Several of Nigeria’s leading civil society groups in the country, including four partners of the National Endowment for Democracy, have condemned as “unlawful and arbitrary” the government’s dismissal of the head of the country’s National Human Rights Commission. Mrs. Kehinde Ajoni was appointed for five years and her contract was not due to end until 2011.
The government should “reaffirm and implement its commitment to the UN Paris Principles, which guarantees full independence for national human rights commissions” said a statement by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Women Advocates and Research Documentation Centre (WARDC), Partnership for Justice (PJ), Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS).
Amnesty International has expressed concern at the government’s failure to guarantee the Commission’s authority, freedom of action and independence. The Federal Government dissolved the NHRC’s governing council in November 2007 before its mandate expired and failed to appoint a new council, despite the National Human Rights Commission Act’s legal requirement that the nine member council meet at least monthly.
Mrs Ajoni’s predecessor Mr Bukhari Bello was similarly removed in June 2006, four years before the end of his term, after criticizing the Federal Government’s human rights record.
Government interference in the internal affairs of institutions and civil society groups addressing human rights and democracy issues has been a disturbingly common feature of the backlash against democracy, as detailed in the recent Defending Civil Society report jointly published by the World Movement for Democracy and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.