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
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings. At times authorities investigated and held accountable police, military, or other security force personnel responsible for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. Instances of unlawful or extrajudicial killings in the army, air force, and navy are initially investigated by commanding officers who decide whether an accusation merits low-level discipline or the initiation of court-martial proceedings, which are subject to appeal before military councils and the civilian Court of Appeals. The army used a human rights desk in Maiduguri to investigate allegations of abuse during military operations in the North East. The government regularly utilized disciplinary boards, judicial panels of inquiry, or internal complaint mechanisms to investigate abuses by security forces. When warranted, these bodies made recommendations of proposed disciplinary measures to the state or federal government. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths did not always make their findings public.
The national police, army, and other security services sometimes used force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects. Police forces engaging in crowd-control operations generally attempted to disperse crowds using nonlethal tactics, such as firing tear gas, before escalating their use of force.
On August 13, the Osun State Police Command announced the dismissal of Sergeant Adamu Garba, who shot and killed a motorcycle rider on July 27. Police reportedly dismissed the officer while judicial authorities prosecuted him, although no further information on the judicial process to hold the officer accountable was available.
The Lagos State government established a judicial panel in October 2020 to investigate alleged abuses committed by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the alleged role of the Nigerian military and the Nigeria Police Force in shooting at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in October 2020. The panel’s 309-page report was leaked to the press on November 15 and was subsequently released by the Lagos State government on December 5, although both the state government and federal government disputed some of its findings.
The report implicated both the army and the Nigeria Police Force, stating that both participated in “a massacre in context” by opening fire on peaceful protesters with live ammunition. The report stated that coroners verified that three protesters died at the Lekki Toll Gate but suggested that the number of deaths might have been higher based on information from other sources. The report noted that the on-scene army commanders did not respond to multiple summons from the panel to testify, and the Nigeria Police Force claimed it had no personnel at the toll gate at the time despite contrary evidence. The panel stated it considered the army’s limited participation a “calculated attempt to conceal material evidence from the panel,” according to page 301 of the report. The report also alleged that security forces attempted to cover up the shooting by preventing ambulances from accessing the injured as well as removing evidence from the scene, including bullets. The report made 32 recommendations, including: prosecution of members of the army and police who were at the scene; establishment of a tribunal to address future security agency abuses; compensation of injured protesters; and issuance of a public apology to #EndSARS protesters.
On November 30, the press received a leaked copy of a “white paper” issued by a committee set up by the Lagos State governor to respond to the panel’s report. The white paper delineated the recommendations within Lagos State’s jurisdiction and referred others, including that of legal action against the security forces, to the federal government for action. The white paper also identified “inconsistencies” in the panel’s report, especially regarding the number of alleged deaths, and called its conclusions “totally unreliable and therefore unacceptable.” The federal minister of information and culture reiterated the government’s claim that no massacre occurred, pointing instead to the previous government acknowledgement that two persons had died during the protest at the Lekki Toll Gate.
On October 19, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled Nigeria: A Year On, No Justice for #EndSARS Crackdown. The report stated at least one man was shot by the military in the chest and died on the way to the hospital. While Human Rights Watch was not able to ascertain the total number of individuals killed, the report noted, “witnesses said that they saw what appeared to be at least 15 lifeless bodies and that military officers had taken away at least 11. Witnesses also reported that the police shot at least two protesters and took their lifeless bodies away.”
In February the Edo State High Court convicted a former Nigeria Police Force officer of the now-defunct SARS on conspiracy, murder, and grand theft charges for his role in the 2015 detainment, torture, and eventual death of Benin City car dealer Benson Obode. Of the five officers implicated in the crime, only Officer Joseph Omotosho was present in court. He was sentenced to death for his role in the killing. The other officers had their cases suspended pending their appearance in court.
On March 23, the Kogi State High Court sentenced Ocholi Edicha to 12 years’ and six months’ imprisonment on charges of criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, “mischief by fire,” and culpable homicide for his role in the death of Salome Abuh, a local People’s Democratic Party organizer who was killed by political supporters of Kogi governor Yahya Bello in 2019.
There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the North East and other areas (see section 1.g.).
Criminal gangs also killed numerous persons during the year (see section 1.b.).
On August 20, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated that more than 24,000 persons were registered as missing in the country, with the majority from the conflict area in the North East. There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. According to Amnesty International, the whereabouts of at least 50 suspected supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra group arrested in Rivers State between October and November 2020 remained unknown at year’s end. Human Rights Watch stated that one person last seen at the Lekki Toll Gate protests in October 2020 remained missing as of October.
Criminal groups abducted civilians throughout much of the country, especially in the remote areas of the North Central and North West regions. School children and vulnerable populations were prime targets of abduction, as were religious leaders, local government leaders, police officers, university students, and laborers, among others. The Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria road axis remained a major target for kidnappers, forcing many travelers to transit by air or rail.
In March the Kaduna State government released its inaugural security report, which confirmed the killing of 937 residents and the abduction of 1,972 persons by local criminals in 2020. Kaduna State had the greatest number of kidnapping victims nationwide, according to several independent observers. The Kaduna State local government areas of Igabi, Birnin Gwari, Chikun, Zangon Kataf, and Kajuru experienced the majority of the abductions.
On April 20, gunmen attacked the Greenfield University in Kasamari Village in the Chikun (local government) Council of Kaduna State, abducted 20 students and two staff, and demanded a ransom of approximately $2 million. Three of the students were killed on April 23, while the remaining were released on May 29 after parents of the victims reportedly paid a ransom of $370,000.
On May 30, kidnappers abducted more than 100 students from an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger State. Six students died in captivity, and 15 escaped in June. The remaining students were confirmed released in late August.
On July 5, kidnappers abducted approximately 121 students from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna State. While most children were released following ransom payments, as of October 31, four students remained missing.
Maritime kidnappings remained common as militants in the Niger Delta engaged in piracy and related crimes. In February a fishing trawler was hijacked off the coast of Gabon. The crew was brought to Nigeria and freed after a reported ransom payment of $300,000. In 2020 the Gulf of Guinea accounted for more than 95 percent of global kidnappings at sea.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) conducted large-scale attacks and abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States (see section 1.g.).
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A 2017 law defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The law prescribes offenses and penalties for any person, including law enforcement officers, who commits torture or aids, abets, or by act or omission is an accessory to torture. It also provides a basis for victims of torture to seek civil damages. A 2015 law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees but fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the legislation compliant with the 2015 law for the legislation to apply beyond the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and federal agencies. As of September more than three-quarters of the country’s states (Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Ebonyi, Imo, Katsina, Sokoto, and Rivers) had adopted compliant legislation.
The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee against Torture. Lack of legal and operational independence and limited funding hindered the committee from carrying out its work effectively.
The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not always respect this prohibition. Of the 36 states, 29 as well as the Federal Capital Territory established judicial panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights abuses carried out by the Nigerian Police Force and the disbanded SARS. The panels consisted of a diverse group of civil society representatives, government officials, lawyers, youth, and protesters with the task of reviewing complaints submitted by the public and making recommendations to their respective state government on sanctions for human rights abuses and proposed compensation for victims. Nearly all judicial panels completed their investigations and reported their findings to state governors, but most reports were not made public by year’s end.
The Lagos State government established a judicial panel in October 2020 to investigate alleged abuses committed by SARS and Nigerian security services’ alleged role in shooting at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in October 2020.
The Lagos State judicial panel extended its work beyond its initial mandate to obtain comprehensive evidence and testimony from the army and Lagos State government officials. The Lagos panel had received 235 petitions and awarded 410 million naira ($1.02 million) in reparations to 71 victims of police brutality. The panel completed its work in October. The panel’s report was leaked to the press on November 15 and subsequently made available on the Lagos State government website (see section 1.a).
Human Rights Watch reported on October 19 the findings of 54 interviews with victims, witnesses, family members of victims, medical professionals, and others affected by the October 2020 Lekki Toll Gate shooting. A doctor who treated victims of the Lekki shooting confirmed three persons brought to the hospital where he worked had limbs amputated due to injuries sustained during the shooting.
Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups accused the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners.
Amnesty International carried out investigations into human rights abuses in Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, and Abia States. The organization documented 62 cases of arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment, and torture. It also reportedly reviewed video and audio recordings that showed security forces using excessive force and “other unlawful means to address the rising violence.”
Police used a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces which subjected them to public ridicule. Bystanders sometimes taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees. In August the Lagos governor signed a bill banning police from “parading” suspects before media.
The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for noncriminal proceedings; state laws do not compel participation by non-Muslims or Muslims in sharia courts. Sharia courts in 12 states and the FCT may prescribe punishments, such as caning, amputation, flogging, and death by stoning, although civil courts overturned these sentences on appeal. There were reports of canings during the year in Kaduna and Kano States.
In February a laborer from Kaduna State was sentenced to 12 lashes for allegedly stealing a cell phone. In June, six men from Kano State were sentenced to canings and jail time for possessing stolen cell phones. In October a man from Kaduna State was sentenced to 80 lashes for denying paternity for his sixth child. Defendants generally did not challenge caning sentences in court as a violation of statutory law. Sharia courts usually carried out caning immediately. In some cases convicted individuals paid fines or went to prison in lieu of caning.
In February and June at least three defendants convicted of fornication and caned sued the state for assault or other human rights abuses, causing the state to pay damages of between 10 million and 60 million naira ($24,800 and $149,000).
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no new reports of sexual exploitation or abuse by peacekeepers from the country who were deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were still three open allegations, including one from 2018 involving exploitative relationships and rape and two from 2017 – one involving transactional sex and one involving 53 peacekeepers in exploitative relationships with 62 adults and three peacekeepers involved in the rape of three children. As of September the United Nations had substantiated the 2017 allegation involving transactional sex, repatriated the perpetrator, and accountability measures by the government were pending. The government substantiated two allegations, one from 2017 and one from 2019. In those cases the United Nations repatriated the perpetrators, and the government took actions against them including imposing demotion, jail time, and fines. The government continued to investigate the other allegations.
Impunity, exacerbated by corruption and a weak judiciary, remained a significant problem in the security forces, especially in police, military, and the Department of State Services. Police, the military, and the Department of State Services reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government regularly utilized disciplinary boards and mechanisms to investigate security force members and hold them accountable for crimes committed on duty, but the results of these accountability mechanisms were not always made public. The Nigeria Police Force’s Complaint Response Unit worked to rebuild trust in police among citizens by holding police malefactors accountable. The revamped Complaints Response Unit was largely perceived to be a credible albeit nascent effort in the government’s effort to gather and respond to citizens’ complaints of police misconduct. Additionally, the minister of police inaugurated a Police Public Complaints Committee in April to allow citizens to register official complaints of abuses or misconduct by police officers. Police established a radio station to increase its communication with and get feedback from the public.
The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the National Human Rights Commission and Nigerian Bar Association to receive and investigate complaints, although their capacity and ability to investigate complaints outside major population centers remained limited. The court-martial in Maiduguri convicted soldiers for rape, murder, and abduction of civilians. The military continued its efforts to train personnel to apply international humanitarian law and international human rights law in operational settings.
In January the Imo State Police Command arrested four officers who were observed on a video striking two women and three men. The Nigeria Police Force condemned the officers’ actions as “inhuman” and “unacceptable.”
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services at times employed these practices. The law also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but detainees often found such protections ineffective, largely due to lengthy court delays.
Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the National Human Rights Commission. Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to a court.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. There were reports political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. There were no continuing education requirements for attorneys, and police officers were often assigned to serve as prosecutors. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition, the salaries of court officials were low, and officials often lacked proper equipment and training.
There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed, and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Many citizens encountered long delays and reported receiving requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favorable rulings. The constitution and the annual appropriation acts stipulate that the National Assembly and the judiciary be paid directly from the federation account as statutory transfers before other budgetary expenditures are made to maintain their autonomy and separation of powers. Federal and state governments, however, often undermined the judiciary by withholding funding and manipulating appointments.
Although the Ministry of Justice implemented strict requirements for education and length of service for judges at the federal and state levels, no requirements or monitoring bodies existed for judges at the local level.
The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law. Sharia courts functioned in 12 northern states and the FCT. Customary courts functioned in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determined what type of court had jurisdiction. In the case of sharia courts, the impetus to use them over civil courts stemmed in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system.
Sharia charges are only applicable to Muslims. Sharia courts operate under similar rules as common law courts including requirements for mens rea and other due process considerations.
According to the chief registrar of the Kano sharia court, defendants by law have the right to legal representation in all cases, and certain high crimes require the testimonies of at least four witnesses to be considered as admissible, corroborative evidence. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the sharia panel of the Supreme Court, staffed by common law judges who, while not required to have any formal training in sharia, often do, and they may seek advice from sharia experts.
Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal sentences through common law appellate courts, and these courts have sometimes found for the plaintiff in cases where they have sued individual states for assault for penalties, such as flogging, imposed by sharia courts. Apostacy or heresy are not crimes in any state’s sharia.
Sharia courts can hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for hudood offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning, although civil courts uniformly overturned these sentences on appeal.
Many in the north preferred sharia courts to their secular counterparts, especially concerning civil matters, since they were faster, less expensive, and conducted in the Hausa language.
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.
The insurgency in the North East by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the ISIS-WA continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction of property, internal displacement of more than three million persons, and external displacement of more than 327,000 Nigerian refugees as of the year’s end. Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacked population centers, security personnel, and international organization and NGO personnel and facilities in Borno State. These groups targeted persons perceived as disagreeing with the groups’ political or religious beliefs or interfering with their access to resources. ISIS-WA terrorists demonstrated increased ability to conduct complex attacks against military outposts and formations. During the year ISIS-WA terrorists took over significant territory formerly held by Boko Haram. ISIS-WA expanded efforts to implement shadow governance structures in large swaths of Borno State.
Killings: On September 15, the air force reportedly killed 10 civilians during an errant aerial strike against ISIA-WA and Boko Haram militants in Yobe State. The air force launched an investigation into the strike and subsequently took responsibility for errantly killing civilians. The local government announced it would provide monetary compensation to victims’ families and medical care to those wounded during the strike.
Violence surged in the South East following the Indigenous People of Biafra’s launch of its military wing, the Eastern Security Network, in December 2020. In the first quarter of the year, local media reported 54 violent attacks on civilians and security forces and 222 deaths, representing a 59 percent and 344 percent increase, respectively, compared with the quarter prior to the Eastern Security Network’s establishment. On August 5, Amnesty International issued a statement alleging security forces including the military, police, and Department of State Services killed at least 115 persons in the South East between March and June as part of security operations against the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra movement and its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network.
According to Attorney General Malami’s public announcement on October 22, the Indigenous People of Biafra movement together with its militant wing, the Eastern Security Network, were responsible for the deaths of more than 175 security personnel and attacks on 164 police stations in the South East. The Eastern Security Network/Indigenous People of Biafra have consistently denied responsibility for the attacks and South East-based government officials raised the possibility that some of the attacks were politically motivated or perpetrated by criminals seeking to take advantage of a state of insecurity in the region.
On May 19, ISIS-WA fighters attacked Boko Haram strongholds in the Sambisa Forest, leading to the death of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram.
On September 24, ISIS-WA militants killed at least eight Nigerian soldiers and wounded at least eight others during a rocket attack as the soldiers traveled between Dikwa and Marte in Borno State.
Abductions: While some NGO reports estimated the number of Boko Haram and ISIS-WA abductees at more than 2,000, the total count of the missing was unknown as towns repeatedly changed hands, and many families were still on the run or dispersed in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many abductees managed to escape captivity, but precise numbers remained unknown.
Approximately 110 girls abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in 2014 remained in captivity. In August two more Chibok girls returned with the men they were forced to marry in captivity and their children as part of a group of Boko Haram fighters who surrendered. Leah Sharibu remained the only student from the 2018 kidnapping in Dapchi in ISIS-WA captivity, reportedly because she refused to convert to Islam from Christianity.
In the North West region, militia groups and criminal networks caused systemic degradation of security across vulnerable communities in the region. Their tactics included large scale kidnapping for ransom operations targeting youth at boarding schools (see section 1.b.).
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports that security services used excessive force in the pursuit of Boko Haram and ISIS-WA suspects, at times resulting in arbitrary arrest, detention, or torture.
Arbitrary arrests reportedly continued in the North East, and authorities held many individuals in poor conditions. There were reports some of the arrested and detained included children believed to be associated with Boko Haram, some of whom may have been forcibly recruited.
Amnesty International reported security forces in the South East also tortured and arbitrarily arrested scores of persons. The report cited eyewitness accounts of security agencies using “excessive force, physical abuse, secret detentions, extortion….and extrajudicial executions of suspects.” Police and army spokesmen did not comment on the information set out in the report.
Sexual exploitation and abuse were a concern in IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and across the North East. A 2020 UN secretary-general report stated that nine girls were reportedly raped by terrorists and one girl by a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force between 2017 and 2019. There was no additional information on investigations or prosecutions of the cases.
Boko Haram and ISIS-WA engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including rape and forced marriage. Those who escaped, or whom security services or vigilante groups rescued, faced ostracism by their communities and had difficulty obtaining appropriate medical and psychosocial treatment and care.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the military used child soldiers during the year.
Reports indicated that the military coordinated closely on the ground with the Civilian Joint Task Force. The Civilian Joint Task Force and United Nations continued work to implement a 2017 action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. As of September, according to international organizations, there were no verified cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers by the Civilian Joint Task Force during the year, and the United Nations delisted the Civilian Joint Task Force as an armed group recruiting and using children in October. Some demobilized former child soldiers were awaiting formal reintegration into communities. The government did not officially adopt the handover protocol to refer children identified in armed conflict to civilian care providers, although observers reported authorities implemented key aspects of the handover protocol during the year.
Children (younger than 18) participated in Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks. The group paid, forcibly conscripted, or otherwise coerced young boys and girls to serve in its ranks and conduct attacks and raids, plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs), serve as spies, and carry out IED bombings, often under the influence of drugs. Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Attacks by ISIS-WA on humanitarian assistance convoys and aid workers reduced the provision of assistance to IDPs and local communities in the North East. In January Borno State’s capital of Maiduguri lost electrical power due to a series of ISIS-WA attacks on power transmission lines; power had not been restored as of year’s end.
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.
The constitution and law provide for rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but security officials restricted freedom of movement at times by imposing curfews in areas experiencing terrorist attacks and ethnic violence.
In-country Movement: Federal, state, or local governments imposed curfews or otherwise restricted movement in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states in connection with operations against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Other states imposed time-bound curfews in reaction to specific threats and attacks, and rural violence.
Police conducted “stop and search” operations in cities and on major highways and, on occasion, set up checkpoints. In response to COVID-19, the federal and state governments each instituted curfews that varied throughout the year.
Foreign Travel: Despite their release from prison in July, the government did not return the passports of Islamic Movement of Nigeria leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah Ibrahim. El-Zakzaky sued the Department of State Services and the attorney general in October, demanding the release of the passports. The suit remained pending at year’s end.
As of December the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported there were more than three million persons displaced in the Lake Chad Basin region. Insurgency was the reason for the vast majority of displacements, followed by communal clashes.
Access to farmland remained a problem for IDPs in the North East, particularly for those living with host communities. Many IDPs with access to farmland were told by the military to refrain from planting taller crops for security reasons. Distribution of fertilizers to areas with some farming opportunities was restricted due to the military’s suspicion that fertilizers such as urea could be used for military purposes.
IDPs, especially those in the North East, faced severe protection problems, including sexual abuse of women and girls by a wide range of perpetrators (see section 1.g.). Gender-based violence was reported in IDP and refugee camps. Without providing statistics, observers reported the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons investigated allegations of human trafficking of females in IDP camps, in coordination with Ministry of Defense zonal commanders. Security services continued to arrest and detain suspected Boko Haram and ISIS-WA members at IDP camps and in host communities, sometimes arbitrarily and with insufficient evidence, and restricted family access to detainees. Other protection concerns included terrorist attacks or bombings, lack of accountability and diversion of humanitarian aid, sexual assault, drug abuse, hostility and insecurity, harassment of women and girls, and lack of humanitarian assistance for host communities.
The government did not always promote the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or integration of IDPs. During the year the Borno State government began the process to return more than 80,000 IDPs residing in and around Maiduguri to their places of origin or resettle them in a third location. The Borno State government did not always include international humanitarian actors in the planning or implementation of returns actions, at times promoted the option of moving IDPs back to insecure areas, and sometimes returned IDPs to areas without adequate services and support mechanisms.
The government at times restricted humanitarian NGOs’ or international organizations’ access to IDPs. The military prohibited humanitarian organizations from delivering assistance outside of areas under its direct control due to increasing insecurity and Boko Haram and ISIS-WA targeting of humanitarian convoys. The Borno State government also required humanitarian actors to notify it in advance of movements within accessible areas and travel with military escorts along certain routes. Inaccessibility to areas of return due to control by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA also created severe protection concerns for many civilians and assistance agencies.
NGOs reported having insufficient resources available to assist IDP victims of sexual and gender-based violence, who had limited access to safe, confidential psychosocial counseling and medical services or safe spaces. Women and girls abducted by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA as well as the children born as a result of rape during their captivity, faced stigmatization and community isolation.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern through the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and IDPs.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
Refoulement: The government continued to work through a tripartite agreement with UNHCR and Cameroon signed in 2017 to ensure that any Nigerian refugees in Cameroon returning to the country were fully informed and gave their consent. There were no known reports of government refoulements during the year. Nevertheless, the return of refugees was sometimes uninformed or dangerous, according to some humanitarian organizations.
Access to Basic Services:Legal documentation, such as birth certificates, national identity cards, certificates of indigenes, and voter registration, are the key civil documentation to prove state of origin and nationality. They are also necessary to access services such as health care and education. UNHCR reported in August 2020 that ineffective and nonexistent civil registration and identification management systems in areas hosting IDPs, refugees, and returnees remained a concern. Some refugees faced difficulties obtaining work and accessing basic services like health care even after receiving legal documentation. For refugees, even when civil documents were obtained, community members and local officials were sometimes unaware of their legal rights or standing, which could also prevent them from moving freely, obtaining work, or accessing health care.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a few hundred individuals who might not qualify as refugees.
The government does not require birth registration, and the majority of births were unregistered. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent source of data available, found that only 42 percent of births of children younger than five were registered. Most persons did not become stateless because of their lack of birth registration; however, there were some reported cases where the government denied individuals citizenship because they did not have a birth registration and did not have another way to prove their citizenship.