22 January 2013

Nigeria: Can New NHRC Board Pilot Human Rights?

Today, Nigeria's very strong voice is the missing link at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on holidays for more than six years.

However, this hiatus might have ended with the first board meeting of the NHRC under its newly reconstituted governing council (as required by the newly amended act) which took place between Tuesday and Friday last week at the commission's headquarters in Abuja under the chairmanship of Professor Anslem Chidi Odinkalu.

Other members of the new board who were at the first meeting were Professor Bem Angwe, the Executive Secretary, Wale Faphohunda Esq, Mrs. Funmi Falana, Mrs. Ranti Daudu, Eugenia Abu of the NTA, Kayode Komolafe of Thisday and representatives of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Interior.

To emphasize the importance of the occasion, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights was also present.

Mrs. Atoke said the NHRC is an essential partner of the Africa Human Rights Commission which was set up specifically to address the issues of human rights in Africa, using the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights as its yardstick to speak to African countries in compliance with their obligations in promoting the rights of Africans.

Mrs. Atoki, who is a member of the last NHRC Council before she moved to head the African Human Rights Commission, one of the most vibrant regional human rights organization in the world today, said that the task ahead of the new governing council is not going to be an easy one since human rights violation is a very complex and difficult terrain in terms of compliance with standard.

She also said that human rights violations in Nigeria are a source of deep concern for almost every African, especially the impunity with which the violations have continued to pose a stumbling block to the essence of the adoption of the African Charter on Human Right.

Nigeria has been a member of the United Nations (UN) and in order to also comply with its international obligations, the country decided to establish the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) in 1995.

First, the reason that led to the downgrading of the NHRC was that the law establishing the commission in Nigeria did not comply in full with the requirement of the Paris principles.

Specifically, it did not provide for the guarantee of the tenure of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the commission. At that time, the then government was firing at will the previous CEOs but the last straw that broke the camel's back was the sacking of one of the CEOs of the commission - Buhari Bello - and later Mr. Ajoni which led the International Coordinating Committee ( ICC) on HR to downgrade Nigeria to status 'C'.

However, as soon as the new amendment law was passed, which provided for the security of tenure to members of the governing council, the CEO and as soon as he assumed duties as the substantive CEO on January 5, 2012, Nigeria was reinstated back to grade 'A' status.

The question, however, is will Nigerians see a difference in the newly composed governing council of the NHRC with the calibre of people on the board? Or can the crop that has been put together deal with the very challenging issue of implementing the amended NHRC Act?

Prior to last year, the NHRC was not given the full powers has envisaged on the Paris principles. Before President Goodluck Jonathan signed the 2011 Act of the NHRC into law, the commission did not have the power to enforce rights that were violated.

In other words, the commission could have best been described before 2011 as a dog that can bark but cannot bite. In that case the commission was given the powers to investigate alleged violations, after concluding the investigations the commission could only make recommendations but did not have the power of enforcement.

"So in 2011, with a desire to comply with the stipulations of the UN resolution that enjoins states to establish national institutions of this nature, the NASS of the Federal Republic of Nigeria passed a bill which was assented into law by the President on February 25, 2011. With this amended act, the commission is today an autonomous commission with financial autonomy and the tenure of the council and that of the CEO guaranteed.

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