The Stop Impunity Nigeria (S.I.N.) Campaign, a multi-stakeholder project to check impunity in Nigeria, today in Lagos launched a documentary highlighting the manifestation of impunity in various sectors of the society and its debilitating effect on the country's social, political and economic development.
In his welcome remarks at the media event held in Yaba, the campaign coordinator, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, of Human Development Initiatives (HDI), described impunity as "a malady more widespread and more dangerous than corruption or any of the modern vices that daily occupy media space and headlines" adding: "Indeed, impunity fuels other vices and diminishes the capacity of the state to govern because it promotes the delusion of immunity from sanction according to law."
Professor Owasanoye argued: "Available research evidence shows that a country's development is directly linked with respect for rule of law and the absence of impunity. There is direct correlation between the rule of law and a country's ranking in poverty index, corruption perception index, justice administration, health and education rankings, attraction of foreign direct investments, citizen welfare and social security."
Presenting the documentary, which was also simultaneously launched online on social media platforms, the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Edetaen Ojo, told journalists that it was part of the Campaign's efforts aimed at explaining the concept of impunity and demonstrating its negative effects on the country to the larger society in order to rouse citizens to action.
He said the documentary included insightful interviews on the issue of impunity in Nigeria with several senior government officials, eminent lawyers, academics, representatives of religious bodies, civil society and human rights activists, among others.
Mr. Ferdinard Agu, a Senior Special Assistant in the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government in the Presidency, said in the documentary that although he believes in the power of the Government to bring about change, it is more compelling for ordinary people to organize themselves to enforce their rights and demand that the right thing be done at all times.
Mr. Agu said: "I am a believer in the power of government to do things but I think the strongest power is the power of the people. If you study social change, and see how it has evolved, great ideas can come from the elite but it often catches a catalytic force when the people below join it, then the government must respond."
Also speaking in the documentary, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr.Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), emphasized the role of the Judiciary in ending impunity.
According to him, "When people come to realize that courts perform without fear or favour, they fall in line. But the culture of impunity grows when you know you can buy a judge, for instance, then you go ahead and misbehave because at the end of the day you will get a lawyer to go to court, and the lawyer will buy justice."
Mr. Agbakoba argued that an important programme in curbing impunity would be for the country to have a strong and independent Judiciary.
Human rights lawyer and former President of the West African Bar Association (WABA), Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), noted in the documentary that "Impunity is traceable to the lack of confidence in the rule of law by the ruling class," adding that: "When the government itself lavishly grants amnesty to all manners of criminal offenders, the government loses the moral integrity to bring those who commit lesser offences to justice."
The Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr. Mike Omeri, also spoke in the documentary, highlighting the role of the media in curbing impunity in the country.
He said: "The press should be on the side of truth and justice, when the press reports with impunity, that is, issues they have no idea of at all, or issues they have not taken steps to verify, they are also guilty of the offence of impunity, so the press should as a matter of urgency purge itself and represent the values of journalism, of the profession, by taking steps to confirm facts on individuals or issues before they publish and also by redefining their context to reflect the needs of the society."
Mr. Oluwamuyiwa Adejobi, the Ogun State Police Public Relations Officer, who was also interviewed in the documentary stressed that impunity is inimical to the enforcement of law and order, noting that: "injustice done anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
He called for everyone to "kick against impunity on time" warning that if this was not done, "it is going to be disastrous at the end of the day."
Human Rights Lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, noted that the responsibility for addressing the growing culture of impunity rests with the Nigerian people.
According to him, "the government is created by the people. The government did not make the people, so if the government is misbehaving, it is the people that can dissolve the government. Government can never dissolve the people. So we have a duty to continue to insist that the right things are done and that whenever people are in public offices and are doing the wrong things that we don't like or are going against the laws that have being made or are set, we must challenge them, we must confront them, and must resist them by all means possible and by all means necessary."
Civil society leader and Executive Director of the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (LSD), Dr. Otive Igbuzor, decried the high level of impunity in the country, saying "the level of impunity as we have it today is not beneficial to citizens, is not beneficial to the government, is not beneficial to the country and all hands must be on deck to ensure that impunity is reduced."
He also insisted that "Government must ensure that there is accountability among security agencies so that citizens will have trust not only in these security agencies but in the government."