Truth Commission: Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission
Duration: 1999 - 2002
Charter: Instrument No. 8 of 1999
Report: Public report; released unofficially
Truth Commission: Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (later called The Judicial Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Violations)
Dates of Operation: June 14, 1999 – May 2002 (2 years, 11 months)
Background: Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Despite efforts to develop a unified democracy, ethnic, religious and social tensions led to violence and civil unrest. Thousands of ethnic Igbo were killed massacres in 1966, leading to a secession effort and a civil war that lasted until 1970. Military coups in 1975 and 1983, as well as economic crises, impeded democratization and constitutional reforms. General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the elections of August 1993 to keep himself in power. Riots followed until Defense Minister Sani Abacha seized control of the government in November 1993.
Dissent grew and fears of a coup led Abacha’s security forces to orchestrate secret tribunals that sentenced former leaders and opposition activists to death. Numerous other human rights abuses took place. Abacha died in 1998, and elections in December 1998 and February 1999 brought Olusegun Obasanjo into power. Obasanjo began a campaign of reforms, and in June 1999 he appointed a Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission known as the "Oputa Panel" to investigate human rights abuses committed from January 1, 1994 until the beginning of his term.
Charter: The Oputa Panel was formally inaugurated on June 14, 1999 by President Obasanjo. Statutory Instrument No. 8 of 1999 constituted and appointed the Commission. Statutory Instrument No. 13 of October 4, 1999 amended the terms of reference and reflected changes in the membership of the commission. Volume II pages 77-80 of the commission’s report contains excerpts from the mandate, however, the full charter is unavailable.
Mandate: The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission was created to establish the causes, nature, and extent of human rights violations - in particular the assassinations and attempted killings - between January 15, 1966 and May 28, 1999, to identify perpetrators (individuals or institutions), determine the role of the state in the violations, and to recommend means to pursue justice and prevent future abuses. The commission was initially asked to investigate the period from 1984 to May 1999, covering four military governments, but this period was later extended back to 1966, the year of Nigeria's first military coup following independence.
Commissioners and Structure: The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission was comprised of eight commissioners: six men and two women. It was chaired by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa. Members were appointed by the President.
Report: The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission’s final report was submitted to President Olusegun Obasanjo in June 2002, but it was never officially released to the public. In January 2005, the Washington-based NGO Nigerian Democratic Movement and Nigeria-based Civil Society Forum took the initiative to unofficially publish the full report of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission.
Findings: The commission received about 10,000 testimonies of human rights violations and conducted public hearings across Nigeria. Out of this number, about 150 cases were heard, while most others had been sent to a ministerial commission for adjudication.
- The Nigerian military was responsible for gross human rights violations.
- Apart from the military elite, the commission mentioned the collaboration of powerful and rich civilians in preparation for numerous coups.
- The commission’s report also stated that some State Counsels in the Ministries of Justice violated fundamental rights of due process in attempts to protect perpetrators in specific, named cases.
- The commission recommended combating corruption, a drastic reduction of the armed forces, a review of security forces’ internal disciplinary procedures, and reform of the military intelligence, police and academic institutions.
- Victims of human rights abuses were recommended to receive compensation.
- The panel also recommended a broad consultation of civil society about Nigeria’s constitutional structure, improved human rights education, a moratorium on the creation of further states, more local governments to avoid corruption and the fragmentation of the political system.
- In addition, the commission recommended that funds be provided for the Ministry of Women Affairs, that the report be disseminated widely and that the government closely monitors the social, political and environmental conditions in the Niger Delta and elsewhere.
- Approximately 35 cases of abuse were forwarded to the Inspector General for a special police investigatory unit for continued work.
- Although not directly linked to the work of the Oputa Panel, President Obasanjo in 1999 authorized the release of the bodies of Ogoni minority rights activist Kenule Saro Wiwa and eight others hanged following a flawed judicial process and buried in secret graves.
Special Notes: The selection process of the 150 cases dealt with by the Investigation Commission was contentious. The chairman of the panel requested enactment of enabling legislation to clarify the commission's status and powers. The commission was finally given subpoena power but rarely used it. Due to financial constraints, the commission was not able to undertake investigation or corroboration into cases outside the questioning that took place at the hearings.
On November 29, 2007, Governor Rotimi Amaechi inaugurated a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Rivers state, mandated to "unearth the remote and immediate causes of cult clashes in Rivers state", and to identify perpetrators and victims with to the hope of pursuing prosecutions and granting compensation.
- Amnesty International. Nigeria, Time for Justice and Accountability. London, UK: International Secretariat, 2000. Available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr44/014/2000/en/ (accessed June 12, 2008).
- Hayner, Priscilla B. Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions. New York: Routledge, 2002.
- Lamb, Christina. "Truth Panel Will Call Nigeria's Strongmen to Account." Electronic Telegraph, August 22, 1999.
- Nigerian Democratic Movement. "Press Release: NDM Releases Full Version of Oputa Panel Report." (accessed June 12, 2008).
- "Nigerian Human Rights Commission to Start Hearings." Reuters, October 22, 2000. Available at http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/africa/10/22/nigeria.human.rights.reut/ (accessed June 12, 2008).
- Onyegbula, Sonny. "The Human Rights Situation in Nigeria since the Democratic Dispensation." Development Policy Management Network Bulletin 13, no. 3 (September 2001, 2001): 14. Available at http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/IDEP/UNPAN004219.pdf (accessed June 12, 2008).
- "Oputa Panel Submits Report, Recommends Compensation." This Day Online, November 16, 2004.