The recently released US Human Rights report on Nigeria highlights the dire consequences of the activities of terror groups, Boko Haram and the Islamic State (ISIS) on the country with 1.8 million Nigerians internally displaced and 250,000 displaced outside the country’s borders. It further highlights cases of human rights infringements by Nigeria’s security forces and observes that oftentimes government fails to take appropriate corrective and punitive action.
The report observes that while Nigeria’s Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), passed in 2015, prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators.
Each state, the report recommends, must also individually adopt the ACJA for the legislation to apply beyond the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and federal agencies. It points out that as of November only the states of Anambra, Cross Rivers, Ekiti, Enugu, Lagos, Ondo, and Oyo had adopted ACJA-compliant legislation. In July both houses of the National Assembly passed an antitorture bill, which was waiting for the president’s signature.
The report further indicates that there is a worrisome level of extra-judicial killings, unlawful detention, torture and sexual exploitation by security forces and civilian support groups, of persons in detention, especially in areas troubled by the Boko Haram insurgency. It also indicates that some of these malpractices spill over into internally displaced people’s camps.
The report also points out that government appears to consent to the reported cruel and arbitrary conduct of security forces, as human rights infringements by the said forces are often not reported, recorded or investigated and that when such conduct is investigated, little or nothing is done about it.
The report states that there is glaring disregard for the rule of law in Nigeria and gives example with the case of religious sect leader, el-Zakzaky. It states that in December 2016 a federal court declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional. The court ordered their immediate and unconditional release but gave authorities 45 days to carry it out but that as at the following November, the federal government had not complied with this order and Zakzaky and his spouse remained in detention.
The report suggest that government often fails to display accountability and the duty of care in its dealings with citizens. It recalls that in January 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. It observes that government and military leaders publicly assumed responsibility for the strike and launched an investigation but as of November the government had not made public its findings.
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.
The report affirmed that human rights generally remained appalling in Nigeria. It listed significant human right issues in Nigeria in the period under review to include: extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages and forced and bonded labor.”
The report presents an unflattering picture of Nigeria under Buhari, puncturing virtually all the supposed achievements of the administration especially in the war against corruption and insecurity and lays bare the series of abuses, impunity, corruption and disregard for the rights and freedoms of Nigerians. The country-specific annual human rights report, which must be produced by the US executive, is a statutory requirement of Congress since the 1970s to know the exact state of human rights situations in the countries they are dealing with and will determine the kind and nature of the foreign, security and trade assistance the US can offer Nigeria and agreements to be reached.
Although the White House couched the agenda of the meetings in diplomatic language, it is obvious the US is worried about the escalating security situation in the country, particularly the killings across many states in Nigeria by Fulani pastoralists and the government’s seeming inability to stop the killings or bring the perpetrators to justice.
The US is also concerned about the alarm raised by a former Chief of Army Staff, Defence Minister and one of the most respected military general in Nigeria about the non-neutrality of the armed forces. “Our armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the bandits to kill people, kill Nigerians. The armed forces guide their movements; they cover them. If you depend on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one. ” Danjuma said.