By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Almost a year after the Senate confirmed their nomination, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, yesterday, inaugurated the governing council of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC.
Those sworn-in yesterday were Prof. Chidi Odinkalu as Chairman of the Council; Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Prof. Bem Angwe; Mrs Funmi Falana; Mrs Eugenia Abu; wife of immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ranti Bosede Daudu, Dr Dave O.C. Ezeigwe and Olawole Fapohunda.
The AGF who maintained that his eventual decision to administer oath of office on them, yesterday, was “the culmination of the determined effort of the present administration to ensure that the NHRC is properly positioned to discharge its statutory functions,” noted that despite the best efforts of the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration “gaps remain in the protection of human rights in Nigeria.”
He said: “Our collective desire as a nation to live under a constitutional order that would guarantee our basic rights and liberties propelled the return of our country to democratic rule on May 29, 1999.
“In the last 13 years, we have witnessed significant incremental progress in the level of compliance with our domestic and international human rights obligations.
“We need a national human rights institution which can act as a watch-dog and at the same time partner with government to advance the cause of human rights in the country.”
“Engage with the Nigerian people to sensitize them on their rights and duties; collaborate with Civil Society Organization without getting sucked in by the peculiar agenda of some of them; and act as a bridge between Nigeria and the international human rights community in a manner that highlights our problems and challenges without unduly stripping us of our dignity in the comity of nations or sacrificing our sovereignty.
“Considering the pedigree of the appointees to the Governing Council, supported by the Management team in place at the commission under the leadership of the Executive Secretary, I have no doubt that the commission can deliver on these milestones and even more.
To achieve these objectives however, the Governing Council and the Management must consider it imperative to work in absolute harmony in the overall interest of the nation and the human right community in Nigeria.
“The role of the NHRC is critical to the Federal Government and it is our responsibility as stakeholders to ensure that its internal dynamics and coordination are properly calibrated through sound corporate governance practices to enable it deliver on it crucial mandate in a smooth and unimpeded manner.
Government will not shy away from its responsibility to ensure that the Commission is run in accordance with the dictates of its enabling statute and would expect all members to conduct themselves in a manner befitting of high office,” he added.
In his response, Chairman of the board, Odinkalu, vowed to intensify is fight against human right abuse in the country, even as he urged the Federal Government to give the Commission free hand to coordinate its activities without undue interference.
Besides, Odinkalu, called for the enthronement of mutual respect between the AGF, the NHRC and other partnering agencies, stressing that “the commission is not an opposition party or the Salvation Army, we are however determined to put in our best, though we also need our autonomy.”
It would be recalled that Odinkalu’s appointment as the NHRC boss, sparked tension within the corridors of powers, as those opposed to him nomination, expressed fears that he might eventually become a thorn in the flesh of the administration following his dogged stance against human right abuse despite whose ox is gored.
Their fear was further heightened after Odinkalu, in a statement he presented at a seminar organized by the National Association of Judicial Correspondents Abuja Chapter, indicted the Nigerian Police as the worse abusers of human rights in the country, alleging that the police summarily execute over 5000 detainees every year.
Sequel to the allegation, Odinkalu was subsequently invited and interrogated by the Police, after which the inauguration of the council which was earlier okayed by the Senate since December 8, 2011, was kept in abeyance till yesterday.
He added that NERC would do everything within its power to ensure full compliance with the order.