The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has condemned the alleged non-obedience of court orders by the Nigerian Navy in the unlawful detention of 40 Nigerians.
The Commission was reacting to a formal complaint by a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) requesting that the Nigerian Navy be sanctioned for allegedly detaining 40 Nigerian Citizens.
Falana had even threatened to institute legal action against the Commission with respect to the complaint on the above subject matter.
But, the NHRC, in a statement issued on Sunday by its Director, Corporate Affairs and External Linkages, Lambert Oparah condemned the illegal detention of the 40 Nigerian Citizens by the Navy.
The Commission, however, noted that all organs of government must be seen to respect the Rule of Law as required in all civilised societies and added that, the duty to enforce court orders lies with the court itself using the instrumentality of law enforcement agencies of the police.
Oparah said in the statement that the Commission swung into action on the receipt of Falana’s letter on May 20, 2019, requesting the release of the 40 Nigerians allegedly held by the Nigerian Navy, with a further request that the NHRC should sanction the Nigerian Navy.
He said, the Commission is guided by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, the NHRC Act of 1995 as amended and its Standing Order and Rules of Procedure (STORP) in the treatment of complaints on human rights violations.
Oparah said, despite the fact that Falana claimed that the Nigerian Navy defied valid and subsisting court orders, no court orders were attached to his petition to the Commission.
But, “the Commission had written two letters, dated 28th May 2019 and 21st June 2019, duly acknowledged by Falana and Falana chambers, Abuja requesting for copies of the said court orders and the commission is yet to receive any.
“Despite not receiving the said orders from Falana, the Commission sought the comments of the Chief of Naval Staff on the allegations raised in Falana’s complaint by a letter dated 24 June 2019.
“The Navy responded by a letter dated 29 June 2019 stating that the 40 persons whose names are contained in Falana’s complaint are crew members of three vessels namely: MV Akemijo Deborah, MT Adeline Jumbo and MT Neso II arrested by the Nigerian Navy in connection with maritime offences;
“That the vessels and crew members have been handed over to the EFCC for further investigations and possible prosecution.”
Oparah said the complaint is undergoing the NHRC process of complaint treatment and added categorically that the issue of reprimand or sanction of the Nigerian Navy or alleged interagency solidarity has not arisen yet until the allegations are substantiated.
He said although the NHRC is empowered to protect and enforce human rights, it does not have the mandate of enforcing court orders in a situation where counsel have the capacity to move the court to enforce its own orders made in favour of their clients.
“It is the duty of counsel and the beneficiary of any court order to move the court to enforce its orders. Mr. Falana has not shown the Commission that the court has been moved to Enforce the orders declaring the detention of the 40 persons illegal and the refusal of the Nigerian Navy to comply with the orders,” he added.