Justice Oputa was prophetic, By Lillian Okenwa

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It set out to probe the past, seek in every corner of the land, reconcile those who felt alienated, heal the wounds of the past and restore harmony in the country. The Human Rights Violations Investi­gation Commission (HRVIC) popularly called Oputa Panel, started with so much hype and verve.

For nearly one solid year – precisely from October 23, 2000 to October 18, 2001, television stations treated Nigerians to what some called a circus, a jambo­ree, Oputa home video, and many other names. But, then a lot of issues came to the fore while the panel’s assignment last­ed.

Not a few took the event seriously. Spellbound, and gripped by the riveting testimonies, many a Nigerian spent morn­ings and afternoons glued to their televi­sion sets and sleepless nights watching the replay of the proceedings. Every day from 9.00 am till evening, the main au­ditorium of Women Development Cen­tre, Abuja was packed with petitioners, journalists, and people from all walks of life. Memoranda upon memoranda were submitted. About 10,000 victims’ recol­lections were received. The same scenario was replicated in several other major cities in the country, including Lagos, Port Har­court, Kano and Enugu where the panel also sat. Twenty years after Oputa panel, the rift, and the yawning wound on var­ious nationalities in Nigeria appear to be worsening. The question is: how prepared is the country to repair the crack, and heal the gaping wound? How sincere is the now famous “Nigeria’s unity is sacrosanct” often touted by politicians?

From police and soldiers brutality to unconscionable impunity in governance and insecurity. the country survive the sustained battering on every side by sundry issues that are not only dividing but pitch­ing each ethnic nationality against the other? Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, who was secretary of that Commission, expressed grave concerns in his during Ni­geria’s 60th independence anniversary. He said: “The motto of our dear nation reads: Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress. To­day, where is Nigeria’s Unity? Today, who has Faith in Nigeria? Today, where is the Peace? Today, where is the Progress?

“The whole world stood with Nigeria sixty years ago expecting us to lead Afri­ca and beyond. TIME Magazine on De­cember 5th, 1960 made our Prime Minis­ter its Man of the Year. No black person had ever been conferred with this honour. Where are we today with that trust?”

As the public hearings of the famous Oputa Panel wound up on Thursday Oc­tober 18, 2001, Chairman of the panel, Hon. Justice ChukwudifuOputa, in his keynote address, made some pertinent statements. He warned for instance that the “simmering discontent” among the nationalities must not be allowed to fester.

According to him, “each ethnic group feels marginalized. From the memoranda and evidence from these groups, it became apparent that there exists a simmering dis­content which should not ever be allowed to boil over. The challenge then is to find an answer to this dreadful fiend called mar­ginalisation. And find an answer Nigeria must…”

It’s been 20 years since these statements were made and little has changed. If an­ything the situation seem to have deterio­rated. On 1st October 2020, when Nigeria marked its 60th independence anniversary, more questions arose about the country’s achievements in the past years, the basis for its unity and whether there have been reconciliations across the divide 50 years after the Nigerian civil war which accord­ing to the United Nations, claimed two million lives, mainly women and children.

The heightened discontent among dif­ferent groups in the country today con­firms Justice Oputa’s 20 years predic­tion. Presently, the country is bedevilled with fallouts from the recent nation-wide #ENDSARS protests. As it stands Nige­ria’s fragile unity is faltering badly. Govern­ment must rise to the occasion and restore the faith of Nigerians in Nigeria.

Source: lawandsocietymagazine.com