Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. In February 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 is the primary law enforcement agency, along with other federal organizations. The Department of State Services is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. The Nigerian Armed Forces are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities. Consistent with the constitution, the government continued to turn to the armed forces to address internal security concerns, due to insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies. There were reports that members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. 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 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 the external displacement of somewhat more than an estimated 300,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries as of December 14.
Significant human rights abuses included: 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 detention by government and nonstate actors; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing and torture of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; severe restrictions on religious freedom; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; inadequate investigation and accountability for violence against women; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.
The government took some steps to investigate alleged abuses by police, including the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and military forces, but impunity remained a significant problem. There were reports of further progress in formally separating and reintegrating child soldiers previously associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force, a nongovernmental self-defense militia, which received limited state government funding.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued attacks on civilians, military, and police; recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers; and carried out scores of person-borne improvised explosive device attacks–many by coerced young women and girls–and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast 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 the Islamic State in West Africa and took steps to prosecute their members.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings. At times authorities sought to investigate, and when found culpable, held police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody, but impunity in such cases remained a significant problem. 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 October 20, members of the security forces enforced curfew by firing shots into the air to disperse protesters, who had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos to protest abusive practices by the Nigerian Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Accurate information on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available at year’s end. Amnesty International reported 10 persons died during the event, but the government disputed Amnesty’s report, and no other organization was able to verify the claim. The government reported two deaths connected to the event. One body from the toll gate showed signs of blunt force trauma. A second body from another location in Lagos State had bullet wounds. The government acknowledged that soldiers armed with live ammunition were present at the Lekki Toll Gate. At year’s end the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution continued to hear testimony and investigate the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate.
In August a military court-martial convicted a soldier and sentenced him to 55 years in prison after he committed a homicide while deployed in Zamfara State.
There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the Northeast and other areas (see section 1.g.).
Criminal gangs also killed numerous persons during the year. On January 25, criminals abducted Bola Ataga, the wife of a prominent doctor, and her two children from their residence in the Juji community of Kaduna State. The criminals demanded a ransom of $320,000 in exchange for their return. They killed Ataga several days later after the family was unable to pay the ransom. On February 6, the criminals released the children to their relatives.
In August 2019, to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on the government to release immediately hundreds of persons who had been subjected to enforced disappearance and held in secret detention facilities across the country without charge or trial.
Criminal groups abducted civilians in the Niger Delta, the Southeast, and the Northwest, often to collect ransom payments. For example, on the evening of December 11, criminals on motorbikes stormed the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, abducting 344 schoolboys and killing one security guard. On December 17, the Katsina State government, in conjunction with federal government authorities, secured the release of the boys.
Maritime kidnappings remained common as militants turned to piracy and related crimes to support themselves. For example, in July, Nigerian pirates attacked a Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel near Rivers State, kidnapping 11 crew members.
Other parts of the country also experienced a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction, as were religious leaders, regional government leaders, police officers, students, and laborers, amongst others. In January the Emir of Potiskum, Alhaji Umaru Bubaram, and his convoy were attacked on the Kaduna-Zaria Highway. The emir was abducted, and several of his bodyguards were killed. The Abuja-Kaduna road axis was a major target for kidnappers, forcing most travelers to use the train.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) conducted large-scale abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States (see section 1.g.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
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; however, it 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. Two-thirds of the country’s states (Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, 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. According to credible international organizations, prior to their dissolution, SARS units sometimes used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. President Buhari disbanded SARS units in October following nationwide #EndSARS protests against police brutality. Of the states, 28 and the FCT established judicial panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations carried out by the Nigerian Police Force and the disbanded SARS units. The panels were made up 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 violations and proposed compensation for victims. The work of the judicial panels continued at year’s end.
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. On February 10, the BBC published a report documenting police and military use of a torture practice known as tabay when detaining criminal suspects, including children. Tabay involves binding a suspect’s arms at the elbows to cut off circulation; at times the suspect’s feet are also bound and the victim is suspended above the ground. In response to the BBC video, military and Ministry of Interior officials told the BBC they would investigate use of the practice.
In June, Amnesty International issued a report documenting 82 cases of torture by the SARS from 2017 to May.
Police used a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces and subjecting them to public ridicule and abuse. Bystanders sometimes taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.
The sharia courts in 12 states and the FCT may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, flogging, and death by stoning. The sharia criminal procedure code allows defendants 30 days to appeal sentences involving mutilation or death to a higher sharia court. Statutory law mandates state governors treat all court decisions equally, including amputation or death sentences, regardless of whether issued by a sharia or a nonsharia court. Sharia courts issued several death sentences during the year. In August a sharia court in Kano State convicted a man of raping a minor and sentenced the man to death by stoning. Authorities often did not carry out sentences of caning, amputation, and stoning ordered by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that was often lengthy. Federal appellate courts had not ruled on whether such punishments violate the constitution because no relevant cases reached the federal level. Although sharia appellate courts consistently overturned stoning and amputation sentences on procedural or evidentiary grounds, there were no challenges on constitutional grounds.
There were no new reports of canings during the year. 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.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no new reports of sexual exploitation or abuse by peacekeepers from Nigeria deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, but there were still five open allegations, including one from 2019, one from 2018, and three from 2017. As of September, two allegations had been substantiated, and the United Nations repatriated the perpetrators, but the Nigerian government had not yet provided the full accountability measures taken for all five open cases.
In Oyo State, two Nigeria Police Force officers were arrested after reportedly mistreating subjects they arrested in July. In September the Nigeria Police Force dismissed 11 officers and filed criminal charges against an additional 19 for misconduct.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces, including in the police, military, and the Department of State Services (DSS). The DSS, police, and military 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. Police remained susceptible to corruption, faced allegations of human rights abuses, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, and torture of suspects.
In response to nationwide protests against police brutality, the government on October 11 abolished SARS units. The DSS also reportedly committed human rights abuses. In some cases private citizens or the government brought charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, but most cases lingered in court or went unresolved after an initial investigation. In the armed forces, a soldier’s commanding officer determined disciplinary action, and the decision was subject to review by the chain of command. The army had a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights abuses brought by civilians, and a standing general court-martial in Maiduguri. The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC) 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. Many credible accusations of abuses remained uninvestigated. The military continued its efforts to train personnel to apply international humanitarian law and international human rights law in operational settings.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses; some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government sometimes detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system (see section 1.g.).
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a significant problem. Although the total designed capacity of the country’s prisons was 50,153 inmates, as of October prison facilities held 64,817 prisoners. Approximately 74 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. As of October there were 1,282 female inmates. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. Prison authorities sometimes held juvenile suspects with adults.
Many of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and overcrowding sometimes resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. For example, in December 2019, according to press reports, five inmates awaiting trial at Ikoyi Prison were accidentally electrocuted in their cell, which held approximately 140 inmates despite a maximum capacity of 35.
Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused some prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. This situation was exacerbated with the arrival of COVID-19. In July the government released 7,813 prisoners, including some older than 60 or with health conditions, and others awaiting trial, in response to COVID-19. Although authorities attempted to isolate persons with communicable diseases, facilities often lacked adequate space, and inmates with these illnesses lived with the general prison population. There were no reliable statistics on the total number of prison deaths during the year.
Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to torture, overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison employees reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, transport to routine court appointments, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.
Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison employees sometimes stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates sometimes relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison employees, police, and other security force personnel sometimes denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.
Some prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–some of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons.
Generally, prison officials made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).
Several unofficial military detention facilities continued to operate, including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. Although conditions in the Giwa Barracks detention facility reportedly improved, detainees were not always given due process and were subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention (see section 1.g.). There were no reports of accountability for past deaths in custody, nor for past reports from Amnesty International alleging that an estimated 20,000 persons were arbitrarily detained between 2009 and 2015, with as many as 7,000 dying in custody.
After multiple releases during the year (see Improvements below), it was unclear how many children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities. According to press and NGO reports, the military continued to arrest and remand to military detention facilities, including Giwa Barracks, additional persons suspected of association with Boko Haram or ISIS-WA.
The government continued to arrest and detain women and children removed from or allegedly associated with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. They included women and girls who had been forcibly married to or sexually enslaved by the insurgents. The government reportedly detained them for screening and their perceived intelligence value. Some children held were reportedly as young as age five.
The law provides that the chief judge of each state, or any magistrate designated by the chief judge, shall conduct monthly inspections of police stations and other places of detention within the magistrate’s jurisdiction, other than prisons, and may inspect records of arrests, direct the arraignment of suspects, and grant bail if previously refused but appropriate.
While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, in general few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances. Prison employees sometimes requested bribes to allow access for visitors.
Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to police detention, the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), and some military detention facilities.
Improvements: International organizations reported that the military released more than 400 persons, including at least 309 children, from military custody in Maiduguri in March. Operation Safe Corridor, a deradicalization program, graduated more than 600 former low-level Boko Haram affiliate members and former detainees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
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 found such protections ineffective, largely due to lengthy court delays. According to numerous reports, the military arbitrarily arrested and detained–often in unmonitored military detention facilities–thousands of persons in the context of the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeast (see section 1.g.). In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies did not always follow due process, arresting suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police and other security services have the authority to arrest individuals without first obtaining warrants if they have reasonable suspicion a person committed an offense, a power they sometimes abused. The law requires that, even during a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In some instances government and security employees did not adhere to this regulation. Police held for interrogation individuals found in the vicinity of a crime for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, and after their release, authorities sometimes asked the individuals to return for further questioning. The law requires an arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest, transport the accused to a police station for processing within a reasonable time, and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. Families were afraid to approach military barracks used as detention facilities. In some cases police detained suspects without informing them of the charges against them or allowing access to counsel and family members; such detentions often included solicitation of bribes. Provision of bail often remained arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence. Judges sometimes set stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely in investigative detention. At times authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees stated police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police sometimes demanded additional payment.
The government continued to turn to the armed forces to address internal security concerns, due to insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies. The constitution authorizes the use of the military to “[s]uppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order.” Armed forces were part of continuing joint security operations throughout the country.
In some northern states, Hisbah religious police groups patrolled areas to look for violations of sharia.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel reportedly arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown.
Security services detained journalists and demonstrators during the year (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to NCS figures released in October, 74 percent of the prison population consisted of detainees awaiting trial, often for years. The shortage of trial judges, trial backlogs, endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia, and undue political influence seriously hampered the judicial system. Court backlogs grew due to COVID-related shutdowns and delays. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Some detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NCS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files. Prison employees did not have effective prison case file management processes, including databases or cataloguing systems. In general the courts were plagued with inadequate, antiquated systems and procedures.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the NHRC. Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to court.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. There are 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.
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. This contributed to corruption and the miscarriage of justice in local courts.
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 in the north, the impetus to establish them stemmed at least in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system. The transition to sharia penal and criminal procedure codes, however, was largely perceived as hastily implemented, insufficiently codified, and constitutionally debatable in most of the states.
The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determine what type of court has jurisdiction. The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings”; they do not have the authority to compel participation, whether by non-Muslims or Muslims. At least one state, Zamfara State, requires civil cases in which all litigants are Muslim be heard in sharia courts, with the option to appeal any decision to the common law court. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if they wish.
In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for hudud offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. Despite constitutional language supporting only secular criminal courts and the prohibition against involuntary participation in sharia criminal courts, a Zamfara State law requires that a sharia court hear all criminal cases involving Muslims.
Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through the common law appellate courts. As of September no challenges with adequate legal standing had reached the common law appellate system. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common-law judges who are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code. Sharia experts often advise them. Sharia courts are thus more susceptible to human error, as many court personnel lack basic formal education or the appropriate training to administer accurately and effectively penal and legal procedures. Despite these shortfalls, many in the north prefer sharia courts to their secular counterparts, especially concerning civil matters, since they are faster, less expensive, and conducted in the Hausa language.
Pursuant to constitutional or statutory provisions, defendants are presumed innocent and enjoy the rights to: be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals); receive a fair and public trial without undue delay; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal.
Authorities did not always respect these rights, most frequently due to a lack of capacity. Insufficient numbers of judges and courtrooms, together with growing caseloads, often resulted in pretrial, trial, and appellate delays that could extend a trial for as many as 10 years. Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, there were reportedly some cases where defense counsel was absent from required court appearances so regularly that a court might proceed with a routine hearing in the absence of counsel, except for certain offenses for which conviction carries the death penalty. Authorities held defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the terms allowed by law (see section 1.c.).
Human rights groups stated the government did not permit all terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, expressed concerns regarding inadequate access to defense counsel, a lack of interpreters, and inadequate evidence leading to an overreliance on confessions. It was unclear whether confessions were completely voluntary. Those whose cases were dismissed reportedly remained in detention without clear legal justification. Human rights groups also alleged that in some cases dissidents and journalists were jailed without access to legal representation or had other rights denied, such as the right to a fair and public trial.
Women and non-Muslims may testify in civil or criminal proceedings and give testimony that carries the same weight as testimony of other witnesses. Sharia courts, however, usually accorded the testimony of women and non-Muslims less weight than that of Muslim men. Some sharia court judges allowed different evidentiary requirements for male and female defendants to prove adultery or fornication. Pregnancy, for example, was admissible evidence of a woman’s adultery or fornication in some sharia courts. In contrast, sharia courts could convict men only if they confessed or there was eyewitness testimony. Sharia courts provided women increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony, among other benefits.
Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. The operational commanding officer of a member of the armed forces must approve charges against that member. The commanding officer decides whether the accusation merits initiation of court-martial proceedings or lower-level disciplinary action. Such determinations are nominally subject to higher review, although the commanding officer makes the final decision. If the case proceeds, the accused is subject to trial by court-martial. The law provides for internal appeals before military councils as well as final appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
IMN’s leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and his spouse remained in detention. In 2018 the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of a soldier at Zaria.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, at times exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The constitution and the annual appropriation acts stipulate the National Assembly and the judiciary be paid directly from the federation account as statutory transfers before other budgetary expenditures are made, in order to maintain autonomy and separation of powers. Federal and state governments, however, often undermined the judiciary by withholding funding and manipulating appointments. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts may award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights abuse, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.
State and local governments forcibly evicted some residents and demolished their homes, often without sufficient notice or alternative compensation, and sometimes in violation of court orders.
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 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.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
The insurgency in the Northeast 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, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and external displacement of approximately 300,000 Nigerian refugees as of September 30.
Killings: Units of the NA’s Seventh Division, the NPF, and the DSS carried out operations against the terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Northeast. There were reports of military forces committing extrajudicial killings of suspected members of the groups.
Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacked population centers, security personnel, and international organization and NGO personnel and facilities in Borno State. Boko Haram also conducted attacks in Adamawa, while ISIS-WA attacked targets in Yobe. These groups targeted anyone perceived as disagreeing with the groups’ political or religious beliefs or interfering with their access to resources. While Boko Haram no longer controlled as much territory as it did in 2016, the two insurgencies nevertheless maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast. Both groups carried out attacks through roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs). ISIS-WA maintained the ability to carry out effective complex attacks on military positions, including those in population centers.
On November 28, suspected Boko Haram terrorists killed at least 76 members of a rice farming community in Zabarmari, Borno State. Some of those killed were beheaded.
Boko Haram continued to employ indiscriminate person-borne improvised explosive device (PIED) attacks targeting the local civilian populations. Women and children were forced to carry out many of the attacks. According to a 2017 study by UNICEF, children, forced by Boko Haram, carried out nearly one in five PIED attacks. More than two-thirds of these children were girls. Boko Haram continued to kill scores of civilians suspected of cooperating with the government.
ISIS-WA increased attacks and kidnappings of civilians and continued to employ acts of violence and intimidation against civilians in order to expand its area of influence and gain control over critical economic resources. As part of a violent campaign, ISIS-WA also targeted government figures, traditional leaders, international organization and NGO workers, and contractors. In multiple instances ISIS-WA issued “night letters” or otherwise warned civilians to leave specific areas and subsequently targeted civilians who failed to depart. During its attacks on population centers, ISIS-WA also distributed propaganda materials.
On June 13, suspected ISIS-WA militants attacked the village of Felo, Borno State, killing dozens of civilians.
Abductions: In previous years Human Rights Watch documented cases where security forces forcibly disappeared persons detained for questioning in conflict areas, but there were no reports of such cases during the year.
Boko Haram conducted mass abductions of men, women, and children, often in conjunction with attacks on communities. The group forced men, women, and children to participate in military operations on its behalf. Those abducted by Boko Haram were subjected to physical and psychological abuse, forced labor, and forced religious conversions. Women and girls were subjected to forced marriage and sexual abuse, including rape and sexual slavery. Most female PIED bombers were coerced in some form and were often drugged. Boko Haram also used women and girls to lure security forces into ambushes, force payment of ransoms, and leverage prisoner exchanges.
While some NGO reports estimated the number of Boko Haram abductees at more than 2,000, the total count of the missing was unknown since abductions continued, 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 Boko Haram captivity, but precise numbers remained unknown.
Approximately half of the students abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in 2014 remained in captivity. 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.
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 Northeast, and authorities held many individuals in poor and life-threatening 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. On May 27, Amnesty International published a report documenting the prolonged detention of terrorism suspects, including children, in deplorable conditions in military facilities in the Northeast. According to Amnesty, the prolonged detention of children in severely overcrowded facilities without adequate sanitation, water, or food, amounted to torture or inhuman treatment. Amnesty documented cases in which children detained in the facilities died as a result of the poor conditions. Conditions in Giwa Barracks reportedly improved somewhat during the year, because the military periodically released groups of women and children, and less frequently men, from the facility to state-run rehabilitation centers. Government employees were not consistently held accountable for abuses in military detention facilities.
Reports indicated that soldiers, police, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), SARS, and others committed sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls. Such exploitation and abuse were a concern in state-run IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and across the Northeast. Women and girls continued to be exploited in sex trafficking, reportedly by other IDPs, aid workers, and low-level government employees. Some charges were brought against government officials, security force members, and other perpetrators. For example, an Air Force officer was convicted, dismissed, and sentenced in 2019 by a court-martial for sexual exploitation of a 14-year-old girl in one of the IDP camps. In August he was turned over to civilian authorities for further criminal prosecution. In September a military court-martial convicted, dismissed from service, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment a soldier after he raped a teenage girl in Borno State.
Boko Haram engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls. 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. In 2019 Boko Haram kidnapped a group of women and cut off their ears in retaliation for perceived cooperation with Nigerian and Cameroonian military and security services.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the military used child soldiers during the year. In 2019 an international organization verified the Nigerian military recruited and used at least two children younger than age 15 in support roles. Between April and June 2019, the military used six boys between 14 and 17 years old in Mafa, Borno State, in support roles fetching water, firewood, and cleaning. In October 2019 the same international organization verified the government used five boys between 13 and 17 years old to fetch water at a checkpoint in Dikwa, Borno State.
Reports indicated that the military coordinated closely on the ground with the CJTF. The CJTF and United Nations continued work to implement an action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, which was signed by both parties and witnessed by the Borno State government in 2017. According to credible international organizations, following the signing of the action plan there had been no verified cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers by the CJTF. Some demobilized former child soldiers were awaiting formal reintegration into communities.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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 restricted these rights at times.
Freedom of Speech: 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. Authorities in the north at times restricted free speech by labeling it blasphemy.
Freedom of 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, arrest, detention, and sometimes violence.
At times civilian leaders instructed security forces to harass journalists covering sensitive topics such as human right abuses, electoral malpractices, high-level public corruption, and the government’s war against terrorism.
Violence and Harassment: Security services 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. On at least six occasions, journalists were charged with treason, economic sabotage, or fraud when uncovering corruption or public protests.
Numerous journalists were killed, detained, abducted, or arrested during the year.
On January 21, Alex Ogbu, a reporter for the RegentAfrica Times magazine and website, was shot and killed in a cross fire while covering an IMN protest in Abuja.
On October 24, police arrested Onifade Pelumi, an intern reporter for Gboah TV, as he conducted interviews in a crowd gathered outside a food warehouse in Agege near Lagos. His family was unable to locate him until his body was found in a Lagos morgue two weeks later.
On November 28, soldiers assaulted and detained Voice of America Hausa-service reporter Grace Abdu in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Abdu was interviewing residents of the Oyigbo community about allegations the army had committed extrajudicial killings of members of the proscribed separatist group the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), as well as killed or indiscriminately arrested civilians during a crackdown against IPOB. She was released later that afternoon.
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.
The government used regulatory oversight to restrict press freedom, notably clamping down on television and radio stations. Citing violations of amendments to the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, in August the NBC fined local radio station Nigeria Info 99.3 FM for comments by the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, on insecurity in the country. Mailaifia alleged that a northern governor was a sponsor of Boko Haram.
The NBC also sanctioned private television stations Africa Independent Television, Channels TV, and Arise News during October’s #EndSARS protests, alleging their reportage of the nationwide protests relied on unverifiable video footage from social media handles.
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. In February, Samuel Ogundipe, a reporter for the newspaper Premium Times, went into hiding after receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, having his email hacked, and being told to stop his reporting that relations between the country’s national security adviser, the army chief of staff, and the chief of staff for the presidency were strained. The newspaper’s editor, Musililu Mojeed, also reported receiving threats and the online edition of Premium Times suffered cyberattacks.
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. Allegations of libel were also used as a form of harassment by government employees in retaliation for negative reporting. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines. On October 13, police arrested Oga Tom Uhia, editor of Power Steering, a magazine covering the electrical power sector, at his home in Gwarimpa near Abuja. Uhia was charged with defamation, based on a complaint by Minister of State for Power Goddy Jeddy Agba. As of November, Uhia remained in detention.
On April 28, police arrested Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, for allegedly posting blasphemous statements regarding the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. On December 21, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, and the Nigerian Police Force to release Bala, ruling that his detention without charge for almost eight months violated his rights to freedom of expression and movement, among others. At year’s end the inspector general and police had not complied with the court’s decision, and Bala remained in detention.
Sharia courts sentenced persons for blasphemy. In August singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by a Kano State sharia court. A 13-year-old boy was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Lawyers for both defendants were appealing the convictions at year’s end.
There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted. 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. The internet and communications technology enterprise Paradigm Initiative reported that mobile internet providers blocked websites related to the #EndSARS protests.
Civil society organizations and journalists expressed concern regarding the broad powers provided by the law on cybercrime. Some local and state governments used the law to arrest journalists, bloggers, and critics for alleged hate speech. On August 17, 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.” Silas’s case was pending before the court 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 it plays 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. As of September public gatherings were limited to no more than 50 persons in enclosed spaces. State-level mandates varied on the reopening of religious services. Open-air religious services held away from places of worship remained prohibited in many states due to fear they might heighten interreligious tensions.
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. On January 23, Shia Rights Watch reported that government forces used tear gas and firearms against IMN protesters, killing one protester and severely injuring another. An IMN spokesperson alleged that police killed three IMN members during the group’s annual Ashura mourning procession in Kaduna on August 24 and that two persons died in clashes with police on August 30. On October 19, IMN members protested El-Zakzaky’s continued detention on the first anniversary of the violent clash with police in Zaria.
In August, #RevolutionNow protesters organized a set of demonstrations in several cities across the country to mark the one-year anniversary of their inaugural protests calling for more responsive and accountable governance. Although the protests were allowed to proceed unimpeded in most places, civil society observers reported the arrest of some peaceful protesters in Lagos, Osun, and Kano States on charges of “conduct likely to cause breach of public peace.” All those arrested were released within days of their arrest.
In October, #EndSARS protests were staged in states across the country to demand an end to police brutality. Demonstrations were largely peaceful, but some protests turned violent after criminal elements infiltrated the protests and security forces fired at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20 (see section 1.a.). According to #EndSARS Legal Aid, by year’s end a network of volunteer lawyers had secured the release of 337 protesters, but it was unable to confirm how many remained in detention.
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 section 1.a.).
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. The government of Kaduna State continued its proscription of the IMN, alleging the group constituted a danger to public order and peace. In July 2019 the government extended that proscription nationwide and designated the IMN as a terrorist organization.
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
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.
In-country Movement: The 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 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 restrictions on movement between and within states, as well as curfews that varied throughout the year.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
Access to farmland remained a problem 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 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, 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, 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 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 babies born as a result of rape during their captivity, faced stigmatization and community isolation.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with 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 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 according to some humanitarian organizations.
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, and Sudan, with a majority living in urban areas in Cross River State, Lagos, and Ijebu Ode in Ogun State. According to UNHCR, approximately 60,000 Cameroonians fleeing the Anglophone Crisis sought refuge in Cross River, Benue, and Akwa Ibom States.
Access to Basic Services: Legal documentation such as birth certificates, national identity cards, certificate 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 education. UNHCR reported in August that ineffective and inexistent civil registration and identification management systems in areas hosting IDPs and returnees remained a concern.
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.
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 data available, found that only 42 percent of births of children younger than age 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.