The Proposed Police Interrogation Of Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu Chairman, NHRC –Statement By Bamidele Aturu



Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu is our client. He is also the current Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The following statement is issued for public and record purposes.

THE BACKGROUND

On 5 March 2012, Dr. Odinkalu was keynote speaker at the annual conference of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents (NAJUC) in Abuja, Nigeria on the theme “Plea Bargaining and the Administration of Justice in Nigeria”. A copy of his 16-page paper at that conference is distributed with this statement. Page 5 of the presentation contains the following statement:

“The response of law enforcement to the incapability of the legal system to ensure convictions is an epidemic of third-degree policing, torture and extra-judicial executions. By some estimates, the Police executes well over 2,500 detainees summarily every year.”

By a letter to Dr. Odinkalu dated 16 March 2012, the Acting Inspector Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed D. Abubakar, complained that Dr. Odinkalu had said that the Police execute over 5,000 detainees summarily every year”, and complained that this “statement is viewed seriously by the Police High Command as vexatious especially against the backdrop of its grave and negative implications on our National and Corporate Image.”

While not disputing that police personnel are indeed involved in a disturbing pattern of extra-judicial executions, the Acting Inspector-General in his letter said that “the assertion is highly exaggerated and therefore untrue”. He equally failed to provide any figures to contradict those provided by Dr. Odinkalu. Rather, the Acting Inspector-General requested Dr. Odinkalu to “provide evidence or facts to support your assertion, as well as verifiable statistics from which you made your ‘estimates.’” However, in a widely reported speech on 13 February 2012, the Acting Inspector-General himself had publicly stated of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF): “Our anti-robbery squads have become killer teams.”

This letter arrived while Dr. Odinkalu was outside Nigeria, attending the proceedings of the 28th Ordinary Session of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Arusha, Tanzania. Upon his return, on 3 April 2012, Dr. Odinkalu responded in writing to the letter of the Acting Inspector-General of Police. The relevant part of his response reads as follows:

“I enclose herewith , sir, a report, Criminal Force: Torture, Abuse and Extra-Judicial Killings by the Nigeria Police Force, issued in 2010 by the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) and the Open Society Justice Initiative. I refer in particular to the section headed “A Hopeless Task: Counting the Dead” on pages 61-63 of the document, together with the accompanying source notes at the end of the document. I will seek the IGP’s permission to quote extracts from page 62 of this document, sir:

In April 2004, then Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, informed Human Rights Watch researchers that the NPF killed 7,198 “armed robbers” from January 2000 to March 2004. This represents an average official killing rate of 141.1 or an average daily killing rate of about 4.6 persons per day. For the same period, however, Balogun’s successor, Sunday Ehindero, reported much different statistics in a July 2006 letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. In this letter, Ehindero, claimed that in the five years from 2000-2004, the Nigeria Police Force killed 2,402 and arrested another 20,314 “armed robbers”, representing an inexplicable difference of 4,796 killings between Balogun’s figures and Ehindero’s…..In 2004 alone, the Legal Defence and Aid Project (LEDAP) documented 2,987 cases of extrajudicial executions by law enforcement agencies. This is roughly consistent with the most recent official police claims. In November 2007, Acting Inspector-General Mike Okiro reported that the police had killed 785 and arrested 1,628 “armed robbers” in his first one hundred days as IGP. This translates into a daily killing rate of 7.85 persons and a yearly rate of 2,865 police killings. Okiro’s figures also represent a kill-to-arrest ratio of 1:2.07. In comparison to the statistics announced by former Inspector-General Ehindero in 2000 (sic), Okiro’s data represent an increase of over 400 percent in the official statistics for police killings. The inconsistencies in the official figures strongly suggest that deaths in police custody or encounters are not addressed with sufficient gravity and that records of such deaths are either nonexistent or very poorly kept.

You may note, sir, that most of these figures and comparisons, are based on figures that were released by some of your esteemed predecessors in office. I am respectfully attaching this publication for the attention of the Inspector-General because, although published well before your assumption of your current office, most of the issues and recommendations contained in it are still relevant to our current situation.”

CONCERNING THE INVITATION TO POLICE INTERROGATION

After the close of work on Thursday, 12 April 2012, Dr. Odinkalu first  learnt from the media and through inquiries from concerned colleagues and friends, that he had been invited for interrogation by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, ‘D’ Department responsible for the Force Criminal Investigation Department in connection with police investigation into a “complaint of Damaging Remarks allegedly made by the Chairman, Governing Council of the NHRC against the Nigeria Police Force.” The interrogation was reportedly to take place on 13 April 2012.

On 13 April, Dr. Odinkalu wrote to the Inspector-General of Police seeking formal confirmation of the existence of an invitation to interrogate him by the police as alleged and offering, if this was the case, to arrange mutually convenient scheduling for such a meeting.

In its response dated the same day and signed by Deputy Commissioner of Police, Dan Bature and headed “RE: INVITATION TO INTERROGATION BY THE FCID”, the NPF confirmed “that indeed there was such an invitation” and “re-invited” Dr. Odinkalu to be interrogated on Monday, 16 April 2012 at the office of the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, ‘D’ Department, Force Headquarters, Abuja. However, because of a scheduling conflict with a medical appointment on the same day, Dr. Odinkalu will be reverting to the Police authorities to seek a re-scheduling of this encounter by not more than 48 hours.

As a law-abiding patriot, Dr. Odinkalu proposes to show leadership, good example and respect to the institution and men and women of the NPF by honouring the request by the NPF despite the absence of justification for it. He seeks equal and similar respect from the NPF for the statutory responsibilities of Nigeria’s NHRC. Dr. Odinkalu proposes through this encounter to offer partnership to the leadership of the NPF in investigating and methodically addressing the admitted problem of extra-judicial killings in Nigeria with independent facilitation from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and looks forward to working constructively with them on this.

In accordance with his entitlements under law, Dr. Odinkalu has instructed lawyers who will be vigilant in defence of his personal rights during the encounter with the Police.

THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

The National Human Rights Commission (Amendment) Act, 2011, empowers the NHRC to, among other things, monitor all places of detention and the conduct of law enforcement agencies, including the NPF. It is our advice to Dr. Odinkalu that a statement on extra-judicial killings is firmly within the ambit of his statutory responsibilities as Chairman of the Governing Council of the NHRC.

The Commission can only function legitimately if it is truly independent and responsible and seen to be so. The fact that its position or that of any of its officers is considered vexatious, damaging and a trigger for a criminal interrogation by the NPF clearly misapprehends its mission and undermines its independence. We do not believe, however, that the hierarchy of the NPF would seek to intimidate a fraternal institution like the NHRC.

A National Human Rights Institution that cannot with a clear conscience call attention to extra-judicial executions especially on the scale that it occurs in Nigeria is simply not fit for purpose. The statements made by Dr. Odinkalu were based on findings already in the public domain. It is up to the Police to controvert them with credible facts if they have them.

Signed

Bamidele Aturu Esq

 

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