By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Dr Chidi Anslem Odinkalu, was on Tuesday, grilled for five hours by authorities of the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, following his allegation that the police summarily execute over 5000 detainees every year.
Vanguard investigations revealed that the interrogation took place in the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police responsible for Force Criminal Investigation Department, (DIG-FCID), inside the Police headquarters in Abuja.
In its bid to ascertain the veracity of the allegation which the police said was highly inimical to its public image, a panel comprising of a Commissioner of Police, CP, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, DCP, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, the Deputy Commissioner of Police for INTERPOL and the Commissioner of Police responsible for Legal Affairs (CP-Legal), queried Odinkalu at the Louis Edet House from 12:15pm till 5:30pm.
Though Dr Odinkalu who was appointed as chairman, governing council of the NHRC by President Goodluck Jonathan early this year, was accompanied to the police headquarters by two of his lawyers, Mrs. Maryam Uwais and Mr. Bamidele Aturu, they were however barred from attending the interrogation session despite their vehement protestations to the decision.
According to a source who spoke to Vanguard on grounds of anonymity, “the Police team requested that they would wish to meet with Dr. Odinkalu alone, asking both counsel to excuse them from the meeting. An argument as to the propriety and constitutionality of such request ensued. The police claimed this to be their standard practice; counsel argued that it was patently unconstitutional.
“The police explained the purpose of the encounter and said they desired “an interaction” with the Chairman of the NCHR over remarks he made at conference of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents in Abuja on 5 March 2012. They said it would be friendly and promised that they had no intention of detaining him as was widely speculated in the media.
“It was at that juncture that the lawyers stepped out about 13:15 hours to the adjacent room while the encounter continued between Dr. Odinkalu and the Police team.”
Meanwhile, the meeting was stalemated after the NHRC boss declined to write a formal statement as he was directed to do by the police team.
Another source at the Right Commission told Vanguard that the two lawyers were recalled into the meeting at 2: 40pm, with a plea that they should convince their client to write a statement to back up his allegations.
“Dr Odinkalu refused to comply with that directive because he had already given them all the documents indicating that the contents of his presentation (including the estimates) were derived from material provided mostly from official government sources, including reports of three successive Presidential Commissions and reports attributed to four successive Inspectors-General of Police.
“Our Chairman had requested to know if he was being charged with an offence in his personal capacity or if he was being asked to write the statement in his capacity as Chair of the NHRC.
“He stated quite clearly that, as Chair of the NHRC, he would not write any statement as that would amount to desecrating that exalted office. But if they felt the need to charge him as an individual, they should inform him of the charges against him, although he still retained the right not to write a statement. He reminded them that the letter earlier written by him to the IG, (copy of which had been submitted to the Team, along with other documents) already provided the information they required.
“Indeed, if they insisted that he write anything at all, he would write them a letter, subsequent to the meeting to reiterate his stand on not writing a statement on principle. Both Mrs. Uwais and Mr. Aturu supported this position, demanding for respect for the NHRC as an independent, statutory institution created by law.”
Sensing that the case was assuming a different dimension, the police team asked both Odinkalu and his group to wait, just as they convened an ad-hoc meeting in other to fully appraise the situation.
“Eventually, at 5.10pm, we were invited to the office of the DIG-FCID, Peter Gana. He informed us that the concern of the NPF was that the police image would be damaged both nationally and internationally, if such ‘incredible’ estimates emanated from a high profile person such as the Chair of the NHRC. This informed the basis for the formal invitation to Chidi, if only to ascertain his sources and the veracity of the information published in the newspapers. However, having been briefed by the Police Team and shown all the documents submitted, he was satisfied with the bases for the “estimates” credited to the Chairman of the NHRC.
“The DIG said he hoped that the NPF and the NHRC would work together towards improving efficient law enforcement and justice for Nigerian citizens”, the source added.
Specifically, Odinkalu had in a speech he delivered at a two-day capacity building workshop for judiciary correspondents with the theme, “plea bargain and other emerging trends in criminal justice administration in Nigeria,” maintained that, “by some estimates, the police execute over 5,000 detainees summarily every year.”
He said: “We have a criminal justice system that is unable to catch those who violate its rules; unable to ensure accountability even for the most basic crimes; detains those whom it cannot convict often for longer than it can hold them if it were to convict them; and, without consequences, kills many on whom it can’t even pin any charges of criminal conduct.
“In one sentence, our criminal justice system has normalized abnormality.
“Many detainees in police cells are held in prisons for over the constitutionally permissible 48 hours and many police cells have detainees who have been held without being arraigned for over six months and, in some cases, over 12 months.”