The Senate has mandated its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, to investigate the alleged lopsidedness in the appointment of the members of the Board of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
This followed a petition by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), to the Senate requesting it to advise President Muhamadu Buhari to withdraw appointees of the board of the commission.
Mr Falana said the president should ensure compliance with Section 14(3) of the constitution and Section 4 of the Federal Character Commission Act in the appointments.
The petition was laid on the floor of the Senate by the Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe.
His petition came about three weeks after the president sent the names of 16 nominees appointed to the board and governing council of the commission and sought the Senate’s approval.
The nominees were screened last year but are yet to be confirmed.
In the letter dated April 19 and addressed to the Senate President, the lawyer noted that three of the four nominees representing the North-east are from Kebbi State – including the chairperson of the Governing Council, Salamatu Suleiman.
He said the South-east and South-south zones have four representatives each while the South West and North-central zones have two representatives each.
He also said the North-east Zone has no representative – even as the rate of human rights abuses in the region was higher than any other region in the country because of the counter insurgency operations being prosecuted there.
‘Against the constitution’
The nominations, he said, are not in consonance with Section 14(3) of the Constitution which stipulates that
“The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
He also referred to Section 4 (1)(a) of the Federal Character Commission Act which states that:
“Each State of the Federation and the Federal ‘Capital-Territory shall be equitably represented in all national institutions and in public enterprises and organizations.
“…Once a candidate has attained the necessary minimum requirement for appointment to a position, he shall qualify to fill a relevant vacancy reserved for indigenes of his State or the Federal Capital Territory and;
“…Where the number of positions available cannot go round the States of the Federation or the Federal Capital Territory, the distribution shall be on zonal basis but in the case where two positions are available, the positions shall be shared between the northern and the southern zones.”
Mr Falana asked the Senate to advise the president to withdraw the nomination of the members of the Commission and ensure that the proposed appointments comply with the provisions Of 14 (3) of the Constitution and section 4 of Federal Character Commission (Establishment etc) Act.
The appointment process, he said, ”should also involve representatives of civil society, especially human rights defenders’ representing the interests of particularly vulnerable sections of society, and also include NGOs, opposition leaders, trade unionists, social workers and journalists”.
“If not immediately withdrawn, the nominations and appointment process would undermine public trust and confidence in the integrity and independence of the Commission. This would ultimately weaken the effectiveness of the Commission that is supposed to be a beacon of hope for victims of human rights violations and abuses in the entire country.
“In the light of the obvious fact that lopsided appointments have recently fuelled agitations for secession in some parts of the country by disenchanted youths and socio-cultural bodies, we are compelled to call on the Senate to ensure that all appointments that require Senate confirmation are in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution and other relevant laws in the interest of the corporate existence of the country,” part of the letter read.
The petition was subsequently referred to the committee on rthics, privileges and public petitions.
The committee is to report back in two weeks.
The NHRC was established in 1995 to serve as an extra-judicial mechanism aimed at creating an enabling environment for the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights.
Its board was dissolved by Mr Buhari in November 2015.
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