Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has inaugurated the first governing council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015.

The last governing council, which is the highest decision-making body of the commission, was chaired by Chidi Odinkalu.

While Mr Odinkalu chaired the body between 2011 and 2016, Bem Angwe, another professor of law, was the Executive Secretary of the commission at the time.

The commission has had a chequered history of government interference in its mandate of promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria.

“We do recall the removal from office of Dr Bukhari Bello in 2006 and Mrs K.F. Ajoni in 2008 in circumstances adjudged to constitute interference with the mandate of the commission,” Tony Ojukwu, NHRC’s Executive Secretary, said on Monday in his welcome remarks at the event.

‘Funding still a challenge’

He pointed out that the aspect of government funding and operationalisation of the “Human Rights Fund still remains a challenge.”

“Financial constraints have been a major challenge to the realisation of a better remuneration and allowances for staff,” Mr Ojukwu said, urging the newly inaugurated council to prioritise the mandate and welfare of staff.

Mr Malami said he was directed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, to swear in the council members on behalf of Mr Buhari, who is on a medical trip in London.

The minister urged the council to work assiduously with the entire staff of the commission in order to realise its mandate.

On her part, the chairperson of the newly inaugurated governing council, Salamatu Suleiman, said in her address that nations are judged by their human rights record.

Ms Suleiman advocated an improved staff welfare, adding that it was unacceptable for the staff of the NHRC to be poached by Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who have better remuneration for workers.

L-R: Mrs Salamatu Suleiman, Chairperson of the governing council of the NHRC; Abubakar Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Tony Ojukwu, Executive Secretary, NHRC in a group photograph with other members of the council shortly after their inauguration on Monday in Abuja.

She pledged to work for the protection and enforcement of the rights of Nigerians.



Background

The Nigerian Senate had in May 2021 confirmed the nominations of 12 persons for appointment as Chairman and members of the Governing Council the NHRC.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Opeyemi Bamidele, observed that during the screening of the nominees, the committee was guided by the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the extant law, which established the NHRC.

Mr Bamidele said Section 14 (3) of the constitution required that the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies, should reflect the Federal Character Principles.

“However, it is noteworthy to state that the composition of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, as presented to the 9th Senate, does not comply with the provisions of the constitution as it relates to the Federal Character Principles.

“That it is imperative to state that absolute compliance with the provisions of the constitution is not a choice, but a fundamental obligation imposed on individuals, Government and all its functionaries, as encapsulated in Section 13 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended,” he said.

He urged the Senate to draw the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari to the lop-sidedness in the composition of the Governing Council of NHRC which was an infraction against the constitution of Nigeria.

The members of the governing council include: Salamatu Suleiman (Chairman), while Joseph Mmamel, Ahmad Fingilla, Kemi Asiwaju-Okenyodo, Abubakar Muhammed; and Femi Okeowo were confirmed as members.

Others are Sunday Etim Daniel, Agabaidu Jideani, Nella Andem-Rabana, Azubuike Nwakwenta; Jamila Isah; and Idayat Hassana.

Ms Suleiman was the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development in the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

She also served as commissioner in charge of political affairs, peace and security at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commission from 2012 to 2016.

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