Human Rights: Motion without movement
Democracy Day celebration

By Henry Ojelu

THE Nigeria Army, Police and State Security Service continued to torture and ill-treat detainees throughout the year 2019.

Communal violence continued in some parts of the country. Freedoms of assembly, association and expression were all under attack as the country witnessed an increasing shrinking of civic space. The government also disobeyed several court orders.

Armed conflict: Boko Haram continued to carry out attacks, abductions and killings of civilians in the North-East. The armed group carried out at least 31 attacks that resulted in at least 378 civilian deaths. The group also killed at least 16 abducted civilians.

No fewer than 30 people lost their lives in July 2019 when suicide bombers attacked a football viewing centre in Mandarari. A female nurse and five male aid workers, all staff of Action Against Hunger were abducted on July 18, 2019 by Boko Haram. On September 25 that same year, one of the male aid workers was killed by the armed group who claimed the government had deceived them following months of secret negotiations. The remaining four male aid workers were killed on December 13, 2019 while the female nurse remains in captivity.

Also, 11 captives abducted along Damaturu-Maiduguri highway in November were also killed on Christmas day.

Nigerian authorities continue to detain dozens of children alongside adults in connection with Boko Haram crisis. On April 29, 2019, Amnesty International’s research confirmed that at least 68 boys were held without charge in Maiduguri Prisons. Twenty detained children were released by the Nigerian Army in October and an additional 86 were released in November of same year.

Communal violence

At least 96 people were killed in violent clashes between  farmers and herders. Not less than 570 people lost their lives in five states in North-West Nigeria.

Impunity: Little progress was made in securing accountability for human rights violations and abuses committed by security forces, Boko Haram and other suspected perpetrators involved in the herders and farmers’ clashes. No one was brought to justice for the killing of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, protesters in different states.

In September 2019, Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, at the end of her visit to Nigeria, noted that the absence of accountability functionality in Nigeria is contributing to human rights violations and crisis in the country.

In its December preliminary report, the Office of the Prosecutor, OTP, of the International Criminal Court, ICC, included two more crimes related to attacks by Boko Haram against humanitarian personnel and recruitment and use of children by the Nigerian security forces. The OTP also confirmed that a final decision whether to carry out a full investigation will be made this year, should Nigerian authorities fail to demonstrate tangible steps to fulfil their obligations under the Rome Statute.

Freedom of assembly: Security forces banned lawful assembly in some states, including Lagos and Rivers, and in some cases, they violently disrupted peaceful protests, such as the IMN protests in Abuja. The Unity Fountain, which serves as the rallying point for most protests in the capital city was heavily guarded by the police throughout 2019. On July 17 of same year, the Nigeria Police made an announcement restricting all protests in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, to the Unity Fountain. In October, the Federal Capital Territory Administration closed the Unity Fountain for three months for rehabilitation and construction of a fence. In July, the Police Command in Plateau State placed a total ban on any form of public procession in the state.

On August 5, several protesters including journalists were arrested and detained across Nigeria by security officials for participating in the #RevolutionNow protest. On November 12, officials of Department of State Services, DSS, beat up a journalist and fired tear-gas and live ammunition to disperse activists during a protest to demand for the release of prisoners of conscience Olawale Bakare and Omoyele Sowore. The Executive Director of Enough is Enough Nigeria, Yemi Adamolekun was also attacked during the protest.

Freedom of Association

Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the IMN and his wife Zeenah Ibrahim remained in detention despite a Federal High Court ordering their release in 2016. IMN members have held regular peaceful processions in Abuja since January 2019 calling for the release of their leader and his wife. At least two IMN protesters were killed and more than 60 arrested on July 9, when their peaceful protest turned violent after security officials fired live ammunition at the protesters at the National Assembly Complex. Most of those arrested continued to be held incommunicado in detention facilities in the Federal Capital Territory and in Kaduna and Niger states.

On July 22, 11 protesters, a Deputy Commissioner of Police and a reporter for Channels Television were killed when police opened fire on IMN protesters during their procession in Abuja. Scores were injured and many arrested when officials from the Nigeria Police violently disrupted the protest, which was largely peaceful. On July 27, a High Court in Abuja proscribed activities of IMN in any part of Nigeria. The court declared that “no person or groups of persons should henceforth associate with the Shiites for any reasons.” Security forces have arbitrarily arrested at least 200 and killed at least 10 members and supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, at different times during the year.

Freedom of expression

The right to freedom of expression remained increasingly restricted. Journalists, bloggers and media activists who asked federal and state authorities probing questions were variously charged with cybercrime and terrorism under the Cybercrime Act of 2015 and Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act of 2013. Amnesty International documented 19 cases of assault, arbitrary arrests, and detention of journalists.

On September 16, officials of the Akwa Ibom State Environmental Protection and Waste Management Agency assaulted Mary Ekere, a journalist with The Post Newspaper in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, South Nigeria, for filming their brutality against street traders in the city with her mobile phone. On December 24, Nigerian authorities released Omoyele Sowore, prisoner of conscience and publisher of online news website Sahara Reporters on bail. Amnesty International had earlier named Sowore, Agba Jalingo and Olawale Bakare (aka Mandate) prisoners of conscience and demanded that Nigerian authorities release them immediately and unconditionally and drop all charges against them. Agba Jalingo, a journalist and publisher of Cross River Watch newspaper was arrested on August 22 and faced charges of terrorism, disturbance of public peace and conspiracy to commit terrorism. He was initially arrested for his writing and social media posts on alleged corruption in Cross River State.

Women’s rights

Despite the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition, VAPP Act, violence against women remains prevalent in Nigeria. The VAPP Act, a law which criminalizes acts that are harmful to and discriminatory against women, is applicable in Abuja and has been domesticated in less than 10 states across Nigeria, by the end of the year.

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In 2019, there were reports of unlawful arrests, physical abuse, sexual violence, verbal abuse and financial extortion of over 100 women in the Federal Capital Territory,  FCT, by the Nigeria Police and agents of the FCT Joint Task Team’s Department of Development Control, Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB, and the Social Development Secretariat. These unlawful arrests of women on suspicion of being sex workers were carried out on streets, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other relaxation centres.

A mobile court convicted many of these women in unfair trials and some of them were sentenced to prison or fined for ‘wandering,’ an offence which has been abolished throughout the country. These women were denied access to legal representation. Following these reports of violence against women and campaigns by various CSOs, including Amnesty International, the National Human Rights Commission inaugurated a Special Investigative Panel on Sexual and Gender Based Violence, SGBV, in Nigeria. The panel’s mandate includes reviewing extant laws and regulations, hearing complaints, investigating alleged violations, making recommendations on remedies for victims and ensuring accountability for violations of women’s rights. The panel started its sittings in November. On November 26, the Federal government established the national sex offender register in Abuja by virtue of Section 1(4) the VAPP Act.

Children’s rights: Violence against children persists, despite the enactment of the Child Rights Act, CRA. Since the passage of the CRA in 2003, just over 20 states out of the 36 states in Nigeria have domesticated the Act. Most Northern states are yet to domesticate the CRA. Children with disabilities continue to face discrimination and multiple barriers, despite Nigeria’s legally binding obligation on the right to education. Amnesty International Nigeria has documented some cases of children who face discrimination and abuse due to their disability. Seven-year old Imran Kanun Muhammad allegedly suffered sexual violence and inhuman treatment at the School for the Deaf, Kuje, Federal Capital Territory, FCT. This case which is currently in court, is being monitored by Amnesty International Nigeria.  In July, there were allegations of sexual abuse of female students in the School for the Blind, FCT, which led to the suspension of two teachers by the Federal Capital Territory Administration. Also, in July, the dilapidated state of the Kwara State School for Special Needs in Ilorin was uncovered by the Governor and he made commitments to improve the conditions in the school. In April 2019, an Amnesty International investigation exposed allegation of sexual violence against children by security agents and inmates at Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture and other ill-treatment remain pervasive within the Nigerian criminal justice system. The Nigeria Police especially the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the military and the Department of State Services, DSS, continue to subject detainees to torture and other ill-treatment. In March, a high court in Anambra state ordered the Nigeria Police to pay compensation to Ugochukwu Oraefo for unlawful detention and torture. The police have neither paid the victim nor ensured that the police officers responsible are brought to justice.

Enforced disappearance: Amnesty International received credible reports that security agencies, including officials from the police and the SSS carried out arbitrary detentions and kept detainees incommunicado. The security agencies are yet to account for about 600 members of the IMN whose whereabouts remained unknown since December 2015 when at least 60 IMN members were killed in Kaduna state. Abubakar Idris, social media personality better known as Abu Hanifa Dadiyata, remain missing after he was abducted by armed men in his Barnawa, Kaduna state residence on August 2.


Nigerian prisons remain overcrowded. About seventy per cent of inmates are awaiting trial. Some of the inmates have been awaiting trial for as long as five years. On  August 14, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill into law, which he said was aimed at addressing fundamental lapses in the Prisons Act. On December 2, five inmates were killed, and seven others injured after being electrocuted at the Ikoyi Correctional Facility in Lagos. The prison authorities said they were investigating the incident but did not release any report on the investigation by the end of the year.

Justice system

Nigerian authorities continue to disobey court orders and undermine the rule of law. After sustained pressure from local and international bodies, Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki, two high profile political prisoners were released on 24 December after the government initially refused to obey several court rulings granting them bail. The Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami later announced that they were released on compassionate grounds.

Death penalty

Courts continued to impose death sentences. Although no execution was recorded, there are still more than 2,000 people on death row. In some states, legislative steps were taken to expand the scope of the death penalty. In March, Rivers state amended its laws to prescribe the death penalty for kidnapping and cultism by adopting the Rivers State Secret Cult and Similar Activities (Prohibition) (Amendment) Law No.6 of 2019 and the Rivers State Kidnap (Prohibition) (Amendment) No.2 Law No.7 of 2019.


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