Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In 2015 citizens elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a four-year term in the first successful democratic transfer of power from a sitting president in the country’s history.
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 (ISIS-WA) continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of approximately 1.8 million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 225,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries, principally Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Widespread violence across rural Nigeria, including conflict over land and other resources between farmers and herders, resulted in an estimated 1,300 deaths and 300,000 persons internally displaced between January and July, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).
Human rights issues included unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by both government and nonstate actors; torture by both government and nonstate actors and prolonged arbitrary detention in life-threatening conditions particularly in government detention facilities; harsh and life threatening prison conditions including civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy or no evidence; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; refoulement of refugees; corruption; progress to formally separate child soldiers previously associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF); lack of accountability concerning violence against women, including female genital mutilation/cutting, in part due to government inaction/negligence; trafficking in persons, including sexual exploitation and abuse by security officials; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons and the criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labor.
The government took steps to investigate alleged abuses but fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.
The Borno State government provided financial and in-kind resources to the CJTF, a nongovernmental self-defense militia that coordinated and at times aligned with the military to prevent attacks against civilian populations by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Human rights organizations and press reporting charged the CJTF with committing human rights abuses. The government took few steps to investigate or punish CJTF members who committed human rights abuses.
Boko Haram and ISIS-WA conducted numerous attacks targeting civilians. Boko Haram recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers and carried out scores of suicide bombings, many by young women and girls forced into doing so — and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA 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 ISIS-WA and took steps to prosecute their members, although the majority of suspected insurgent group supporters were held in military custody without charge.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. The national police, army, and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings. Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public. In August 2017 the acting president convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, and the panel submitted its findings in February. As of November no portions of the report had been made public.
As of September there were no reports of the federal government further investigating or holding individuals accountable for the 2015 killing and subsequent mass burial of members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and other civilians by Nigerian Army (NA) forces in Zaria, Kaduna State. In 2016 the government of Kaduna made public the Kaduna State judicial commission’s nonbinding report, which found the NA used “excessive and disproportionate” force during the 2015 altercations in which 348 IMN members and one soldier died. The commission recommended the federal government conduct an independent investigation and prosecute anyone found to have acted unlawfully. It also called for the proscription of the IMN and the monitoring of its members and their activities. In 2016 the government of Kaduna State published a white paper that included acceptance of the commission’s recommendation to investigate and prosecute allegations of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the NA. As of September, however, there was no indication that authorities had held any members of the NA accountable for the events in Zaria. It also accepted the recommendation to hold IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky responsible for all illegal acts committed by IMN members during the altercations and in the preceding 30 years. In 2016 a federal court declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional. The court ordered their release by January 2017. The federal government did not comply with this order, and Zakzaky, his spouse, and other IMN members remained in detention. In April the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of the soldier at Zaria. The charges include culpable homicide, which can carry the death penalty. As of December the case was pending. In July a Kaduna High Court dismissed charges of aiding and abetting culpable homicide against more than 80 IMN members. As of September the Kaduna State government had appealed the ruling. Approximately 100 additional IMN members remained in detention.
In October security forces killed 45 IMN members that were participating in processions and protests, according to Amnesty International (AI) (see section 2.b.).
In January AI reported that the Nigerian Air Force used excessive force in responding to intercommunal violence in December 2017 in Numan local government area (LGA) in Adamawa State. According to the report, hundreds of herdsmen attacked eight villages in Adamawa in response to a massacre by farming communities of up to 51 herders, mostly children, in Kikan village the previous month. The Nigerian Air Force said it responded at the request of relevant security agencies for show of force flights to disperse the “hoodlums” engaged in ransacking and burning villages, and subsequently aimed to shoot in front of crowds to deter them from attacking Numan. AI reported that the Air Force response resulted in a fire and destruction in the town, and that Air Force rockets and bullets hit civilian buildings directly and resulted in multiple civilian deaths. The report also stated it was not possible to establish conclusively how much of the death and destruction was attributable to the Air Force’s actions and how much to the concurrent attack by herdsmen. The Air Force denied the claims in a statement but reportedly ordered an investigation. As of September it was unclear if the investigation had been concluded.
In January 2017 the air force mistakenly bombed an informal internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement in Rann, Borno State, which resulted in the killing and injuring of more than 100 civilians and humanitarian workers. Army personnel also were injured. The government and military leaders publicly assumed responsibility for the strike and launched an investigation. The air force conducted its own internal investigation, but as of December the government had not made public its findings. No air force or army personnel were known to have been held accountable for their roles in the event.
There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the Northeast and other areas (see section 1.g.).
After more than two years of incommunicado detention by the State Security Service (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 in August. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported Abiri was accused of being a member of a Niger Delta militant group but was not formally charged, and said Abiri’s detention was in response to critical coverage from the July 2016 edition of the Weekly Source. Following an open letter from the CPJ and significant public outcry, Abiri was arraigned and eventually released on bail. Abiri told reporters that he was blindfolded, held in an underground cell for most of the two years, and did not have access to medication in detention (see section 2.a.).
In August AI issued a statement on the International Day of the Disappeared, calling on the government to end unlawful arrests and incommunicado detentions, including the reported disappearances of more than 600 members of the IMN, and an unknown number of individuals in the Northeast where Boko Haram had been active. In August the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) signed the mandate documents and a standard operating procedure to establish a database of missing persons in the country, with technical advice from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As of September the database was not operational.
Criminal groups abducted civilians in the Niger Delta and the Southeast, often to collect ransom payments. Maritime kidnappings remained common as militants turned to piracy and related crimes to support themselves. On March 26, for example, Nigerian pirates boarded a fishing vessel off the coast of Ghana, kidnapping three Korean sailors and taking them by speedboat back to the Niger Delta. The pirates reportedly released the sailors after the Ghanaian parent company paid a ransom.
Other parts of the country experienced a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction. For example, in January a member of the Taraba State House of Assembly, Hosea Ibi, was abducted and killed by unknown assailants.
Boko Haram and ISIS-WA conducted large-scale abductions in Borno and Yobe States (see section 1.g.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. In December 2017, the president signed the Anti-Torture Act, which defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The Act prescribes offences 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. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), passed in 2015, prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the ACJA for the legislation to apply beyond the FCT and federal agencies. As of November the states of Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Cross Rivers, Delta, Ekiti, Enugu, Kaduna, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, and Rivers had adopted ACJA-compliant legislation.
The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee Against Torture (NCAT). Lack of legal and operational independence and lack of funding, however, prevented NCAT from carrying out its work effectively.
The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not respect this prohibition, however, and, according to credible international organizations, the Special Antirobbery Squad (SARS) often used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. Police also repeatedly mistreated civilians to extort money.
In 2016 AI reported police officers in the SARS regularly tortured detainees in custody as a means of extracting confessions and bribes. In response to AI’s findings, the inspector general of police reportedly admonished SARS commanders and announced broad reforms to correct SARS units’ failures to follow due process and their use of excessive force. Allegations of widespread abuse by SARS officers, however, continued throughout the year. In late 2017 citizens began a social media campaign (#EndSARS) to document physical abuse and extortion by SARS officers and demand SARS units be disbanded. In December 2017 the inspector general of police announced plans to reorganize SARS units, but complaints of abuse continued. Several SARS officers were dismissed from the force and, in some instances, prosecuted, and the National Police Force (NPF) sought technical assistance for investigations of SARS officers. The vast majority of misconduct cases, however, went uninvestigated and unpunished. In August then-acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the inspector general of police to overhaul the management and activities of SARS, and ordered the NHRC to set up a “Special Panel” with public hearings on SARS abuses. The panel’s work was ongoing at the end of the year and it had not yet issued a report.
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. Military and police reportedly used a range of torture methods including beatings while bound, rape and other forms of sexual violence. According to reports, security services committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls, often with impunity. As of December the government had not held any responsible officials to account for reported incidents of torture in detention facilities in the Northeast, including Giwa Barracks.
Police used a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces and subjecting them to public ridicule and abuse. Bystanders often taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.
The sharia courts in 12 northern states may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. The sharia criminal procedure code allows defendants 30 days to appeal sentences involving mutilation or death to a higher sharia court. Statutory law mandates state governors treat all court decisions equally, including amputation or death sentences, regardless of whether issued by a sharia or a nonsharia court. Authorities, however, often did not carry out caning, amputation, and stoning sentences passed by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that could be lengthy. Federal appellate courts had not ruled on whether such punishments violate the constitution because no relevant cases reached the federal level. Although sharia appellate courts consistently overturned stoning and amputation sentences on procedural or evidentiary grounds, there were no challenges on constitutional grounds.
There were no reports of canings during the year. Defendants generally did not challenge caning sentences in court as a violation of statutory law. In the past sharia courts usually carried out caning immediately. In some cases convicted individuals paid fines or went to prison in lieu of caning.
The United Nations reported that it had received four allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Nigeria deployed to the United Nations Mission in Liberia. The cases involve both sexual exploitation (three allegations) and abuse (one allegation). Investigations both by the United Nations and Nigeria were pending. Three allegations were reported in 2017.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to torture, gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses; some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government often 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 they held 73,631 prisoners. Approximately 68 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. As of July there were 1,475 female inmates. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. Prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults.
Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison officials reportedly extorted inmates 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.
Most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and severe overcrowding resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. For example, according to press reports from December 2017, Agodi Minimum Security Prison, in Oyo State, had 1,104 inmates despite a maximum capacity of 390. Port Harcourt Prison, designed to hold 800 inmates, held approximately 5,000, while Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos, with a capacity of 956 inmates, held approximately 2,600.
Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused many prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. In April 2017 the Lagos State Controller of Prisons stated that 32 inmates died in 2016 in a single Lagos prison due to lack of access to medical care. The House of Representatives confirmed more than 900 inmates died in prisons across the country in 2016 due to severe lack of drugs and health care. 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. There were no reliable statistics on the total number of prison deaths during the year.
Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates often relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison officials, police, and other security force personnel often denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.
In general prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–many of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons. The NGO Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE)-Nigeria reported children in some cases remained with their inmate mothers up to at least age six. While the total number of children living in prison with their mothers was unknown, CURE-Nigeria’s April 2017 survey of 198 of the country’s women inmates found more than 30 women with children in just three prisons. Approximately 10 percent of survey respondents reported they were pregnant. Results of surveys of women and children in prisons conducted by CURE-Nigeria revealed many children in custody did not receive routine immunizations, and authorities made few provisions to accommodate their physical needs, to include hygiene items, proper bedding, proper food, and recreation areas. According to its 2016 report, female inmates largely relied on charitable organizations to obtain hygiene items.
Generally prisons made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).
Several unofficial military prisons continued to operate, including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. Although conditions in the Giwa Barracks detention facility reportedly marginally improved, detainees were denied due process and subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention in conditions that remained harsh and life threatening (see section 1.g.). An AI report released in May documented multiple cases where women determined their husbands had died in custody in previous years. The same report also documented the arbitrary detention of women and children at Giwa Barracks. AI reported that citizens were generally not able to access any information about the fate or welfare of family members in military detention, or whether they were in fact detained. There were no reports of accountability for past reported deaths in custody, nor for earlier reports from AI alleging that an estimated 20,000 persons in the region were arbitrarily detained between 2009-15 with as many as 7,000 dying of thirst, starvation, suffocation, disease due to overcrowding, lack of medical attention, the use of fumigation chemicals in unventilated cells, torture, or extrajudicial execution.
After multiple releases during the year (see Improvements sub-subsection), it was unclear how many children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities. According to press and NGO reporting, 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.
The government continued to arrest and, in some cases, inappropriately detain for prolonged periods, women and children removed from or allegedly associated with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. They included women and girls who had been forcibly married to or sexually enslaved by the insurgents. The government reportedly detained them for screening and their perceived intelligence value. A credible international organization, however, reported the typical length of time spent in detention shortened during the year. Separately, an AI report from May documented severe restrictions on freedom of movement for IDPs held in satellite camps in many parts of Borno State. According to the report, restrictions on entry and exit confined IDPs, in some instances, to conditions constituting de facto detention for prolonged periods.
Administration: While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances.
The ACJA 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.
The NHRC conducts prison audits. Despite an expressed willingness and ability to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions, however, the NHRC has not publicly released an audit report since 2012. In June the NHRC announced it was beginning a nationwide audit of all detention facilities. As of October the audit was not complete. Through its Legal Aid Council, the Ministry of Justice reportedly provided some monitoring of prisons through the Federal Government Prison Decongestion Program.
Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to police detention, Nigerian Prisons Services (NPS), and some military detention facilities.
Improvements: An international organization reported that at least 2,486 persons were released from Giwa Barracks during the year. The majority were transferred to a rehabilitation center run by the Borno State government in Maiduguri. Another 159 were transferred to a deradicalization program in Gombe State, under the auspices of Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC). For the first time OPSC graduated 91 former low-level Boko Haram affiliate members and former Giwa Barracks detainees from its deradicalization program. Some OPSC graduates faced difficulty in reintegrating into communities due to stigmatization from being associated with Boko Haram, and 46 graduates originally from Gwoza LGA were initially “rejected” by their communities. The Gwoza LGA subcommittee on reintegration was actively working with the community to reintegrate them.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services employed these practices. According to numerous reports, since 2013 the military arbitrarily arrested and detained–often in unmonitored military detention facilities–thousands of persons in the context of the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeast (see section 1.g.). According to AI, freedom of movement restrictions in IDP camps in Borno State, in some instances, constituted de facto detention (see section 1.c.). In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies often failed to follow due process and arrested suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The NPF is the country’s largest law enforcement agency. An inspector general of police, appointed by and reporting directly to the president, commands the NPF. In addition to traditional police responsibilities of maintaining law and order in communities in each of the states and the FCT, the inspector general oversees law enforcement operations throughout the country involving border security, marine (navigation) matters, and counterterrorism. A state commissioner of police, nominated by the inspector general and approved by the state governor, commands NPF forces in each of the states and the FCT. Although administratively controlled by the inspector general, operationally the state commissioner reports to the governor. In the event of societal violence or emergencies, such as endemic terrorist activity or national disasters requiring deployment of law enforcement resources, the governor may also assume operational control of these forces.
The Department of State Services (DSS) is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. Several other federal organizations have law enforcement components, such as the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, and federal courts.
Due to the inability of law enforcement agencies to control societal violence, the government continued to turn to the armed forces to address internal security concerns. The constitution authorizes the use of the military to “[s]uppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order.” Armed forces were part of continuing joint security operations in the Niger Delta, Middle Belt, and Northwest.
Police, DSS, and military reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government lacked effective mechanisms and sufficient political will to investigate and punish most security force abuse and corruption. Police remained susceptible to corruption, committed human rights violations, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, and torture of suspects. In September the NPF Public Complaint and Rapid Response Unit reported it had recovered approximately 1.1 million naira ($3,038) in bribery payments and dismissed 10 officers in the past two years. Dismissals of low-level officers, however, did not deter continuing widespread extortion and abuse of civilians. The DSS also reportedly committed human rights abuses. In some cases private citizens or the government brought charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, but most cases lingered in court or went unresolved after an initial investigation. In the armed forces, a soldier’s commanding officer determined disciplinary action, and the decision was subject to review by the chain of command according to the Armed Forces Act. In 2016 the army announced the creation of a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights violations brought by civilians, and set up a standing general court martial in Maiduguri. The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the NHRC and Nigerian Bar Association to receive and investigate complaints, although their capacity and ability to investigate complaints outside of major population centers remained limited. As of September the court martial in Maiduguri had reached verdicts in 39 cases since inception, some of which resulted in convictions for rape, murder, and abduction of civilians. Many credible accusations of abuses, however, remained uninvestigated and unpunished.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Police and other security services have the authority to arrest individuals without first obtaining warrants if they have reasonable suspicion a person committed an offense, a power they often abused. The law requires that, even during a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In many instances government and security officials did not adhere to this regulation without being bribed. Police held for interrogation individuals found in the vicinity of a crime for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, and after their release, authorities frequently asked the individuals to return for further questioning. The law requires an arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest, transport the accused to a police station for processing within a reasonable time, and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. Families were afraid to approach military barracks used as detention facilities. Police routinely detained suspects without informing them of the charges against them or allowing access to counsel and family members; such detentions often included solicitation of bribes. Provision of bail often remained arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence. Judges often set exceedingly stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely in investigative detention. Authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees stated police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police often demanded additional payment.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown. In the Northeast the military and members of vigilante groups, such as the CJTF, rounded up individuals during mass arrests, often without evidence.
Security services detained journalists and demonstrators during the year (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to NPS figures released in March, approximately 70 percent of the prison population consisted of detainees awaiting trial, often for years. The shortage of trial judges, trial backlogs, endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia, and undue political influence seriously hampered the judicial system. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Many detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NPS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files. Prison officials did not have effective prison case file management processes, to include a databases or cataloguing systems. In general, the courts were plagued with inadequate, antiquated systems and procedures.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the NHRC.
Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to court.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, underfunding, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition the salaries of court officials were low, and they often lacked proper equipment and training.
There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Citizens encountered long delays and received requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favorable rulings.
Although the Ministry of Justice implemented strict requirements for education and length of service for judges at the federal and state levels, no requirements or monitoring bodies existed for judges at the local level. This contributed to corruption and the miscarriage of justice in local courts.
The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law. Sharia courts functioned in 12 northern states and the FCT. Customary courts functioned in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determined what type of court had jurisdiction. In the case of sharia courts in the North, the impetus to establish them stemmed at least in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system.
The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings,” but they do not have the authority to compel participation, whether by non-Muslims or Muslims. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if they wish.
The constitution is silent on the use of sharia courts for criminal cases. In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for “hudud” offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. Despite constitutional language supporting only secular criminal courts and the prohibition against involuntary participation in sharia criminal courts, a Zamfara State law requires that a sharia court hear all criminal cases involving Muslims.
Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through the common law appellate courts. As of November no challenges with adequate legal standing had reached the common law appellate system. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common-law judges who are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code. Sharia experts often advise them.
Pursuant to constitutional or statutory provisions, defendants are presumed innocent and enjoy the rights to: be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals); receive a fair and public trial without undue delay; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal.
Authorities did not always respect these rights, most frequently due to a lack of capacity and resources. Insufficient numbers of judges and courtrooms, together with growing caseloads, often resulted in pretrial, trial, and appellate delays that could extend a trial for as many as 10 years. Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, there were reportedly some cases where defense counsel absented himself or herself from required court appearances so regularly that a court might proceed with a routine hearing in the absence of counsel, except for certain offenses for which conviction carries the death penalty. Authorities held defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the terms allowed by law (see section 1.c.).
Human rights groups stated the government denied terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. In October 2017 the government announced it had begun hearings in front of civilian judges at the Kainji military facility for 1,669 detained persons and intended to do so for 651 held at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri. Human rights groups generally welcomed the initiative as a step towards delivering justice for victims of Boko Haram, but raised serious concerns regarding potential due process violations of the accused. Subsequent rounds of hearings took place in February and July, with increasing access for national and international monitoring organizations and somewhat improved process. Rights groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW); however, expressed concerns regarding inadequate access to defense counsel, a lack of interpreters, and inadequate evidence leading to an overreliance on confessions. It was unclear if confessions were completely voluntary. According to a credible international organization, the three rounds of hearings resulted in 366 convictions for terrorism-related offenses, primarily based on confessions and guilty pleas; 421 cases at or awaiting trial, primarily involving individuals who pled not-guilty; and 882 individuals whose cases were dismissed because the state had insufficient evidence to bring charges. Those whose cases were dismissed, however, reportedly remained in detention without clear legal authority.
By common law women and non-Muslims may testify in civil or criminal proceedings and give testimony that carries the same weight as testimony of other witnesses. Sharia courts usually accorded the testimony of women and non-Muslims less weight than that of Muslim men. Some sharia court judges allowed different evidentiary requirements for male and female defendants to prove adultery or fornication. Pregnancy, for example, was admissible evidence of a woman’s adultery or fornication in some sharia courts. In contrast, sharia courts could convict men only if they confessed or there was eyewitness testimony. Sharia courts, however, provided women some benefits, including increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony.
Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. Members of the military are subject to the Armed Forces Act regarding civil and criminal matters. The operational commanding officer of a member of the armed forces must approve charges against that member. The commanding officer decides whether the accusation merits initiation of court-martial proceedings or lower-level disciplinary action. Such determinations are nominally subject to higher review, although the commanding officer makes the final decision. If the case proceeds, the accused is subject to trial by court-martial. The law provides for internal appeals before military councils as well as final appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts may award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights violation, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities infringed on this right during the year, and police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. There were reports of warrantless arrests of young men in the Niger Delta region on suspicion of having links with militant groups. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies reportedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.
State and local governments forcibly evicted some residents and demolished their homes, often without sufficient notice or alternative compensation, and sometimes in violation of court orders. Justice & Empowerment Initiatives noted that the practice was an ongoing concern. For example, in September 2017 the Lagos State government, at the request of the University of Lagos, demolished 220 houses in Iwaya, a small, informal settlement abutting the University of Lagos campus. The demolitions occurred despite a 2017 Lagos State High Court injunction banning further demolition. According to Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, members of these 220 households were rendered homeless after the demolitions and have since settled in nearby slum communities.
Press reporting indicated that the army was responsible for burning villages in areas where Boko Haram was suspected to have been operational and possibly supported by the local population. These actions reportedly contributed to the high number of internally displaced persons in the Northeast.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
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.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
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.