kukah said he had had the illusion that that country’s commission that seemingly provided a model for the Oputa Panel unearthed the truth about the sordid events of the Apartheid era. But on a closer examination and interaction with some of the participants, he came to discover otherwise. What he found out was that the revelations from that commission were a mere approximation of the truth.
And so between your ‘truth’ and the other person’s ‘truth’, there was always the real ‘truth’ somewhere lying in-between, he argued. So, why is there a need for a commission to unearth the truth anyway? He also posited that it was the duty of society to learn the truth as told by those who were victims of atrocities one way of the other.
So, he declared, “No truth commission had succeeded anywhere; they are not meant to make you happy. In fact, the word Truth Commission is a misnorma but the fact that they happen at all is all what matters. A lot of people who setup commission never believe they will live long enough for people to comforted their shared arrogance. The initiative of this nature tells one bit of the story and leave the rest. The children of M.K.O. Abiola, Ken Saro Wiwa are not only the biological children. The story of Abiola’s death is a drama that has not yet been told; it is full of so many abnormalities. These are the kind of story we would have pursued and continued to pursue but we didn’t like Abacha so we don’t want to cross his path. Even if it is just to stir up our imagination, let us keep talking about these issues to keep our children and the country well informed.
”. For instance, both in South Africa and Nigeria, those who had suffered various degrees of wrong did not insist on being rewarded or compensated in any way after testifying for the wrongs done them. For Kukah, this was a source of wonder? So, why had they come to testify?
He came to the inevitable conclusion that those who testified merely wanted an outlet for their grief and pain, for the whole world to learn what they went through. Just like he was to find out for himself, they also derived psychological benefits from stating their case. It provided him and the others a moment of catharsis, a sort of cleansing or exorcism of the soul from the abominable wrongs of the past.
In view of the fact that nothing seemed to have come out of the Oputa Panel, Kukah was quick to point out that he still didn’t feel frustrated at the panel for what might appear its failure, but that as a nation, it was important for the many narratives to be out there for all to see and learn from. His fear was that the guerilla journalism that had been a handmaiden of the struggle against oppression during the military has seemingly regressed into corporate journalism that was fast glossing over the real issues.
Kukah stated that the nation’s journalism would seem to have fared badly during democracy as the transition from military to democracy would seem to have caught journalism practice on the wrong foot. He stated, “These are very challenging times for the media.” He, however, did not mince words in branding Nigeria a failed state for not having “the capacity to deliver what it promises” to its citizenry.
But the priest will not give up hope on the country in spite of the many failure indices that mark her out as a failed state. Nevertheless, he does not believe that the nation’s salvation will come from the many politicians that have become the vultures feeding on the nation’s carrion. The military, he said, didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with Nigeria’s problems just as it was beginning to be clear that the politicians have no clue either.
In other words, that leaves a significant segment of the polity that has been suffering quietly all these years: The Intellectuals. Kukah stressed, “I’m convinced that unless we bring back the dignity of the intellectual into public space, we will not achieve much. We cannot continue this way. We have to elevate governance beyond what it is at the moment”.
Kukah lamented that areas that seemed to be gulping the most public money were the least productive in the country: Security, Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Roads amongst others.
One other area the author lamented about was the role of traditional rulers in the current political dispensation. He said, “It is a symptom to what is wrong with our democracy and I see that the political elite are beginning to suck from this system. It is largely a carryover of the crisis of legitimacy and to the extent that traditional rulers are always a buffer zone. Politicians are s till speaking in the way and manner of the military. I have not seen a bigger role the traditional rulers have to play in our democracy. There is no clear role in our democracy. With Oputa Panel you could never tell how the story would end“.
I hope that this is the beginning of a much longer conversation!