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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Revolution looms, panel on polls violence warns

From Madu Onuorah, Abuja

  • Raises alarm over politicians' private armies
  • Asks govt to tackle unemployment, power
  • Seeks referendum in impeachment processes
  • Jonathan vows to enforce report, says heaven won't fall

THE Federal Government Investigation Panel on the 2011 Election Violence yesterday submitted its report to President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, with a warning that if the current social, economic and security situation in Nigeria is unaddressed, it could "escalate to social revolution."


Sheikh-Lemu

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Chairman of the panel, Sheikh Ahmed Lemu said for Jonathan to do all that is required to take Nigeria away from the spiralling violence, he would step on the toes of some powerful persons and institutions.

The committee stated that "to allay fears of the recent undemocratic process of impeachment by selfish politicians that might emerge while the President is taking steps for positive changes in the society, we also recommend that the constitution be amended in such a way that impeachable offences should be subjected to judicial interpretation and the final verdict determined through a referendum by the same electorate who voted for the President of their choice."

He added that Nigerians of high integrity and moral probity in every state should be identified for assignment of major responsibilities towards achieving positive change in the country.

Jonathan, who thanked members of the committee for accepting to serve even at the risk to their lives, said "until government has the political will and encouraged to do what is right no matter how painful it will be, the culture of impunity will continue."

The President pledged to implement the panel's recommendations, as "heaven will not fall" in the process of doing it.

Lemu said: "The first and probably the most important major cause (of the post-election crises) is the failure on the part of the previous successive regimes since the military to hand over power to civilians in 1999 to implement the recommendations of various committees, commissions and panels that had taken place in our nation. That failure facilitated the wide spread sense of impunity in the culprits and perpetrators of crimes and violence in the Nigerian society. We recommend that you order security agencies to fish out culprits of violence for prosecution."

He listed past reports that were not implemented to include:

*The Babalakin Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Bauchi State Civil Disturbances;

*Karibi Whyte Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Kafanchan Disturbances;

*Niki Tobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Plateau State Disturbances;

*Justice Sankey Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Wase and Langtang Disturbances;

*Justice Disu Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Plateau State Disturbances;

*Prof. Tamuno Panel of Inquiry on National Security, and the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee.

Lemu stated that "people indicted by the committees and commissions concerned should be prosecuted. These recommendations are based on what the panel observed from many victims of those previous disturbances who are nursing reprisals and have only been waiting for the slightest excuse to move into action, which some of them did during the 2011 election violence and civil disturbances.

The second major cause of the recent electoral violence was the existing widespread desire for change as a result of frustration and disappointment of many members of the general public regarding the inability of the successive regimes to solve the problems of electricity failure nationwide, deplorable state of federal roads, bribery and corruption which have virtually been legitimised in the country, he said.

"With regard to the remedy of bribery and corruption, we recommend that the heads of the three arms of government as well as other major stakeholders in Nigeria should come together and agree on the most effective way forward to avoid the impending catastrophe.

"Similarly, general insecurity of life and property in people's houses and on the highways and kidnappings are fuel to the fire of public frustration and disappointment. The true state of affairs could escalate to social revolution if preventive measures are not taken in time. In fact, the current sporadic demonstrations in educational institutions and by labour unions are all considered to be signals of more serious negative events to come. This assertion could be verified for the President by the security agencies.

"The next major cause of violence and disturbances is the manner in which political office holders have lucratised their respective positions at the expense of the whole nation. The panel discovered that the remunerations and allowances of the members of the Legislature, in particular, are considered by stakeholders who addressed us or wrote to us about the issue to be outrageous. It has turned politics in Nigeria to a do-or-die affair for which many politicians of all parties are seriously establishing private armies to execute. In that respect, easy access to drugs, serious general poverty at the grassroots level and youth unemployment, in particular, are providing many foot soldiers ready for recruitment at a cheap rate. The security agencies could verify this assertion also.

"Generally speaking, the basic cause of the violence in nearly all the communities concerned is political. Ethno-religious sentiments were brought into the issue through negative campaigns and rumour mongering by unscrupulous individuals to achieve their ulterior motives. Similarly, the zoning controversy, which started basically as an internal political affairs of the ruling party, ultimately changed the nature of the presidential election into ethno-religious contest in the country particularly in the northern states.

"Provocative utterances by many individuals and the widespread charge by prominent politicians including the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) presidential candidates to the electorate 'to guard their votes' appeared to have been misconstrued by many voters to include recourse to violence which they did. However, a long interactive session was held with the CPC presidential candidate and five-member delegation of the panel, led by the chairman, in the office of the CPC presidential candidate in Kaduna on 14th September, 2011. It was discovered that he himself was a victim of the violence and of the destruction of his property the photographs of which were given to the said delegation."

The committee noted that "for all the causes identified by the panel, the declining spirit of God-consciousness and of accountability before God, very low moral standard as well as social indiscipline in the Nigerian society are all considered to be the major facilitating factors. Although in the opening clause of the 1999 Constitution, we resolved firmly and solemnly 'to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God.'  We failed to make any effective and all embracing provision for the same nation to be God-fearing or conscious of accountability before God. And so, the panel recommended that basic education curriculum in Nigeria should henceforth contain - as a compulsory learning material for all the students - the moral values of God- fearing and of accountability before God, which are derived from the Islamic and Christian teachings as well as civic and cultural orientation in line with section 23 of the Nigeria Constitution."

On the source of weapons used in the crises, he said the panel identified those used in the North as "largely knives, axes, cutlasses, clubs and similar objects. However, in Akwa Ibom State, there was a tide of illegal flow of sophisticated weapons into the state, which were used in the violence. Thus we recommend strict enforcement of all the laws and regulations concerning the use and trafficking of illegal arms while negligence on the part of the security agencies should be severely sanctioned to act as a deterrent."

The committee also recommended the review of the roles of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) towards the enlightenment of Nigerians.

Jonathan told members of the panel that "I agree with you that ignorance must have some of the basis of these crises because looking at the results of the election, the states that I lost in the election, Kano and Bauchi, where I had the least - 16, 17 per cent, were the ones that hard hit. And that is why even in your recommendation, you did not prescribe punishment. I am also more interested in the preventive aspect of the recommendations than the punishment aspect. Yes, people who commit offences must face the laws of the land but how do we prevent subsequent occurrence? This is the key thing that is dear to me. My interest is that in the 2015 elections and beyond, what must we do to make sure that what we experienced don't happen again?

"I am quite pleased you concentrated on that area. You raised the issues bordering on power sector because without electricity you cannot empower people economically. The economic situation, the roads, corruption and other issues, all these lead to one thing - that if the economy improves and if people can go to school, surely some of these ugly incidents will be minimised. And I agree with you. Of course, you mentioned something bordering on compensation. We will look at it. I assure you that on our part, we will follow your recommendations. You did mention that one of the problems is that when recommendations are made to government, it hardly implements them. They will make speeches and pronouncements, then the media will carry the report and then lock them up. But we have decided that even in the Jos crisis, in fact, just this morning (yesterday) I told to the Secretary to Government of the Federation that we have set up a committee to look at all the recommendations and we must issue white papers. Heavens will not fall. Until government has the political will and encouraged to do what is right no matter how painful it will be, the culture of impunity will continue. And we want to reduce that culture of impunity so that we will look at your recommendation. And the Federal Executive Council (FEC) will look at it and come out with a white paper."

The committee, inaugurated on May 11, 2011 was charged to among others investigate the immediate and remote cause(s) of the tide of unrest in some states of the federation following the presidential election as well as the pre-election violence in Akwa Ibom State and make appropriate recommendations on how to prevent future occurrence;

*Ascertain the number of persons who lost their lives or sustained injuries during the violence;

*Identify the spread and extent of loss and damage to means of livelihood and assess the cost of damage to personal and public properties and places of worship and make appropriate recommendations.

Justice Samson Uwaifo served as Vice Chairman while Mr. F. F. Ogunshakin was the secretary.

Other members include former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mrs. Lateefat Okunnu, immediate past Chairman of Punch Newspapers Chief Ajibola Ogunshola, Rev. Father Idowu Feron, Alhaji Muhammadu Danmadami, M. B. Wali, Mrs. Timiebi A. Koripamo-Agary, Comrade Peter Esele, and Alhaji Muhammed Ibrahim.

The rest are Prof. Femi Odekunle, Ambassador Ralph Uwuche, Alhaji Bukar Usman, Sheikh Adam Idoko, Maj-Gen. Mohammed Said, Mr. P.C. Okorie, Mr. Shamsuna Ahmed, Maj-Gen. L. P. Ngubane, Alhaji Sani Maikudi, Rear Admiral I. Hotonu, and a serving member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).