Comrade Osmond Ugwu is the President of International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative, leader of Mass Movement for True Democracy, Integral Development and Good Governance and Convener of Coalition of Civil Society, Workers and Human Rights Defenders.
He recently spoke to Chuma Austin, our Enugu correspondent on growing insecurity in the country, intrigues in Enugu End-sars panel report, Igbo presidency and other burning national issues.
Q: Nigeria is 61 years plus. Are you satisfied with the present state of the nation?
A: Any person who is a citizen of this country called Nigeria who says he or she is satisfied with the state of affairs of the nation is decieving himself or herself. Many Nigerians are not happy and I am not also happy with the deteriorating conditions of people of this country. People are trumuatized due to harsh socio-economic and political environment. What is the per capital income of an average Nigerian? Many Nigerians are living in abject poverty. Do you talk of security challenges? You don’t need a soothsayer to tell you that Nigeria state is failing, and our leaders are busy enriching themselves which I call primitive acquisition of wealth.
All sectors including education, health and what have you are in shambles. There is high level of corruption, nepotism, segregation and impunity. Successive governments have continued to neglect the basic principles that advance democracy.
Look at the issue of unknown gunmen. Who are they? If you want to discover the truth, go back to history. It started when some people began to take laws into their hands. For the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), I am not holding brief for them but I stand here to say that IPOB members do not hide themselves. They claim responsibility for any of their actions. It is the authority that radicalized them.
Let us look deep and deep to unravel the identities of the unknown gunmen. As it is, some people are alleging that the unknown gunmen could be government security agents, others say it could be fifth columnists bent at discrediting pro-Biafra groups particularly the IPOB.
The issue of unknown gunmen is so frightening in Southeast geo-political zone and you can recall that it came to the front burner in the media when they attacked Imo State Police Headquarters, Owerri.
It was reported that the Imo governor got security report of the invasion three weeks before they struck. As I am talking to you, nobody is on trial at competent court for the attack.
How about the insecurity in the North? The insurgency by Boko Haram and bandits are growing daily in geometrical ration yet the authority at the centre seems not to be bordered as it kept hiding the identities of their sponsors. Why are they treating the criminals in North with kid gloves whereas they labeled IPOB terrorists? There is injustice in the land making a section of the country to feel superior to the others. For this country to be in peace, there should be justice, equity and fairness at all levels of governance.
Q: You recently disassociated your self from the report of the secretary to the judicial panel of inquiry on police brutality and other related extra-judicial killing in Enugu State. May we know the true story?
A: I actually dissociated myself from the media reports credited to the Secretary to the ENDSARS related Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality and Other Related Extra-Judicial Killings in Enugu state, Mr. Onochie Obuna regarding the state of affairs of the panel as regards to the abandonment of cases by 52 petitioners who submitted petition and information regarding the fact that the panel has concluded sitting. As far as I am concerned, the information is very fallacious and is misleading.
I am a member of the panel and I represent the Civil Society in the panel. I have shown presence on and participated in all the meetings and sittings of the panel except on two days which I have compelling reasons to be absent from the panel of which I put the chairman on notice, sought for and obtained permissions.
By the design of authority that created the panel which is National Economic Council, the panel is made up of 8 persons to be appointed by the governor out of which two persons must represent Civil Society, two persons for the Youths, one from the National Human Rights Commission, one from the Police, one representing Attorney General who is to act as Secretary and the Chairman was to be a Judge.
I am one of the person that represented the Civil Society Organisations, appointed by the Governor of Enugu state On our inauguration, the panel was given specific mandate by His Excellency, the Executive Governor as directed by the National Economic Council.
The leading statement of the Governor which is a prelude to the terms of reference was that “The panel was intended to deliver justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other Police Tactical Squad or units in Enugu state” while the terms of eeference are to receive and investigate complaints, evaluate evidences, draw conclusion and recommend compensation and other remedial measures.
In carrying out these duties we are duty and morally bound to be guided by the law establishing the panel which is Cap 24 of Revised Law of Enugu state 2004, some provisions of 1999 as ammended, especially as it regards to human rights and human rights enforcement rules, some UN Principles and Declarations and International best practices, principles and ruled on general administration, procedures and due process in the administration of justice, human rights investigation and treatment of complaints, petitions and memoranda.
As a matter of fact, our panel was a human rights violation investigation panel or commission and every petition, complaints or even ordinary memoranda submitted by anybody must be treated with respect and every seriousness in line with above stated body of rules, principles and procedures before any petition is being adjudged abandoned and it is the duty of the panel in a session and not that of the Secretary.
To the best of my knowledge as a panel member no petition has been adjudged as abandoned petition by the panel. As a matter of fact, members are reading this information for the first time on the pages of Newspapers.
There is no record of any petitioner who has abandoned his or her petition in Enugu Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutally and other Related Extra-Judicial Killings because we have not done what we ought to have done in order to arrive at such decision or judgement. During the meeting of the panel on Thursday, 29th July, 2021, the panel directed the Secretary to compile all the memos from number one to 147 as contained in the cause list of the panel and update the panel members both in soft and hard copies, the status of each memo vis-a-vis those adopted with dates, those transferred with date, those on the hearing stage and date of last adjournment and those yet to be mentioned with evidence of communication to the petitioners by the panel through the Registry headed by the Secretary.
It is from this record that we can, after verification conclude that a particular petitioner has abandoned his or her petition. We have not received such record till today and as no panel member has any record of petitions that is said to have been abandoned. The figure 52 is read for the first time on the media.
The same thing is applicable to the number of the transferred cases and adopted cases. The number of the transferred and adopted cases he submitted to the Press are not known to the members. 35 and 60 representing transferred and adopted cases are read by members on the pages of newspapers.
They are not before us. Prior to the meeting and directive of the panel on the 29th
July, the panel had on occasions before the commencement of the JUSUN strike and on resumption after the strike directed the Secretary to write to every petitioner acknowledging his/her petition and informing him or her of the next thing expected of him or her and to appear before the panel.
To the best of my knowledge he has not done that till date and somebody who does not know the programme of the panel or whether his or petition received any attention cannot be said to have abandoned his or petition. Panel members have severally demanded to see evidence of communication to the petitioners and the Secretary has not produced any.
The same is applicable to his claim of radio announcements. No evidence as to the radio used and whether it was through News or on the spot announcements, and how many times. We don’t have such information. Interesting thing is that enough money was approved and released for such purposes by the government to the Secretary. Whether it was utilised for that purpose is what I cannot say. The panel resolved that even if there were announcements through radios, it is not enough.
We directed him to write to every member through the addresses they provided in their petitions, he refused, anchoring his reasons on lack of fund despite the huge sum of money approved by the governor for the purpose and released to him, with a Bus fueled by the government for that purpose. When he refused writing to the petitioners acknowledging their petitions and telling them what is expected of them, the panel directed him to send SMS to them using the phone numbers provided by them copying members and forwarding copies to us. But till today, none of us has received any SMS indicating communicstoon with them.
Some petitioners who he claimed he sent messages to have come before us denied before him as not being true. 52 petitions are too huge a number to be treated with such a levity. Right to fair-hearing is key to the delivering of justice in this regard.
Again, people submitted memos through email but as at today, the Secretary has failed or refused to disclose to the members the names of those that submitted petition through the email address he presented to the public through public announcement immediately after our inauguration, despite the directive of the Governor through the Chief of Staff to the Governor to that effect. We have been demanding for this since the day of our inaugural meeting in October 2020 but he has refused to print and circulate them to members or make their names available to members if he believed that they are the same with those that submitted through hard copies.
How can he say that we have concluded sitting without knowing the fate of those ones. Another important aspect of the report that is very important to debunk and clarify is the report that the panel has concluded sitting. That is not true. Our decision on that issue was that we will continue to hear people’s petitions until we are sure that all petitioners are given fair hearing and convinced that those who failed to appear are given every opportunity of hearing and fair hearing with clear evidence to that effect.
We cannot conclude sitting when many adopted petitions that require investigation and witnesses have not be handled as fair hearing demands. We promised to do thorough work and that cannot be done properly with investigation and and satisfaction of fair hearing. To this end, I wish to use this opportunity to inform the public, particularly those whose petitions are with us and have not been attended to that they still have opportunity of being heard.
They should come to Enugu High Court, Old Court 3 to come and know the position of their petitions and know the next thing to do.
Any petitioner who feels he or she is not properly treated is free to approach any member of the panel or any human rights organisation and table their case and the organisation will bring it to the notice of the members.
Even after the information to the Press that has been published stating that 60 petitions have been concluded, 35 transferred and 52 abandoned which when summed up will give 147 petitions, he forwarded 5 petitions to be heard on Monday, 9th August 2021. The memo numbers are 12, 27, 55, 62 and 142.
If actually the panel received 147 petitions, concluded 60, transferred 35 and adjudged 52 abandoned as at 2nd August, 2021 and by 3rd August forwarded 5 petitions to be heard, it proves the fact that his information in the media of 2nd August are fallacious, deceitful and misleading. Either that the figures he gave to the Press on the number of purported concluded, transferred and abandoned petitions were false or that the figure he gave representing the number of received petitions was not correct.
Again for the fact that after informing the public that the panel has concluded sitting and sent memos to be heard further justifies my position that we have not concluded sitting and that his information to the Press does not represent the position of the panel as it was very fallacious, deceitful and misleading.
I therefore wish to use this opportunity to appeal to His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Enugu state to consider extending further the tenure of the panel atleast to another 3 months to enable the panel communicate to petitioners as appropriate and give fair hearing to all as justice demands and enable the panel hear all the outstanding petitions, investigate the received and adopted petitions, hear witnesses where necessary to arrive at unbiased conclusion and write reports.
Let not the anger of the inefficient Secretariat be transferred to the victims. It is only further extension of time that can enable the panel come up with reports and recommendations that will be credible and acceptable to right conscience and stand the test of time.
Q: The Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership has pleaded with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to reconsider the 7 days’ sit at home order in the Southeast of Nigeria from November 5 to November 11 to enable the governorship election for Anambra State scheduled for November 6 to hold. What is the position of your group on the plea by the Igbo apex socio-cultural body?
A: We align with Ohanaeze Ndigbo in the plea as it is important to note that Anambra State is the economic live wire of the Southeast with an impressive steady growth trajectory.
For instance, Anambra State showcases the best rural road network and rural community development in the Southeast if not in the entire Nigeria. Anambra is home to the greatest number of small, medium and large scale industries in the Southeast. Most recently, Anambra has added a cargo airport to its resource base. Above all, Onitsha is the largest market in West Africa. The implication of the above illustration is that Anambra State is the melting pot of Igbo traders and artisans. It stands to reason that Anambra is the big Iroko tree that provides a shade for most Igbo.
Apart from the shade, it also hosts the numerous birds that perch on the branches. As Ohanaeze clearly stated, Any harm to the Iroko tree will create untold disastrous chain reactions and catastrophe for the Igbo. It is important to point out that one of the causes of the crisis of confidence in the Southeast is because of the yawning gap between the youths and indeed the masses, on one side and the political leaders on the other.
Q: How feasible is Igbo presidency in 2023?
A: On Igbo presidency, I believe Ndigbo are intelligent. What we are currently experiencing in Igbo land is common in every political sphere. Historically, no society, no nation, no state or country has ever experienced the political stress the people of Southeast are passing through now. How we got into this political mess today must not be our major concern but the solution to the problem. Ahead of 2023 general elections, we (Ndigbo) should see Southeast problems as our problems, Southeast challenges as our challenges. Igbo presidency is feasible if we stop attacking each other. We must come together in time like this, we must think in one direction, we must show love to ourselves, we must speak the language of peace and not language of war, we must focus our mind towards solution to this political stress our political system is facing right now. we must be united and make our demand from one common front. As one of the public analysts said, “Those who bought guns and bullets must dismantle them, those who bought swords must shade them in their sheath. Those who don’t have understanding of politics must step aside for those who understand politics to take the lead. We are at the political breaking points therefore, we need our intelligentsia right now. We must dialogue within ourselves first, we must allow peace within ourselves first and lastly, we must know our enemies and know ourselves. There’s no way we can war ourselves and succeed