Tobi Soniyi in Lagos
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has asked Tony Ojukwu to assume office as the acting Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in contravention of the civil service rules and the Act that established the commission.
Some staff of the commission who felt the action of the AGF contravened the civil service rules and the NHRC (Amendment) Act alerted THISDAY to the illegality being perpetuated by the minister who ought to be championing rule of law.
On February 13, 2016, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General of the Federation caused a letter to be delivered to Mrs. Otti Ovravah who was until then, the acting Executive Secretary of the commission, to hand over to Ojukwu.
Following the completion of the tenure of Prof. Bem Angwe as Executive Secretary, Ovravah took over as acting ES being the most senior person in the commission.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in December last year written to the Senate to request the confirmation of the appointment of Ojukwu as executive secretary of the commission.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had already read the letter to senators at plenary.
The letter partly read: â€œIn accordance with provisions of Section 8 of the National Human Rights Commission Act 2010, I have the pleasure to present Mr. Anthony Okechuwku Ojukwu for confirmation as the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission by the Senate.â€
However, the Senate had placed an embargo on the confirmation of appointments made by the president following the retention of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) despite rejection of his appointment by the lawmakers.
However, in order to circumvent the provisions of Section 8 of the NHRC Act 2010, which requires the Senate to confirm Ojukwuâ€™s appointment, the AGF directed the Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, to write to Mrs. Ovravah to handover to Ojukwu.
Ovravah is the most senior officer in the commission, and under the Civil Service Rules, she should have continued to act as executive secretary of the commission until the Senate confirms Ojukwu. Mr. Mohammed Ladan, who is the next most senior officer, is not a lawyer. Ojukwu is the third most senior in the commissionâ€™s hierarchy.
A source at the Ministry of Justice confided in THISDAY that Malami had at a meeting with United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, on January 11 at the ministry prevented the acting Executive Secretary of the commission, Ovravah, from speaking on behalf of the commission. Instead, he asked Ojukwu to speak for the commission when he was neither the acting ES not the substantive ES.
â€œThey are subverting both the civil service hierarchy and the NHRC Act. These are the people who should be upholding the rule of law,â€ the ministry of justice source said.
Although the commission has given the impression that Ovravah went on a voluntary leave, the letter sent to her to hand over to Ojukwu belies that claim.
THISDAY saw a copy of the letter with ref. No SGF/PS/NHRC/180/T which is dated February 08, 2018.
The letter is titled: â€˜Approval to Resume Duty as acting Executive Secretary of the NHRCâ€™.
It stated: â€œKindly refer to the subject matter captioned above.
â€œAs you are aware in December 2017, President Buhari nominated Mr. Anthony Okechukwu Ojukwu as the substantive Executive Secretary to the commission pending confirmation by the Senate.
â€œWhile thanking you for holding forth in the commission till now, I am directed to inform you of approval to hand over the administration of the commission to the nominee of the president since he is a serving director in the commission. This is pending his confirmation by the Senate and full reconstitution of the governing council. The directive is with effect from the date of this letter.
â€œPlease accept the assurance of the best wishes and consideration of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.â€
Contrary to the impression given by the AGF, Section 8 of the NHRC (Amendment Act) which makes the appointment of an executive secretary subject to Senate confirmation does not discriminate on whether the appointee is a director in the commission or an outsider.
For the avoidance of doubt, Section 8 provides thus: â€œ8. Section 7 (1) of the Principal Act is amended by substituting for a new section â€œ7(1)â€ â€“ â€œ7 (1) There shall be for the commission an Executive Secretary who shall be: â€˜a legal practitioner with not less than 20 years post qualification experience and requisite experience in human right issues; a person of proven integrity and be the Chief Executive and Accounting Officer of the commission; appointed by the president subject to confirmation by the Senate.â€
The source at the ministry of justice said: â€œAsking Ojukwu to resume as acting executive secretary because he is a director at the commission amounts to reading into the law, what is not there.â€
appointment was made through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and not through the AGFâ€™s office.