By Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos and Adebiyi Adedapo
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, Sunday warned the Nigeria Police Force not to attempt to arrest the Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Anslem Odinkalu.
This came as Odinkalu requested the Force to grant him 48 hours to respond to the invitation, since the April 16 date coincided with a medical appointment he was scheduled to keep.
There are speculations that Odinkalu was being trailed by police over his comments as the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the National Associa-tion of Judiciary Correspondents (NAJUC) in Abuja, Nigeria on the theme “Plea Bargaining and the Administration of Justice in Nigeria”, where he accused the police of extra-judicial killings.
Odinkalu in a statement signed by his lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, stated that he would honour the invitation as a law abiding citizen, even as he said there was no justification for the invitation.
He stated Acting Inspector Inspector-General of Police (IG), Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, did not deny the allegation; rather he complained that the figures were exaggerated. The human right crusader said the figure mentioned by him was 2,500 detainees as against the 5,000 alleged by Abubakar.
Aturu, who is Odinkalu’s lawyer, said as the Chairman of the Governing Council of the NHRC, he was free to speak on any issue that relates to human rights in the country, especially when the law is not followed or rights breached.
He added that a national human rights institution that cannot with a clear conscience call attention to extra-judicial executions especially on the scale that it occurs in Nigeria was simply not fit for purpose.
The human rights lawyer disclosed that the statements made by Odinkalu were based on findings already in the public domain, adding that it was up to the police to controvert them with credible facts if they have them.
He contended that if Odinkalu as Chairman of the Governing Council of the NHRC could be arrested over his comments, then nobody was safe in the country.
“The National Human Rights Commission (Amendment) Act, 2011, empowers the NHRC to, among other things, monitor all places of detention and the conduct of law enforcement agencies, including the NPF. It is our advice to Dr. Odinkalu that a statement on extra-judicial killings is firmly within the ambit of his statutory responsibilities as Chairman of the Governing Council of the NHRC. The commission can only function legitimately if it is truly independent and responsible and seen to be so.
“The fact that its position or that of any of its officers is considered vexatious, damaging and a trigger for a criminal interrogation by the NPF clearly misapprehends its mission and undermines its independence. We do not believe, however, that the hierarchy of the NPF would seek to intimidate a fraternal institution like the NHRC.
“As a law-abiding patriot, Dr. Odinkalu proposes to show leadership, good example and respect to the institution and men and women of the NPF by honouring the request by the NPF despite the absence of justification for it.
“He seeks equal and similar respect from the NPF for the statutory responsibilities of Nigeria’s NHRC. Dr. Odinkalu proposes through this encounter to offer partnership to the leadership of the NPF in investigating and methodically addressing the admitted problem of extra-judicial killings in Nigeria with independent facilitation from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and looks forward to working constructively with them on this.
“In accordance with his entitlements under law, Dr. Odinkalu has instructed lawyers who will be vigilant in defence of his personal rights during the encounter with the police.”
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