Tobi Soniyi in Lagos
Following a news report by THISDAY, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has pulled back from his decision to side-step the Senate when he asked Mr. Tony Ojukwu to resume as Acting Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) without clearance from the Senate.
THISDAY checks reveal that both the Senate and the Presidency were angry over the ministry of justice’s decision. Their intervention eventually forced a return to the status quo.
In this wise, the Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata, has written to Ojukwu to wait for further instruction from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation(SGF).
The letter was dated February 27, 2018. It read: “I am to inform you to await further instructions from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation before further necessary action Ojukwu has now handed over to Mrs Otti Ovravah who, before she was compelled to hand over to Ojukwu, was the acting Executive Secretary of the commission.”
THISDAY has exclusively reported that the AGF, ignoring an advice from the SGF, directed Ojukwu to resume as Acting Executive Secretary of the commission contradiction to civil service rules and the Act that established the commission.
Some staff of the commission who felt that the action of the AGF contradicted the civil service rules and the NHRC (Amendment) Act alerted THISDAY to the illegality.
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 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: “In accordance with provisions of Section 8 of the NHRC Act 2010, I have the pleasure to present Mr. Anthony Okechuwku Ojukwu for confirmation as the executive secretary of the NHRC by the Senate.”
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 Ojukwu’s appointment, the justice ministry wrote to Ovravah to handover to Ojukwu.
Ovravah is the most senior 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.
The letter with Ref. No SGF/PS/NHRC/180/T which is dated February 08, 2018 was titled: ‘Approval to Resume Duty as Acting Executive Secretary of the NHRC.’
It reads: “Kindly refer to the subject matter captioned above.
“As 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.
“While thanking you for holding forte 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 Mr. 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.
“Please accept the assurance of the best wishes and consideration of the AGF.”
Contrary to the impression given by the AGF, section 8 of the NHRC (Amendment Act) which makes the appointment of an ES subject to Senate confirmation does not discriminate on whether the appointee is a director in the commission or is an outsider.
For the avoidance of doubt, Section 8 provides thus: “8. Section 7 (1) of the Principal Act is amended by substituting for a new section 7(1) which states: “There shall be for the commission an executive secretary who shall be – (a) a legal practitioner with not less than 20 years post qualification experience and requisite experience in human right issues; (b) a person of proven integrity and be the chief executive and accounting officer of the commission; (c) appointed by the President subject to confirmation by the Senate.”
Ojukwu appointment was made through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and not through the AGF’s office