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Revisiting power abuse in Nigeria - The Sun

By The Citizen
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The recent call by former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), that all cases of abuse of power under the past military and civilian regimes in the country be reopened and investigated to do justice to the aggrieved, is meritorious, even though belated. The former Nigerian leader proffered this view in Lagos during the launch of the book, The Tragedy of Victory, written by Brig.- Godwin Alabi-Isama (rtd), one of the principal actors in the Third Marine Commando of the Nigerian Army Division that received the instrument of surrender from the Biafran Armed Forces at the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970. Gowon rightly observed that far from being an army problem, abuse of power is a national malaise that makes people in authority to use the weight of their office to hurt perceived personal enemies.

It is commendable that Gowon, who led the Nigerian side during the war with the breakaway Eastern Region, is the one calling for a revisit of instances of power abuse, which were particularly prevalent during that war and the subsequent military regimes, although our civilian governments have not been totally immune from the menace.

It is always good to investigate and address the grievances of victims of power abuse, including those that occurred in wartime. However, with regard to the Nigerian Civil War which theatre closed 43 years ago, it may be difficult to determine the exact locations, victims, perpetrators of many of the crimes and the weapons used, as will be required to secure their conviction in the courts. This is more so as many of the culprits and their victims have passed on. The effort to probe wartime power abuse may turn out a needless whipping up of old antagonisms and emotions that may do nobody any good.

But then, since Gowon did not limit his advice on a probe of power abuse in the country to any particular incident or period in the nation's history, the government should take up the gauntlet and investigate all verifiable instances of power abuse. It is indisputable that many human rights abuses were and are still being perpetrated in the country. It is important to bring perpetrators of these abuses to justice to serve as a warning to others. This will also give justice to their victims.

Gen. Gowon deserves commendation for his forthrightness on the problem of abuse of power and office in Nigeria, many decades after leaving the seat of power. This is more so as he is most likely to be one of those to be charged for some of these infractions. His avowed interest in ensuring justice for victims of power abuse in the country marks him out as an iconic statesman.

Let the government take up this challenge and revisit all cases of power abuse in the country. Besides the pogroms against Eastern Nigerians in the Northern part of the country, the atrocities during the Nigerian Civil War and the Asaba masssacre, we have had the Odi and Zaki Biam massacres as well. In addition, most high profile murders in the country have not been resolved while those behind such murders are yet to be unmasked and brought to justice. The killers of political actors such as Chief Bola Ige, Kudirat Abiola and Marshall Harry, and the notable journalist, Mr. Dele Giwa, are yet to be determined and brought to justice.

Revisiting these suspected instances of power abuse in the country, as Gowon has suggested, is the best way to ensure that past wrongs are corrected and old wounds healed. The country is the way it is today simply because we tend to cover past official misdeeds as if nothing untoward happened.

Government's effort to right past wrongs was demonstrated in the setting up of the Oputa Panel by the regime of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the panel are yet to see the light of the day. This could well be responsible for the general insecurity in the country, since the failure to punish past offenders encourages others to toe the same line.

Let President Goodluck Jonathan summon courage and set up a panel that will revisit past power abuses in the country with a view to correcting them as well as serving as deterrent to others. It is necessary that we revisit our past to produce a brighter future. Living in self-denial is dangerous. For us to build the virile and egalitarian nation of our dreams, Nigeria must be based on truth and justice, and the present crop of leaders must avoid human rights abuses and general abuse of their office. No nation worth its name thrives in injustice and abuse of office. This is the time to revisit all past wrongs so that we can move onĀ  without malice.