2003 saw Nigeria's first "civilian to civilian" transition, after decades of military rule that ended in 1999. However, impunity for human rights violations and the Nigerian government's unwillingness to go beyond lip-service to human rights continue to be obstacles to meaningful human rights reform four years after the end of military rule. The police continue to commit numerous extrajudicial killings, acts of torture, and arbitrary arrests. Opponents and critics of the government have been arrested, beaten, harassed, and intimidated. Scores of people were killed in political violence related to the elections in April-May 2003. Ongoing inter-communal tensions, especially in the oil-producing Niger delta, are still a cause of recurring violence. No one has yet been brought to justice for the massacre of hundreds of people by the military in Odi, Bayelsa State, in 1999, and in Benue State, in 2001. Shari'a (Islamic law) courts in the north continue to hand down death sentences and amputation sentences; however, such sentences have not been implemented since early 2002. Corruption is still pervasive at all levels, leading directly to violations of social and economic rights; the political elite continues to amass wealth at the expense of the vast majority of Nigerians who live in extreme poverty.
|Police Brutality |
|Freedom of Expression |
|Conflict in the Niger
|Human Rights Concerns in
the Context of Shari'a |
|Key International Actors|
The April-May 2003 elections returned President Olusegun Obasanjo and the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) to power for a second term. More than one hundred people were killed in political violence during the election period, and many more in the preceding months. The worst violence took place in the south and southeast, including Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Imo, and Ebonyi states. Much of the violence was carried out by supporters of the PDP who hired and armed groups of young men to attack and intimidate their rivals. Some of the larger opposition parties, such as the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP), used similar methods and also killed and injured supporters of rival candidates during the elections. Several prominent politicians were killed in the lead-up to the elections, but most of the victims were rank-and-file supporters and party members. Some of the deadliest violence occurred when armed supporters of different parties clashed openly, causing deaths and injuries on both sides. The elections were also characterized by widespread fraud and ballot-rigging. European Union election observers concluded that minimum standards for democratic elections were not met in a number of states.
Extrajudicial killings, torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and extortion remain the hallmarks of the Nigerian police, despite repeated promises of reform by senior government and police officials. In July 2003, during massive public protests at an increase in the price of fuel, police shot dead at least twelve and possibly more than twenty protestors, in Lagos, Port Harcourt, and a suburb of the capital Abuja. Numerous cases of torture and ill-treatment by the police during arrest and detention were also reported. Firsthand testimonies provided to Human Rights Watch showed that in some cases, explicit instructions to the police to torture and shoot protestors were issued by senior police officials. Police also took advantage of situations of generalised violence and disorder to carry out further killings. For example, when riots between Muslims and Christians broke out in Kaduna in November 2002, killing around 250 people, dozens of people were also shot dead by the police and the military. In very few cases were the individuals responsible for these acts or their superiors brought to justice.
Freedom of Expression
Despite some gains in civil liberties since the end of military rule, there are still restrictions on freedom of expression in Nigeria. In 2003 alone, there were numerous cases of arrests, detention, ill-treatment, intimidation and harassment of critics and opponents of the government.
Journalists were physically assaulted and beaten by the police. Human rights activists were obstructed and threatened. Members of opposition political parties and other political activists bore the brunt of government repression; many were arrested and detained, some by the police, others by the intelligence services known as the State Security Service (SSS).
Conflict in the Niger Delta
The oil-rich Niger delta, in the south of the country, remains the scene of recurring violence between members of different ethnic groups competing for political and economic power, and between militia and the security forces sent to restore order in the area. Local groups are also fighting over control of the theft of crude oil, known as "illegal bunkering". The area around Warri, in Delta state, saw some of the worst violence in 2003: hundreds of people were killed (some by the security forces, other in inter-communal clashes between the Ijaw, Itsekiri, and Urhobo ethnic groups) and thousands were displaced from their homes. The violence is aggravated by the widespread availability of small arms � a problem which exists throughout Nigeria but is particularly acute in the delta, where local militia are well-armed. The 2003 elections heightened the tension and violence in the area, with the result that in most parts of the delta, people were not able to vote at all; yet official election results were declared. Despite a massive army, navy and police presence in the area, local communities remain vulnerable and have little protection; members of the security forces deployed in the delta also regularly engage in acts of violence. Oil companies rarely if ever speak out publicly about such abuses, and some of their own practices contribute to the conflict.
Human Rights Concerns in the Context of Shari'a
Shari'a (Islamic law), which was extended to cover criminal law in 2000, is in force in twelve of Nigeria's thirty-six states. Shari'a courts continue to hand down sentences amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including death sentences, amputations and floggings. For example, Jibrin Babaji was sentenced to death by stoning for sodomy in Bauchi State in September 2003. However, the number of such sentences has decreased and there appears to be a reluctance on the part of the authorities to carry them out. No executions or amputations have taken place since early 2002. Amina Lawal, one of several women sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, won her appeal in September 2003. However, other defendants remain under sentence of death�for example Fatima Usman and Ahmadu Ibrahim, both found guilty of adultery, whose case is currently in appeal. Dozens of people sentenced to amputation have been in prison for up to two years, without knowing whether their sentences will be carried out. Many trials in Shari'a courts fail to conform to international standards and do not respect due process even according to Shari'a legislation: defendants rarely have access to a lawyer, are not informed about their rights, and judges are poorly trained. The manner in which Shari'a is applied discriminates against women, particularly in adultery cases where different standards of evidence are required, making it more likely that women will be convicted. Floggings for a variety of offences remain common, with the defendants flogged immediately after their trial without being given time to appeal.
Key International Actors
Under President Obasanjo, Nigeria continues to enjoy a generally positive image in the eyes of foreign governments, most of whom are still relieved that the country is no longer governed by the military. Political considerations relating to Nigeria's regional influence and its economic significance as a major oil-producer have also created an unwillingness on the part of key governments�such as the UK and the U.S.A�and inter-governmental organizations�such as the African Union and the Commonwealth�to criticize Nigeria's human rights record, despite abundant evidence of serious human rights problems and a lack of any effective action on the part of the government to address them. This was illustrated by international reactions to the 2003 elections, which were broadly welcomed at the international level, despite the fact that many Nigerian and foreign elections observers reported incidents of violence and fraud. While some governments acknowledged incidents of rigging, they failed to denounce the political violence and welcomed the elections as proof of Nigeria's commitment to democracy.
In August, President Obasanjo offered a "safe haven" to former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. By early 2004, Nigeria had not yet handed Taylor over to the Special Court.