Nigeria is a federal republic with a population of approximately 144 million. In April 2007 Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party was elected to a four-year term as president. The election was marred by what international and domestic observers characterized as massive fraud and serious irregularities, including vote rigging and political violence. Following the elections, there were more than 1,250 legal motions filed across the country to overturn the results of individual elections for government posts at all levels, including the presidency. Independent judicial review of numerous contested elections resulted, to date, in the nullification of 10 senatorial elections, six gubernatorial elections, and numerous local-level elections. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) waged a strong anticorruption campaign throughout the year, arresting a number of former federal, state, and local officials and seizing millions of dollars in assets over the past four years. However, the reassignment of the EFCC's head in December was criticized by some as an attempt to weaken the institution.
President Yar'Adua and his administration made some efforts to improve the government's record on democracy, the rule of law, and corruption, but the government's overall human rights record remained poor, and government officials at all levels continued to commit serious abuses. The most significant human rights problems included the abridgement of citizens' right to change their government; politically motivated and extrajudicial killings by security forces; the use of excessive force, including torture, by security forces; vigilante killings; impunity for abuses by security forces; dangerous prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and prolonged pretrial detention; executive influence on the judiciary and judicial corruption; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement; discrimination and violence against women; ethnic, regional, and religious discrimination; and trafficking in persons.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy aims to build an accountable, transparent democracy with respect for human rights, a robust civil society, rule of law, good governance, and conflict resolution mechanisms. In particular, the strategy focuses on the need for the government to improve the political environment, to hold free and fair elections, and to strengthen rule of law. Electoral reform, corruption, ethnic and religious violence, respect for the constitution, and the importance of judicial and legislative independence are among many themes addressed by U.S. officials in the country to advance democracy and freedom.
The United States continues to fund programs to improve democracy and governance and was actively engaged with the government as it prepared for elections in 2007. U.S. officials met regularly with every level of government to stress the importance of timely and orderly elections and to offer technical assistance. U.S. officials traveled around the country to give a series of speeches highlighting the U.S. experience with elections in order to provide a model for the country's democratic transition, and made a number of clear public statements outlining expectations for elections. In partnership with local NGOs, the U.S. government educated more than eight million people in the processes of voter registration through a broadcast media program, subsequently training and deploying more than 12,000 domestic election observers. U.S. officials followed up with travel around the country to observe both state and local elections, as well as the national elections. Prior to the 2007 elections, U.S.-sponsored programs trained 208 judges and court officials on their specific role in, and the nature of, election tribunals and related expectations for professional performance. The United States is providing capacity-building training to the Electoral Reform Commission, in the form of international best practices in electoral reform. U.S. programs are helping to increase the role of civil society, the press, the disabled, and women in the political process by increasing their participation in the work of the Electoral Reform Commission.
As part of an effort to promote rule of law and anticorruption reform, the United States continues to provide anticorruption training to government officials and assist in the capacity building of civil society organizations, including specific training to engage in watchdog and oversight functions. To increase transparency, the United States is assisting civil society organizations in successfully advocating key anticorruption bills before the legislature, including the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, and the Public Procurement Act, all of which were signed into law. To further strengthen civil society, the United States regularly distributes information on human rights, rule of law, and related topics to members of civil society through its Information Resource Centers (IRCs). Targeted audiences include journalists, academics, businessmen and women, civic organizations, teachers, students, government officials, the military, clergy, and traditional rulers. American Corners, located in 12 cities across the country, also distribute program information and serve as a venue for official and unofficial Americans to speak about human rights, good governance, rule of law, and related themes.
To reduce human rights abuses, the United States is providing human rights training for all members of the military who receive U.S.-sponsored military training. The United States also includes human rights training in its training program for peacekeeping troops being deployed through the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance. Members of the Nigerian military participated in training seminars at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies as well as a civil-military operations seminar in December, all sponsored by the United States. U.S. officials also regularly meet with local, state, and federal officials to discuss human rights trends in policymaking and law enforcement. They work closely with civic and international NGOs on such issues as workers' rights; religious freedom; prison conditions; and women's, children's, and minorities' rights. The U.S. government also sponsors speakers on the rule of law, religious tolerance, and democratic governance at major universities, think tanks, and American Corners in major cities outside the capital. International Visitor Leadership Program and other exchange program grantees participate in programs on human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and investigative journalism.
The U.S. government is undertaking multiple efforts to support media freedom. IRCs in Abuja and Lagos provide training for journalists on using the Internet to promote freedom of information. The IRCs provide free membership to journalists and other key contacts to assist them in conducting research on issues of bilateral concern. Information on the issues of democracy and human rights, such as the importance of free press, are distributed both electronically and in print format. The American Corners across the country are also used as venues to train and inform journalists. Additionally, U.S. officials meet regularly with the Nigeria Union of Journalists to discuss issues of press freedom and host a weekly press briefing that provides journalists the opportunity to question government leaders and exchange ideas with one another.
U.S.-sponsored programs to prevent human rights abuses by managing conflict include sensitizing community and opinion leaders, youth groups, and faith-based organizations about the benefits of peaceful coexistence. Working through local implementing partners, the United States continues to support regional councils on conflict management in Delta, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, and Rivers states. These programs have, to date, trained 2,125 at-risk youth in skills related to promoting peace and reconciliation, 2,235 persons in conflict mitigation skills, and established 72 peace clubs. The United States also works extensively on the problems of interreligious violence and restrictions on religious freedom, meeting with national and local political and religious leaders on multiple occasions to address and resolve existing problems. U.S. officials travel extensively to work with state officials and Muslim and Christian leaders to promote peace and end discrimination, including holding interfaith celebrations of tolerance. U.S. officials sponsored a series of Iftaar dinners during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Abuja and throughout the north, also engaging with local Christian leaders during these events. U.S. officials participate in radio programs on religious tolerance and utilize the Hausa-language capacity of embassy staff to reach out directly to the northern population.
The United States works with local and international partners to strengthen respect for labor rights and to combat trafficking in persons. The United States also sponsors activities to mitigate the causes and consequences of human trafficking by disseminating antitrafficking materials through public media and skills-training programs. U.S. government resources have assisted in the training of 758 law enforcement officers to develop training manuals concerning trafficking; provided vocational training to 30 victims of trafficking in persons; and assisted in providing shelter for 695 victims. U.S. officials hold press briefings and participate in workshops to increase public awareness and build societal capacity to recognize and address the dangers of human trafficking. The United States also funds two local NGOs that work toward these goals with police, local officials, the media, and school children.