2018 National Human Rights Commission || Press Release

OJUKWU'S 365 DAYS AT RIGHTS COMMISSION BY LAMBERT OPARAH

Posted: 2019-04-29

MR TONY OJKUWU


The National Human Rights Commission ( NHRC) was established by NHRC Act 1995 as amended for the promotion, protection, and enforcement of human rights of all Nigerian irrespective of sex, ethnic or religious belonging.

On April 25, 2018, Tony Okechukwu Ojukwu Esq, was appointed the Executive Secretary of the commission. He is the 6th Chief Executive Officer to be appointed in the 23 year old institution.

Ojukwu's appointment was unique in several ways. First, he is the first CEO to be appointed from among the Staff of the Commission. Second, he was the second head of the institution to go through the rigours of parliamentary screening after he was appointed by the President.

This is in consonance with the NHRC Amendment Act 2010 which granted the Commission the powers to operate as an autonomous institution, self-accounting, independent and in line with the Paris Principles establishing National Human Rights institutions all over the world. By this process, the head of the office of the institution is tenured and he/she cannot be removed arbitrarily. Any attempt to do so must follow the same process of parliamentary confirmation.

The announcement of Ojukwu as the new helmsman of the Commission was greeted with resounding ovation by the Civil Society Groups (CSOs) and other stakeholders who have always advocated for the appointment of staff with requisite knowledge and qualifications to head the institution.

Having been appointed from within the system, Ojukwu did not require any time to study the environment or acquaint himself with the staff who in any case are his colleagues. He simply hit the ground running.

In the last one year of the Commission he has recorded giant strides aimed at repositioning and making NHRC a world class human rights institution. First he initiated institutional reforms which saw one of the critical departments (Protection and Investigation) unbundled into three Departments namely Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Civil and Political Rights and Women, Children and other Vulnerable Groups Departments.

The aim here is to facilitate speedy complaint treatment and create a seamless process of managing complaints in a transparent manner to bring succour to all human rights violation victims.

The Executive Secretary knew that to be able to deliver on the mandate of the Commission, he required a skilled workforce. He therefore developed training templates and made human rights education compulsory to all staff irrespective of cadre. A monthly staff training on Human Right Education was instituted in all departments and state offices. This has gone a long way in providing a new ethical orientation among staff.

After nearly 23 years of operation, it was obvious that the Commmission's modus operandi, as a matter of necessity demanded a review. Besides, as an institution that promote, protect and enforce human rights and democratic values built on respect for rule of law and constitutionalism the NHRC will certainly play critical role in the nation's quest to be one of the twenty foremost economies in the year 2020. Flowing from this perspective the Executive Secretary launched a four year Strategic Work Plan (SWP) covering the period 2019 - 2022, aimed at re-positioning the NHRC.

The plan covered wide range human rights issues, such as; complaints treatment mechanism, increased accessibility through the establishment of more offices across the Federation, strategic and coordinated approach to human rights education, monitoring of government compliances with both local and international human rights standards, strategic recruitment and placement of a highly skilled and motivated workforce, organizational reforms and institutional development, upgrade and effective use of ICT and strengthening strategic partnerships and effective financial resource management.

In all these identified sectoral focus, a lot of progress has been made within the last one year. The complaint treatment mechanism has been strengthened to ensure best practices in complaints handling. This also includes timely treatment of complaints. All complaints lodged before the Commission must be concluded within a time frame of three months. Any officer found contravening this policy is severely punished.

To improve the visibility and accessibility to the Commission, the present leadership has established 13 additional offices to increase the number of state offices to 36. This is in addition to the Metropolitan office sited in the densely populated areas of Nyanya and Karu, Abuja. So far each of the 36 states of the Federation now has an operational office manned by specialized Personnel.

Furthermore, the Commission is building a strong Communication network base as part of the reform process. Under this, ICT equipment has been upgraded and staff of the Commission are being trained to leverage on the use of ICT as a veritable means of communication. Part of the communication strategy of the Commission is to enhance partnership with the media and the CSO's to create massive awareness and sensitization on all human rights issues with strong emphasis on the use of social media.

In the area of human rights monitoring, the Commission has developed a template of monitoring tools, backed up by improved logistics in partnership with Civil Society groups and the media. In the last one year, the Commission in collaboration with civil society organizations, the National Assembly have embarked on Prison/detention centres monitoring across the country. It also monitored across the country the 2019 general elections with considerable input on how to improve on future elections.

In order to define the scope of activities, additional thematic areas to drive the strategies and operations of the Commission were created bringing to 16 thematic areas of focus. These include: Children, Conventional Conflict and other related violence, Election, Corruption and Good Governance, Education, Environment and Niger-Delta, Food and Shelter, Freedom of Expression and the Media, Freedom of Religion and Belief Health. Others include Business and Human Rights Independence of the Judiciary and Access to Justice, Labour, Law Reform and Law Review, Persons with Disabilities, Police, Prison and other Detention Centres and Regulatory Agencies, Torture, Extra-judicial Execution, and Terrorism, Crime and mass atrocities and Women and Gender Related matters. Each of these strategic areas is being manned by well-trained skilled and motivated programme Officers.

The Commission has maintained strong presence in the North East addressing the humanitarian challenges occasioned by the conflicts in that region. In collaboration with the UNHCR the Commission deployed human rights monitors in the affected communities as well as IDP camps.

The Executive Secretary is championing a policy on Protection of Civilians and Civilian Harm Mitigation in Conflict. So far the draft policy document is awaiting approval of the Federal Executive Council. The project which is aimed at safeguarding the security and welfare of Nigerian citizens in areas affected by conflict is in collaboration with Centre for Civilian in Conflict (CIVIC), an international organization working on protection sector.

The North East project requires Civilian/Military interface. The Commission is involved in the training of the officers and men of the Joint Military Task Force participating in the counter insurgency programme on rules of engagement.

The Commission has also zeroed its attention on the herders/farmers conflict in the north central especially Benue State. In collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the commission has set up a human rights violations monitoring team in Benue State working with community based organization to document violations, timely deal with complaints, develop early warnings, resolve conflicts and promote peaceful co-existence and accountability working with security agencies in the communities and the state in general.

The program will be extended to Nassarawa, Taraba and plateau states baring funding challenges. Meanwhile one of the new offices of the nhrc located in Taraba is being equipped to promote peace and respect for human rights to avoid further escalation of human rights violations from that front.

In the North West, the nation is confronted with violations in relation to armed banditry in zamfara and intra communal and religious conflicts in Kajuru area of kaduna state. The Commission has within this period of Ojukwu's administration established offices in Zamfara and Jigawa states to closely monitor violations, resolve complaints and bring accountability to bear on complaints from that axis. People displaced by these conflicts have been visited and their needs assessed and referred to relevant agencies for redress. These are hoped to bring accountability to bear for the violations and restore peaceful coexistence and development in the affected communities. The affected communities and displaced persons in Kajuru Kaduna state have also been visited and attention invited to the humanitarian situation of the affected and displaced population with a call to the authorities to stem the tide of violence and reprisals and prevent further violation of human rights. The Kajuru situation is being closely monitored by the NHRC state office in Kaduna.

The achievements of the last one year are evidenced by the huge visibility the Commission currently enjoys among Nigerians and more responsibilities placed on her shoulder by the present administration. The Commission recently headed an Investigation Panel set by the Federal Government for reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The outcome of that Panel is expected to address and stem the tide of human violations including extra judicial killings, torture and other inhuman and degrading treatments associated with this arm of the Nigerian Police Force.

In an effort to mainstream the goals and objectives of the institutional reforms embarked upon by the Ojukwu led administration, a 3-day management retreat was organized in Kaduna State , September 2018 . The main objective is to ensure a higher qualitative service delivery occasioned by the change in leadership and develop strategies in the context of 21st Century best practices.

As at the time of writing this piece, management and staff committees are deliberating on the outcome of that retreat with the task of developing a blueprint to feed into the mainstream of the Commission's strategic work plan. The whole exercise is aimed at making the NHRC a world class national institution for the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights standards. An institution that can help the government to adequately fulfill its human rights obligations.

Overall, the last one year of the Commission under the leadership of Tony Ojukwu has been action - packed. He hopes to refocus his energies on optimal service delivery, mainstreaming human rights in all government policies and activating the strategic work plan for the Commission.

While these are lofty achievable goal, the Executive Secretary's rapid drive is slowed down by challenges common to all offices. The main one being finance. While the budget of the Commission in paper appears good, in practice, the releases have not matched the expectations. Majority of the projects have suffered setbacks as a result of poor funding. Human rights protection in a country of about 200 million people demands a lot of resources.

It is hoped that both the Executive and the legislative arms of government would take these challenges into consideration and beef up funding of the Commission. That way the Tony Ojukwu led Management of the Commission will shine like million stars and checkmate the rate of human rights violations in Nigeria.

Until then it is a good scorecard for Tony Ojukwu's one year in office as the NHRC boss.

Mr Lambert Oparah is Director Corporate Affairs and External Linkages, NHRC.


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