Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 4
Status: Partly Free
Population: 133,900,000
GNI/Capita: $290
Life Expectancy: 52
Religious Groups: Muslim (50 percent), Christian (40 percent), indigenous beliefs (10 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Hausa and Fulani (29 percent), Yoruba (21 percent), Ibo (18 percent), other (32 percent)
Capital: Abuja

Ratings Change
Nigeria's civil liberties rating improved from 5 to 4 due to an abatement of violence between Muslim and Christian communities that had beset the country in 2002.


Nigeria made its first peaceful transition from one democratically elected government to another in 2003 when President Olusegun Obasanjo of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) was elected to a second term. Anticipated widespread unrest during the elections did not materialize, although there was violence leading up to the polls that were marred by irregularities. Meanwhile, clashes between Muslim and Christian communities diminished in 2003 compared with the previous year.

The military ruled Nigeria for all but 10 years since independence from Britain in 1960, until 1999. Generals and their backers argued that they were the only ones who could keep a lid on simmering tensions between Muslims and Christians – the north is largely Muslim, while the south is mainly Christian – and among the country's 250 ethnic groups.

Nigeria initially appeared to be emerging from several years of military rule under General Ibrahim Babangida in 1993, when presidential elections were held. Moshood Abiola, a Muslim Yoruba from the south, was widely considered the winner, but the military annulled the results. It continued to rule behind a puppet civilian administration until General Sani Abacha, a principal architect of previous coups, took power in November 1993. A predominantly military Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) was appointed, and all democratic structures were dissolved and political parties banned. Abiola was arrested in June 1994 after declaring himself Nigeria's rightful president. He died in detention, after suffering from a lack of proper medical care, just five weeks after Abacha himself died suddenly in June 1998.

The departure of the two most significant figures on Nigeria's political landscape opened possibilities for democratic change. General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the army chief of staff, emerged as the PRC's consensus choice to be the country's next leader, and he promised to oversee a transition to real civilian rule in 1999. However, Obasanjo – a former general who had led a military regime in Nigeria from 1976 to 1979 and had spent three years in prison under Abacha – won the presidential poll in February. In legislative elections held that year, Obasanjo's PDP won the most seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

In the April 2003 presidential poll, Obasanjo faced 19 opposition candidates. However, in the end, the race was between the southern Christian Obasanjo and former general Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim and member of the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP). Obasanjo won the presidency with 62 percent of the vote compared with 32 percent for Buhari. Buhari filed a petition on behalf of about 20 opposition parties to nullify the election results. The petition accused the Independent National Electoral Commission of not complying with the country's electoral law by failing to get polling agents of contesting parties to certify electoral materials as genuine.

Local and international observers witnessed serious irregularities during the election. The Transition Monitoring Group, a coalition of Nigerian civic organizations, deployed some 10,000 monitors who reported ballot-box stuffing, multiple voting, falsification of results, and voter intimidation. They maintained that fraud and intimidation were particularly prevalent in the southeast of the country. According to Human Rights Watch, the authorities took no action to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of political violence in the run-up to the April elections in which hundreds of people reportedly had been killed.

Obasanjo's PDP won 52 Senate seats and 170 House seats in the April legislative poll. The ANPP captured 25 seats in the Senate and 81 in the House, while the Alliance for Democracy won 5 Senate seats and 30 House seats. Smaller parties secured the remainder of seats.

The majority of Nigerians are engaged in small-scale agriculture, while most wealth is controlled by a small elite. Nigeria's agriculture and manufacturing sectors have deteriorated considerably in the pursuit of oil, which accounts for more than 98 percent of the country's export revenues and almost all foreign investment. Corruption has bled the country of billions of dollars in oil revenue. However, in 2003, the government made significant steps toward improving accountability, including joining the British-led Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Nigerians can change their government democratically. Although the 1999 presidential and legislative elections were free, they were not fair in many areas. International observers noted irregularities during the 2003 presidential vote that reelected Olusegun Obasanjo, including ballot-box stuffing and alteration of results. Obasanjo's PDP also dominated the year's legislative elections. Members of the bicameral National Assembly are elected for four-year terms to 109 seats in the Senate and 360 in the House of Representatives.

Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed, and the Obasanjo government generally respects these rights in practice. Several private radio and television stations broadcast throughout the country, and numerous print publications operate largely unhindered. However, criminal defamation laws are still used against journalists. Sharia (Islamic law) in 12 northern states imposes severe penalties for alleged press offenses. The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) expressed concern in August about a growing climate of lawlessness that journalists have to work in, especially beyond Lagos. RSF also noted that local authorities regularly target journalists who criticize them, and that the media in northern Nigeria were most at risk. The government does not impede Internet access.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in April urged lawmakers to pass the Freedom of Information Bill, which is modeled on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The bill has been stalled in the lower house of parliament for more than three years, although it has been endorsed by all Nigerian journalism and civil society groups. It would allow journalists and citizens to access information held by government agencies and would require state agencies to publish a list of records in their possession in the government newsletter, the Federal Gazette. The bill would also weaken the powers of the Nigeria Press Council, which can accredit and register journalists and suspend them from practicing.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution, but many sectors of socciety, including government officials, often discriminate against those of a religion different from their own. Religious violence had become increasingly common, often corresponding to regional and ethnic differences and competition for resources. However, violent clashes between Muslims and Christians diminished in 2003 compared with the previous year. Academic freedom is guaranteed, but security forces harassed and arrested students during protests in 2003.

Freedom of assembly and association are generally respected in practice. However, there were instances in 2003 when security forces cracked down on demonstrations that they believed would turn violent. Up to 10 people were killed when police fired on demonstrators protesting a hike in fuel prices in July, according to petroleum union leaders. Human Rights Watch said that 30 people were arrested in the same month after protesting the visit of U.S. president George Bush. In the southern state of Imo, reports said, police in March arrested up to 300 people who were traveling in a convoy of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra.

Despite several statutory restrictions on the rights of trade unions, workers, except members of the armed forces and those considered essential employees, may join trade unions, and the right to bargain collectively is guaranteed. About 10 percent of the workforce is unionized. The week-long strike in July to protest a hike in fuel prices ended when petroleum unions accepted a compromise price deal offered by the government in which prices would be raised by 30 percent instead of 54 percent. The government, in proceeding with economic structural adjustment, has been attempting to remove subsidies, such as those for fuel. An earlier oil strike, in April, had left nearly 100 foreigners and 170 Nigerians trapped on oil rigs for almost two weeks.

The judiciary is subject to political influence and is hampered by corruption and inefficiency. Many trials in Islamic courts in several northern states have been characterized by absence of due process. Defendants do not always have legal representation and are often ill-informed about procedures and their rights. Lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem. Caning and amputation have been carried out for violations such as adultery and theft. The country's prisons are overcrowded, unhealthy, and life threatening. Nevertheless, the government has allowed international organizations to visit detention facilities, and some improvements have been made.

Members of the security forces committed serious violations in 2003, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and beatings. Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to President Obasanjo in July, calling on him to end impunity for human rights abuses and saying that he had failed to do so during his first term in office. The letter said that there had been no action to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and political violence in the run-up to the April elections; hundreds of people had reportedly been killed. The rights group also noted that Obasanjo had failed to publish the findings of the Nigerian Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission more than one year after the final report had been submitted. The commission had investigated and heard testimony about abuses dating back to the country's civil war in the 1960s.

The constitution prohibits ethnic discrimination and requires government offices to reflect the country's ethnic diversity. The Hausa-Fulani from northern Nigeria dominated the military and the government from independence until the southern Christian Olusegun Obasanjo was first elected in 1999. Obasanjo's government is both ethnically and religiously diverse, but societal discrimination is practiced widely, and clashes frequently erupt among the country's 250 ethnic groups. A number of armed youth groups have emerged to defend their ethnic and economic interests. Nigerian human rights groups said in 2002 that intercommunal violence had claimed up to 10,000 lives across the country since 1999. The government in 2003 said that more than 750,000 people had been displaced by communal violence during the previous two years.

Ethnic minorities in the oil-rich Niger Delta region feel particularly discriminated against, primarily with regard to receiving a share of the country's oil wealth. Clashes among ethnic groups and communities competing for resources escalated in 2003. At least 200 people were killed in and around the southern Delta city of Warri in conflicts between rival Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups. Some of the violence was triggered by the drawing of electoral boundaries in the run-up to elections. According to Human Rights Watch, entire communities in the Delta were indiscriminately targeted by security forces in response to local demands for resource control and protests against environmental damage. The group said that the government failed to understand the underlying causes of communal violence and that in the past similar military operations had led to hundreds of extrajudicial killings for which no one had been tried. In addition, oil spills and acts of sabotage frequently disrupt petroleum production, and the taking of foreign oil workers as hostages continued during the year.

Nigerian women face societal discrimination, although educational opportunities have eroded a number of barriers over the years. Women play a vital role in the country's informal economy. Women of some ethnic groups are denied equal rights to inherit property, and marital rape is not considered a crime. About 60 percent of Nigerian women are subjected to female genital mutilation. Women's rights have suffered serious setbacks in the northern states governed by Sharia. A Muslim woman, Amina Lawal, was sentenced in 2002 to death by stoning after she had a child out of wedlock. Her case gained international attention and an Islamic appeals court in September 2003 acquitted her.

Child labor, marriages, and the trafficking of women for prostitution remain common, and no law specifically prohibits the trafficking of persons. However, efforts were under way during the year to combat the practice. More than 200 children were repatriated to Benin during the year. Children are trafficked throughout West Africa to work on plantations or as domestic servants.

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