Nigerian president signs landmark human rights bill

A key human rights bill passed by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan can help tackle abuses in the country, Amnesty International said today.

It was announced at the weekend that President Jonathan had signed into law The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Amendment Act, which had been pending approval for six years.

The bill secures the independence and funding of the NHRC, which works to protect and promote human rights.

“The Nigerian president has at last taken concrete steps to strengthen the independence and authority of this vital institution,” said Tawanda Hondora, Africa Deputy Director of Amnesty International.

“The Commission can now work independently to improve the rights situation in Nigeria.

“This law is a great opportunity for the Commission to observe the conduct of the April elections in Nigeria and to make recommendations to the government on improving the human rights situation.”

Amnesty International this month urged the Nigerian authorities to act to stem a wave of political, ethnic and religious violence plaguing the run-up to national elections.

The Commission could not operate independently and effectively under the NHRC Act (1995).

It has been dogged by numerous problems, not least the removal of its executive officers.

In 2007, the Commission’s governing council was dissolved by the government before its mandate ended..

In March 2009, executive secretary Kehinde Ajoni was dismissed, apparently arbitrarily, even though her contract ran until 2011.

Ajoni’s predecessor Bukhari Bello was removed in June 2006, four years before the end of his term, reportedly for criticising the human rights policy of the Nigerian government and his comments in defence of human rights.

The UN International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights downgraded Nigeria’s membership due to this “irregular removal”.