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Judicial murder – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics



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The plan by Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) to embark on street protests to ensure justice in the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists of Ogoni origin in 1995 is legitimate. The MOSOP leaders have called on the Federal Government to clear Saro-Wiwa, a writer, environmentalist and former state commissioner, of murder of the ‘Ogoni 9’, for which he and his comrades were sentenced to death by a military tribunal established by the Sani Abacha junta.

While, as MOSOP pointed out, nothing could be done to bring the dead back to life, it would be sufficient for now to know that due process was not followed in their trial and subsequent execution. The body argued that the nine were executed before their rights to fair hearing could be fully exercised, as the state hurriedly executed them within 10 days of the sentence, contrary to the rules of the tribunal. Under the extant Nigerian law, a Nigerian so sentenced was entitled to 90 days to appeal the judgment, but that was abridged under the tribunal rules to 30 days; even then, the state was too impatient to allow them the 30 days before executing them.

Perhaps what comes into mind at this point is what then becomes the fate of the ‘Ogoni four’ that Saro-Wiwa and the others were accused of killing? No doubt the killings were brutal, but the precise chain of events leading to the murders has been shrouded in great controversy. Unfortunately, the Abacha regime which could have provided a clue appeared too impatient to see Saro-Wiwa dead than in resolving the murder riddle. Hence, the hurried trial and killing of Saro-Wiwa and others.

The abridgement of the rights of the men amounted to denial of their fundamental rights to fair hearing. It should be noted that, apart from the right to approach the Court of Appeal for possible review of the tribunal’s judgment, any such applicant still had the right to approach the apex court, the Supreme Court, for final adjudication. Only when the Supreme Court had spoken in favour of the state, or the condemned failed to exercise his right within the time limit allowed by law that the sentence could be executed.

It is on this premise that we associate with MOSOP that the Saro-Wiwa case be re-examined and he be cleared of the guilt pronounced by that tribunal.

The case should not be seen as a mere case of granting him state pardon or pandering to the loud clamour for exculpating him by the loud activist community. It is an opportunity to foreclose the matter after even the Ogoni community had made enough moves to heal the wound. More importantly, the Nigerian state has to put the aberrant acts of the military behind us. Nigeria is a civilised society and the Rule of Law should be scrupulously adhered to. Where the state, a democratic society, discovers that injustice was done in times past, the state should show example by seeking to do the right as much as possible.

It is an axiom in state administration that justice must not only be done, that is technically or from the prism of the state, but seen to have been done by all. In other words, justice is not done until it is obvious to all that the rights of all parties to a dispute or a matter have been fully granted and the whole gamut of the law is exploited.

We recall that people similarly sentenced by tribunals under the same junta had their sentences reviewed and many quashed after the return to civil rule. General Olusegun Obasanjo was granted pardon by the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime immediately he was released from prison and his sentence by a contrived tribunal quashed. That enabled him to contest and win the 1999 presidential election.

Judicial murder was fairly common in many legal jurisdictions at some point in time. This has led to an outcry against the death penalty, since it is practically irreversible, except for moral reversal and, in some cases, compensation. But, what compensation is adequate for life? The Cameo case in the United Kingdom that led to the execution of George Kelly for murder of the manager of Cameo Cinema in March 1950 is a poignant case in point. It took 53 years for the murderer to confess and get Kelly exculpated. There have been similar cases in the United States of America, Australia and China.

In this case where the Saro-Wiwa family and MOSOP are not even seeking a material re-examination of the facts of the case, it should not be difficult for the state to reason with them that abridgment of the right to appeal amounts to abridgment of the right to fair hearing and the state should thus waste no time in acceding to the request and tender due apology to the family.

If the mistake was admissible in a military administration, it is not under a democratic dispensation. Wrongs done by dictators are expected to be corrected by democrats. Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight comrades were heroes of the people of the Niger Delta, and like Adaka Boro, does not deserve to be remembered as a criminal and villain.

The Nation

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