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 press freedom, saying recent arrests and detentions of journalists and activists in the country suggested a disturbing trend toward repressing freedom of expression.
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 Freedom: Freedom House’s annual survey of media independence, Freedom of the Press 2018, described the press as “partly free.” 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 SSS 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 August 14, police arrested and detained Premium Times journalist Samuel Ogundipe. The Premium Times had published a confidential report submitted by Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo over SSS conduct in barricading the entrance to the National Assembly complex, reportedly in an attempt to arrest Senate President Bukola Saraki. Police insisted Ogundipe reveal the source of the article, which he refused to do. He was released on bail August 17. In a public statement, the Premium Times reported Ogundipe was secretly arraigned before a magistrate court without legal representation and charged with criminal trespass and theft from police.
In August, after more than two years of incommunicado detention by the SSS without trial, access to counsel, or family visitation, the publisher of Bayelsa State-based tabloid the Weekly Source, Jones Abiri, was released on bail (see section 1.b).
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. Local NGOs claimed security services intimidated newspaper editors and owners into censoring reports of killings and other human rights abuses.
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.
Allegations of libel were also used as a form of harassment by government officials in retaliation for negative reporting.
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 December 2017. The legislation seeks to provide fundamental digital freedoms and protections to citizens, but was not expected to clarify what constitutes hate speech. As of August President Buhari had not assented to the bill becoming law.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27.7 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017, more than half of whom were between the ages of 15 and 24.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
Although 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. From October 27-30, members of the IMN carried out a series of religious processions across northern Nigeria, while also protesting the continued detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. Police and military officials set up roadblocks and used other means to confront protestors in and around the capital city of Abuja. In the ensuring altercations, security forces shot and killed a number of IMN members. According to HRW, on October 28, soldiers shot into a procession in Zuba, a bus terminal northwest of Abuja, killing six persons. The army acknowledged in a statement that three persons were killed at Zuba, but said the soldiers were responding to an attack. According to international press reports and various human rights groups, on October 29, soldiers at a military checkpoint shot at an IMN procession at Karu, northeast of Abuja, as the group sought to continue their march into the capital. The New York Times and multiple rights groups reported that video evidence showed, and witness statements confirmed, that soldiers shot indiscriminately into the crowd of protestors, including in some cases while protestors attempted to flee. In a statement, the army said protestors attacked the soldiers. In total, the government said six IMN members were killed; AI said 45 were killed; and the IMN said 49 of its members were killed. According to a New York Times report, the soldiers involved were primarily from the Seventh Battalion of the Guards Brigade.
In areas that experienced societal violence, police and other security services permitted public meetings and demonstrations on a case-by-case basis.
Security services used excessive force to disperse demonstrators during the year (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.
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 are frequently harassed, intimidated, and arrested. In August six men were arrested in Abia State on suspicion of engaging in same-sex activity. Later in the month, 57 men attending a party in Lagos were also arrested and detained by police on similar allegations. In both cases, the men were subsequently charged for lesser offences rather than under the SSMPA, but rights groups reported that the SSMPA had a significant chilling effect on free association.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at 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 ethnoreligious violence.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers through the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and IDPs. The government continued 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. According to UNHCR, however, the government participated in the forced return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon (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.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
As of December 2017 the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported there were approximately 1.7 million persons displaced in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe. Insurgency was the main reason for displacement, followed by communal clashes. IOM estimated 39 percent of IDPs lived in camps and camp-like settings and 61 percent with host families. More than half of the IDP population was female and 56 percent were children, of which half were younger than age five. The true number of IDPs was likely much higher, as IOM’s efforts did not include inaccessible areas of the Northeast.
Food was one of the IDPs’ greatest immediate needs, with 69 percent of IDPs listing it as their main concern. In November 2017 the Cadre Harmonise–a food security analysis tool unique to West Africa–reaffirmed the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast had significantly disrupted livelihoods and agricultural activities, resulting in poor food security and nutrition conditions. Cadre Harmonise projected that 3.7 million persons–or 27 percent of the population–would face crisis level acute food insecurity in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states during the summer 2018 “lean season” from June-August.
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.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: According to UNHCR the government participated in the forced return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon. For example, in April UNHCR reported that 160 Nigerian refugees and asylum-seekers were forcibly returned to Nigeria’s Borno State, having sought refuge in Cameroon’s Waza district since 2014. In total UNHCR reported that at least 385 Nigerians were forcibly returned from Cameroon between January and April. 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. According to UNHCR, as of October 2017 there were approximately 1,525 refugees and 2,247 asylum seekers (including an estimated 1,200 Cameroonian asylum seekers). 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 Lagos and Ijebu Ode in Ogun State.
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.
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.
Elections and Political Participation
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. From August 2017 to August 20, INEC conducted 10 elections, including end of tenure and by-elections.
Many of the elections, such as the Anambra State gubernatorial election in November 2017, were relatively peaceful. In August, however, INEC suspended a bye-election held in Rivers State, citing widespread violence. Press reports indicated that armed men dressed in SARS uniforms attacked election officials in an attempt to hijack election materials.
There was evidence of election malpractice, including widespread vote buying and selling and ballot hijacking by party agents despite the presence of INEC and security agents. For example, the Ekiti State elections in July were peaceful, but marked by pervasive vote-buying. Independent observers reported that during the Osun State elections in September, thugs and members of security services engaged in intimidation of voters and harassment of party monitors, journalists, and domestic observers.
Civil society organizations reported no legal restrictions on their ability to comment or observe parts of the electoral process. They reported aspects of the electoral process, however, remained opaque, allegedly because of deliberate attempts to undermine or circumvent the integrity of the process by stakeholders or because of INEC’s financial or logistical constraints. According to some civil society organizations, attempts to disenfranchise voters were on the rise through circumvention of permanent voter card procedures and targeted electoral violence. In response to some of these trends, INEC regularly cancelled votes from polling units that failed to use card readers properly.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution and law allow the free formation of political parties. As of January, 91 parties were registered with INEC, an increase from the previous 45. 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. Women occupied approximately 6 percent of National Assembly seats and 5 percent of state assembly seats. Five of the 37 cabinet members were women. Few women ran for elected office at the national level: in the most recent federal elections in 2015, women constituted just 128 of the 746 total candidates (17 percent) for the Senate, and 270 of the 1,772 candidates for the House of Representatives (15 percent).