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Odinkalu, former NHRC boss, sues commission over plans to ‘force staff to sign oath of secrecy’

A former chairman the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Chidi Odinkalu has sued the Commission for directing its workers to sign an oath of secrecy, which he argues to be unlawful.

With suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/852, the action was filed at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Monday.

The defendants are the NHRC; Anthony Ojukwu, Executive Secretary of the commission; the Nigeria Civil Service Union; and Efem Atu, chairman of the union.

Odinkalu, a lawyer and human rights activist, said in the originating motion on notice that the NHRC and its chairman, with the backing of the union, is administering an oath of secrecy and confidentiality.

The motion was signed by Godwin Chigbu, the applicant’s lawyer.

“We have today filed a suit against Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, and its staff union, before the Federal High Court in Abuja asking the Court to determine the legality of the Oath of Secrecy that the Commission’s Management is forcing staff to sign,” Odinkalu tweeted on Monday.

He asked the court to declare that this oath is “incompatible with the rights guaranteed under section 39(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Article 9(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and the right to receive, access, or request for and obtain information held by public institutions in Nigeria pursuant to Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act.”

He asked also that the oath be declared null and void, as well as beyond the powers conferred on the human rights commission by the Act that established it.

The former NHRC chairman also urged the court to declare that the oath of secrecy violates his rights to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution and other laws, and likewise violates NHRC’s statutory mandate to protect human rights.

In his supporting affidavit, Odinkalu stated that, acting on behalf of Ojukwu, Ibe Obidigwe through an internal memo dated July 3 directed all unit and departmental heads and state coordinators of NHRC to “distribute copies of an oath of secrecy declaration to staff of their various departments/units etc to subscribe and return same to the 1st Respondent‘s Human Resources Management Department”.

“A copy of the oath of secrecy declaration document to be subscribed by the staff of the 1st respondent (NHRC) was attached to the said internal memo or circular dated 3rd July, 2019,” the affidavit added.

“In the desperate bid of the 1st and 2nd respondents to achieve their purpose of compelling or getting the staff of the 1st respondent to subscribe to the said oath of secrecy, had a meeting with the 3rd respondent, the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NHRC branch), on 5th July, 2019 and enlisted the cooperation of the 3rd respondent to get its members to subscribe to the said oath of secrecy.”

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