Former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Professor Chidi Odinkalu, should stop distracting the organisation with the frivolous case he has filed seeking to stop the management from administering an oath of secrecy /confidentiality on its sfaff, a human rights body has told him.
In fact, the Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) is set to apply to Court to join the suit filed by Odinkalu against the NHRC, with the aim of taking and advancing a position that will enhance the NHRC as the foremost institution for the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria.
Early this month, Odinkalu had expressed reservations over the oath which he said was akin to oaths for membership of a secret cult.
He disclosed in a series of tweets that the oath to resistant staff was justified by the management’s reliance on a misinterpreted standing order from the Standing Orders and Rules of Procedures for the commission.
He also blamed federal government’s delay in re-constituting the NHRC Governing Council as being responsible for the alleged misconduct of the management.
Odinkalu went a step further to approach the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, asking it to stop the commission from administering the oath of secrecy/confidentiality, which has set the staff union against the management, on its staff.
He urged the court to declare such oath illegal and unconstitutional because, according to him, the policy would grossly violate rights of staff to their statutorily guaranteed freedom of expression.
He sought for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the commission from proceeding with the plan.
But CASER, in a statement on Wednesday, by its Executive Director, Barrister Frank Tietie, says it is disturbed by the case.
It says, “CASER considers it as a needless and baseless distraction to the NHRC and its management at this moment, when to the surprise of many and contrary to earlier expectations, the NHRC under its present leadership has been quite impressive and done creditably well.
“The NHRC has been repositioned to discharge its statutory functions of promoting and protecting the composite human rights of all Nigerians without fear, favour and discrimination.
“CASER is particularly impressed with Tony Ojukwu, the Executive Secretary of the NHRC by the professional, independent, dispassionate and committed way and manner he conducted the investigative hearings of the Presidential Committee on SARS, leading up to its recommendation for the adoption of State Police in Nigeria.
“CASER is aware of the remarkable strides by the Tony Ojukwu led Commission in strengthening the intellectual and operational capabilities of NHRC staff, through its aggressive in-house training programmes that are meant to reposition and refocus all NHRC staff nationwide to apply a knowledge driven human rights approach to their work for the Nigerian people.
“CASER holds with sacrosanctity, the recognition of the December 10- International Human Day and therefore, is very happy and proud of the current NHRC leadership for taking to another level of significance, the importance of celebrating human rights as a national culture in Nigeria.
“Whereas, CASER is committed to the full implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, it realises that no responsible management of an organization like the NHRC that is independent with its special investigative and enforcement powers, will tolerate an uncoordinated management of sensitive information by its members of staff which can likely jeopardise the discharge of its mandate.
“CASER therefore believes, that the steps taken by the NHRC to assure itself by an oath of secrecy, that its staff will not compromise investigations, is not only necessary to the effective discharge of its functions, it is also within the ambits of the law.
“CASER strongly believes and expects that Odinkalu, being a former Chairman of the NHRC could have better asserted his influence in making clear his reservations about the Commission’s approach to guarding sensitive information rather than resorting to initiating legal proceedings against it.
“Therefore, Odinkalu is hereby urged to immediately withdraw and discontinue the reported suit he has filed against the NHRC and its Management. “The law establishing the NHRC is mindful of the need to keep it focussed on its mandate by preventing frivolous and vexatious litigations against it.
“That is why it provided for pre-action notices and other measures which can be applied through engagement”The focus of NHRC is very crucial to the work of CASER as a Nigerian human rights NGO and civil society organization.
“CASER considers and aligns its operations according to statutory mandate of the NHRC for a better regime of human rights protection in Nigeria”.