Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has sued the commission over its alleged plan to compel its staff to sign a secrecy oath.
He filed the suit before the federal high court, Abuja, on Monday.
He said the commission has no powers to compel its staff into subscribing to an oath of secrecy.
In the suit, Odinkalu argued that the plan violates the staff’s rights to freedom of expression guaranteed under section 39(1) of the Nigerian constitution, among other provisions.
The human rights activist prayed the court to declare the plan to administer the secrecy oath on the NHRC staff as unlawful and a violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights.
He is also seeking an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the respondents from proceeding with the alleged plan.
Respondents in the suit are NHRC; Anthony Ojukwu, its executive secretary; the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NHRC branch); and Efem Atu, its chairman.
Odinkalu stated, in a supporting affidavit, that “by an internal memo or circular dated 3rd July, 2019 and signed by one Ibe Obidigwe on behalf of the 2nd respondent, the 1st and 2nd respondent, directed all Heads of Departments/Units/State Coordinators of the 1st respondent (NHRC) to distribute copies of an oath of secrecy declaration to staff of their various departments/units etc to subscribe and return same to the 1st Respondent‘s Human Resources Management Department.
“A copy of the oath of secrecy declaration document to be subscribed by the staff of the 1st respondent was attached to the said internal memo or circular dated 3rd July, 2019.
“In the desperate bid of the 1st and 2nd respondents to achieve their purpose of compelling or getting the staff of the 1st respondent to subscribe to the said oath of secrecy, had a meeting with the 3rd respondent (the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NHRC branch) on 5th July, 2019 and enlisted the cooperation of the 3rd respondent to get its members to subscribe to the said oath of secrecy.”
Established in 1995, the commission has the responsibility of promoting, protecting and enforcing human rights.