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Memorialisation Principles, Post-Civil War Reintegration and the Quest for Sustainable Peace in Nigeria

Philip Ademola Olayoku

Conceptualising Memorialisation

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  • 1 Paul Touvier was the first French national to be tried for crime against humanity in the post WWII (...)

1The above citation from Prutschi and Weintraub aptly captures the importance of digging into the past to ensure accountability and reconciliation within a society. This has indeed been the goal of transitional justice and its advocates, and across different societies, there have been attempts to confront the past through different means; including the use of religious, social, political, cultural and legal mechanisms, or a combination of these. Within the legal framework of action, there is both the adversarial or non adversarial means. The former includes court system and tribunals of inquiry, while the latter encapsulates truth commissions, lustration, amnesty and memorialisation to mention but a few. The focus on memorialisation herein, as a non adversarial means of redressing the past, is therefore aimed at examining how it could help to complement other transitional justice mechanisms (Impunity Watch, 2010) in ensuring accountability, justice, truth, reparation, reconciliation and non-recurrence of human rights violations. In discussing the French example of Paul Touvier’s trial and conviction for his role in Rilleux assassinations, Arnold Klarsfeld (one of the prosecution counsels), reflected on the importance of using memory to redefine the context of the assassinations (using the deposition of Touvier’s1 subordinates), and also to expose the complicity of the executive and judiciary in perverting justice by delaying the trials (see Merchant, 1995). This landmark reflected how the application of memory to judicial trials could help exhume the distorted facts of history as well as ensure justice. Within the Nigerian context, however, it is arguable that very little has been achieved in terms of the official adoption of memorials as a means for attaining restorative justice in complementing other mechanisms of transitional justice. The Nigerian example of transitional justice was the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) which has remained undervalued. A retrospective view of this commendable initiative by the Federal Government of Nigeria in the aftermath of years of military misrule suggests that memory initiatives would have served to enhance the impacts of the commissions work in ensuring restorative justice and enabling that the citizenry learnt from history. This paper is thus proposed to advocate for the incorporation of memorialisation into the Nigerian geo-polity to advance historical lessons for conflict prevention, ethnic integration and other peacebuilding efforts.

What then is Memorialisation?

  • 2 Reinsich (2011) expatiated on Europe’s post-WWII’s classification of survivors and perpetrators thr (...)

2Hogan (2013) simply defines memorialisation as the creation of public memorials. While focusing specifically on sites of conscience, she opined that these sites help to stimulate dialogue by civil society and the general public on general social concerns in post-conflict societies. The revelation that governments tend to ignore certain disadvantaged groups within the society, as was the case with the “war children” and their mothers in Europe after the WWII (Valderhauld, 2011: 14), necessitates the need for memory initiatives to help stimulate discourses which would restore dignity and engender fairness to such class of people, especially in terms of historical truth and identity.2 It is important to note that the focus here is not on individual memory but that of the collective, where groups such as human rights movements (as was the case in Argentina) struggle against “collective forgetting” and explore the ethical, emotional, ideological, institutional and cultural implications of infusing public memory initiatives into the society’s political culture and identity (Jelin, 1994: 49, 50). What this implies is not the suppression of individual memory, but its importation to the public realm in order to create a negotiated but formidable public collection of private experiences with a force of determining societal and state actions in ensuring truth, justice, reconciliation, non-recurrence and reparation. According to Stephan Parmentier, it entails a recalling and repositioning of the past and its reconstruction into the future (Impunity Watch, 2010). From these propositions, I contend that this has been the missing link in reintegrating the victims of the Nigerian Civil War into the Nigerian socio-political life. While there have been various attempts at erasing the memory of the war, as will be shown below, the lack of recall of the past in understanding present challenges in order to restructure the future (as is the case in the suppression of the memory of the civil war) is one of the major latent causes of suspicion among people with different ethnic affinities in Nigeria. This is why an adoption of the principles of memorialisation is necessary to serve as a basis for enabling sustainable peace in Nigeria.

  • 3 While Weah aligned his account to the display of power and intimidation by the perpetrators before (...)

3The Impunity Watch (2013: 3) in its policy brief opined that though memorialisation has traditionally being believed to denote commemoration, the non-recurrence of violence and symbolic forms of reparation, recent discourses have extended its relevance in dealing with the past to initiatives that enhance the search for truth and justice. According to Hogan (2013), the advocates of memory initiatives allude to its importance in helping to build the foundations of national identity on human rights and dignity. It entails a remembrance of the victims of past atrocities with the sole purpose of building blocs rather than bringing culprits to justice. Based on this restorative nature, it could subsequently be employed a posteriori in complementing other transitional justice mechanisms in the bid for social reconstruction (Hogan, 2013). Its relevance can better be appreciated if one considers the short-comings of other transitional justice mechanisms, such as truth commissions, which often do not readily guarantee the presentation of facts. Instead, facts are often distorted or hidden by unrepentant perpetrators who eventually escape the arm of the law (prosecution or lustration) due to the non-implementation of reports, as was the case in Liberia and Nigeria3 amongst other countries (see Weah, 2012; Kukah, 2011; Nwogu, 2007; Omo-Bare, 2008). Another major challenge is that memorialisation efforts were being thwarted at the national level by regimes (in countries like Burundi, Guatamela, Cambodia and Boznia-Herzegovina) whose members had been indicted for past atrocities (Impunity Watch, 2013: 4). The adoption of the eight principles of memorialisation in post conflict contexts, as highlighted below, could help mitigate these challenges and ensure the success of other transitional justice mechanisms.

  • 4 See: Education and Training Center/International. 2010. United State Institute of Peace Certificate (...)

4Though the direct goal of memorialisation is not ensuring justice is done to the victims, it does so by default as an anodyne to victims who are assured, through the acknowledgement of events of the past, that their pains cannot be forgotten; as is the case with the Hillsborough memorials cited above (Hogan, 2013). Viable initiatives along this line include the African Union Human Rights Memorial’s (AUHRM) efforts of memorialising the Ethiopian Red Terror (19977-79), the Rwandan Genocide (1994) and the Apartheid in South Africa (which spanned through decades till the Mandela era beginning with his release by F.W. de Clerk on 2 February 19904). As Prutschi and Weintraub (2000: 17-18) proposed, memory (memorialisation) is a tool that connects us with the sufferers with an assurance that we are not apathetic but empathetic to their sufferings.

5Though the experience of genocide cuts across national boundaries, there is a dearth of scholarship in terms of extant literature on “historical evaluations and practical policy evaluations within the African context” (Hogan, 2013). This remains the case with the genocide claims of the Igbo of Nigeria during the Civil War, whereby the official attempts by the Nigerian government to assuage the pains of families who were victims of several massacres and erase the memory of the war have not been sustainable. This is made explicit in the agitation by secessionist groups in the South Eastern Nigeria including the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and lately, the different factions of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

  • 5 Jeju 4.3 events was used to capture the violent armed uprisings and counter insurgency which took p (...)

6The need for countries transitioning from war or violent conflict situations to adopt a memorialisation policy was implicitly captured by Louis Bickford in expatiating on the four obligations of the state as stipulated by international law. These responsibilities include establishing the truth, ensuring accountability by perpetrators, reparation for the victims and prevention of future occurrence through institutional reforms (Hogan, 2013). These state duties can be accomplished by the creation of public memorials as complementary to other transitional justice mechanisms. The South Korean example is very informative in this light. The National Committee for the Investigation of the Jeju 4.3 Events5 was set up to collect evidence, publish a report, and establish an archive, alongside identifying and honouring the civilian victims and their families. The aftermath of the commission’s release of its report in 2003 was the official apology rendered by the President Roh Moo-Hyun in 2004 and his attendance at the memorialisation of the events through a commemoration service in 2006 (Kim, 2009: 407). Borgersrud (2005) also reveals how a girl was able to discover her true identity as a deported “war child” from Norway rather than being a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp, as she had been made to believe, through recourse to the Swedish National Archives (see Valderhaug, 2011: 14). These examples strengthen the arguments on the role of memorialisation in establishing the truth about events of the past, people’s identity and reparation for past injustices. In the case of Nigeria, the institutional framework for the prevention of future occurrence of conflict situations through memorialisation has been underutilised. This is such that the efforts at attaining transitional justice through the HRVIC failed to yield the desired effect of reconciliation, rehabilitation and restitution.

  • 6 Hyun Ki-Young was arrested and tortured by government agents and his novel was banned.
  • 7 The identification of hidden spaces for memorialisation within oppressive contexts may also include (...)

7As proposed earlier, in certain instances, memory initiatives, as a transitional justice mechanism, could also face the challenges of rejection and suppression by incumbent regimes (see also Kutz, 2004) due to the possible indictment of their members. This was the case during the period preceding the establishment of a truth commission in South Korea. Hitherto, there had been no public mention of the 4.3 events for over two decades, until the events were memorialised through the novel Aunt Suni by Hyun Ki-Young in 1978.6 This was followed by the use of cultural media such as memorial services (both private and public), poetry, traditional plays, literature, picture and art exhibitions amongst other traditional cultural festivities and rituals for public sensitisation (Kim, 2009: 412–414).7 It is also pertinent to point out that the South Korean instance portrays a practicable example of how memorialisation can serve as the foundational basis for other transitional justice mechanisms by stimulating the conscience of people to demand for the search of the truth of history. Also within the Asian Context, Chang’s (1997) effort to raise awareness of the hitherto neglected “Rape of Nanking” involving about 20,000 abused Chinese females whose plights were not factored into the post war trials defines another paradigm shift in considering crimes against humanity. While the active roles played by novelists, journalists and historians in Norway in revisiting the conditions of “war children” during the 1980s, after about 40 years of official neglect and hidden truth, is very instructive. Their importance was reflected in the 1986 legislation on the right of this group to know their real biological parents—through visits to the archives. These efforts eventually led to the struggle for justice and restitution for past discriminations through the Norwegian Association of War Children, which in turn stimulated several government interventions in the form of research projects, apologies and payment of reparations (Valderhaug, 2011: 18).

8The Norwegian context was hinged on the Lebensborn Records which helped to confirm the social construction of the “war children” whose mixed parentage was central to their identity and their toleration by the Germans (Valderhaug, 2011: 16). The negative impact of this archival records was in providing the Norwegian authorities with the “documentational basis” for discrimination against this group. This was not possible in other occupied countries where there were no Lebensborn Archives (Valderhaug, 2011: 17). It is thus important that there are official government policies to prevent the negative utilisation of the records. In the United Kingdom, the above cited continuous demand for justice, through the creation of memorials for the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster, resulted in the quashing of the earlier inquests by the James Jones’ chaired Hillsborough independent Panel in 2012 (see Gibson, Conn and Siddique, 2012). More so, as depicted in the story of Anne Williams in the introductory section of this paper, the memory initiatives ought not be restricted to unpleasant events, but also include creating memories for positive heroic acts as well. Examples of such acts during the WII are given by Prutschi and Weintraub (2000: 18) as those of:

the German John Rabe… who, as the “good man of Nanking,” defied the Japanese Imperial Army and saved thousands of the city’s Chinese inhabitants. Or the Japanese Senpo Sugihara who, as Consul of in Kovno, Lithuania in 1940, also in defiance of his government, issued thousands of visas saving more than 31,000 Jewish refugees. Or the Chinese Consul in Vienna, Dr. Feng Shan Ho, between 1937 and 1940, once again without permission from his government, issued thousands of life-saving transit visas to Jews desperate to flee from Austrian and Nazi persecution.

9The remembrance of such humanitarian acts can therefore be a fillip to the entrenchment of ethical values within a diverse and multi-ethnic society like Nigeria. Thus, the creation of memorials of the Nigerian Civil War must take cognisance of the benevolent acts of both Igbos and non-Igbos who ensured the safety of lives and properties of “the other” during the war years. In doing this, the youths, who are an essential part of the memorialisation process, can also be inspired to emulate such acts. While the government can institutionalise suitable mechanisms of encouraging such heroes as a means of building sustainable peace within the Nigerian society.


1 Paul Touvier was the first French national to be tried for crime against humanity in the post WWII era.

2 Reinsich (2011) expatiated on Europe’s post-WWII’s classification of survivors and perpetrators through the recalling of their roles and how this influenced the kind of perception and treatment gotten from the public, different governments (Austria, Germany, England, USA) and international organisations such as the United Nations through the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). The role of memory in identifying and classifying these survivors herein helped in taking policy decisions on how to go about combating post-war challenges.

3 While Weah aligned his account to the display of power and intimidation by the perpetrators before the Liberian TRC, in the case of Nigeria, the non-appearance of the three former heads of state: generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babaginda and Abdusalami Abubakar reflected how accused perpetrators could seem unrepentant and antagonistic to national unity and reconciliation by using judicial means (hitherto subverted during their reigns) to thwart the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission’s process.

4 See: Education and Training Center/International. 2010. United State Institute of Peace Certificate Course in Negotiation and Conflict Management. Retrieved from p. 87.

5 Jeju 4.3 events was used to capture the violent armed uprisings and counter insurgency which took place on Jeju Island, South of South Korea between 1948 and 1954. 4.3 follows the tradition of naming events after their dates of occurrence; in this case 3rd April, 1948 (see Kim, 2009).

6 Hyun Ki-Young was arrested and tortured by government agents and his novel was banned.

7 The identification of hidden spaces for memorialisation within oppressive contexts may also include oral historical evidence which may have been facilitated by civil societies who adapt to the societal context of their operation (Impunity Watch, 2013: 4).

© IFRA-Nigeria, 2017

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