By Uthman Samad
TWO Abuja based right groups, Open Bar Initiative and Global Right Initiative have decried the slow pace of judicial process and violations of the constitutional provisions by Kaduna State Government in a case it instituted against the former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Chidi Odinkalu.
Odinkalu had been charged to court by Governor Nasir El-Rufai led Kaduna State Government for “inciting disturbance, injurious falsehood, public nuisance, and furnishing false information punishable under section 77, 373, 104, and 150 respectively of the Penal Code Law of Kaduna state, 2017.”
His travails in the hands of the state government started when he alleged that Governor El-Rufai exaggerated the number of casualties in Kajuru violent clash.
However, addressing journalists at a press briefing in Abuja, the rights groups noted that throughout the proceedings, they have had grave concerns arising from manifest biases as well as lack of independence and impartiality on the part of the court, in violation of the applicable constitutional standards which the defense team has dutifully observed its professional obligation to treat the court with due respect.
The right groups alleged that the direct criminal complainant had Chidi Odinkalu’s address on the face of it but it was never served on him, noting that proceedings began, held and were adjourned three times on March 22, 25 April and May 22, all in 2019 without Odinkalu’s knowledge.
They argued that it was not until September 18, 2019 where his legal team appeared before the Magistrate Court for the first time that they were in the picture of the proceedings.
The groups also affirmed that the direct criminal complaint lacks subject matter and territorial jurisdiction which reportedly aroused from an interview Odinkalu granted in Abuja on Channels Television on February 16, 2019 where he disproved and alleged that Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai lied over the number of recorded causalities in Maro, Kajuru Local Government of the state.
However, the rights groups also expressed worry that the “case” does not have a case number, therefore, the direct criminal complaints and any orders purporting to be based on it are a nullity because they did not exist and could not have existed.
Micheal Opara, who spoke on behalf of the two groups, noted that the magistrate is being represented by counsel in these proceedings by the same counsel who represents the Governor of Kaduna State, a development, he described as crass judicial aberration under the law.
He alleged that the magistrate in Kaduna is being instructed by Governor El-rufai, to overrule and disobey the High Court orders.
This, Opara said was a step that destroyed the entire bases of judicial process in Nigeria.
Chidi Odinkalu’s travail with the Kaduna State Government stemmed from an interview he granted during a live programme on Channels Television on 16 February, 2019 where he said the causalities in the Kajuru incident were not more than 11 but El-Rufai was playing politics with lives when he reported through his media aide that about 66 people were killed at the incident.
“That story, if you noticed, that story was broken by the Kaduna State Governor with his publicist, Muyiwa Adekeye standing by his shoulder. No police officer, no SSS officer, no security person in the vicinity and he was throwing out words that were calculated to be very incendiary on the eve of very difficult elections about a location that is very difficult and has had historical problems of violence across communities,” Odinkalu had said.
“And he was dropping this bromide like he was on some substance, with all due respect. I spent all of last night from all the sources in Kajuru and nobody can verify or substantiate that there has been a killing of 66 people in Kajuru over the past few days.”
In reaction to Odinkalu’s statement, Kaduna State Government filed a suit dated March 18, 2019, accusing the human rights lawyer of inciting disturbance and furnishing false information which is punishable under the state’s penal codes.