Court Quashes Osunbor’s Indictment by NHRC

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By Davidson Iriekpen

The Federal High Court in Abuja has quashed the indictment of former Governor of Edo State, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor, by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for electoral offences.

It also declared as null and void the report of the commission and its recommendations urging the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute him for electoral crimes. 

Osunbor, who was sworn in as governor of Edo State on May 29, 2007, was sacked in controversial circumstances by the Court of Appeal in 2008 after 18 months in power.

However, in 2014, the Governing Council of the NHRC recommended the former governor and 40 others to the Attorney General of the Federation for prosecution for an alleged violation of electoral laws and commission of other criminal offences.

The recommendations which the commission said was from the council’s consideration of an independent review of evidence of gross violations of rights to participate in government, were said to in the exercise of its powers under Section 6 (1) of its NHRC Act 1995 as amended.

This made Osunbor to go to court to declare that his purported indictment by the commission for electoral violence was unlawful and unconstitutional because the commission did not give him any opportunity to defend himself before arriving at the indictment.

In addition, he prayed that the purported indictment be set aside because the rights commission went outside its powers by reviewing the judgment of the election petition tribunal which nullified his election and drawing a conclusion different from that reached by the tribunal.

He contended that no allegation of electoral offence was made against him by anybody and that the rights commission on its own and without any evidence from any witness indicted him for electoral offence.

Delivering judgment last Friday, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, stated that the former governor was not given an opportunity to be heard as a result there was a gross violation of his fundamental right particularly his right to fair hearing. 

She stated that the law is trite that when a tribunal or an administrative body is to conduct hearing they must ensure the parties involved are heard orally or in writing.

She relied on letter written by defendant admitting he was not invited to make his case.

She also stated that the NHRC should have requested to hear the plaintiff at the preliminary stage INEC V. Oshiomhole.

In deciding whether the defendant has a right to investigate the plaintiff, review the  judgment of the tribunal and recommend the plaintiff for prosecution, the judge cited section 5(b) of the NHRC Act and interpreted thus: “To investigate means to investigate into a matter systematically.’’ She also made reference to fair hearing section 36 of the Constitution (as amended).

Justice Ojikwu stated that the court is not to strip the Defendant of his right but the right must be done in accordance with the laid down laws.

She said the defendant has no power to review the judgment of a court and arrive at their conclusion as they did, and referred to an authority that the Supreme Court does not even review its own decision.

She stated before giving his final declaration that the defendant is bound to follow section 36 of the constitution in exercising their powers.

The court went further to award the sum of 500,000 as general damages in favour of the former governor