Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings. At times authorities investigated and held accountable police, military, or other security force personnel responsible for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. Instances of unlawful or extrajudicial killings in the army, air force, and navy are initially investigated by commanding officers who decide whether an accusation merits low-level discipline or the initiation of court-martial proceedings, which are subject to appeal before military councils and the civilian Court of Appeals. The army used a human rights desk in Maiduguri to investigate allegations of abuse during military operations in the North East. The government regularly utilized disciplinary boards, judicial panels of inquiry, or internal complaint mechanisms to investigate abuses by security forces. When warranted, these bodies made recommendations of proposed disciplinary measures to the state or federal government. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths did not always make their findings public.
The national police, army, and other security services sometimes used force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects. Police forces engaging in crowd-control operations generally attempted to disperse crowds using nonlethal tactics, such as firing tear gas, before escalating their use of force.
On August 13, the Osun State Police Command announced the dismissal of Sergeant Adamu Garba, who shot and killed a motorcycle rider on July 27. Police reportedly dismissed the officer while judicial authorities prosecuted him, although no further information on the judicial process to hold the officer accountable was available.
The Lagos State government established a judicial panel in October 2020 to investigate alleged abuses committed by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the alleged role of the Nigerian military and the Nigeria Police Force in shooting at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in October 2020. The panel’s 309-page report was leaked to the press on November 15 and was subsequently released by the Lagos State government on December 5, although both the state government and federal government disputed some of its findings.
The report implicated both the army and the Nigeria Police Force, stating that both participated in “a massacre in context” by opening fire on peaceful protesters with live ammunition. The report stated that coroners verified that three protesters died at the Lekki Toll Gate but suggested that the number of deaths might have been higher based on information from other sources. The report noted that the on-scene army commanders did not respond to multiple summons from the panel to testify, and the Nigeria Police Force claimed it had no personnel at the toll gate at the time despite contrary evidence. The panel stated it considered the army’s limited participation a “calculated attempt to conceal material evidence from the panel,” according to page 301 of the report. The report also alleged that security forces attempted to cover up the shooting by preventing ambulances from accessing the injured as well as removing evidence from the scene, including bullets. The report made 32 recommendations, including: prosecution of members of the army and police who were at the scene; establishment of a tribunal to address future security agency abuses; compensation of injured protesters; and issuance of a public apology to #EndSARS protesters.
On November 30, the press received a leaked copy of a “white paper” issued by a committee set up by the Lagos State governor to respond to the panel’s report. The white paper delineated the recommendations within Lagos State’s jurisdiction and referred others, including that of legal action against the security forces, to the federal government for action. The white paper also identified “inconsistencies” in the panel’s report, especially regarding the number of alleged deaths, and called its conclusions “totally unreliable and therefore unacceptable.” The federal minister of information and culture reiterated the government’s claim that no massacre occurred, pointing instead to the previous government acknowledgement that two persons had died during the protest at the Lekki Toll Gate.
On October 19, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled Nigeria: A Year On, No Justice for #EndSARS Crackdown. The report stated at least one man was shot by the military in the chest and died on the way to the hospital. While Human Rights Watch was not able to ascertain the total number of individuals killed, the report noted, “witnesses said that they saw what appeared to be at least 15 lifeless bodies and that military officers had taken away at least 11. Witnesses also reported that the police shot at least two protesters and took their lifeless bodies away.”
In February the Edo State High Court convicted a former Nigeria Police Force officer of the now-defunct SARS on conspiracy, murder, and grand theft charges for his role in the 2015 detainment, torture, and eventual death of Benin City car dealer Benson Obode. Of the five officers implicated in the crime, only Officer Joseph Omotosho was present in court. He was sentenced to death for his role in the killing. The other officers had their cases suspended pending their appearance in court.
On March 23, the Kogi State High Court sentenced Ocholi Edicha to 12 years’ and six months’ imprisonment on charges of criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, “mischief by fire,” and culpable homicide for his role in the death of Salome Abuh, a local People’s Democratic Party organizer who was killed by political supporters of Kogi governor Yahya Bello in 2019.
There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the North East and other areas (see section 1.g.).
Criminal gangs also killed numerous persons during the year (see section 1.b.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A 2017 law defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The law prescribes offenses and penalties for any person, including law enforcement officers, who commits torture or aids, abets, or by act or omission is an accessory to torture. It also provides a basis for victims of torture to seek civil damages. A 2015 law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees but fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the legislation compliant with the 2015 law for the legislation to apply beyond the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and federal agencies. As of September more than three-quarters of the country’s states (Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Ebonyi, Imo, Katsina, Sokoto, and Rivers) had adopted compliant legislation.
The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee against Torture. Lack of legal and operational independence and limited funding hindered the committee from carrying out its work effectively.
The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not always respect this prohibition. Of the 36 states, 29 as well as the Federal Capital Territory established judicial panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights abuses carried out by the Nigerian Police Force and the disbanded SARS. The panels consisted of a diverse group of civil society representatives, government officials, lawyers, youth, and protesters with the task of reviewing complaints submitted by the public and making recommendations to their respective state government on sanctions for human rights abuses and proposed compensation for victims. Nearly all judicial panels completed their investigations and reported their findings to state governors, but most reports were not made public by year’s end.
The Lagos State government established a judicial panel in October 2020 to investigate alleged abuses committed by SARS and Nigerian security services’ alleged role in shooting at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in October 2020.
The Lagos State judicial panel extended its work beyond its initial mandate to obtain comprehensive evidence and testimony from the army and Lagos State government officials. The Lagos panel had received 235 petitions and awarded 410 million naira ($1.02 million) in reparations to 71 victims of police brutality. The panel completed its work in October. The panel’s report was leaked to the press on November 15 and subsequently made available on the Lagos State government website (see section 1.a).
Human Rights Watch reported on October 19 the findings of 54 interviews with victims, witnesses, family members of victims, medical professionals, and others affected by the October 2020 Lekki Toll Gate shooting. A doctor who treated victims of the Lekki shooting confirmed three persons brought to the hospital where he worked had limbs amputated due to injuries sustained during the shooting.
Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups accused the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners.
Amnesty International carried out investigations into human rights abuses in Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, and Abia States. The organization documented 62 cases of arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment, and torture. It also reportedly reviewed video and audio recordings that showed security forces using excessive force and “other unlawful means to address the rising violence.”
Police used a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces which subjected them to public ridicule. Bystanders sometimes taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees. In August the Lagos governor signed a bill banning police from “parading” suspects before media.
The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for noncriminal proceedings; state laws do not compel participation by non-Muslims or Muslims in sharia courts. Sharia courts in 12 states and the FCT may prescribe punishments, such as caning, amputation, flogging, and death by stoning, although civil courts overturned these sentences on appeal. There were reports of canings during the year in Kaduna and Kano States.
In February a laborer from Kaduna State was sentenced to 12 lashes for allegedly stealing a cell phone. In June, six men from Kano State were sentenced to canings and jail time for possessing stolen cell phones. In October a man from Kaduna State was sentenced to 80 lashes for denying paternity for his sixth child. Defendants generally did not challenge caning sentences in court as a violation of statutory law. Sharia courts usually carried out caning immediately. In some cases convicted individuals paid fines or went to prison in lieu of caning.
In February and June at least three defendants convicted of fornication and caned sued the state for assault or other human rights abuses, causing the state to pay damages of between 10 million and 60 million naira ($24,800 and $149,000).
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no new reports of sexual exploitation or abuse by peacekeepers from the country who were deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were still three open allegations, including one from 2018 involving exploitative relationships and rape and two from 2017 – one involving transactional sex and one involving 53 peacekeepers in exploitative relationships with 62 adults and three peacekeepers involved in the rape of three children. As of September the United Nations had substantiated the 2017 allegation involving transactional sex, repatriated the perpetrator, and accountability measures by the government were pending. The government substantiated two allegations, one from 2017 and one from 2019. In those cases the United Nations repatriated the perpetrators, and the government took actions against them including imposing demotion, jail time, and fines. The government continued to investigate the other allegations.
Impunity, exacerbated by corruption and a weak judiciary, remained a significant problem in the security forces, especially in police, military, and the Department of State Services. Police, the military, and the Department of State Services reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government regularly utilized disciplinary boards and mechanisms to investigate security force members and hold them accountable for crimes committed on duty, but the results of these accountability mechanisms were not always made public. The Nigeria Police Force’s Complaint Response Unit worked to rebuild trust in police among citizens by holding police malefactors accountable. The revamped Complaints Response Unit was largely perceived to be a credible albeit nascent effort in the government’s effort to gather and respond to citizens’ complaints of police misconduct. Additionally, the minister of police inaugurated a Police Public Complaints Committee in April to allow citizens to register official complaints of abuses or misconduct by police officers. Police established a radio station to increase its communication with and get feedback from the public.
The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the National Human Rights Commission and Nigerian Bar Association to receive and investigate complaints, although their capacity and ability to investigate complaints outside major population centers remained limited. The court-martial in Maiduguri convicted soldiers for rape, murder, and abduction of civilians. The military continued its efforts to train personnel to apply international humanitarian law and international human rights law in operational settings.
In January the Imo State Police Command arrested four officers who were observed on a video striking two women and three men. The Nigeria Police Force condemned the officers’ actions as “inhuman” and “unacceptable.”
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses. Some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government sometimes detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system (see section 1.g.).
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a significant problem. Although the total designed capacity of the country’s prisons was 50,153 inmates, as of July prison facilities held 68,556 prisoners. According to the government, approximately 74 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention. As of July there were 1,301 female inmates. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. Prison authorities sometimes held juvenile suspects with adults.
Many of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and overcrowding sometimes resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions.
Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused some prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV and AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. This situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although authorities attempted to isolate persons with communicable diseases, facilities often lacked adequate space, and inmates with these illnesses lived with the general prison population. Prisons provided limited health care to inmates and transferred seriously ill prisoners to government hospitals. There is no legal requirement to autopsy individuals in custody who die to determine a cause of death. There were no reliable statistics on the total number of prison deaths during the year, either due to physical conditions of prisons, jails, and other detention facilities or to prisoner-on-prisoner violence.
On November 29, gunmen attacked the Jos prison, during which one corrections official and nine prisoners were killed.
Guards and prison employees reportedly extorted inmates, including for sex (which could be interpreted as rape under the law), or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, transport to routine court appointments, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape, either from prison authorities or male prisoners in facilities that did not segregate by gender. One legal aid NGO reported that authorities generally acted on allegations of inmates raping another inmate. The law provides for prosecution of an officer who impregnates a female inmate but does not specifically mention rape. Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison employees sometimes stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates sometimes relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison employees, police, and other security force personnel sometimes denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.
Some prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing inmates. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors – some of whom were born in prison – lived in the prisons.
Generally, prison officials made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).
Several unofficial military detention facilities continued to operate, including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. During the year conditions in the Giwa Barracks detention facility reportedly improved (see section 1.g). There were no reports of accountability for deaths in custody reported in past years.
After multiple releases during the year (see Improvements below), it was unclear how many children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities. According to press and NGO reports, the military continued to arrest and remand to military detention facilities, including Giwa Barracks, additional persons suspected of association with Boko Haram or ISIS-WA.
Following the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau on May 19 in the Sambisa Forest in the North East, the number of defections and surrenders to the government by former Boko Haram terrorists, their families, and villagers under Boko Haram’s control increased. As of September the International Organization for Migration reported there were approximately 3,500 men, women, and children in three camps in Maiduguri, and a significant number held in Bama. There was a mixture of men (including reportedly high-level Boko Haram commanders), women, families, and unaccompanied children at all three camps.
Administration: The National Human Rights Commission conducts prison audits. The commission released the results of a nationwide audit of all detention facilities in late 2020, covering 2018, and a report covering pretrial detention in 2019. The commission recommended renovation of existing facilities to meet needs, including for facility personnel, and noted a lack of sufficient health facilities and personnel. The audit highlighted concerns regarding overcrowding, with population at double capacity, and access to justice, with pretrial detainees five times the number of convicts. The commission noted a lack of adequate transportation for detainees to attend court proceedings, some concerns regarding case file maintenance for individuals in custody, and difficulties some individuals had in accessing legal representation, whether they were offered bail, or were able to pay fines and bail. Several individuals pending trial were identified who were charged with minor offenses that did not mandate pretrial detention, and authorities did not clearly indicate specific charges for some detainees. The commission also documented some minors living with their mothers in custody, and a failure of authorities to segregate juvenile offenders from adults, or separation of detainees based on type of offense. Through its Legal Aid Council, the Ministry of Justice reportedly provided some monitoring of prisons through the Federal Government Prison Decongestion Program.
The law provides that the chief judge of each state, or any magistrate designated by the chief judge, shall conduct monthly inspections of police stations and other places of detention within the magistrate’s jurisdiction, other than prisons, and may inspect records of arrests, direct the arraignment of suspects, and grant bail if previously refused but appropriate.
While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, in general few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances. Prison employees sometimes requested bribes to allow access for visitors.
Independent Monitoring: Independent nongovernmental observers conducted limited monitoring of prisons. The ICRC had access to police detention, the Nigerian Correctional Service, and some military detention facilities. For example in the first seven months of the year, the ICRC visited and assessed the detention conditions of 2,500 persons in Kaduna and Plateau states. In Plateau State the ICRC provided 100 children (including orphans) from the North East with telephone services to contact and share news with their relatives.
Improvements: Authorities released 230 children (215 boys, 15 girls) held for periods ranging from one week to several years for alleged association with armed groups during the year. There was no further information on the status of nine other children (four boys, five girls) who, according to UNICEF, remained detained as of December 2020. In Kano, state attorney general Lawan Musa Abdullahi and the chief judge of the Kano State High Court toured prisons and detention facilities monthly to ensure that persons unlawfully imprisoned were released. On July 14, the military announced the release of 1,009 former Boko Haram fighters from Giwa Barracks to the Borno State government.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities reportedly infringed on this right during the year, and at times police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies allegedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.
The government blocked websites, including Twitter (see section 2.a, Censorship and Content Restrictions). In January the news website Peoples Gazette was blocked by several mobile internet services. The editor of the website alleged the government had ordered the blocking after the website in October 2020 criticized the competence of the government. The website remained blocked at year’s end.
The NGO Freedom House reported that several government agencies purchased spyware that allowed them to monitor cell phone calls, texts, and geolocation.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law, and government employees, including elected officials, frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous allegations of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission holds broad authority to prosecute most forms of corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s writ extends only to financial and economic crimes.
On February 16, President Muhammadu Buhari nominated Abdulrasheed Bawa to replace Ibrahim Magu as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Bawa, a 17-year veteran of the commission, was the first chairman without a background in the Nigerian Police Force. The bulk of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s anticorruption efforts remained focused on low- and mid-level government officials, although both organizations brought indictments against various active and former high-level government officials. Many of the corruption cases, particularly the high-profile ones, remained pending before the courts due to administrative or procedural delays.
In January the assistant commissioner of police, Okubo Aboye, was sentenced to life in prison for accepting bribes in a high-profile kidnapping case in Ekiti State.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards 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, but generally either dismissed allegations, did not provide a substantive response, or did not publicize any investigation they conducted. In the North East, there were reports that the military threatened NGOs and humanitarian organizations after aid provided by these organizations purportedly reached insurgent groups. State governments accused international NGOs of profiting from the conflict and aiding and abetting the insurgencies. In April the government ordered the international NGO Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development to suspend operations after it reportedly carried out firearm training in Borno State.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The law establishes the National Human Rights Commission as an independent nonjudicial mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights. The commission monitors human rights through its zonal affiliates in the country’s six political regions. The commission is mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and publishes periodic reports detailing its findings, including torture and poor prison conditions, but served more in an advisory, training, and advocacy role. During the year there were no reports of its prior investigations having led to accountability. The law provides for recognition and enforcement of damages awarded to plaintiffs, but it was unclear whether this happened.