Federal Republic of Nigeria

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 120.9 million (62.2 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 78,500
Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: signed 8 September 2000
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ICC, ILO 138, ILO 182; ACRWC

There was no evidence of under-18s in the armed forces. Children participated in armed vigilante and youth groups, and played a role in religious and intercommunal clashes. Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, was given asylum in Nigeria, despite his indictment by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including child recruitment, in Sierra Leone.


Rising violent crime and intercommunal conflict was met with violence by the security forces, which unlawfully killed criminal suspects and members of armed gangs. Lack of confidence in the security forces encouraged the spread of vigilante groups.1

President Olusegun Obasanjo began a second term of office after winning presidential elections in April 2003 that were condemned as flawed by national and international observers. More than 100 people were killed and many more injured in pre-election violence, much of it attributed to the ruling People's Democratic Party. In the run-up to local elections in early 2004, up to 50 people were killed, several apparently victims of politically-motivated murders.2


National recruitment legislation

The 1999 constitution states that all citizens have a duty to "help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render such national service as may be required" (Article 24). However, there is no legislation providing for conscription. Enlistment into the armed forces is voluntary and the minimum age of recruitment is 18 years.3 There were no reports of under-18s in the armed forces.

Military training and military schools

There are several military high schools in Nigeria including the Nigerian Military School, Zaria; the Air Force Military School, Jos; and the Nigerian Navy Secondary Schools in Ojo and Abeokuta.4 It is not known whether children at the schools are considered to be members of the armed forces. The Nigerian Defence Academy accepts cadets aged 18 and above.5

Armed groups

Armed groups, some operating with the support of the authorities, killed hundreds of people in ethnically and politically motivated violence and in anti-crime operations. Many armed groups involved youths, some of them children.

Vigilante groups

Although the 1999 constitution prohibits the creation of security forces other than the armed forces and federal police service, armed vigilante groups operated in a number of states. The use of children by such groups was not extensively documented. However, under-18s were reported to be active in them, although most group members were aged 20 or older.6

The high levels of violence used by such groups and the abusive use of such groups for political purposes by state authorities put pressure on the federal government to clamp down on them. In April 2002 the government presented a Prohibition of Certain Associations Bill to parliament, aimed at proscribing certain armed groups. However, it did not clearly define vigilante groups and left to presidential discretion the determination of which groups should be banned.7 The bill had not passed into law by March 2004.

Vigilante militias referred to as the Bakassi Boys were responsible for hundreds of unlawful killings and other abuses across several southeastern states. Despite their violent methods, state authorities in Anambra, Abia and Imo States endorsed them officially as State Vigilante Services in response to public concern at ineffective policing and rising violent crime. In Anambra State they were established under state law. The groups were reported to include under-18s. The police arrested hundreds of Bakassi Boys in the three states in 2002, but it is not known whether prosecutions took place.8 Their status was unclear as of March 2004, although they appeared to have ceased their operations.

The O'odua People's Congress (OPC) was formed in 1994 to defend the interests of the Yoruba ethnic group at a time of repression. However, through ethnic militancy and vigilantism, its members and supporters were responsible for the killing or injuring of hundreds of unarmed civilians, as well as suspected criminals, rivals and police officers.

They reportedly included children. The most widespread killings took place in 2000 but continued in 2002 and 2003. President Obasanjo announced a ban on the OPC in 1999, soon after coming to power, but it was not formalized in law and was effectively ignored by the OPC. In practice, the OPC maintained the support of officials in southern states.9

Political and intercommunal violence

Armed supporters or youth wings of political parties, which sometimes included under-18s, were involved in political violence throughout the country, particularly in the run-up to elections when scores of people were killed.10

Tensions increased between Muslim and Christian communities after northern states introduced strict interpretations of Shari'a law in their criminal law. Children are believed to have taken part in the violence on both sides.11 In Kaduna in November 2002 around 250 people were killed in intercommunal fighting. Witnesses described boys as young as 12 and 16, armed with knives, taking part in the looting and violence.12 Scores more people were killed in subsequent violence in several northern and southern states.

A resurgence of intercommunal and political violence in the Niger Delta region in 2003 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. Politicians and others responsible for illegal oil trafficking formed armed militias to ensure their re-election, defend their operations and control stolen oil supplies. There were reports of under-18s taking part in attacks by such militias, whose violence reached a peak before state and federal elections.13

Other developments

In mid-2003 Nigeria ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.14

Asylum for Charles Taylor

In August 2003 Charles Taylor was forced to step down as President of Liberia and allowed to leave for Nigeria despite an indictment against him by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He was indicted on charges of "bearing the greatest responsibility" for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including the conscription of children by Sierra Leonean forces supported by the Liberian authorities.15 Human rights groups protested strongly at the Nigerian government's decision effectively to grant Charles Taylor immunity from prosecution.16 As of end-March 2004 he was still in Nigeria.

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Amnesty International (AI), Nigeria: Vigilante violence in the south and southeast, 19 November 2002, http://web.amnesty.org/library/engindex.

2 Human Rights Watch (HRW), Nigeria: Halt violence in local elections, 25 March 2004, http://www.hrw.org.

3 B. Horeman and M. Stolwijk, Refusing to Bear Arms: A World Survey of Conscription and Conscientious Objection to Military Service, War Resisters International, London, 1998, http://www.wri-irg.org/co/rtba.

4 Nigerian Military Secondary Schools, http://members.tripod.com/cdssikeja/links.html.

5 Nigerian Army Corps and Schools website, Nigerian Defence Academy, www.nigerianarmy/net/schools/nda.htm.

6 Information from HRW, March 2004.

7 AI, Nigeria: Vigilante violence, op. cit.

8 AI, Nigeria: Vigilante violence, op. cit.

9 HRW, Nigeria: The O'odua People's Congress: Fighting violence with violence, February 2003.

10 HRW, Testing democracy: Political violence in Nigeria, April 2003.

11 HRW, Testing democracy, op. cit.

12 HRW, Nigeria: The "Miss World riots" – Continued impunity for killings in Kaduna, July 2003.

13 The government Special Security Committee on Oil Producing areas in a report submitted to government in February 2002, cited in HRW, Nigeria: The Warri crisis: Fueling violence, December 2003.

14 African Union, http://www.africa-union.org.

15 AI, The Special Court for Sierra Leone: An open letter from Amnesty International to President Olusegun Obasanjo, 16 January 2004.

16 AI, Nigeria: No impunity for Charles Taylor, 12 August 2003; HRW, West Africa: Taylor must face justice, 11 August 2003.


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