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.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. The government occasionally banned and targeted gatherings when it concluded their political, ethnic, or religious nature might lead to unrest. The government put limitations on public gatherings, including temporary bans on congregational worship services in some states, in response to COVID-19.
Members of a political organization affiliated with Shia Islam, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, carried out a series of protests across the country in response to the continued detention of their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. On July 28, the court acquitted and released El-Zakzaky and his wife Zeenah Ibrahim.
In areas that experienced societal violence, police and other security services permitted public meetings and demonstrations on a case-by-case basis. Security services sometimes used excessive force to disperse demonstrators (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.).
Freedom of Association
The constitution and law provide for the right to associate freely with other persons in political parties, trade unions, or other special interest organizations. While the government generally respected this right, on occasion authorities abrogated it for some groups. In 2017 the government designated Indigenous People of Biafra a terrorist organization. In 2019 it also designated the Islamic Movement of Nigeria as a terrorist organization.
The law effectively renders illegal all forms of activity supporting or promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) rights. The law criminalizes the registration, operation, or participation in so-called gay clubs, societies, or organizations and further prohibits any support to such organizations (see section 6). Rights groups reported the law had a significant chilling effect on free association.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
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.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
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.
f. Protection of Refugees
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.
g. Stateless Persons
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.