Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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.
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/.
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.
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 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials sometimes cooperated and responded to their views, but generally dismissed allegations quickly without investigation. In some cases the military threatened NGOs and humanitarian organizations. In December 2018 a military spokesperson called for the banning of AI after the release of a report on farmer-herder violence, but no action was taken against AI. In September the army ordered Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corps, both humanitarian NGOs, to suspend operations in Borno and Yobe States. The army alleged members of the organizations, who were found with large sums of cash and other questionable items at checkpoints, were aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corps strongly rejected these charges and cooperated with military officials, which resulted in the lifting of suspensions. On October 30, the government announced it would take new steps to vet and monitor humanitarian actors working in the Northeast. The next day both organizations resumed operations. A military board of inquiry continued to investigate the allegations.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The law establishes the NHRC as an independent nonjudicial mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights. The NHRC monitors human rights through its zonal affiliates in the country’s six political regions. The NHRC is mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and publishes periodic reports detailing its findings, including torture and poor prison conditions. The commission served more of an advisory, training, and advocacy role. During the year there were no reports its investigations led to accountability. The law provides for recognition and enforcement of NHRC awards and recommendations as court decisions, but it was unclear whether this happened.