A former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, has lambasted the NHRC for asking its staff to sign 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 members of 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 needless 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 staff to sign and subscribe to forms of ‘oath of Secrecy’- very much like a secret cult.”

Odinkalu said contrary to the claims of the leadership of the NHRC, the standing orders and rules of procedure of the commission don’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.

“The fact that this idea of administering a secrecy oath on staff of 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,” he said.

Odinkalu noted that the staff union of the NHRC had asked its members not to sign the oath of secrecy.

He said the management of the commission ought to avoid such needless battles.

The former NHRC boss said the management of the commission seemed to be lacking direction since President Muhammadu Buhari had failed to appoint and inaugurate members of 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 oathing practice of secret cults and outlaw societies.

“These developments owe very much to the absence of leadership in the commission as a result of the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint a new governing council for the NHRC. The vacuum in appointment of a governing council is corrosive and it shows.”

The activist, who posted copies of the documents administering the oath, said forcing staff to sign it would be illegal.

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 sign 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 HRM (Human Resources Manager) department on or before July 10, 2019.”