“I can kill you here, right now, and nothing will happen.”
- SARS operative
Echoes of last year’s ill-fated EndSARS protests reverberated across the Jogor Centre, venue of the 2021 annual conference of Nigerian Bar Association’s Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL) in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, as one of its leading lights, Mrs. Aisha Yesufu, a human rights and good governance advocate, took centre stage during the third technical session. In a discourse titled, ‘Legality and Efficacy of Public Inquiry by State Governments – Issues on Violent Protests and Recovery of Assets, etc.’, which was moderated by the Hon. Obafemi Adewale, SAN, the typically combative Mrs. Yesufu began by making it clear that in Nigeria, protests do not turn violent until the government intervenes – usually by bringing in thugs to disrupt peaceful protesters in order to discredit them.
Affirming the legality and efficacy of public inquiry, especially by government in the aftermath of these protests, she said it sent a clear signal that the battle against the culture of impunity and arrogance of power – as exemplified by the above quote – was being joined, not just by the numerous victims of impunity, but also by the legal system and its institutions, and by civil society.
More importantly, the hijab-clad Yesufu asserted was the need for solidarity among members of the civil society based not just on common values and interests, but also on a shared sense that, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. what affects one directly, affects all others indirectly.
The recent travails of the Nigeria Labour Congress in Kaduna State, Yesufu said, is an example of what happens when we drop the ball of solidarity and eternal vigilance in the fight, not just for our own rights, but for those of others as well.
Public inquiries, the panelists agreed, can be both effective and therapeutic as they can bring closure to even the most traumatic events – a prime example being South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the aftermath of apartheid.
The human rights lawyer, Edun Adegboruwa, SAN, and Chief Tony Ojukwu, executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, as well as Deji Adeyanju, founder of the Concerned Nigerians Initiative and Dr. Uju Agomoh, the executive director of PRAWA (an NGO dedicated to fighting for correctional facility reform in Nigeria) among others, all provided insights and proffered solutions aimed at healing the ravaging disease of impunity and oppression in Nigerian society and its corrosive effect on the worth and dignity of the Nigerian person.
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EndSARS, as Dr. Ajomoh (who spoke virtually at the conference) put it, goes beyond SARs; it strikes directly at the heart of who we are as people, and what we hold dear. The events of last year, she added, were a wake-up call on all stakeholders, but especially the legal community in Nigeria under the aegis of the NBA, to confront a monstrous culture before it totally dehumanizes us and shames our claim to being human.
The lead speaker, Chief Niyi Akintola, and the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, laid out the groundwork of the workings – and the ideal template of performance – of these public inquiries. They also explained why both their legality and efficacy have so often been questioned by a traumatized and cynical populace, and how this cynicism can be effectively combatted.