Human rights in Nigeria are a mixed bag. The nation has some strong constitutional rights that it guarantees to its citizens. However, these rights are often undermined by a corrupt government, abuses of power from law enforcement and the latent threat of Islamist insurgency group Boko Haram. Here are 10 facts about human rights in Nigeria.
- Freedoms of speech, religion and the press are constitutionally protected human rights in Nigeria. However, freedom of the press is limited through anti-defamation laws with severe penalties. Journalists found to be in violation of these laws have been detained and arrested without trial.
- Freedom of assembly is also constitutionally guaranteed in Nigeria, but this freedom is still restricted. If the government deems an event as threatening to national security, it can ban the event from taking place. This power has been used to disrupt peaceful protests by political organizers.
- As of December 2016, Nigeria has not yet criminalized police and military use of torture. However, a measure to outlaw torture passed Nigeria’s House of Representatives in June of 2016.
- Nigerian security forces frequently engage in human rights abuses. Officers that commit unlawful killings routinely go unpunished. In 2015, Nigerian soldiers unlawfully killed more than 350 Islamic Movement of Nigeria protesters during a road blockade.
- Nigerian security forces have also had issues with racketeering. Amnesty International discovered that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad torturing suspected criminals and demanding bribes from their families in exchange for freedom. There have also been reported cases of Nigerian officers abducting people from their homes and arbitrarily arresting civilians. The government often fails to hold offending officers accountable.
- Nigeria has more than two million internally displaced persons (IDPs). IDPs are people who have fled from their homes but not their country. One-fifth of IDPs live in overcrowded camps where they do not receive proper amounts of food, water, medical care and sanitation. Thousands have died in these camps due to these conditions. There are also many recorded instances of guards bribing female IDPs for sex.
- Discrimination against women is rampant in Nigeria. Little more than 5 percent of Nigeria’s National Assembly seats are held by women. Many families send their sons to school while neglecting their daughters and the law denies women equal right to property. Crimes against women receive harsh penalties, but often go unreported. This past year, Nigeria codified gender based discrimination protections into law.
- In 2014, the Nigerian National Assembly enacted a law that criminalizes any expression of a same-sex relationship. Those who are found in violation can be imprisoned for 14 years. The law has enabled police abuses such as detaining suspected homosexuals indefinitely and raiding NGOs that teach HIV prevention. In parts of Nigeria, LGBT persons can be sentenced to death.
Thousands of civilians have been forcibly evicted from their homes by the Nigerian government. There have been many occasions where these evictions occurred without proper compensation, resettlement and prior notification to homeowners.
- The Nigerian government is notoriously corrupt. According to the government, 55 public officials stole $9 billion from the government between 2006-2013. This amounts to roughly a quarter of the nation’s annual budget. Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari has introduced a number of anti-corruption measures and has prosecuted several high profile officials for offenses. However, Buhari’s political opposition has claimed that these reforms are aimed at disproportionately impacting Buhari’s political opponents.
- The terrorist group Boko Haram remains as a threat to national security and human rights in Nigeria. Boko Haram’s goal is to overthrow the Nigerian government and install an Islamic caliphate. Its activities are largely responsible for Nigeria’s great number of IDPs and it has received international attention for abducting hundreds of schoolgirls and forcing them into sex slavery. In 2015, Boko Haram lost all of its territory, but many of the children abducted still remain missing. While the group is no longer as powerful as it once was, there is always a chance for resurgence.
Nigeria has quite a way to go before it can be considered a free country, but there is a clear path to improving the record of human rights in Nigeria. The nation as well as NGOs and the international community will have to continue to push anti-corruption reforms. An ethical government can better serve the needs of its citizens and can be better trusted to handle foreign aid responsibly.
Nigeria also needs to institute reforms that will hold members of the police and the military accountable for unlawful actions. Economic development is also crucial to improving human rights in Nigeria. A Nigeria that has prospered through trade and has greater ties to the international community may be more willing to institute social reforms that will create greater opportunities for women and decriminalize homosexuality.
– Carson Hughes