Commissions of inquiry as diversionary tactics

Too many people delude themselves into thinking that the government means what they say and should be taken seriously when they explain what they are doing. I must say that most Nigerians are not duped as is the case in other countries and know governments lie all the time and say what they do not mean.

One of the most direct ways of knowing government is usually a liar is to look at how they use the venerable institution of commissions of inquiry. When a serious problem occurs, a commission of inquiry is established to find out exactly what happened? Why did it happen and who is to blame? What policies and preventive measures can be taken to ensure it does not happen again.

Last week for example, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson established a commission of inquiry to investigate whether there is any evidence of racism and structural discrimination against Blacks in the United Kingdom. He was responding to massive street protests of the Black Lives Matter demanding immediate action from the government.

The British Government does not need a new inquiry because dozens of previous inquiries have done the work and given cumulatively 375 recommendations. Earlier this year, the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, 2020 gave 30 recommendations.

After pledging to tackle society’s “burning injustices” on her first day outside No 10 as prime minister in 2016, Theresa May ordered the Race Disparity Audit to look at racial discrimination across society, which provided extensive recommendations in 2017. Just before that, the Lammy Review was commissioned by David Cameron when he was prime minister in January 2016 to investigate racial bias in the criminal justice system. Again, so many excellent recommendations.

The United Kingdom has always known what needs to be done to address the problems, when strident demands are made for action, they establish yet another inquiry to delay action. Nigeria has learnt from this British tradition of delay tactics through instituting a commission of inquiry. I know because I have served on three commissions.

The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufa’I, has just decided to address the perennial crises that keep erupting in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Southern Kaduna. In February and May 1992, major riots broke out in Zangon Kataf. In keeping with the practice of governmental deception, a Commission of Inquiry was established under the leadership of Justice Rahila Cudjoe and they worked hard and produced their report. The then governor received their report, thanked them and that was the end of the story.

The problems that led to the establishment of the Commission however never went away and as things were getting out of hand, the Kaduna State Government established the Zangon-Kataf Reconciliation Committee, chaired by Air Vice Marshall Usman Muazu in 1995 to address the problems that could have been addressed in 1992. Over the past three weeks, these same issues around ethno-religious conflicts and violence in Zangon Kataf have raised their head again.

This week the state government decided to appoint a whitepaper committee to propose what recommendations from the 1992 report be implemented. I am impressed that the government has decided not to take a diversionary approach by wasting time through establishing yet another commission. It is a delicate problem and it is difficult to get all parties to accept whatever decisions emerge but while waiting for the report, I do like the approach of trying out solutions that have emerged from serious study and consideration and I wish them the best of luck.

I am very keen on this matter as I have had the privilege of serving in three commissions of inquiry all of which made great recommendations that were never implemented. The first was the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee established in August 2007 by President Yar’Adua to carry out a comprehensive review of the history of electoral malfeasance in Nigeria and propose a clear pathway to free, fair and credible elections. We completed our work in December 2008 and presented the report to the President. We not only made recommendations but also drafted bills for the establishment of the new bodies we proposed for establishment so that INEC could concentrate on its core function of organising elections. The Electoral Offences Commission for example would introduce the implementation of effective sanctions against all those engaged in electoral fraud and violence, which INEC has neither the energy nor time to engage in. We also drafted the Bill for the Establishment of the Political Parties Regulatory Commission, so that INEC is no longer dragged down by the wahala of organising parties. President Yar’Adua of blessed memory was excited at our recommendations and even invited us to attend the presentation of the Whitepaper Committee to the Federal Executive Council. After the presentation, the then Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa was furious at our recommendations, which he thought were terrible for the ruling party. He was right, we wanted to stop the tradition of rigging. After the meeting, we never heard word about implementation again until President Buhari raised the matter from the dead with the Ken Nnamani Electoral Reform Committee appointed in 2017 to do the same work we had completed in 2008.

My second engagement was with the Judicial Commission of inquiry into the clashes between the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (imn) and the Nigeria Army (na) in Zaria, Kaduna State between Saturday 12th and Monday 14th December, 2015. We were asked to determine the immediate causes of the clashes; the historical circumstances, surrounding and contributory factors and remote causes of the clashes; the number of persons killed, wounded or missing during the clashes; to determine the evolution of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, its legal status, organisation, structure, membership, growth, assets, resources, culture and practices, and how any or all of these contributed to any engagement with the community, constituted authorities and the security agencies and to make recommendations as to actions to be taken to ensure that administrative or criminal responsibility is further determined by the appropriate administrative or judicial authorities for any identified acts or omissions. We were thorough in our analysis and findings but the problem was we were appointed by the Kaduna State Government but many of our findings were about the Nigerian Army, a federal organ and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, which operates in all states in the country. Although the Kaduna State Government implemented what it could, a lot of our work was not within its purview and no actions have been taken although the Kaduna State Governor did tell us he had shared our work with the federal authorities. By law, the federal government can no longer set up a Commission of Inquiry for something that occurs in a state even if key actors are federal organs – the military and the police in particular.

The third inquiry I participated in was a presidential one inaugurated by the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in August 2017 to review compliance of the Armed Forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement especially in local conflicts and insurgency situations. The terms of reference included the review of extant rules of engagement applicable to the Armed Forces of Nigeria and the extent of compliance thereto and to investigate alleged acts of violation of international humanitarian and human right law under the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions Act, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act and other relevant laws by the Armed Forces in local conflicts and insurgencies. We made strong recommendations on how to prevent violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the country. Even more important, we identified violators that should be investigated and prosecuted and as is usually the case, that was the end of the story. It turned out there had been strong pressure from the international community about allegations of human rights violations by the military made by Amnesty International and the panel was set up to deflect the pressure.

These commissions established by governments are usually very high-powered, they do great work, and make excellent recommendations that are simply set aside. As the Nigerian state crisis deepens, the country would gain if we go back to these findings and start implementing them. In the past fifteen years for example, three excellent commissions have investigated the functional collapse of the Nigerian Police Force – M. D. Yusuf, Danmadami and Osayande for the Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan Administrations. Each regime must have its own. Their recommendations are excellent, there was no need to have three different panels all saying the same thing, their recommendations were never implemented and the police remain dysfunctional. Nigerian governments, please stop the deceit.

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