Police questions NHRC Chair

ABUJA, 17 APRIL 2012: At noon today, Mrs Maryam Uwais and Mr. Bamidele Aturu, Counsel, accompanied  Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to Louis Edet, House, Headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). The encounter took place in the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police responsible for Force Criminal Investigation Department (DIG-FCID). The Police team initially included a Commissioner of Police (CP); a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) and an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP). We were later joined by the Commissioner of Police responsible for Legal Affairs (CP-Legal) and the Deputy Commissioner of Police for INTERPOL.
The meeting began about 12.15. The Police team requested that they would wish to meet with Dr. Odinkalu alone, asking both counsel to excuse them from the meeting. An argument as to the propriety and constitutionality of such request ensued. The police claimed this to be their standard practice; counsel argued that it was patently unconstitutional. The police explained the purpose of the encounter and said they desired “an interaction” with the Chairman of the NCHR over remarks he made at conference of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents in Abuja on 5 March 2012. They said it would be friendly and promised that they had no intention of detaining Dr. Odinkalu.
At this point counsel stepped out about 13:15 hours to the adjacent room while the encounter continued between Dr. Odinkalu and the Police team.
Counsel for Dr. Odinkalu were recalled into the meeting at 2.40pm, to find that the Police Team had requested him to write a statement, after he had given them all the documents indicating that the contents of his presentation (including the estimates) were derived from material provided mostly from official government sources, including reports of three successive Presidential Commissions and reports attributed to four successive Inspectors-General of Police.
Dr. Odinkalu had requested to know if he was being charged with an offence in his personal capacity or if he was being asked to write the statement in his capacity as Chair of the NHRC. He stated quite clearly that, as Chair of the NHRC, he would not write any statement as that would amount to desecrating that exalted office. But if they felt the need to charge him as an individual, they should inform him of the charges against him, although he still retained the right not to write a statement. He reminded them that the letter earlier written by him to the IG, (copy of which had been submitted to the Team, along with other documents) already provided the information they required. Indeed, if they insisted that he write anything at all, he would write them a letter, subsequent to today’s meeting, reiterating his stand on not writing a statement on principle. Both Mrs. Uwais and Mr. Aturu supported this position, demanding for respect for the NHRC as an independent, statutory institution created by law.
At that point, the Police Team, decided to invite the Commissioner of Police, Legal (CP-Legal) to the meeting, to advise them on how to respond to the stand taken by Dr. Odinkalu and his counsel. The Deputy Commissioner of Police Interpol also joined the meeting. The CP Legal, after listening to our position and discussing with his colleagues, left with the entire team to meet in another office. Eventually, at 5.10pm, we were invited to the office of the DIG-FCID, Peter Gana. He informed us that the concern of the NPF was that the police image would be damaged both nationally and internationally, if such ‘incredible’ estimates emanated from a high profile person such as the Chair of the NHRC. This informed the basis for the formal invitation to Chidi, if only to ascertain his sources and the veracity of the information published in the newspapers. However, having been briefed by the Police Team and shown all the documents submitted, he was satisfied with the bases for the “estimates” credited to the Chairman of the NHRC.
The DIG also transmitted apologies for the delay, having kept us for over 5 hours, saying that this was because he got held up at a management meeting and had just returned. He, however, hoped that, going forward, the two institutions – the NPF and the NHRC – would work together in improving efficient law enforcement and justice for Nigerian citizens

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