By Abdulwahab Abdulah
The creation of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), which are government bodies established for the promotion and protection of
human rights within their respective jurisdictions across the world, with principles set out at the first International Workshop on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Paris on 7-9 October 1991, and adopted by United Nations Human Rights Commission Resolution 1992/54 of 1992 and General Assembly Resolution 48/134 of 1993, spurs the Vanguard Law and Human Rights to look into the appointment of the person to occupy the office of the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria National Human Rights Commission, NHRC. Over the years, there have been arguments and controversies trailing the appointment of the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission in the country. With the Federal Government’s plan to appoint a Professor from a University in Benue State, there are lots of questions being raised by human rights community over the proposed appointment. The argument is that not only a capable hand is appointed to occupy the office, the next Executive Secretary of the commission should be somebody who is close to human rights community and can also beat his chest in maintaining balance between the government agents and Nigerians, whose rights are to be protected.
Since its establishment, the National Human Rights Commission has demonstrated an expansive capacity to tackle issues of human rights through various activities, ranging from public enlightenment and education, investigation of complaints, mediation and conciliation, conflict resolution, peace building, research advocacy and training programmes on contemporary issues in the field of human rights. These were given effect through an effective complaint treatment mechanism, regular hosting of seminars, workshops, rallies and continuous re-engineering of our strategies which culminated in the National Action Plan, NAP, on Human Rights as a mark of government’s commitment towards the promotion and protection of human rights.
To sustain these values and ensure more credibility to the body, some rights activists who spoke to Vanguard maintained that the appointee must be somebody who is familiar with the human rights work and must be one who knows the need for the rule of law and not for the Government to see it as an extension of the Executive arm of government, if the body is to truly discharge its statutory obligations to the Nigerian people.
Anybody who must head the Human Rights Commission, must be a professional who knows what human rights is all about. He must be somebody who is a scholar and a person who has empathy for the people. Otherwise, such person who does not belong to these category may see the place as one of the bureaucracy, who will be issuing reckless statements on serious issues or issues of important.
I don’t think the person to be appointed needs to be a lawyer, but he must be somebody who is familiar with the human rights work and he who knows the need for the rule of law. Human rights is about advancing the rights of our people. There are some people who have been working as members of the human rights society, who have gone to jail over human rights issues, either as students leader as a rights activist. These are the type of people who are eminently qualify.
Appointment into this kind office is not to be a political appointment or a job for the boys. The Executive Secretary of the Human Rights Commission, must be a person who will be ready to do the work of protecting the rights of the people against the government or individuals, no matter who is involved. You know that it is these same politicians, who violate the rights of individuals in Nigeria, so, if somebody is appointed on platform of politics, he will achieve little or nothing.
Prof. Chidi Odinkalu
There are statutory standards that govern the appointment of the executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC. To the best of my knowledge, such person must be well educated. However, the criteria that the person to be the Executive Secretary must be from the human rights community is not one of the qualifications or a criteria for such appointment. Therefore, in my view that is extraneous consideration, strictly on the matter of law. Also, it is a fact that if a person is appointed and does the job very well, that person will be invariably be closed to the human rights community and ready to achieve a working relationship with the human rights community. His job is to protect the human rights of everybody in Nigeria not just the human rights community alone.
The Executive Secretary is one of the members of the board of the NHRC, as we are aware, there are some prerequisites for the appointment into the Board of the NHRC. The person may have a some experiences of what human rights is all about but I do not think it is compulsory that the person to be appointed must be a member of the human rights community.
The office of the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission ought not to be seen by the Government as an extension of the Executive arm of government, if the body is to truly discharge its statutory obligations to the Nigerian people. This is not because government, at all levels, their functionaries and agencies, especially the military, security and the law enforcement agencies, would be under the close scrutiny of a National Human Rights Commission, that is expected to be impartial in its human rights situation analysis, assessment, and report, but also because an appointment that is perceived by Nigerians and the international community as being steeped in political and partisan calculations and considerations will not enjoy acceptance, and thus will inevitably generate a credibility problem for the NHRC, and its work.
The Federal Government has several agencies and executive bodies into which political appointments could be made, if it is desirous of rewarding any person with sinecures and patronage.
We advise that President Goodluck Jonathan should seek the advise of the Attorney_General of the Federation, the NBA, and ASUU, which have human rights committees; and the Nigerian Human Rights Community, comprising many human rights NGOs, before making this appointment. This appointment should not be considered as the exclusive preserve of the party in power. We want to hope that President Goodluck Jonathan will reconsider this matter
Anybody occupying the office of the Executive Secretary of the NHRC to the large extent, must have the knowledge of law, at least 20 years at the Bar. It will be a major disservice to the human rights in Nigeria to subject the appointment of the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, into political consideration. The outgoing person who occupies the office performed average well. Whoever to be appointed must have the pedigree and also have a brief knowledge of human rights and the law.
What stop the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF from promoting those experienced hands in the commission. There are lots of senior people in the commission, who can be promoted to the highest office of the Executive Secretary and who are eminently qualify to hold the position. Some of these men have been there for up to ten years and they are conversant with the rules and the culture of human rights activism in Nigeria.