By Paschal Nnodi
There is a big dilemma over what to do with the socalled report on electoral offences which was recently released by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Clearly, the so-called report is a sham, a poorly arranged play to the gallery, designed and executed by the current leadership at the NHRC with the simple aim to gain relevance and along the way ingratiate itself to the powers that be. The bravado exhibited by the Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Professor Bem Angwe in throwing up such a report that flies in the face of reason and facts speaks of desperation to show to those who supervise the Commission that his team is doing something.
The critical question now is; how incompetent can a Commission be if, indeed, what Angwe said the NHRC Election report said is indeed what it said? Ordinarily, effort should not be wasted by anyone in responding to such a job which the present leadership of the National Human Rights Commission presented to the public. However, we live in very interesting times; allowing the Professor Bem Angwe–led NHRC to get away with this so-called report on electoral offences will, no doubt, embolden it to try more serious mischief, hence this reaction.
Everything is wrong with the report the NHRC released, at least going by the public statement of its Executive Secretary. It is incompetent and shallow. As an attempt by Professor Angwe and his team to show that they are working, the report is a very strong case against the competence and sincerity of the team.
It is quite alarming that a Human Rights Commission, sustained with public funds wake up, cobble together a technical group and proceed to compile the names of prominent citizens who have meritoriously served the public in different spheres and times and declare them “indicted” for unknown charges.
Instructively, Bem Angwe and his technical group did not consider it appropriate or respectful of the fundamental human rights of the persons he marked out for indictment to invite them to answer any questions before declaring them guilty. Such is the level of competence and respect for human rights that obtains in the National Human Rights Commission. It is obvious that the National Human Rights Commission has been asleep. Thank God, it is now awake, hopefully. If the NHRC had not been asleep, it would not have taken it up to late 2016 to come up with a so-called report of electoral offences committed in the 2007 general elections, almost ten years ago.
Even at that, the NHRC technical group did not consider it appropriate to seek enlightenment from significant persons in the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission on details of the elections in reference before it curiously “indicted” not the election management body, but its then chairman (Professor Maurice Iwu) for electoral offences committed not by him as a person, but within the electoral process during his tenure.
What is the basis for the conclusions reached by the NHRC technical group on the persons it was reported to have “indicted”? According to media reports, the expert group established by NHRC said it went through 2731 certified judgment of the Court of Appeal cases covering 2007 and 2011 election cases. “What a joke! If the courts at any level and at any time found anyone guilty of any offences, is it now the duty of NHRC to enforce the judgment?
And, if ten years ago the courts did not find anyone guilty, what new powers now have been given to Bem Angwe’s NHRC to review the court judgments and enter its new opinion?
There must a limit to impunity in any society that aspires to progress in civilization. In terms of violence and loss of lives and property, the 2007 elections recorded very insignificant figures compared to the 2011 elections. In terms of election results challenged or upturned at tribunals, the 2007 elections posted far fewer numbers than the 2015 elections.
If Ben Angwe and his group are interested in doing thorough review work, they should go back and properly study their records and talk to significant persons on elections in Nigeria in recent years. Unfortunately, going by the pace and schedule of the NHRC reports on the 2015 elections, that can only be expected by around 2025.
Nigerian is presently under severe sectional and sectarian tension, leading to unnecessary and avoidable deaths and destruction of property. Issues of human rights abuse under various guises have continued to rear their heads across our society till date. In all these and over time, the National Human Rights Commission almost always keeps mum, missing in action. Nigerians are not fools. The NHRC cannot make over its abundant deficit with a report that is not grounded in facts or reason. Even if NHRC feels the best thing for it to do is to run away from the present and take a cover in events of ten or twenty years ago, it should at least endeavour to do a thorough job.
The so-called report on electoral offences speaks loudly of insincerity at the NHRC. The NHRC and its present leadership must be under a huge delusion of grandeur. The media reported the NHRC Executive Secretary as saying that his technical report has compiled and “indicted” well over one hundred prominent Nigerians, which interestingly is tagged End Electoral Impunity Project.
Bem Angwe and his group may need to learn that you cannot indict anybody you have not given opportunity to defend himself – that is where you have powers to officially indict in the first place.
Virtually all the persons reportedly “indicted” by the NHRC report were not called upon to clarify issues concerning them. How can a human rights commission be so disdainful of respect for people’s right to justice? The National Human Rights Commission should curb the inherent impunity in its tendencies which propels it to seek to indict people without first giving them the opportunity to defend themselves.
*Nnodi is a sociologist based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.