One of Nigeria’s foremost civil society organisations, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) is currently embroiled in crisis between its Lagos chapter and the national body.
A report of the Disciplinary and Compliance Committee hearing of the CDHR obtained by PREMIUM TIMES detailed cases of victimisation, financial impropriety, and indiscipline against executives of the state chapter.
But the Lagos State chapter of the association accused the national body of a witch-hunt because of its refusal to mobilise members to support the founder of The Synagogue Church Of All Nations, T.B Joshua, at the church’s ongoing criminal trial in a Lagos court.
On Tuesday, the chapter responded to an invitation by officers of the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, by staging a rally outside the Police Department’s premises insisting they would not succumb to intimidation by the national body.
On Wednesday, the executives of the Lagos chapter of the CDHR received a notice from the national body restricting them from using the “entire facilities” at the national secretariat, including the office spaces allocated to Alex Omotehinse, the chairman, and Muyiwa Kushimo, the secretary who was recently suspended.
Graft, indiscipline, misconduct
PREMIUM TIMES learnt the problem began in mid-2016 when the Lagos chapter suspended its treasurer, Abiodun Nwafor, after she accused its leadership of financial malfeasance.
Mrs. Nwafor had alleged that the state chairman, Mr. Omotehinse, was receiving money from the public and spending the said money without informing her office.
She also accused Mr. Omotehinse of reprinting the union’s forms, selling them, issuing fake receipts and receiving monies to his pocket without proper account.
She further stated that her predecessor, Judith Ogele, refused to hand over to her financial documents more than six months after leaving office.
In response to Mrs. Nwafor’s allegations, the Lagos chapter constituted a committee to investigate her claims.
The committees – a second committee was constituted after the complainant rejected the findings of the first one – reported that the allegations were unfounded and recommended the suspension of the complainant.
But a review of the case by the Disciplinary and Compliance Committee (DCC) showed that the Lagos chapter committee which suspended Mrs. Nwafor acted beyond its brief.
The DCC also established that Ms. Ogele, the immediate past branch treasurer, refused to hand over the books of accounts, receipt booklets, and cheque book to her successor.
“It appears in the eyes of the two committees and the BCC (Branch Coordinating Council) that the aspects of the complaint or allegations that were unfounded constituted the acts of indiscipline; that cannot be correct,” the DCC report, signed by Debo Adeniran, the committee chairman stated.
“Even when the entire complaint is unfounded, it cannot, prima facie, amount to an act that violates the spirit or letter of the CDHR Constitution.
“Or is it that what seems like a call for answerability or accountability amounts to an act of indiscipline in the interpretation of the committees and the BCC?
“We do not see any complaint here that is too extraneous or inappropriate. It puts to question how the committee arrived at a conclusion that the complaints were unfounded.
“If it was held that the allegation of financial misappropriation by some officers was unfounded it does not constitute a fundamental breach of the CDHR Constitution by the maker of the allegation.
“We reprimand impunity in strong terms. A situation where members of CDHR cannot complain of perceived wrongdoing or injustice for fear of victimization must not be encouraged but condemned absolutely.”
While the DCC cleared Mr. Omotehinse of allegations of fraud and financial misappropriation, it reprimanded him against his direct involvement and dealings with finance.
On claims by Mrs. Nwafor that Mr. Kushimo assaulted her and hit her on the chest, the DCC said it was a “serious violation” of the spirit and letter of the CDHR held.
“Kushimo’s conduct is an affront or attack on the respect for the dignity of the petitioner, especially as a woman; the act amounts to gross abuse and violence against a woman; a degrading treatment that is far from expectation by a Comrade,” the report said.
In its final resolution, the DCC recommended that the indefinite suspension handed to Mrs. Nwafor be set aside; Mr. Kushimo and Ms Ogele be suspended for 10 months and six months respectively; and Mr. Omotehinse pen letters of apologies to both the branch and Mrs. Nwafor through the National Executive Committee.
The T.B Joshua factor
Last week, the police invited Mr. Omotehinse for an “interview” in its investigation of a “case of conspiracy, fraud, stealing, threat to life, and indecent assault,” following a petition by Mrs. Nwafor
During the Lagos chapter’s rally on Wednesday, Mr. Omotehinse said the crisis in the CDHR began after he turned down a directive from the national president, Malachy Ugwumadu, to attend court hearings involving The Synagogue Church of All Nations.
The church is currently facing a criminal trial instituted by the Lagos State government before an Ikeja Division of the Lagos High Court after a 2014 building collapse in the church killed at least 116 people.
The government sued the church and its engineers in 2015 for criminal negligence, after a coroner’s inquest found that the church failed to secure government approval before adding four additional floors to a two storey guest house in its premises.
“The only problem we have is Malachy, because we refused to mobilize our members to be attending TB Joshua’s (church) trial every hearing,” Mr. Omotehinse told PREMIUM TIMES.
“They called us that they need our members, at least 100 members, that they’ll be giving them N1,000 each, that every hearing date that we must be appearing with our members, and we should carry placards, that TB Joshua’s trial is persecution.
“And we say it’s not possible for a group like us. Let him honour court first, if he honours court, if truly we discover they are trying to persecute him, we’ll rise for him.
“Our members mobilized counsels to the court, even some of them that went with him were complaining that they were not properly briefed. But we, as a group, we cannot attend such trial. That’s why he became hostile, began to instigate members against us.”
Mr. Omotehinse admitted that although Mr. Joshua is currently “the main financier” of the CDHR, his philanthropy – which included a donation of a bus in 2013, N9.5 million in 2016, and bags of rice at Christmas periods – was not enough to call out members.
“We sympathize because of his philanthropy, but it does not mean that because you’re a philanthropist and we’re a beneficiary of your kindness, we’d now support you,” said Mr. Omotehinse.
But Mr. Ugwumadu told PREMIUM TIMES that the national body’s actions were based on the report of its disciplinary committee and had nothing to do with Mr. Joshua.
“Don’t forget this is an organization led by Beko Ransome-Kuti, Professor Iyayi, Femi Falana, the integrity of what we do is at the heart of the organization,” said Mr. Ugwumadu, a lawyer.
“So all those things they are saying… it’s too cheap when a person will hear that.
“It is on the basis of some very serious fraudulent activity that we now had to set up a disciplinary committee to try some of them, and it is in response to that they are now trying to turn the narrative and give the impression that there is anything other than the investigations against them.
“They became violent and attacked some of our members who insisted they must obey NEC decisions. That is what led them to Panti, I mean, you don’t go to Panti to write about T.B Joshua, you go to Panti when there are criminal allegations under investigation against you.”