Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. In February citizens re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a second four-year term. Most independent observers agreed the election outcome was credible despite logistical challenges, localized violence, and some irregularities.
The Nigeria Police Force is the primary law enforcement agency along with other federal organizations. The Department of State Services is responsible for internal security and nominally reports to the president through the national security adviser. The Nigerian Armed Forces, which report to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.
The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 243,875 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries as of September 30.
Significant human rights issues included unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detention, all the above by both government and nonstate actors; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; unlawful infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; violence against and unjustified arrests of journalists; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and religious minorities; widespread and pervasive corruption; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and forced and bonded labor.
The government took some steps to investigate alleged abuses but there were few public reports of prosecutions of officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. No charges were filed in some of the significant allegations of human rights violations by security forces and cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.
The Borno State government provided financial and in-kind resources to the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a nongovernmental self-defense militia that at times coordinated with the military. Human rights organizations and press reporting alleged the CJTF committed human rights abuses. The government took few steps to investigate or punish CJTF members who committed human rights abuses, including past recruitment and use of child soldiers. Boko Haram recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers and carried out scores of person-borne improvised explosive device (IED) attacks–many by young women and girls forced into doing so–and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA and took steps to prosecute their members, although the majority of suspects were held in military custody without charge.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. The VAPP cites spousal battery, forceful ejection from the home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other harmful traditional practices, substance attacks (such as acid attacks), political violence, and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) as offenses. Victims and survivors of violence are entitled to comprehensive medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases. As of September, nine states (Kaduna, Anambra, Oyo, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, and Osun) and the FCT have adopted the act.
The law criminalizes rape, but it remained widespread. In March, UNICEF released a report noting that about one in four girls and one in 10 boys in were victims of sexual violence prior to their 18th birthday. On July 31, a university student was raped by an enlisted soldier at a military checkpoint in Ondo State.
Sentences for persons convicted of rape and sexual assault were inconsistent and often minor. The VAPP provides penalties for conviction ranging from 12 years’ to life imprisonment for offenders older than 14 and a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for all others. It also provides for a public register of convicted sexual offenders and appointment of protection officers at the local government level to coordinate with courts and provide for victims to receive various forms of assistance (e.g., medical, psychosocial, legal, rehabilitative, and for reintegration) provided by the VAPP. The act also includes provisions to protect the identity of rape victims and a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to victims of rape. Because the VAPP has only been adopted in a handful of states, state criminal codes continued to govern most rape and sexual assault cases and typically allowed for lesser sentences.
There is no comprehensive law for combatting violence against women that applies across the country. Victims and survivors had little or no recourse to justice. While some, mostly southern, states enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender-based violence or sought to safeguard certain rights, a majority of states did not have such legislation.
The VAPP provides for up to three years’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of 200,000 naira ($635), or both for conviction of spousal battery. It also authorizes courts to issue protection orders upon application by a victim and directs the appointment of a coordinator for the prevention of domestic violence to submit an annual report to the federal government.
Domestic violence remained widespread, and many considered it socially acceptable. The National Crime Victimization and Safety Survey for 2013 of the CLEEN Foundation–formerly known as Center for Law Enforcement Education–reported 30 percent of male and female respondents countrywide claimed to have been victims of domestic violence.
Police often refused to intervene in domestic disputes or blamed the victim for provoking the abuse. In rural areas courts and police were reluctant to intervene to protect women who formally accused their husbands of abuse if the level of alleged abuse did not exceed local customary norms.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Federal law criminalizes female circumcision or genital mutilation, but there were no reports the federal government took legal action to curb the practice. While 13 states banned FGM/C, once a state legislature criminalizes FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws apply in their districts.
The VAPP penalizes a person convicted of performing female circumcision or genital mutilation with a maximum of four years in prison, a fine of 200,000 naira ($635), or both. It punishes anyone convicted of aiding or abetting such a person with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a fine of 100,000 naira ($317), or both. For more information, see Appendix C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to the VAPP, any person convicted of subjecting another person to harmful traditional practices may be punished with up to four years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($1,590), or both. Anyone convicted of subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($1,590), or both. For purposes of the VAPP, a harmful traditional practice means all traditional behavior, attitudes, or practices that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women or girls, to include denial of inheritance or succession rights, FGM/C, forced marriage, and forced isolation from family and friends.
Despite the federal law, purdah, the cultural practice of secluding women and pubescent girls from unrelated men, continued in parts of the North. “Confinement,” which occurred predominantly in the Northeast, remained the most common rite of deprivation for widows. Confined widows were subject to social restrictions for as long as one year and usually shaved their heads and dressed in black as part of a culturally mandated mourning period. In other areas communities viewed a widow as a part of her husband’s property to be “inherited” by his family. In some traditional southern communities, widows fell under suspicion when their husbands died. To prove their innocence, they were forced to drink the water used to clean their deceased husbands’ bodies.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a common problem. No statutes prohibit sexual harassment, but assault statutes provide for prosecution of violent harassment. The VAPP criminalizes stalking, but it does not explicitly criminalize sexual harassment. The act criminalizes emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse and acts of intimidation.
The practice of demanding sexual favors in exchange for employment or university grades remained common. For example, in August media outlets reported that a dean at a federal university was arrested after allegedly demanding sex in exchange for passing grades. Women suffered harassment for social and religious reasons in some regions.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, women experienced considerable economic discrimination. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, nor does it mandate nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring.
Women generally remained marginalized. No laws prohibit women from owning land, but customary land tenure systems allowed only men to own land, with women gaining access to land only via marriage or family. Many customary practices also did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit her husband’s property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property.
In the 12 northern states that adopted religious law, sharia and social norms affected women to varying degrees. For example, in Zamfara State local governments enforced laws requiring the separation of Muslim men and women in transportation and health care. In 2013 the Kano State government issued a statement declaring men and women must remain separate while using public transportation.
The testimony of women carried less weight than that of men in many criminal courts. Women could arrange but not post bail at most police detention facilities.
Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. The government does not require birth registration, and the majority of births were unregistered. The 2013 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent data available, found that only 30 percent of births of children younger than five were registered. Lack of documents did not result in denial of education, health care, or other public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: The law requires provision of tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. According to the constitution, women and girls are supposed to receive career and vocational guidance at all levels, as well as access to quality education, education advancement, and lifelong learning. Despite these provisions, extensive discrimination and impediments to female participation in education persisted, particularly in the North.
Public schools remained substandard, and limited facilities precluded access to education for many children.
Most educational funding comes from the federal government, with state governments required to pay a share. Public investment was insufficient to achieve universal basic education. Actual budget execution was consistently much lower than approved funding levels. Increased enrollment rates created challenges in ensuring quality education. According to UNICEF in some instances there were 100 pupils for one teacher.
Of the approximately 30 million primary school-age children, an estimated 10.5 million were not enrolled in formally recognized schools. The lowest attendance rates were in the North, where rates for boys and girls were approximately 45 percent and 35 percent, respectively. According to UNICEF, in the North, for every 10 girls in school, more than 22 boys attended. Approximately 25 percent of young persons between ages 17 and 25 had fewer than two years of education.
In many regions social and economic factors resulted in discrimination against girls in access to education. In the face of economic hardship, many families favored boys in deciding which children to enroll in elementary and secondary schools. According to the 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey, attendance rates in primary schools increased to 68 percent nationwide, with school-age boys continuing to be somewhat more likely than girls to attend primary school. According to the survey, primary enrollment was 91 percent for boys and 78 percent for girls; secondary enrollment was 88 percent for boys and 77 percent for girls. Several states in the North, including Niger and Bauchi, had enacted laws prohibiting the withdrawal of girls from school for marriage, but these laws were generally not enforced.
The Northeast had the lowest primary school attendance rate. The most pronounced reason was the Boko Haram and ISIS-WA insurgencies, which prevented thousands of children from continuing their education in the states of Borno and Yobe (due to destruction of schools, community displacement, and mass movement of families from those crisis states to safer areas). According to the United Nations, between 2014 and 2017, attacks in the Northeast destroyed an estimated 1,500 schools and resulted in the deaths of 1,280 teachers and students.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common throughout the country, but the government took no significant measures to combat it. Findings from the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey released in 2015 revealed approximately six of every 10 children younger than age 18 experienced some form of physical, emotional, or sexual violence during childhood. One in two children experienced physical violence, one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence, and one in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence.
In 2010 the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah Education reported 9.5 million children worked as almajiri, poor children from rural homes sent to urban areas by their parents ostensibly to study and live with Islamic teachers. Since government social welfare programs are scarce, parents of children with behavioral, mental health, or substance abuse problems turn to the almajiris of some mallams who claim to offer treatment. Instead of receiving an education, many almajiri were forced to work manual jobs or beg for alms that were given to their teacher. The religious leaders often did not provide these children with sufficient shelter or food, and many of the children effectively became homeless. In September police raided an almajiri center in Kaduna and rescued nearly 400 men and boys, many of whom were kept in chains. Some had open wounds from being beaten.
In some states children accused of witchcraft were killed or suffered abuse, such as kidnapping and torture.
So-called baby factories operated, often disguised as orphanages, religious or rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or maternity homes. They offered for sale the newborns of pregnant women–mostly unmarried girls–often held against their will and raped. The persons running the factories sold the children for various purposes, including adoption, child labor, child trafficking, or sacrificial rituals, with the boys fetching higher prices. Media reports indicated some communities kill infants who are born as twins, or with birth defects or albinism.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets a minimum age of 18 for marriage for both boys and girls. The prevalence of child marriage varied widely among regions, with figures ranging from 76 percent in the Northwest to 10 percent in the Southeast. Only 25 state assemblies adopted the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the minimum marriage age, and most states, especially northern states, did not uphold the federal official minimum age for marriage. The government engaged religious leaders, emirs, and sultans on the problem, emphasizing the health hazards of early marriage. Certain states worked with NGO programs to establish school subsidies or fee waivers for children to help protect against early marriage. The government did not take legal steps to end sales of young girls into marriage.
According to an NGO, education was a key indicator of whether a girl would marry as a child–82 percent of women with no education were married before 18, as opposed to 13 percent of women who had at least finished secondary school. In the North parents complained the quality of education was so poor that schooling could not be considered a viable alternative to marriage for their daughters. Families sometimes forced young girls into marriage as early as puberty, regardless of age, to prevent “indecency” associated with premarital sex or for other cultural and religious reasons. Boko Haram subjected abducted girls to forced marriage. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The 2003 Child Rights Act prohibits child commercial sexual exploitation and sexual intercourse with a child, providing penalties for conviction from seven years’ to life imprisonment, respectively, for any adults involved. Two-thirds of states have adopted the act. The Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act, as amended in 2015, criminalizes child sex trafficking and prescribes a minimum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million naira ($3,175).
The VAPP criminalizes incest and provides prison sentences for conviction of up to 10 years. The Cybercrimes Act of 2015 criminalizes the production, procurement, distribution, and possession of child pornography with prison terms if convicted of 10 years, a fine of 20 million naira ($63,500), or both.
Sexual exploitation of children remained a significant problem. Children were exploited in commercial sex, both within the country and in other countries. Girls were victims of sexual exploitation in IDP camps. There were continued reports that camp officials and members of security forces, including some military personnel, used fraudulent or forced marriages to exploit girls in sex trafficking (see section 1.g.).
Displaced Children: As of August, UNHCR reported there were approximately two million persons displaced in the Lake Chad Basin region. According to the International Organization for Migration, children younger than age 18 constituted 56 percent of that IDP population, with 23 percent of them younger than age six. There were displaced children among IDP populations in other parts of the North as well. Many children were homeless.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
An estimated 700 to 900 members of the Jewish community, who were foreign employees of international firms, resided in Abuja. Although not recognized as Jews by mainstream Jewish communities, between 2,000 and 30,000 ethnic Igbos claimed Jewish descent and practiced some form of Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on the “circumstances of one’s birth.” During the year the government passed a disability rights law for the first time, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. Violators are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. As of July there were no reports the law had been implemented or enforced.
Some national-level policies such as the National Health Policy of 2016 provide for health-care access for persons with disabilities. Plateau and Lagos States have laws and agencies that protect the rights of persons with disabilities, while Akwa-Ibom, Ekiti, Jigawa, Kwara, Ogun, Osun, and Oyo States took steps to develop such laws. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development has responsibility for persons with disabilities. Some government agencies, such as the NHRC and the Ministry of Labor and Employment, designated an employee to work on issues related to disabilities.
Mental health-care services were almost nonexistent. Officials at a small number of prisons used private donations to provide separate mental health facilities for prisoners with mental disabilities. All prisoners with disabilities stayed with the general inmate population and received no specialized services or accommodations.
Persons with disabilities faced social stigma, exploitation, and discrimination, and relatives often regarded them as a source of shame. Many indigent persons with disabilities begged on the streets. The government operated vocational training centers in Abuja and Lagos to train indigent persons with disabilities. Individual states also provided facilities to help persons with physical disabilities become self-supporting. The Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities served as the umbrella organization for a range of disability groups.
The country’s ethnically diverse population consisted of more than 250 groups speaking 395 different languages. Many were concentrated geographically. Three major groups–the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba–together constituted approximately one-half the population. Members of all ethnic groups practiced ethnic discrimination, particularly in private-sector hiring patterns and the segregation of urban neighborhoods. A long history of tension existed among some ethnic groups. The government’s efforts to address tensions among ethnic groups typically involved heavily concentrated security actions, incorporating police, military, and other security services, often in the form of a joint task force.
The law prohibits ethnic discrimination by the government, but most ethnic groups claimed marginalization in terms of government revenue allocation, political representation, or both.
The constitution requires the government to have a “federal character,” meaning that cabinet and other high-level positions must be distributed to persons representing each of the 36 states or each of the six geopolitical regions. President Buhari’s cabinet appointments conformed to this policy. Traditional relationships were used to pressure government officials to favor particular ethnic groups in the distribution of important positions and other patronage.
All citizens have the right to live in any part of the country, but state and local governments frequently discriminated against ethnic groups not indigenous to their areas, occasionally compelling individuals to return to a region where their ethnic group originated but where they no longer had ties. State and local governments sometimes compelled nonindigenous persons to move by threats, discrimination in hiring and employment, or destruction of their homes. Those who chose to stay sometimes experienced further discrimination, including denial of scholarships and exclusion from employment in the civil service, police, and military. For example, in Plateau State the predominantly Muslim and nonindigenous Hausa and Fulani faced significant discrimination from the local government in land ownership, jobs, access to education, scholarships, and government representation.
Land disputes, competition over dwindling resources, ethnic differences, and settler-indigene tensions contributed to clashes between herdsmen and farmers throughout the north-central part of the country. Ethnocultural and religious affiliation also were factors attributed to some local conflicts. Nevertheless, many international organizations, including International Crisis Group, assessed that these divisions were incidental to the farmer-herder conflict. During the past year, the conflict between herdsmen and farmers in north-central states steadily slowed due to government policies and civil society conflict-resolution mechanisms. “Silent killings,” in which individuals disappeared and later were found dead, occurred throughout the year.
Conflicts concerning land rights continued among members of the Tiv, Kwalla, Jukun, Fulani, and Azara ethnic groups living near the convergence of Nasarawa, Benue, and Taraba States.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The 2014 SSMPA effectively renders illegal all forms of activity supporting or promoting LGBTI rights. According to the SSMPA, anyone convicted of entering into a same-sex marriage or civil union may be sentenced to up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Following passage of the SSMPA, LGBTI persons reported increased harassment and threats against them based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. News reports and LGBTI advocates reported numerous arrests. According to HRW, the law had become a tool used by police and members of the public to legitimize human rights violations against LGBTI persons such as torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, extortion, and violations of due process rights.
In the 12 northern states that adopted sharia, adults convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity may be subject to execution by stoning. Sharia courts did not impose such sentences during the year. In previous years individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity were sentenced to lashing.
In August 2018 police in Lagos arrested 57 individuals, at a hotel party where police stated homosexual activities took place. They were charged with public displays of same-sex amorous affection under the SSMPA. In November a total of 47 men pleaded innocent and were granted bail for 500,000 naira ($1,575). Hearings were scheduled to resume on December 11 but were then adjourned until February 4, 2020.
Several NGOs provided LGBTI groups with legal advice and training in advocacy, media responsibility, and HIV/AIDS awareness; they also provided safe havens for LGBTI individuals. The government and its agents did not impede the work of these groups during the year.
The public considered HIV to be a disease, a result of immoral behavior, and a punishment for same-sex sexual activity. Persons with HIV/AIDS often lost their jobs or were denied health-care services. Authorities and NGOs sought to reduce the stigma and change perceptions through public education campaigns.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
AI reported that at least 3,641 citizens were killed in violence involving herders and farmers since January 2016. According to International Crisis Group, what were once spontaneous attacks have increasingly become premeditated, scorched-earth campaigns driven primarily by competition for land between farmers and herders, and an estimated 300,000 persons were displaced by the violence.
Various reports indicated street mobs killed suspected criminals during the year. In most cases these mob actions resulted in no arrests.
Ritualists who believed certain body parts confer mystical powers kidnapped and killed persons to harvest body parts for rituals and ceremonies. For example, in January, two women were killed in Bayelsa State. Their bodies were found with vital organs missing, and it was suspected that the organs were harvested for ritualistic use.
Persons born with albinism faced discrimination, were considered bad luck, and were sometimes abandoned at birth or killed for witchcraft purposes.