Society of African Journal Editors

Journal of Language, Technology & Entrepreneurship in Africa

The Challenges of Transitional Justice in Nigeria: Echoes from the Oputa Panel, 1999

Authors: Emmanuel Zwanbin

Journal: Journal of Language, Technology & Entrepreneurship in Africa

Abstract Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, set the stage for an appraisal of the many decades of obnoxious military rule and its consequent abuses. The widespread demand for accountability occasioned by the resurgence of civil society activism in Nigeria facilitated the formation of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission. The atmosphere led to an epoch making announcement in June 14, 1999, to constitute the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission -- popularly known as the Oputa Panel. President Olusegun Obasanjo charged the Panel to review past authoritarian regimes and the human rights abuses for the purpose of enhancing reconciliation, national cohesion and entrenching the nascent democracy. The scope of investigation spanned from 1966 to 1999. The Commission received more than 10,000 petitions representing several cases of physical and mental torture, assassination, unlawful arrest and detention, intimidation, communal violence, and disappearances were received by the Panel. Of the total received petitions, only about 340 cases were heard. Faced with many hurdles, the commission almost halted its work. However, at the end, the Panel submitted a report of eight volumes, amounting to 15,000 pages. Findings indicated that there was gross violation of human rights perpetuated by the military ruling class. The Panel was jeopardised by the refusal of key suspects (Senior Military officers) to appear before its hearing, this was further compounded by many court injunctions to restrain the Panel. Nonetheless, the victims’ petitions were heard, to that effect, neither retributive nor restorative justice was offered to them. As tradition permits, the report will usually be published and implemented immediately. Nigerians waited patiently without recourse. Six months later, the Government of Obasanjo surprisingly annulled the report citing constitutional reasons. This research seeks to underscore the numerous challenges of truth commission as a tool for transitional justice in Nigeria with specific reflections on the Oputa panel. The research deployed qualitative method to articulate issues and intrigues that encompassed the operations and findings of the Oputa Panel. It draws attention to the underlying dangers that the unresolved violations and injustices potent for national cohesion and stability in Nigeria.   Key Words: Military, Transitional Justice, Nigeria, Human Rights, Democracy