Posted by News Express | 24 June 2013 | 4,085 times
The report filed recently by the Senate Joint Committee on Police Affairs and National Security and Intelligence, which charged itself with the task of investigating the discovery of the “strange dead bodies” on the Ezu River is a hopeless failure and an act of cover-up. Rather than shedding light on the mystery surrounding one of the most heinous crimes in this country, the Report places the Nigerian people further in the dark over what really happened. Also, this is a disappointment for the entire people of the Eastern Nigerian, particularly the people of Anambra and Enugu states, who, more than other Nigerians, would like to know what truly happened.
The Committee could be faulted on many grounds, including, but not limited to, the following:
(1) It was not clear what the mandate of the Committee was. It seemed that this was a committee of self-appointed members of the legislature propelled by legislators from Anambra State constituencies who were either embarrassed that this sort of incident occurred in their state or who were out there for some political opportunism. With such confused and questionable motivation, it may not be any surprise that the Committee could not rise to expectations.
(2) The Committee did not communicate to the public any clear terms of reference. It was not clear what it was supposed to actually do or what investigation it was supposed to conduct. In view of the several issues at stake, it would have been better for an effective and well-purposed committee to set out in clear terms what it wanted to do. Instead, it merely engaged in a half-baked jamboree of photo opportunities on the riverbank, and nothing more.
(3) The limited hearing that was held was poorly done. The Committee did not publicise its hearing in advance with any plans to solicit the general public for information. The claims of MASSOB were not adequately investigated. The families of the named MASSOB victims were not exhaustively interviewed. The Committee could not guarantee witnesses protection against persecution for their testimonies. The Committee could not provide logistical support for witnesses willing to travel to Abuja to testify. The Committee did not speak with the villagers who first discovered the bodies. Instead, it relied on second-hand reports and hearsay accounts of those who claimed to have heard from those who first saw the bodies.
(4) The Committee did not mobilise inter-governmental agency support for its investigation. There was nearly a total absence of expert involvement in the investigations. The individual lawmakers involved in the committee handled the investigation directly themselves. Yet, nearly none of them is a trained forensic investigator or lawyer experienced in matters of this nature. Rather than having the investigation involve the work of experts with technical know-how in the matter, the legislators proceeded like a motley crowd of traders. There was no involvement of the Ministry of Justice, as ought to have been. Nobody was placed even on administrative leave while the investigation was on. The people under suspicion remained in control of key aspects of the facts under investigation.
With the above fundamental limitations, it would be unreasonable for anybody to expect anything seriously worthwhile to come from this Committee. Yet, the people had to take the Committee serious because it came from highly placed lawmakers who ought to appreciate the gravity of these events and the need for meaningful answers and explanation of what happened.
The Report itself can be faulted on the following, among many more, grounds:
(1) The Report could not clearly establish the number of victims. It says there are 19 victims. Yet, it has no basis for this except the words of the villagers, even though the Committee never spoke with the actual villagers that saw the bodies. Indeed, the investigation did not advance the cause of truth on this point beyond what the villagers knew immediately they saw bodies in their water. It is an unfortunate reversal of logic and a terrible disappointment that the Committee Report would muddy up the facts as to the number of the bodies dumped in the river. Without some light as to the spot where the bodies were dumped in the river, the time they were dumped, the water currents at the spots or flow channels along which the bodies floated, who did the dumping, whether they were dumped with special effort to submerge them, the motive of the killers, where the victims came from; without these, it is extremely childish to come up with any firm conclusions on the number of bodies dumped in the water. This single error is enough to erase any belief that this Committee was competent or capable of meeting the demands of the public for the truth.
(2) The Committee’s Report leaves as many doubts as in the beginning as to the motives for the killings. Indeed, the Report went into a far-fetched theory of some inter-village wars involving some states, but could not offer any guidance as to the logistics of the bodies moving from the village battlefields to the river, at an identifiable spot.
(3) The Report automatically believed the denials by the prime suspects – the police. There was no investigation of the police officers likely to be involved. All that the Committee did was to ask the police if its men committed mass murder and the police, of course, denied it. The Report is just as ridiculous as believing that the culprits would come forward and confess. The Report could not tell why it accepted the story of the police as opposed to rejecting it or investigating further. In this respect alone, the Report is a travesty and a disgrace.
(4) The Report dwelled on irrelevances and contradicted the facts it relied upon. For instance, the Report was quick to debunk the idea that all the victims were dressed in boxers, by asserting that some were dressed in wrappers. Yet, it still entertained the village battlefield theory. Does it mean that the village warriors were fighting dressed in wrappers while some were dressed in boxers? Also, given this battlefield possibility, how come there was nothing about the weapons used by the victims in the village war?
(5) At the beginning of this investigation, there was effort to ascertain the implication of the manner in which the government of Anambra State and the police command handled the scene of crime and the bodies, including the hasty burials of the bodies. Yet, the Report is silent on that. At least, it ought to have come out and clearly exonerate the state government or shed better light on the activities of its agents.
(6) There was a public health hazard in the dumping of dead bodies in a river that supplied drinking water to the relevant villages. The Report completely failed to address such concerns.
The Report is completely a disaster and in so far as it pretends to have exhausted the investigation and is able to proffer some explanations, it has become an obstruction of justice and cover-up in itself. Indeed, the interim report of the Commissioner of Health for Anambra State on the matter is far more coherent and logical and honest than this report, yet incomplete.
Notwithstanding the present charade called Report, the Government of Nigeria still has not explained what happened in Ezu River. The efforts of NGOs and human right organisations such as the organisation I represent must continue to seek justice and truth in this matter. It will be noted that I had personally filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over this matter. However, out of respect and courtesy, once I learned that a Nigerian Senate Committee was investigating this matter, I stayed further action to give the Nigerian authorities an opportunity to address the problem. Now that a Report has come out, which is nothing but hogwash of a cover-up and obstruction of justice, I shall step up all alternative measures for justice. Nigerians need to know what happened. Nigerians need to know who killed those people, who they were and why they were killed. And I will do my utmost to help them get answers to these questions.
•Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire, whose photo appears alongside this piece, is a US-based lawyer and Group Founder/Principal Administrator of Due Process Advocates (DPA).
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