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Lawyers berate NHRC over oath of secrecy for staff

By Innocent Anaba

Reactions have continued to trail the introduction of oath of secrecy by National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, with some lawyers, describing the development as ridiculous,  absurd and baseless in law.

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Those who reacted include Sub-dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Dr. Simeon Igbinedion, Joseph Otteh, Convener, Access to Justice and Gbenga Ojo, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Lagos State University.

Dr Igbinedion said: “It is ridiculous for the NHRC to compel its staff to subscribe to such oath. Is it now a secret cult with something to hide?

“It shows the Commission has lost focus and is conspiring with the executive branch of government to deny the public of accurate information about human rights abuses and to frustrate the capacity of the aggrieved to access restitution or restoration.

“NHRC ought to be an epitome of openness  or transparency, not secrecy. In a sense, the NHRC is being realistic undiplomatically though. With unprecedented slaughter of Nigerians by Boko Haram insurgents, bandits, militias, herders, etc and the executive branch of government curiously looking the other way, NHRC does not want to be an agent of truth that would rock the boat of the incumbent government that wants us, irrespective of massive contrary evidence, to believe it means well for the safety and security of Nigerians.”

Joseph Otteh said: “Prof. Chidi Odinkalu has blown the whistle on attempts by the leadership of the commission to subject staff of the commission to an oath of secrecy. The management of the commission, on its part, has claimed that it is only interested in ensuring that the identity of, or information by victims of human rights abuses, passed to the commission are not subject to undue public disclosures.

“An oath of secrecy is, normatively, an inappropriate vehicle for achieving the purposes the commission advances. An oath of secrecy is an overbroad, generic template for holding down information and ensuring it is not shared or released under any circumstance. It can be used to refuse information to the public that the NHRC should legitimately offer as part of its mandate to ensure the rule of law and protect human rights.  “An oath of secrecy will have a chilling effect on the ability of staff and members of the commission to engage in constructive speech and dialogue both with themselves as well as with members of the public.

“Properly-tailored confidentiality rules, on the other hand, can more precisely protect the interests that the commission wishes to safeguard. Confidentiality requirements do not carry the nuances and rigidities of secrecy oaths, and will not likely have the kinds of chill effects on communication and exchanges that Oaths of Secrecy promote.”

Gbenga Ojo said: “It is not only absurd and baseless in law. What is more infuriating is that this is coming from the Human Rights Commission. Are they DSS, or any of the Armed Forces? Under which law do they derive the powers? I am not aware of such power under the labour law or any law in Nigeria. Nigeria is gradually sliding to totalitarian regime. The head of the commission should be relieved of his duties. Body to protect human rights forcing its workers to sign oath of secrecy is absurd.”

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