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 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. The law cites spousal battery, forceful ejection from the home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other harmful traditional practices, substance attacks (such as acid attacks), political violence, and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) as offenses. Victims and survivors of violence are entitled by law to comprehensive medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases, although during the year these services were often limited due to resource constraints. As of September only 13 of the country’s 36 states (Kaduna, Anambra, Oyo, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Osun, Cross River, Lagos, Plateau, and Bauchi) and the FCT had adopted the act, meaning that most Nigerians were not yet protected by the law.
The law criminalizes rape, but it remained widespread. According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, approximately 31 percent of women between ages 15 and 49 had experienced some form of physical violence and 9 percent had experienced sexual violence. On May 27, a university student was raped and killed while studying inside a church in Benin City, Edo State. With support from Edo State, the inspector general of police sent a special homicide team to investigate, which resulted in the arrest of six suspects in August. Four were charged and remained in jail awaiting trial until October, when they escaped during a mass jailbreak during the #EndSARS protests. At year’s end they remained fugitives, while two more suspects had yet to be charged because authorities could not locate them.
Sentences for persons convicted of rape and sexual assault were inconsistent and often minor. Federal law provides penalties for conviction ranging from 12 years’ to life imprisonment for offenders older than 14 and a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for all others. It also provides for a public register of convicted sexual offenders and appointment of protection officers at the local government level to coordinate with courts and provide for victims to receive various forms of assistance (e.g., medical, psychosocial, legal, rehabilitative, and for reintegration) provided by the law. The law also includes provisions to protect the identity of rape victims and a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to victims of rape. Because the relevant federal law had only been adopted in one-third of states, state criminal codes continued to govern most rape and sexual assault cases and typically allowed for lesser sentences. While some, mostly southern, states enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender-based violence or sought to safeguard certain rights, a majority of states did not have such legislation. Victims generally had little or no recourse to justice. In September, Kaduna State enacted laws increasing the maximum penalty for rape to include sterilization and the death penalty.
The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both for conviction of spousal battery. It also authorizes courts to issue protection orders upon application by a victim and directs the appointment of a coordinator for the prevention of domestic violence to submit an annual report to the federal government.
Domestic violence remained widespread, and many considered it socially acceptable. A 2019 survey on domestic violence found that 47 percent of respondents had suffered from domestic violence or knew someone who had; 82 percent of respondents indicated that violence against women was prevalent in the country.
Police often refused to intervene in domestic disputes or blamed the victim for provoking the abuse. In rural areas courts and police were reluctant to intervene to protect women who formally accused their husbands of abuse if the level of alleged abuse did not exceed local customary norms.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Federal law criminalizes female circumcision or genital mutilation, but there were few reports that the government took legal action to curb the practice. The law penalizes a person convicted of performing female circumcision or genital mutilation with a maximum of four years in prison, a monetary fine, or both. It punishes anyone convicted of aiding or abetting such a person with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. The federal government launched a revised national policy on the elimination of FGM for 2020-24.
The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey found that 20 percent of women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C. While 13 of 36 states banned FGM/C, once a state legislature had criminalized FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws applied in their districts.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to the law, any person convicted of subjecting another person to harmful traditional practices may be punished with up to four years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. Anyone convicted of subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. For purposes of the law, a harmful traditional practice means all traditional behavior, attitudes, or practices that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women or girls, to include denial of inheritance or succession rights, FGM/C, forced marriage, and forced isolation from family and friends.
Despite the federal law, purdah, the cultural practice of secluding women and pubescent girls from unrelated men, continued in parts of the north. “Confinement,” which occurred predominantly in the Northeast, remained the most common rite of deprivation for widows. Confined widows were subject to social restrictions for as long as one year and usually shaved their heads and dressed in black as part of a culturally mandated mourning period. In other areas communities viewed a widow as a part of her husband’s property to be “inherited” by his family. In some traditional southern communities, widows fell under suspicion when their husbands died. To prove their innocence, they were forced to drink the water used to clean their deceased husbands’ bodies.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a common problem. No statutes prohibit sexual harassment, but assault statutes provide for prosecution of violent harassment. The law criminalizes stalking, but it does not explicitly criminalize sexual harassment. The law also criminalizes emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse and acts of intimidation.
The practice of demanding sexual favors in exchange for employment or university grades remained common. Women suffered harassment for social and religious reasons in some regions.
Reproductive Health: Although couples and individuals have the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, traditional practices often hampered a woman’s choice on family size.
Information on reproductive health and access to quality reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care were not widely available. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported as of 2020 that only 46 percent of married or in-union women were free to make their own informed decisions in all three categories of reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. More than 30 percent of women of reproductive age experienced spousal violence during pregnancy.
Modern methods of contraception were used by 12 percent of women, with nearly 19 percent of all surveyed women stating they had an unmet need for family planning, and 24 percent of women stating they wanted no more children. The UN Population Division estimated 17 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception. As of 2010, the UNFPA reported that 29 percent of women ages 20-24 had given birth before the age of 18.
Cultural and religious views across regions affected access to reproductive services, especially contraceptive use. Not all primary health centers provided free family-planning services. The National Health Insurance Scheme did not always cover family-planning services.
Conversations around sex and sexuality issues were taboo in many places, posing a barrier for access for youth who might need services and information from health-care providers.
Pediatricians provided primary care for adolescents through 18 years of age. Adolescent-friendly reproductive health services and interventions were usually not provided within the health system. Low literacy and low economic empowerment among couples hampered effective access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and delivery, although government insurance policies sometimes provided for free antenatal services. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported that 67 percent of women ages 15-49 received antenatal care from a skilled provider during pregnancy, and 39 percent of live births took place in a health-care facility.
Inadequate funding for primary health-care facilities and cost of services, as well as lack of access to primary health-care facilities in rural and hard-to-reach areas with poor transportation and communications infrastructure, limited access to antenatal care and skilled birth delivery. Gender roles also limited access to maternal health services; women who were financially or socially dependent on men might be unable to access health care without seeking consent from their spouses. In some states, health-care workers frequently required women to provide proof of spousal consent prior to accessing contraceptives. In the North, societal and cultural norms inhibited women from leaving the house unaccompanied to access reproductive health services. Some women also preferred to deliver their babies using traditional birth attendants because of the belief they could prevent spiritual attacks and because of the affordability of their services.
According to the 2018 NDHS, one in 10 women ages 15-49 experienced sexual violence. A UNICEF survey from 2014 indicated one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence before age 18. The government received support from donors to provide access to age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Sexual violence survivors who sought and had access to care could receive a minimum package of care, including counseling, HIV testing services, provision of post-exposure prophylaxis (within 72 hours), linkage to pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV-negative clients, linkage to anti-retroviral services for HIV-positive clients, provision of emergency contraceptives (within 120 hours), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and legal support where required, among other services such as referrals for longer term psycho-social support and economic empowerment programs.
The 2018 NDHS reported a maternal mortality rate of 512 deaths per 100,000 live births due to lack of access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and other medical services.
Complications associated with FGM/C included potential spread of HIV due to tearing of scarred vaginal tissue and use of unsterilized instruments; emotional trauma; and sexual health problems such as pain during sex, decreased sexual desire and pleasure, and obstetric problems such as prolonged or obstructed labor, obstetric fistulas, infection, sepsis, and postpartum bleeding.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and there were no known legal restrictions on women’s working hours or jobs deemed too dangerous for women, there were limitations on women’s employment in certain industries such as construction, energy, and agriculture. Women experienced considerable economic discrimination. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, nor does it mandate nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring.
Women generally remained marginalized. No laws prohibit women from owning land, but customary land tenure systems allowed only men to own land, with women gaining access to land only via marriage or family. Many customary practices also did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property.
In the 12 northern states that adopted religious law, sharia and social norms affected women to varying degrees. For example, in Zamfara State local governments enforced laws requiring the separation of Muslim men and women in transportation and health care.
The testimony of women carried less weight than that of men in many criminal courts. Women could arrange but not post bail at most police detention facilities.
Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. 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. Lack of documents did not result in denial of education, health care, or other public services.
Education: The law requires provision of tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. According to the constitution, women and girls are supposed to receive career and vocational guidance at all levels, as well as access to quality education, education advancement, and lifelong learning. Despite these provisions, extensive discrimination and impediments to female participation in education persisted, particularly in the north.
Public schools remained substandard, and limited facilities precluded access to education for many children.
Most educational funding comes from the federal government, with state governments required to pay a share. Public investment was insufficient to achieve universal basic education. Actual budget execution was consistently much lower than approved funding levels. Increased enrollment rates created challenges in ensuring quality education. According to UNICEF, in some instances there were 100 pupils for one teacher.
According to the 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey, attendance rates in primary schools increased to 68 percent nationwide. Of the approximately 30 million primary school-age children, an estimated 10.5 million were not enrolled in formally recognized schools. At least an additional four million were estimated to be out of school at the secondary level. Primary school attendance was low, and learning outcomes nationally were poor on average, especially across the northern states, where compounding disadvantages included higher levels of household poverty, insecurity, and restrictive cultural norms. According to the 2015 education survey, the net attendance ratio at primary level was only 67 percent of children between the ages of six and 11. Children in rural areas were at a greater disadvantage than those in urban areas, with a ratio of 57 percent and 81 percent, respectively. Furthermore, national data on students’ reading and literacy levels revealed all of the northern states fell within the bottom third on reading performance.
The lowest attendance rates were in the north, where rates for boys and girls were approximately 45 percent and 35 percent, respectively. According to UNICEF, in the north, for every 10 girls in school, more than 22 boys attended. Approximately 25 percent of young persons between ages 17 and 25 had fewer than two years of education.
The Northeast had the lowest primary school attendance rate. The most pronounced reason was the Boko Haram and ISIS-WA insurgencies, which prevented thousands of children from continuing their education in Borno and Yobe States (due to destruction of schools, community displacement, and mass movement of families from those crisis states to safer areas). According to the United Nations, between 2014 and 2017, attacks in the Northeast destroyed an estimated 1,500 schools and resulted in the deaths of 1,280 teachers and students.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common throughout the country, but the government took no significant measures to combat it. Findings from the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey released in 2015 revealed approximately six of every 10 children younger than age 18 experienced some form of physical, emotional, or sexual violence during childhood. One in two children experienced physical violence, one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence, and one in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence.
In 2010 the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah Education reported 9.5 million children worked as almajiri, poor children from rural homes sent to urban areas by their parents ostensibly to study and live with Islamic teachers. Since government social welfare programs were scarce, parents of children with behavioral, mental health, or substance abuse problems turned to the almajiris of some mallams who claimed to offer treatment. Instead of receiving an education, many almajiri were forced to work manual jobs or beg for alms that were given to their teacher. The religious leaders often did not provide these children with sufficient shelter or food, and many of the children effectively became homeless. In April governors of 19 northern states agreed to ban almajiri schools, and during the COVID pandemic they repatriated thousands of students across state lines. By year’s end there were reports that almajiri schools had resumed in some states.
In some states children accused of witchcraft were killed or suffered abuse, such as kidnapping and torture.
So-called baby factories operated, often disguised as orphanages, religious or rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or maternity homes. They offered for sale the newborns of pregnant women–mostly unmarried girls–sometimes held against their will and raped. The persons running the factories sold the children for various purposes, including adoption, child labor, child trafficking, or sacrificial rituals, with boys fetching higher prices. Media reports indicated some communities killed infants born as twins or with birth defects or albinism.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets a minimum age of 18 for marriage for both boys and girls. According to UNICEF, 43 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 had been married before the age of 18, while 16 percent were married before age 15. The prevalence of child, early, and forced marriage varied widely among regions, with figures ranging from 76 percent in the Northwest to 10 percent in the Southeast. Only 25 state assemblies adopted the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the minimum marriage age, and most states, especially northern states, did not uphold the federal official minimum age for marriage. The government engaged religious leaders, emirs, and sultans on the problem, emphasizing the health hazards of early marriage. Certain states worked with NGO programs to establish school subsidies or fee waivers for children to help protect against early marriage. The government did not take significant legal steps to end sales of young girls into marriage.
According to an NGO, education was a key indicator of whether a girl would marry as a child–82 percent of women with no education were married before 18, as opposed to 13 percent of women who had at least finished secondary school. In the north parents complained the quality of education was so poor that schooling could not be considered a viable alternative to marriage for their daughters. Families sometimes forced young girls into marriage as early as puberty, regardless of age, to prevent “indecency” associated with premarital sex or for other cultural and religious reasons. Boko Haram subjected abducted girls to forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child commercial sexual exploitation and sexual intercourse with a child, providing penalties for conviction from seven years’ to life imprisonment, respectively, for any adults involved. Two-thirds of states had adopted the relevant federal law. The minimum age for sexual consent varies according to state law. The constitution provides that “full age” means the age of 18, but it creates an exception for any married woman who “shall be deemed of full age.” In some states children as young as 11 can be legally married under customary or religious law. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking and prescribes a minimum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine.
The law criminalizes incest and provides prison sentences of up to 10 years. The law criminalizes the production, procurement, distribution, and possession of child pornography with prison terms of 10 years, a substantial monetary fine, or both.
Sexual exploitation of children remained a significant problem. Children were exploited in commercial sex, both within the country and in other countries. Girls were victims of sexual exploitation in IDP camps. There were continued reports that camp employees and members of security forces, including some military personnel, used fraudulent or forced marriages to exploit girls in sex trafficking (see section 1.g.). The government expanded efforts to identify victims of exploitation in IDP camps and investigate camp officials alleged to be complicit in the exploitation. For example, the government continued a screening and sensitization campaign to identify sex-trafficking victims in IDP camps in Bama and other areas near Maiduguri. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) also collaborated with the Borno State government, international organizations, and NGOs to establish the Borno State Anti-Trafficking Task Force.
Displaced Children: As of September, UNHCR reported there were approximately 2.5 million persons displaced in the Lake Chad Basin region. According to the International Organization for Migration, children younger than age 18 constituted 56 percent of that IDP population, with 23 percent of them younger than age six. There were displaced children among IDP populations in other parts of the north as well. Many children were homeless.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on the “circumstances of one’s birth.” In 2019 the government passed a disability rights law for the first time, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. Violators are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. In August, President Buhari named the first appointees to lead the new National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
Some national-level policies such as the National Health Policy of 2016 provide for health-care access for persons with disabilities. By year’s end 10 states had adopted the national disability law including Kano, Jigawa, Anambra, Kogi, Ondo, Lagos, Ekiti, Plateau, Kwara, and Bauchi. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development has responsibility for persons with disabilities. Some government agencies, such as the NHRC and the Ministry of Labor and Employment, designated an employee to work on matters related to disabilities.
The government operated vocational training centers in Abuja and Lagos to train indigent persons with disabilities. Individual states also provided facilities to help persons with physical disabilities become self-supporting. The Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities served as the umbrella organization for a range of disability groups.
Persons with disabilities faced social stigma, exploitation, and discrimination, and relatives often regarded them as a source of shame. Many indigent persons with disabilities begged on the streets. Mental health-care services were almost nonexistent. Officials at a small number of prisons used private donations to provide separate mental health facilities for prisoners with mental disabilities. All prisoners with disabilities stayed with the general inmate population and received no specialized services or accommodations.