Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. In 2019 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, which reports to the Ministry of Police and is overseen by the Police Service Commission, is the primary civilian law enforcement agency and enjoys broad jurisdiction throughout the country. The Ministry of Interior also conducts security and law enforcement activities. The Department of State Services, which reports to the national security advisor in the Office of the President, is responsible for counterintelligence, internal security, counterterrorism, and surveillance as well as protection of senior government officials. The Nigerian Armed Forces, which report to the minister of defense, also share domestic security responsibilities as stipulated in the constitution in the case of insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies or as ordered by the president. Many states, in response to increased violence, insecurity, and criminality that exceeded the response capacity of government security forces, created local “security” vigilante forces. These local forces reported to the state governor. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
The insurgency in the North East by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued. The terrorist groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, numerous human rights abuses, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of more than three million persons, and the external displacement of more than an estimated 327,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries as of the year’s end.
Significant human rights abuses included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by the government, terrorists, and criminal groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and terrorist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including killings, abductions, and torture of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats against journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; crimes of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate, punish, and prosecute alleged abuses by military and police forces, including the now disbanded police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, but impunity for such abuses and corruption remained a problem.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued attacks on civilians, military, police, humanitarian, and religious targets; recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers; and carried out scores of attacks on population centers in the North East and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa 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 Islamic State in West Africa and took steps to counter the growth of the insurgency. The Eastern Security Network, the armed wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra separatist movement, staged multiple attacks on government buildings, including police stations, in the South East and reportedly killed dozens of security force officers. Criminal gangs killed civilians and conducted mass kidnappings that particularly targeted school-age children in the North West.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities reportedly infringed on this right during the year, and at times police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies allegedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.
The government blocked websites, including Twitter (see section 2.a, Censorship and Content Restrictions). In January the news website Peoples Gazette was blocked by several mobile internet services. The editor of the website alleged the government had ordered the blocking after the website in October 2020 criticized the competence of the government. The website remained blocked at year’s end.
The NGO Freedom House reported that several government agencies purchased spyware that allowed them to monitor cell phone calls, texts, and geolocation.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, in some cases the government restricted these rights.
Freedom of Expression: The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” There were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression. Authorities in Kano State arrested individuals for blasphemy or incitement through contempt of religious creed, which some critics attested was a restriction of free speech.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported at times being subjected to threats, intimidation, arrest, detention, and sometimes violence (see also section 1.e., Trial Procedures, trial of Nnamdi Kanu).
In July the Federal High Court in Abuja announced it would only accredit 10 media organizations to cover the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, due to security and COVID-19-related concerns. Media organizations protested the decision as an attempt to restrict freedom of the press and circumscribe Kanu’s right to a fair, public trial (see section 1.g.).
Violence and Harassment: There were reports that security services detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including the Department of State Services and police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government.
In an interview in March on the BBC Hausa language service, Kano State governor Abdullahi Ganduje threatened journalists who produced a series of videos in 2018 alleging he received bribes. Jaafar, publisher of the Daily Nigerian which aired the videos, left the country in May due to alleged threats to his life.
On April 30, police arrested Sunday Ode, a correspondent with the People’s Daily newspaper, allegedly on the orders of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. Police arrested Ode after he allegedly signed a statement critical of the governor’s handling of the security situation in Benue State. Ode was transported from Abuja to Benue State, where he was released on bail the next day.
On May 10, police arrested and detained six newspaper vendors in Imo State for selling papers that allegedly contained articles on the Indigenous People of Biafra, which the government designated a terrorist organization in 2017.
On June 19, unknown gunmen killed Titus Badejo, a radio presenter with Naija FM in Ibadan, Oyo State, while he was leaving a club with friends. According to media reports, the gunmen told Badejo and his friends to lie on the ground. They shot only Badejo and took nothing from the others. Observers believed Badejo was likely targeted due to his reporting. There were no updates on the case at year’s end.
On June 24, operatives of the Department of State Services and police assaulted Friday Olokor, chief correspondent with Punch Nigeria newspapers, and seized the cell phone of Patience Ihejiika of Leadership Newspapers. Security officers deleted videos from her cell phone, including of the assault on Olokor.
On October 20, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), police assaulted two journalists filming protests at the Lekki Toll Gate memorial and briefly detained them. The CPJ stated that police assaulted Sikuru Obarayese, a reporter for the Daily Post newspaper, detained and charged him with breach of peace, but then later withdrew the charges. Later police assaulted Abisola Alawode, a video editor for the Legit website. He was detained but released after five hours. Police also forcibly removed broadcast Arise TV correspondent Adefemi Akinsanya from the site after she used a drone to film a protest. Lagos State police commissioner Hakeen Odumosu later apologized for officers’ treatment of Alawode and Akinsanya.
In July the ECOWAS Court of Justice ordered the federal government to pay journalist Agba Jalingo 30 million naira ($74,500) as compensation for mistreatment and torture while held in pretrial detention without charge in Cross River State in 2019 by the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the television and radio programming through the National Broadcasting Commission, which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media. The law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest. Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the National Broadcasting Commission permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but the networks were required to dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.
On June 4, the government announced it had indefinitely suspended Twitter’s activities in the country because of the “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” On June 2, Twitter removed a June 1 post from President Buhari’s official Twitter account and announced it was suspending his account for 12 hours for violating Twitter’s “abusive behavior” policy. Buhari’s tweet on June 2 referenced the Biafra civil war that killed one million persons, warning “those misbehaving” in the South East that “those of us…who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.” At year’s end Twitter remained suspended as the government and the social media company negotiated the preconditions for unblocking the platform.
The government used regulatory oversight at times to restrict press freedom, notably clamping down on television and radio stations. In April the National Broadcasting Commission fined Channels Television and the Inspiration FM radio station five million naira ($12,400) each for featuring interviews with members of the Indigenous People of Biafra on their stations in violation of the law. Media outlets often perceived these fines as an effort to silence them on sensitive topics.
Some journalists reported they practiced self-censorship. Journalists and local NGOs claimed security services intimidated journalists, including editors and owners, into censoring reports perceived to be critical of the government.
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty of imprisonment for up to two years and possible fines. There were defamation lawsuits against journalists and politicians during the year. In September Benue State governor Samuel Ortom filed a defamation lawsuit against George Akume, the minister of special duties and intergovernmental affairs and former governor of Benue State. In October the Benue State High Court dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Governor Ortom in 2018 against the Benue State speaker of the house.
In January a Kano State High Court acquitted 17-year-old Omar Farouq, whom a Kano sharia court had convicted of blasphemy in 2020. The High Court ruled that Farouq lacked adequate legal representation during his sharia court trial, which resulted in a 10-year prison sentence. Also in January the Kano High Court remanded to the same Kano sharia court the case of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, whom the sharia court had convicted of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced to death in 2020. The High Court ordered a new trial, citing a lack of evidence presented in the first one. The verdict was being appealed by year’s end.
In February Kano State authorities banned popular cleric sheikh Abduljabbar Nasiru-Kabara from preaching based on complaints his sermons would disturb the peace. After participating in a televised three-hour debate in which he expounded on his religious views, Kano State authorities charged Nasiru-Kabara with blasphemy over statements he made during the broadcast that they declared insulted Islam. Authorities also ordered the closure of his mosque and affiliated religious schools and prevented his followers from protesting and carrying out the community’s annual Mauqibi religious festival procession.
On June 22, the Kano State prosecutor charged Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, on 10 counts of “caus[ing] breach of public peace,” a common law crime of incitement. After Bala posted controversial statements that mocked Islam and Muslims on Facebook for several successive days in April 2020, police arrested him at his home in Kaduna State and transferred him to Kano State where police imprisoned him without charge. In accordance with the law prior to the Amendments to the Police Act of 2020, which took effect in October, police did not inform the prosecutor and failed to charge Bala immediately. In December 2020 the High Court ordered Bala’s release, but Kano State authorities did not release him, reportedly because the court directed the release decree to the Nigerian Police Force and the federal attorney general, rather than to the Kano State attorney general responsible for his custody. Bala’s attorneys, NGOs, secular humanist groups, and others stated that they believed Bala was arrested for expressing his comments on Islam. Bala remained in detention at year’s end.
National Security: At times the government restricted or otherwise instructed media to refrain from reporting on sensitive topics related to national security. On July 7, the National Broadcasting Commission issued an advisory letter to journalists and media organizations entitled Newspaper Reviews and Current Affairs Programmes: A Need for Caution that asked media to refrain from reporting “too many details” of security operations and to cease “glamorising the nefarious activities of insurgents, terrorists, kidnappers, bandits, etc.” On July 21, the Nigerian Guild of Editors issued a statement calling the commission’s letter “a subtle threat to free press, freedom of expression, access to information, and a victims’ right to justice.”
The NGO Freedom House reported that internet providers sometimes blocked websites at the request of the Nigerian Communications Commission, particularly websites advocating independence for Biafra in the South East. On September 4, press outlets reported that the Nigerian Communications Commission asked telecommunications companies, at the request of security services, to block service in Zamfara State for two weeks to allow targeted operations against armed criminals in the state (see also section 1.f., Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence as well as Censorship and Content Restrictions above). The service outage lasted for several months. The state government announced that it would lift the restrictions in late November. Telecommunications shutdowns also occurred in Kaduna, Katsina, and Sokoto states, with reports that some of the restrictions were still in place at year’s end.
Civil society organizations and journalists expressed concern regarding the broad powers provided by the law regarding cybercrime. Some local and state governments used the law to arrest journalists, bloggers, and critics for alleged hate speech. In August 2020 authorities in Akwa Ibom State arrested journalist Ime Sunday Silas following his publication of a report, Exposed: Okobo PDP Chapter Chair Links Governor Udom’s Wife with Plot to Blackmail Deputy Speaker. Authorities charged Silas with “cyberstalking.” While his case was thrown out in late 2020 by the Federal High Court, in March Silas received notice that he had failed to appear in court. His case remained pending at year’s end. The law on cybercrimes had yet to be fully tested in the courts. Legislative interest and calls for regulating social media increased due to concerns that social media played a role in accelerating rural and electoral violence.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.