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  The report of the Oputa Panel was never officially published by the Federal Government. However, the report became publicly accessible in some media as far back as 2005 when a Washington-based NGO, Nigerian Democratic Movement(NDM) & Nigeria-based Civil Society Forum(CSF), unofficially published a copy of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission online – two and half years after it was submitted to President Obasanjo in May 2002.
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Prior to the start of the Oputa Panel sittings, President Olusegun Obasanjo had authorized the surrender of the bodies of Ogoni 9 activists – Kenule Saro Wiwa and 8 others – earlier buried in secret graves to be released to their families for proper burial. The commission received about 10,000 testimonies of human rights violations and conducted public hearings across Nigeria. Out of this number, about 150 cases were heard. One of the contentious matters in the early days of the Oputa Panel became the selection process used for the 150 cases dealt with by the Investigative Commission. Other issues that the panel had to deal with consisted of financial limitations which caused it not to be able to conduct an investigation into cases outside of questioning the witnesses, as well as rarely using its powers of subpoena to summon individuals to the hearings. And when the subpoenas were deployed, they were rarely honoured by the powerful caucus. For former Heads of State, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar; who were the major persons who challenged the legality of the Oputa Panel in court, it is recorded that they neither responded to subpoenas from the Oputa Panel nor did they give testimonies at the commission. Approximately 35 cases of abuse were referred to a special police investigatory unit under the Inspector General. What eventually became of those cases never became public knowledge. One of the challenges which the Oputa Panel report faced was when former military leaders, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, dragged the commission to court challenging its legality. These personalities who went to court did so evidently because they were also part of the heroes/villains in Nigeria’s history within the period so covered by the investigative commission.
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However, none of the court injunctions issued against the panel was about stopping the publication of the Oputa Panel report, yet the government refused to publish it. The uncertainty that followed the non-release of the Oputa Panel report also caused it to have credibility issues as most of the recommendations were never implemented directly by the government. Nonetheless, part of the conclusion of the panel was that the Nigerian military was responsible for gross human rights violations. Powerful and rich civilians were also fingered as collaborators and highlighted for complicity in the numerous coups and atrocities which preceded the 4th Republic. Some State Counsels in the Justice Ministries also reportedly violated fundamental rights and due process in attempts as they protected evil perpetrators. In the end, recommendations such as combating corruption, compensation for victims of human rights abuses, drastic reduction & reform of the armed forces, a review of security forces’ internal disciplinary procedures, reforming police & academic institutions, involvement of civil society to review the country’s constitutional structure, improved human rights education, the creation of more states and local governments, closely monitoring of the socio-political & environmental conditions in the Niger Delta by the government; were suggested in the Oputa Panel report. Known personalities in General Sani Abacha’s junta such as Major Al-Mustapha and General Ishaya Bamaiyi were among the prominent individuals interviewed at the Oputa hearing were later tried by courts and sentenced to jail for their involvement in the targeted killings of some prominent Nigerians. Although nothing serious came out of the Oputa Panel truth commission, yet the entire process and its recommendations formed a foundation for uniting and restituting a nation divided by the polarising figures who altered the fate of the nation for the worse. Featured Image Source: Channels Television
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This article was first published on 5th August 2021 and updated on August 16th, 2021 at 8:00 am


Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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