Selling truth down the river

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 22 Jun 2008

TO sell somebody down the river is an idiom. It means to betray somebody, especially to one’s own advantage. I find this expression very apt, especially against the background of some happenings in the country today. First, former Heads of State (Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar) openly exonerated their late colleague, Sani Abacha, from the allegations that he looted public treasury. Four days later, precisely on June 12, the erstwhile Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, came out with his own truth. At the launch of his book: Laying the Foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election and its Annulment, Nwosu absolved Babangida of any blame in the annulment of that election. He blamed the annulment on senior military colleagues of Babangida.

My concern here is not about the canonisation of Abacha. Nor is it about Nwosu’s fallacious argument. Many analysts and opinion leaders have adequately tackled those issues. I’m troubled more by the events at the public hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the Rivers State Government to engender peace in that state. From the look of things, the commission may have a harder task in reconciling lies and half-truths than in bringing peace.

Between Tuesday and Thursday last week, some prominent citizens of the state gave their testimonies in Abuja. They are the former governor of the state, Dr. Peter Odili; the former Transport Minister, Dr. Abiye Sekibo; and former Governor Celestine Omehia.

In his testimony, Odili, in the name of God, denied all the allegations against him. Prodded on by aso-ebi wearing women and a band of clappers, the former governor noted, “At no time between 1999 and 2007 did Governor (Rotimi) Amaechi advise me against the use of cult groups for election because there was no need for such advice.” Recall that Amaechi, in his opening speech at the inauguration of the commission, said he spoke against using cult groups for elections during Odili’s tenure. As it is, between Odili and Amaechi, one person must be a liar. Hence, truth has not been established in this instance.

Odili said youth restiveness was common in the Niger Delta due to a feeling of frustration among jobless young people. He suggested creating jobs in the oil industry and its subsidiaries to tackle this problem. He spoke of the need for true leaders and elders of Rivers State to unite and plan for the future of the state. Unfortunately, he laid another foundation for mistrust and acrimony when he said he did not believe that the intention of those who set up the commission was to find genuine peace and reconciliation.

If Odili was a little suspicious of the real intentions behind the conception of the commission, Sekibo had no doubts at all. He said he had strong reservations about the nobility of the intent behind the setting up of the commission and its transparency and fairness.

Sekibo further told the commission, “You have been called a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but any fair minded observer who has listened to, and seen all that has been shown on television will wonder if the truth indeed is being told and if so, if it is possible to achieve reconciliation bearing in mind the utterances of the unelected Governor Amaechi and several others who have appeared before this panel.” He alleged that Amaechi had told him that he would destroy him, wondering if the commission was not one of the contraptions the governor intended to use to destroy him.

These are weighty words spoken out of extreme bitterness. And like Sekibo and Odili, Omehia made his own allegations, denied the ones levelled against him and added some drops of tears in the process.

What this indicates is that the reconciliatory part of the public hearing is heading for the rocks. In the first place, real truth has remained elusive. And in the absence of truth, reconciliation cannot take place. Many individuals and groups fingered Odili and Sekibo as the architect of the crises in the state. Yet, these former leaders of the state have denied all the allegations. Obviously, truth is on trial here.

The public hearing in Abuja also transmitted some troubling signals. One, why couldn’t Odili and Co. come to Port Harcourt to testify? What are they really scared of? What purpose did those who came to Abuja to clap intend to achieve? Is the public hearing a circus show or a moment for sober reflection? Though we do not know what the commission will recommend, the conduct and utterances of testifiers have unwittingly provided grounds for condemning its report.

Without internal peace in Rivers and the entire Niger Delta, there will not be peace in Nigeria. Just as the commission wound up its sitting in Abuja on Thursday, militants attacked the Bonga oilfield, which produces about 200,000 barrels of crude or 10 per cent of Nigeria’s current daily output of about 2m barrels. This forced Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria to shut down production at the oilfield. Similar attacks on oil facilities have reduced about a quarter of the nation’s total oil production.

Some leaders of the Niger Delta had recommended provision of jobs as a way of rehabilitating gang leaders and dousing tension and restiveness in the region. Providing employment is only a step. It will not significantly change the situation. Or what type of job will satisfy somebody who, apparently, is making millions from kidnapping and some other illegal activities?

For a start, the Federal Government should increase the revenue allocation to Niger Delta states to at least 25 per cent. It is only after this that it could have the moral basis to attack criminality in that region.

I had commended Amaechi for setting up the TRC (SUNDAY PUNCH, 8 June 2008.) I had also advised him to be ready to pardon remorseful gang leaders since he modelled the commission after South Africa’s TRC. Similarly, I wish to plead with Odili, Sekibo, Omehia and all the characters in the Rivers crises to sheathe their swords and embrace genuine peace and reconciliation.


1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Uchman Says:

    Take me out of confusion

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