Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. In February citizens re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a second four-year term. Most independent observers agreed the election outcome was credible despite logistical challenges, localized violence, and some irregularities.
The Nigeria Police Force is the primary law enforcement agency along with other federal organizations. The Department of State Services is responsible for internal security and nominally reports to the president through the national security adviser. The Nigerian Armed Forces, which report to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.
The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 243,875 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries as of September 30.
Significant human rights issues included unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detention, all the above by both government and nonstate actors; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; unlawful infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; violence against and unjustified arrests of journalists; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and religious minorities; widespread and pervasive corruption; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and forced and bonded labor.
The government took some steps to investigate alleged abuses but there were few public reports of prosecutions of officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. No charges were filed in some of the significant allegations of human rights violations by security forces and cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.
The Borno State government provided financial and in-kind resources to the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a nongovernmental self-defense militia that at times coordinated with the military. Human rights organizations and press reporting alleged the CJTF committed human rights abuses. The government took few steps to investigate or punish CJTF members who committed human rights abuses, including past recruitment and use of child soldiers. Boko Haram recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers and carried out scores of person-borne improvised explosive device (IED) attacks–many by young women and girls forced into doing so–and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA and took steps to prosecute their members, although the majority of suspects were held in military custody without charge.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government frequently restricted these rights. In an August press release, HRW expressed concern over threats to freedom of expression, saying recent arrests and detentions of journalists and activists indicated a growing intolerance of dissent.
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.” Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, and sometimes violence.
Violence and Harassment: Security services increasingly detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including the DSS and police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government. Moreover, army personnel in some cases threatened civilians who provided, or were perceived to have provided, information to journalists or NGOs on misconduct by the military.
Numerous journalists were detained, abducted, or arrested during the year and were still deprived of their liberty as of September, including Abubakar Idris, Stephen Kefas, Jones Abiri, Agba Jalingo, and others. Activist IG Wala was sentenced to seven years in prison, reportedly in retaliation for making ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ against government officials.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), 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 NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they were required to dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.
Journalists 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: Libel and slander are civil offenses and require defendants to prove truthfulness or value judgment in news reports or editorials or pay penalties. The requirement limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defense of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines.
There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted.
Civil society organizations expressed concern regarding the broad powers provided by the Cybercrimes Act of 2015. The act has been used by some local and state governments to arrest opponents and critics for alleged hate speech. Those arrested were typically detained only briefly because the Cybercrimes Act had yet to be fully tested in the courts. There was increasing legislative interest and calls for regulating social media due to concerns it plays a role in accelerating rural and electoral violence.
The National Assembly passed the Digital Rights and Online Freedom bill in 2017. The legislation seeks to provide fundamental digital freedoms and protections to citizens, but it was not expected to clarify what constitutes hate speech. As of September, President Buhari had not assented to the bill becoming law.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
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. Open-air religious services held away from places of worship remained prohibited in many states, due to fear they might heighten interreligious tensions.
In May, June, and July, members of a Shia political organization, the IMN, carried out a series of protests across the country in response to the continued detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. Police and military officials set up roadblocks and used other means to contain protesters in and around the capital city of Abuja. The protests turned violent on July 9, when IMN members broke through police barricades at the National Assembly. The police force responded and dispersed the crowd with tear gas. According to reports, IMN members disarmed some of the police officers involved, fatally wounding one officer and injuring others in the process. The IMN denied this allegation, saying 15 of its members were killed when police fired at the crowd.
The Senate called for the arrest of IMN members involved in the violence, while the House of Representatives called on the federal government to urgently engage the IMN to explore ways of resolving the conflict, expressing fears the IMN was fast evolving “the way Boko Haram started.” On July 22, the protests again turned violent, resulting in the torching of two ambulances and several deaths, including a journalist and a senior police official. On July 26, the federal government procured a court order to declare the IMN a terrorist organization and banning IMN assemblies. On September 10, despite the ban, the IMN proceeded with its Ashura procession in Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Katsina, and Sokoto States. Clashes with law enforcement agencies in these states around the processions led to fatalities of 12 IMN protesters.
In August former presidential candidate, political activist, and founder of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, was arrested after calling for nationwide protests with the tagline #RevolutionNow. Sowore was released on bail on December 5, nearly a month after he had met the bail requirements. On December 6, Sowore was re-detained by the DSS. Attorney General Malami ordered Sowore’s conditional release, and he was released from DSS custody on December 24. While #RevolutionNow protests took place in Lagos, Osun, Ondo, and Cross Rivers States, none were attended by more than a few hundred participants. According to media reports, heavy security forces were deployed. When protests in Lagos and Osun became violent, police used tear gas to disperse protesters. Police arrested protesters in Lagos, Osun, and Cross River.
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 during the year (see section 1.a.).
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. The government of Kaduna State continued its proscription of the IMN, alleging the group constituted a danger to public order and peace. In July the government extended that proscription nationwide and designated the IMN as a terrorist organization.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), a law prohibiting marriages and civil unions among persons of the same sex, criminalizes the free association of any persons through so-called gay organizations. Citizens suspected of same-sex activities were frequently harassed, intimidated, and arrested. Rights groups reported that the SSMPA had a significant chilling effect on free association.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
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.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers through the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and IDPs. The government participated in a regional protection dialogue to continue to work through a tripartite agreement with UNHCR and Cameroon signed in March 2017 to ensure that any Nigerian refugees in Cameroon returning to Nigeria were fully informed and gave their consent. Nevertheless, the agreement was not fully enforced, and the return of Nigerian refugees to Nigeria was sometimes forced, uninformed, or dangerous. There were reports the government continued to participate in the return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon that was not fully voluntary or informed (see “Refoulement”).
In-country Movement: The federal, state, or local governments imposed curfews or otherwise restricted movement in the states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe in connection with operations against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Other states imposed 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. Many checkpoints operated by military and police remained in place.
Access to farmland remained a challenge for IDPs in the Northeast, 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 Northeast, faced severe protection problems, including widespread sexual abuse of women and girls, some of which constituted sex trafficking (see section 1.g.). Security services continued to arrest and detain suspected Boko Haram and ISIS-WA members at IDP camps and in host communities, often arbitrarily and with insufficient evidence, and restricted family access to detainees. Other protection concerns included attacks or bombings, lack of accountability and diversion of humanitarian aid, drug abuse, hostility and insecurity, harassment of women and girls, and lack of humanitarian assistance for host communities.
NGOs reported having insufficient resources available to 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, as well as the babies born as a result of rape during their captivity, faced stigmatization and community isolation.
f. Protection of Refugees
Refoulement: There were reports the government participated in the return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon who may have not been voluntary or properly informed. Insecurity in Nigeria prevented most forced returnees from returning to their places of origin. According to UNHCR, most remained in camps in Borno, where resources were scarce. Many did not have access to basic facilities such as shelter, drinking water, sanitation, or medical care.
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. Asylum seekers originated mainly from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Sudan, and Guinea, with a majority living in urban areas in Cross River State, Lagos, and Ijebu Ode in Ogun State. According to UNHCR, approximately 45,000 Cameroonians fleeing the Anglophone Crisis sought refuge in Cross River, Benue, and Akwa Ibom States.
Durable Solutions: The country received a high number of returnees, both voluntary and forced, primarily in the Northeast. Accurate information on the number of returnees was not available. The government was generally unable to take action to reintegrate returning refugees. Many returnees did not find durable solutions and were forced into secondary displacement.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a few hundred individuals who may not qualify as refugees.
The country contributes to statelessness through birth registration problems. The government does not require birth registration, and the majority of births were unregistered. The 2013 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent data available, found that only 30 percent of births of children younger than age five were registered. Lack of documents did not result in denial of education, health care, or other public services. Most people 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.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot.
Recent Elections: The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the independent electoral body responsible for overseeing elections by regulating the process and preventing electoral misconduct. During the year INEC conducted the presidential election, National Assembly elections, State House Assembly elections, and local elections in all 36 states plus the FCT, as well as gubernatorial elections in 30 states. There was evidence military and security services intimidated voters, electoral officials, and election observers. In addition violence in several states contributed to lower voter participation and added to the sentiment the army is a tool of the ruling party in many parts of the country, particularly in the South. For example, widespread violence and military involvement in electoral processes, including during the vote collation process, significantly scarred the governorship election in Rivers State. Additionally several of INEC’s resident electoral commissioners (RECs) reported DSS operatives intimidated them when the RECs attempted to protect voting materials. Some RECs reported security service personnel visited them multiple times prior to the elections. Press reported certain RECs claimed the DSS was surveilling the RECs and that they had been brought to DSS offices for questioning.
There were reports that corruption including vote buying were historically high during the 2018-19 electoral season. Examples of vote buying were apparent in the re-run of the Osun gubernatorial election in September 2018, and during the Kano gubernatorial election on March 9.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution and law allow the free formation of political parties. As of September there were 91 parties registered with INEC. The constitution requires political party sponsorship for all election candidates.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Observers attributed fewer leadership opportunities for women in major parties and government, particularly in the North, to religious and cultural barriers. The number of women candidates was disproportionally low, and the accessibility of polls for people with disabilities was poor. Less than 4 percent of those elected in the 2019 general elections were women. Only 12 percent of the 6,300 candidates for the National Assembly’s House of Representatives and Senate were women, and women won only 17 of the 469 Assembly seats. The situation was similar in the 36 state houses of assembly and 774 local government councils. Women’s participation dropped from a high of 8 percent of National Assembly members elected in 2007 to the current 4 percent.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and government officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and the security services. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) holds broad authorities to prosecute most forms of corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) writ extends only to financial and economic crimes. The ICPC led a raid in August that resulted in the arrest of 37 federal road safety officers and five civilian employees on charges of extortion. As of September the EFCC had secured 834 convictions during the year.
Although ICPC and EFCC anticorruption efforts remained largely focused on low- and mid-level government officials, following the 2015 presidential election, both organizations started investigations into and brought indictments against various active and former high-level government officials. Many of these cases were pending in court. According to both the ICPC and the EFCC, the delays were the result of a lack of judges and the widespread practice of filing for and granting multiple adjournments.
EFCC arrests and indictments of politicians continued throughout the year, implicating a significant number of opposition political figures and leading to allegations of partisan motivations on the part of the EFCC.
Financial Disclosure: The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act requires public officials–including the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, cabinet ministers, and legislators (at both federal and state levels)–to declare their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before assuming and after leaving office. The constitution calls for the CCB to “make declarations available for inspection by any citizen of the country on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe.” The law does not address the publication of asset information. Violators risk prosecution, but cases rarely reached conclusion.
In April, Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was convicted of falsely declaring his assets for failing to reveal money held in five foreign bank accounts. He was banned from holding public office for 10 years and ordered to forfeit the money in the five accounts. President Buhari had suspended Onnoghen over the charges of failing to disclose assets in January several weeks before the presidential election. President Buhari did not receive support for Onnoghen’s removal from two-thirds of the Senate or from the National Judicial Council as the law requires. The timing and process of Onnoghen’s suspension led many opposition candidates, lawyers, and civil society leaders to accuse President Buhari of meddling with the independence of the judiciary.