Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has criticised the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for compelling its staff to subscribe to an oath of secrecy, describing the action as a contradiction in terms for both the government of President Muhammadu Buhari which promised to tackle corruption headlong and the Commission whose mandate is to protect citizens human rights. MRA called on the Commission to immediately rescind the decision.
In a statement signed by its Executive Director, Edetaen Ojo, the group said: “It is a tragedy that the government of Muhammadu Buhari, which vowed to tackle corruption headlong will condone such action. This is a government that has signed on to the Open Government Partnership, an initiative which, among other things, promotes transparency, empowers citizens, fights corruption and harnesses new technologies to strengthen governance. Compelling personnel of any of its agencies to subscribe to the oath of secrecy amounts to a betrayal of the spirit of the OGP as well as the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act which guarantee’s the public’s right to access information held by public institutions.”
A memo dated July 3, 2019, issued by the Commission and signed by Ibe Obidigwein on behalf of its Executive Secretary asked all staff members of the Commission to sign the oath of secrecy and submit same before July 10, 2019.
The memo says 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,” the memo noted.
MRA reminded the NHRC that it is an extra-judicial mechanism set up and empowered to ensure the respect and enjoyment of human rights to take up cases of human rights abuses warning it that compelling its staff to sign the oath of secrecy will defeat the essence for which it was set up.
Edetaen said: “Asking the staff of NHRC to subscribe to the oath of secrecy will seriously undermine and erode the objectives of the Freedom of Information Act which guiding principle is maximum disclosure. It will also rubbish Nigeria’s membership of the OGP and the government’s avowed stance to stamp out corruption.”
“How can we win the war against corruption if you ask government officials and officers to sign to the oath of secrecy? How can citizens’ human rights be protected in an atmosphere of secrecy? What will the world think of Nigeria if they learn about the nation administering oath of secrecy when it should be opening up governance?” Edetaen asked.
MRA warned that human rights abuses often thrive in atmospheres of secrecy and therefore asked the Commission to immediately withdraw the oath of secrecy forms it issued and destroy those that have been filled and submitted by its personnel.