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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Nigeria

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Nigeria, 18 June 2009, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

Despite the transfer of power from the military to the civilians in May 1999, Nigeria continued in 2008 to face violations of his citizen's rights by both State and non-State actors, large scale corruption1 and ethnic clashes. Moreover, the Niger Delta question remained this yearagain the key human rights concern in the country with conflicts going on in Bayelsa, Delta and River States. For decades, the region has been subjected to the exploitation of resources by transnational oil companies and the Government, accompanied by environmental contamination, expropriation of farmlands, increased militarisation, etc.2 The security forces, including the military, also kept on committing human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatments and the destruction of homes.3 Communities in the Delta whose human rights were affected by oil operations faced difficulties in securing remedy and redress.

In the autumn, tensions arose in northern Nigeria when riots took place on November 28-30 in Jos city, Plateau State. During these riots caused by the victory of the mainly Christian-backed ruling party – the People's Democratic Party – in State (local Government) elections, 200 people were killed, and some 7,000 displaced. The Government declared a temporary curfew to avoid further violence. The Nigerian Inter-Religious Council held a meeting in Jos under the chairmanship of the Sultan of Sokoto and Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan to help prevent future outbreaks.4 However, the crisis cannot be said to be a religious crisis. It is rather a political crisis embedded in religion with a strong ethnic component.

The Government also restricted freedom of expression, in particular publications on the state of health of President Umaru Yar'Adua. For instance, on September 16, 2008, Channels TV was closed by the State Security Service (SSS) and some of its staff arrested after broadcasting a report, previously made by the Agence France Presse, according to which the President was planning to resign due to his health condition. Following a protest organised by a coalition of human rights and pro-democracy organisations named the "United Coalition for Democracy", including members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Civil Liberties Organisations (CLO) and the Campaign for Democracy on September 20, 2008, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) lifted the suspension and the staff was released. However the NBC said that the SSS would be continuing its investigation on the TV station. Several arrests of on-line journalists posting political or satirical articles also took place this year.5

Harassment of human rights defenders denouncing human rights violations, including corruption

In 2008, human rights defenders who denounced human rights violations were subjected to various acts of harassment. For instance, Mr. Chiadiadi Ochiagha, a member of CLO, was arrested in October 2008 by the Enugu State police command on the allegation that he was not a member of CLO. He was at the time investigating on behalf of CLO on the case of Ms. Esther Ezenwamadu, whose husband was allegedly abducted at the palace of his traditional ruler at Akpakuma-Nze in Udilga of Enugu State in 2007. In the course of the investigation, several suspects were arrested and charged. It is believed that the people of the community ganged up against Mr. Ochiagha with the police and arrested him. He was finally released without charge in November 2008.6

In particular, corruption remained a major issue, while the Law on freedom of information, considered as essential by human rights defenders to fight against corruption, failed to be adopted. This law had been adopted by the former Parliament but the then President Olusegun Osabanjo had refused to promulgate it. The law was presented again in 2008 before the current Parliament, which set up a new committee to examine it. Human rights defenders voiced their concern that this exercise was intended to empty it thus encouraging secrecy in governance and lack of participation.7 The NGOs and human rights defenders who continued to fight endemic corruption and asked for the establishment of an effective police accountability system and improving police pay and conditions, as requested by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in his 2006 report,8 therefore remained subjected to various acts of harassment throughout the year.

Meanwhile, 2008 was marked by several social protest movements intended to denounce corruption. These movements brought together civil society organisations, students, movements against corruption, workers and trade unionists. They appeared in April 2008 in several cities including Lagos, Abuja and Oshogbo and were ongoing throughout the year. These actions were severely repressed as it was the case in Oshogbo, Osun State, where the peaceful protest organised on July 11, 2008 to condemn the corrupt practices of members of a court in a case concerning the challenged election of the State Governor was repressed by police officers at the request of the State Government. As a result, Mr. Waheed Lawal, Chairman of the Campaign for Democratic and Workers' Rights, and Mr. Debo Adeniran, Coordinator of the Coalition Against Corruption Leaders, as well as 22 other activists were arrested and detained until July 23, at Ilesha Prison. They were charged with "conspiracy", "disturbance of public peace", "unlawful gathering", "seditious statements on placards" and "seditious publication". Later, they were released following mass protest of civil society and the charges were abandoned.9

Impossibility to monitor the human rights situation in the Niger Delta

Due to the current conflict, increasing militarisation and human rights violations taking place in the Niger Delta, it was almost impossible for defenders to report on the situation without being perceived as political actors. In addition, many human rights defenders faced increased insecurity and were therefore forced to flee the region. One among others, Mr. Isine Ibanga, a journalist with the Punch Newspaper and member of CLO, was attacked and injured by police officials on patrol while walking to his residence in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in November 2008. This attack coincided with recent threats against Mr. Ibanga and the Punch Newspaper by the Abonnema Local Government Area Chairman, following a news story he reported concerning victims of rape by gun-carrying young men, against female members of the National Youth Service Corp, serving in the area.10

Attacks and harassment against trade unionists and students

The right to organise and the right to strike remained limited in Nigeria. Workers taking strike action that is deemed to be illegal were liable to both a fine and an imprisonment sentence up to six months. In addition, Nigerian labour law prohibits and criminalises strikes that are deemed to relate to conflicts of interest or any strikes relating to economic issues, including strike action to protest against the Government's social or economic policy affecting workers' interests. In that context, on January 6, 2008, Mr. Alhaji Saula Saka, Lagos State Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), was killed by four men. According to his family, the assassination was clearly linked to his trade union activities and leadership. At the end of the year, the investigation conducted by the State Criminal Investigations Department had still not identified the murderers.

Students were also repressed for claiming the right to unionise. In 2008, a conflict that had started the year before at the university of Obafemi Awollowo continued. In 2007, ten student activists including the Students' Union President, Mr. Saburi Akinola, the Speaker of the Students' Parliament, Mr. Andrew Ogumah, and the Public Relations Officer, Mr. Olatunde Dairo, had been arrested, detained and expelled from the university for their struggle for better welfare conditions and respect for students' right to unionise and association. They were detained for over seven months at Oshogbo Prison in Osun State. They were released on bail in February 2008 due to local and international protest in particular from the Students' Union, labour, civil society activists as well as the international campaigns led by the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), who also called for their reinstatement. In a public statement posted on campus on December 31, 2008, the university authorities announced the recall of three of the targeted student activists. Conditions for their reinstatement included a letter of apology/undertaking and withdrawal of cases instituted against the university from courts.

Urgent Intervention issued by The Observatory in 200811

Names of human rights defendersViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Alhaji Saula SakaAssassinationUrgent Appeal NGA 001/0108/OBS 008January 16, 2008

1 In 1999 Nigeria was ranked the most corrupt nation by Transparency International. According to the 2008 Corruption Perception Index it now ranks 121st out of 180 countries.

2 See Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), with the support of FIDH, Submission for the Universal Periodic Review of Nigeria for February 2009, September 2008.

3 See Amnesty International, Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, Fourth session of the UPR, February 2009, September 1, 2008.

4 See International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch Bulletin, December 2008.

5 See CLO and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières – RSF) Press Release, November 18, 2008.

6 See CLO.

7 See Transparency International Nigeria, Memorandum submitted by Transparency in Nigeria (TIN) to the Senate Committee on information on the occasion of the public hearing on the freedom of information bill, June 2, 2008.

8 See UN Document E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.4, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mission to Nigeria, January 7, 2006.

9 See CLO.

10 See Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Press Release, November 11, 2008.

11 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

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