Like the much maligned Inquisition in history, which led to the suppression of the truth and the death of those who stood for religious, scientific and political tolerance in most parts of Europe in the Medieval Age, the so-called Commission of Inquiry into the violence that attended the Bayelsa State poll early in December has been labelled a vindictive one poised to raise more problems and drain the state’s finances than usher in solutions and calm.
The outcome of the probe is predictable given, first, its composition and, secondly, its timing when the ballot has been declared inconclusive and therefore on-going.
According to the government, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry will be guided by the following terms of reference: to determine the number and identities of the persons that were injured or killed, if any, during the violence, mayhem and breach of the peace that occurred in parts of Bayelsa State on or about the 3rd to 6th December, 2015.
Others include to determine the extent of damage to property, if any, during the said incident, identify the perpetrators of the said violence, mayhem and breach of the peace and recommend appropriate action as well as determine the role played by the security agencies in the said incidence, if any.
The commission is headed by Justice Margaret Akpomiemie.
All Progressives Congress governorship candidate, Chief Timipre Sylva, has already dismissed the move as unacceptable, unfortunate and diversionary.
Now observers say that it is impossible to expect a salutary outcome from such an exercise whose key operative, the commission’s chairperson, is clearly determined to please her boss and at the same time seek to settle phantom scores with Sylva. At a time when all well-meaning Bayelsans are expecting official conduct to calm frayed nerves, Dickson has rather set upon a path that would inflame passions.
But that is at the ethical and moral level.
There is also the constitutional and the juridical angle. Dickson is out to arbitrate in a matter of electoral process, which is a federal concern. He cannot arrogate to himself the jurisdiction of the federal authorities whose agency, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is in charge of the poll in Bayelsa. The exercise is not under the supervision or control of the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC).
Another point to note is that Dickson is an active party in the electoral process. Can he then set up a body to investigate what went on at the poll in which he did not fare well, according to the returns from the Southern Ijaw ballot? Those he put into the commission are those he is paying. He has moved some of them from political and professional abeyance to sudden social relevance and visibility. Can we expect objective hearing and fair play from them? It is a trite practice under the law that you don’t adjudicate in a case in which you have interest, no matter how tangential, marginal or remote.
Indeed, with what is on the record and following the recent declaration of the Joint Task Force that monitored the poll, the governor is heavily implicated in the violence that truncated the ballot. In the report by JTF, Dickson’s People Democratic Party (PDP) was said to have stockpiled heavy weaponry used in several theatres of the election in Southern Ijaw.
Addressing newsmen in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa, a spokesman for the force said the Army apprehended 17 suspected thugs with arms and stolen Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). He also revealed that 10 AK 47 rifles and ammunition were recovered from the suspects. It was also claimed that a speed boat conveying nine persons with five AK 47 rifles and some ammunition on Olugbobiri River in Southern Ijaw had since been handed over to the police. There are strong links in all these to the PDP.
Bayelsans are already condemning the institution of the commission in the light of all these revelations. Chief among those who hit at Dickson over the probe is the Patriots of Ijaw Nation (PIN). The group’s Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kesiye Newman, declared: “Dickson knows without any shadow of doubt that he was directly behind the attacks and killings visited on hapless Bayelsans as they came out to exercise their civic responsibility on December 5 and 6… The inquest commissioned by Dickson is an insult on the collective psyche of the Bayelsa people especially those who suffered loss of loved ones, injury and destruction of property during the riot called (instigated) by the governor. This inquiry is a serious threat to peace in the state… Dickson’s recklessness is reaching new heights that endanger not only Bayelsa State but (also) the whole country.” PIN went on to ask the governor to apologise to the people of Bayelsa for his crimes against them.
The point that should also concern us about what Dickson is doing with regard to the commission just set up is that it is a drain on the low finances of Bayelsa, which has already been fatally famished by Dickson’s government in four years of his stay. I don’t think that Bayelsans need leaders who would be instituting programmes that deplete our budget rather than bring money into our coffers.
In this age of dwindling oil revenue we want leaders who would fashion ways of retaining our wealth and work out ways of creating wealth from non-oil sources. We do not want those who would give jobs to carpetbaggers. This commission is not part of the change culture the nation and Bayelsa want. There should be a public outcry to abort the probe for this grave economic reason.
But we should also rise against it because it reminds us sadly of the Inquisition of the Dark Ages. In the same way the Inquisition led to the notorious torture of those who boldly stood for religious, political and scientific truth, this agency of Dickson is aimed at repressing truth and killing the spirit of truth.
It is simply unacceptable!
Dr. Alata is the Director of Research and Strategy, Amaebi Foundation, Yenagoa