In the morning of Monday May 28, 2018, a group of Civil Society Organisations and many non-state actors in Nigeria gathered at the Millenium Park – a freedom square of sorts – in Abuja the African country’s capital, to commemorate a National Day of Mourning in honour of the tens of thousands of Nigerians killed in various violent conflicts in the country. Similar commemorative activities were held in several cities across the country.
The leadership of the organisers – the Joint Nigeria Crises Action Committee, JN-CAC stated that the commemorative activities which included solidarity walks by citizens wearing black clothing, was aimed at inducing remembrance, solidarity and awakening the people to the challenges confronting the nation by the seeming normalization of continual violent killings.
This citizens’ led action, symbolic as it might seem, draws attention to the ongoing efforts to develop a transitional justice policy for the country.
This writer has been involved in efforts by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the Special Adviser to the President on Justice Sector Reform Barrister Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu to establish a holistic approach to issues of Transitional Justice. These Federal Government driven efforts have resulted in a 2nd draft of a National policy on transitional justice which policy needs to be circulated to the general public for comments.
Several Civil Society organisations have been working along similar lines. Other activities in this regards has been led by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
Nigeria has since independence gone through periods of conflict, turmoil and political instability including the three years civil war in 1967-1970.
More recently, decades of unconstitutional military rule, resource control and environmental remediation fuelled militancy in the Niger Delta; Secessionist agitations in the South East; Boko Haram terrorist activities in the North East, persistent cattle rustling attacks in the North West and Herdsmen attacks in most parts of the country have negatively impacted on local communities, caused mass human rights violations and left many of the victims destitute.
The Government of Nigeria has taken steps to address the immediate and remote causes of the violence mostly through a criminal justice approach, deploying security personnel to quell violent situations by coercive measures. Other mechanisms adopted by government include establishment of commissions of inquiry, utilization of traditional justice approach involving negotiations through traditional and religious leaders and Amnesty deals.
Despite these varied attempts aimed at achieving lasting peace, reconciliation and sustainable development, there has not been a clearly articulated and comprehensive government policy to deal with post conflict situations.
Nigeria launched a National Policy on Justice (NPJ) in 2017. Though this document is very comprehensive it dealt with several issues in the administration of justice it made very little provision for restorative justice. In themes ‘2’ and ‘4’ dealing with ‘Protection and Promotion of Human Rights’ and ‘Correctional and Restorative Justice’ respectively the National Policy on Justice acknowledged the need for transitional justice in post conflict environments.
The recognition of restorative justice and the acknowledgement of accountability and reconciliation as an essential component of peace building and conflict prevention efforts in Nigeria give rise to the need to develop a comprehensive policy on transitional justice and a plan of action to give direction to the implementation of these efforts.
Mrs Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu – Special Adviser to the President on Justice Sector reform, stated that such a policy should address, in a more active, detailed and focused approach, matters of legal, non-judicial, traditional and institutional framework for retributive and restorative justice motivated solely by the need to address our violent past by accounting for various human rights abuses and violations, and finding lasting solutions to the conflicts.
At a forum in Abuja on national conversation around restorative justice, held after the events commemorating the day of national mourning, many speakers agreed with the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Abuja Branch Mr. Ezenwa Anumnu who advised that though the policy on transitional justice should take cognisance of global best it should be anchored on the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) so as to reflect Nigeria’s obligation to provide security and welfare for her people.
There is a general agreement amongst the human rights and criminal justice community that the government and people of Nigeria should work out a concrete plan for addressing the past as it regards peace and conflict resolution, through the implementation of a process within which various sectors of the Nigerian society would come to terms with past human rights abuses, criminal activities and destruction of communities committed during periods of terrorist attacks and other violent break-down of law and order.
Reviewing the past with a view to redressing the legacies of violent uprising, terrorist activities and attendant gross human rights violations are necessary for serving the ends of justice and establishing a peaceful and stable future for Nigeria.
A transitional justice policy provides strategic guidance on dealing with justice and accountability, serving the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations with the underlying aim of achieving justice, national reconciliation and sustainable peace. It provides a prescription for strengthening stability and diminishing opportunities for impunity, through the application of a combination of justice mechanisms including formal criminal prosecutions, traditional justice, truth telling and reconciliation, reparation and amnesty.
There is need for such a policy to firmly establish a united National resolve and commitment to justice, peace and reconciliation. This will also provide guidance for the planning and implementation of development programmes on transitional justice; articulate and assign responsibilities to relevant stakeholders as well as set thematic and priority areas for action at national, regional, state and local government levels.
Global best practices is for such a policy to be founded on a citizens first approach with emphasis on supporting victims of conflict to expeditiously return to full enjoyment of health, social, economic and political rights and to actively pursue gender issues bothering on women rights and the protection of children.
Emphasis need to be placed on rehabilitation, restoration, economic rebuilding of impacted persons and communities. Issues of institutional building, truth telling, healing and amnesty should also be given priority.
In conclusion, it is important to reiterate that Transitional justice generally address issues of justice through two related approaches – Retributive Justice which deals with punishment of offenders and Restorative Justice which is concerned with remedying the negative impact of the events on the people and community.
In this combination Transitional Justice aims to ensure that not only is justice served to the victims but also communities devastated by conflict are enabled to achieve sustainable peace and reconciliation in a comprehensive and transformational manner that incorporates economic, social and cultural rights.
It underscores the need for sustainable development anchored on ending impunity, encouraging reconciliation and promoting peace and justice in the society.
Given the overwhelming eagerness shown by the people through the civil societies for post conflict justice and reconciliation, the government should expeditiously involve the people in the efforts at finalizing a transitional justice policy, to enhance trust and provide a platform for the citizens to take ownership of the peace and reconciliation efforts.
Sir, Agabaidu Chukwuemeka Jideani, is a Human Rights, Governance, Risk & Compliance Expert and may be reached on 08051789348, email@example.com
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