A former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, has criticised the NHRC for asking its workers to take an oath of secrecy.
The oath seeks to ensure that information on the activities of the commission is not unofficially given to a third party or the public.
Odinkalu said in a series of tweets that an agency like the NHRC which is bound by the Freedom of Information Act ought not be drawn into such controversies.
He said, “Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, a public body bound by the Freedom of Information Act, has in the past week ordered all its workers to sign and subscribe to a form of ‘Oath of Secrecy’ – very much like a cult.”
Odinkalu said contrary to the leadership of the NHRC’s claims, the standing orders and rules of procedure of the commission didn’t in any way support secrecy oaths.”
The activist said the leadership of the commission had only chosen to deliberately misrepresent the relevant rules guiding the agency.
He added, “The fact that this idea of administering the oath of secrecy to staff of the NHRC misrepresents the standing orders and rules of procedure which can easily be verified by anyone interested from the full text of the rules which is downloadable.”
Odinkalu said the workers’ union of the commission had asked its members not to sign the oath of secrecy.
According to him, the management of the commission seems to be lacking direction since President Muhammadu Buhari failed to appoint and inaugurate the governing council.
Odinkalu added, “In any case, the NHRC is an institution that should be at the cutting edge of promoting access to information and transparency in government. Surely, it should be the last institution to emulate the oath-taking practice of cults.”
In a memo signed by one Ibe Obidigwein on behalf of the executive secretary of the NHRC and dated July 3, 2019, the commission asked all staff members to take the oath and submit before July 10.
It read in part, “I am directed to send to you a copy of the commission’s oath of secrecy to you for copies to be made available to all staff of your department/ unit/state office/ to sign.
“Please note that all signed oaths are to be collated and returned to the HRM (Human Resources Manager) department on or before July 10, 2019.”