Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

Nigeria's Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission (Hrvic) and Restorative Justice: The Promises, Tensions and Inspirations for Transitional Societies

Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

Nigeria's Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission (Hrvic) and Restorative Justice: The Promises, Tensions and Inspirations for Transitional Societies

Article excerpt

Abstract

The lack of peace in most post-colonial African nation-states is tied to unresolved political asymmetry among peoples with contending narratives of origins and power relations. The Justice system bequeathed to these states at their 'flag' independence has been unsuitable for evolving a justice continuum that can ameliorate the asymmetry and consequent conflicts. However, Restorative Justice appears to hold promises and inspirations for affected nation-states. Nevertheless, this article contends that a perceived hyper-romanticisation of Restorative Justice's promises must be tempered with critical realism about its ambiguities. Nigeria's Restorative Justice experiment, "Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission", serves as point of reference.

Introductory Remarks

Nigeria is noted for its recurring lack of peace. This lack of peace is rooted in Nigeria's past, like most postcolonial African states. So, any sustainable peace process, especially the mechanisms of justice, designed for such states must pay attention to that past. Nigeria's Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission (henceforth HRVIC) states this fact in its Report (HRVIC, 2002b, vol. 1:3.39-3.40). HRVIC Report mentions the residual issues from Nigeria's political past, especially what it calls "political asymmetry": "the unequal power relations (a) within and among states; and (b) between states and the federal government" (HRVIC, 2002b, vol. 1:3.221-3.228, italics in original). This 'political asymmetry' has concrete implications, on the one hand, for the fear of domination (Southern Nigeria) and intransigence and battle for political control of the centre (Northern Nigeria) (HRVIC, 2002b, vol. 1:3.229-3.23). On the other hand, mechanisms of justice, usually invoked for transitional societies, must consider this political asymmetry.

Accordingly, the relationship and tensions between mechanisms of justice, particularly Retributive Justice (as in dominant Criminal Justice system) and Restorative Justice in post-military Nigeria shall be explored within the discourse on the role of law in the modern society, using Phillippe Nonet and Philip Selznick's typologies of law - "Repressive Law"; "Autonomous Law"; and "Responsive Law" (Nonet & Selznick, 2009). Nonet and Selznick's discourse focuses largely on stable societies and mature democracies. Hence, this article offers their typologies regarding the tensions in justice mechanisms in transitional societies struggling between an odious past and the fragile present on the way to a stable future.

In the past, Nigeria variously opted for 'amnesia' and impunity (1966-1970; 1970-1979; 1985-1999). Both amnesia and impunity are extreme expressions of repressive law. Both serve the captors of political power. However, a little over a decade ago (1999), the country appeared to have chosen a justice mechanism not preoccupied with Retribution (an expression of the 'rule of law' feature of autonomous law). At the dawn of democratic rule, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration wanted to show that Nigeria was in transition towards rule of law for all stakeholders. This choice aimed at legitimating the administration after a loathsome past. So, the HRVIC was setup ostensibly to offer this legitimation, as argued by Nwogu (2007, p. 39).

Yet, this mechanism of legitimation of political power appeared to equally opt for a semblance of Restorative Justice (an expression of responsive law with its focus on social aspirations). Why did Nigeria move from one extreme - yet not stuck with another extreme? What are the tensions involved in the choice made by Nigeria in 1999 - tensions originating from paradoxes of Restorative Justice? These are the questions this article shall attempt to answer.

Nigeria's Restorative Justice Experiment: A Very Short Background

The author acknowledges that Nwogu (2007) deals extensively with the HRVIC. To the author's knowledge, Nwogu is the first scholarly book-length engagement with this Commission. …

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