Nigeria - Amnesty International Report 2007

Human Rights in FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA

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Head of state and government: Olusegun Obasanjo
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: ratified

Politically motivated violence increased ahead of elections scheduled for 2007. Several candidates for political office were attacked during primary elections and at least four were reported to have been killed. The security forces in the Niger Delta committed human rights violations with impunity. Violence against women, including rape by state employees, remained widespread. Human rights defenders and journalists continued to face intimidation and unlawful detention. Death sentences continued to be handed down.

Background

A proposed Constitutional amendment that would have allowed President Obasanjo to remain in office for a third term was defeated in May. However, media speculation that the President was still intent on securing a third term remained widespread.

Primary elections ahead of the 2007 elections took place amid heightened political violence. Investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of 31 of Nigeria's 36 state governors and the impeachment of four state governors exacerbated political tensions. Two impeachments were overturned by the courts in December. In September Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who opposed the third term amendment, was suspended from the ruling party because of allegations of corruption. He later confirmed he would stand for the presidency in 2007 as a candidate for the opposition Action Congress party. In December President Obasanjo instituted proceedings to replace Atiku Abubakar as Vice-President, a process which could leave him open to arrest. Atiku Abubakar instituted a legal challenge to his removal as Vice-President.

In March Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf asked the Nigerian government to hand over former Liberian President Charles Taylor to face trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor subsequently escaped but was recaptured by Nigerian security forces, and on 29 March was surrendered to the Special Court.

In June the Inspector General of Police inaugurated human rights desks in police stations in Lagos. However, according to human rights defenders, these mechanisms, where they existed, lacked adequate resources and were inefficient.

Death penalty

Approximately 500 prisoners were estimated to be on death row. No executions were reported. However, at least 18 death sentences were handed down during 2006.

In a report published in January, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (who visited Nigeria in 2005) highlighted three main concerns related to the death penalty. He noted widespread procedural irregularities, including the use of torture by the police to extract confessions and a lack of legal representation in capital cases. He criticized death row conditions as atrocious and stated that the average 20-year stay on death row was unacceptable. He also criticized the imposition of death by stoning for adultery or sodomy in 12 states, in contravention of Nigerian and international law.

On 1 October, 107 death row inmates reportedly had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment as part of the country's Independence Day celebrations.

Oil, injustice and violence

Human rights violations by the security forces were a frequent occurrence in the Niger Delta. Violations included extrajudicial executions, torture and destruction of homes.

2006 saw a rise in attacks on oil installations by militants in the Niger Delta. Dozens of oil workers were kidnapped. A newly emerged group - the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) - claimed responsibility for several kidnappings as well as attacks that resulted in the deaths of more than 10 members of the security forces. The attacks in the Niger Delta resulted in oil production dropping by approximately 25 per cent.

Armed groups in the Delta were reported to be forging links with politicians ahead of elections in April 2007, leading to fears of increased violence. Local non-governmental organizations reported that dozens of people died during political violence and several primary elections were postponed as a consequence of violence.

• No action was known to have been taken to bring to justice members of the security forces suspected of being responsible for grave human rights violations in Odioma in February 2005, when a raid by members of the Joint Task Force resulted in at least 17 people being killed and acts of torture, including rape of women. The report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry established in the aftermath of the Odioma incident was not made public. Members of the security forces reportedly remained in Odioma and further human rights violations were reported in February. No subsequent reports of violations were received.

• The report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into an incident on 4 February 2005, during which soldiers fired on protesters at Chevron's Escravos oil terminal killing one man and injuring at least 30 others, had not been made public by the end of 2006.

Extrajudicial executions

Extrajudicial executions by members of the police and security forces continued to be widespread. These included civilians being killed by police during routine road checks or for refusing to pay a bribe, shootings of suspected armed robbers on arrest, and extrajudicial executions of detainees. Despite the alarming number of such killings, the government took very little action to address the problem.

• In August, 12 suspected armed robbers, including a boy under the age of 18, were reportedly extrajudicially executed by police in Abia State. The victims had been arrested during a raid in which four other suspects were killed. On 10 August Abia police displayed the suspects to journalists and other spectators. An eyewitness stated that some of the suspects appeared to have gunshot wounds. On 11 August the dead bodies of the 12 suspects were seen dumped outside the morgue at a government hospital, reportedly taken there by police. No action was taken to investigate the deaths or bring the perpetrators to justice.

Political violence

There was widespread violence linked to state and federal elections due to be held in April 2007, including political assassinations and violent clashes between supporters of different candidates during the primary elections, particularly within the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP). The government failed to take effective action to deal with the violence or to address the role of politicians in fomenting it. Police investigations and arrests following some assassinations and political violence were criticized as politically tainted.

In August the Inspector General of Police was reported in the independent media as saying that politicians were recruiting students to engage in political violence. In the same month the Commissioner of Police of Ebonyi State claimed that a number of political candidates had reportedly started to train "thugs" in preparation for the elections. The Commissioner warned all candidates for political office to cease such activities, but no further action was reported. There were similar allegations that politicians were endorsing and encouraging political violence in several states during 2006.

• On 27 July Chief Funsho Williams of the PDP, candidate for Governor in Lagos State, was killed at his home. The Inspector General of Police stated that 244 suspects were arrested in connection with his murder, including his political associates, personal aides and four policemen. By the end of the year,

209 suspects had been released for lack of evidence, while 35 remained in police custody. The specific charges against those who remained in detention were unclear.

• On 14 August Dr Ayo Daramola, a candidate for Governor in Ekiti State, was fatally stabbed at his home. Police arrested eight people in connection with the murder, including an aide to the former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, who was impeached in October in connection with an unrelated matter. One other suspect was reportedly shot evading arrest.

Violence against women

Violence against women, including domestic violence and sexual violence by state officials and private individuals, remained pervasive. Underlying factors included the entrenched culture of impunity for human rights violations committed by the police and security forces, and the authorities' consistent failure to exercise due diligence in preventing and addressing sexual violence by both state and non-state actors.

In August a Bill to incorporate the UN Women's Convention in domestic law was presented to the Senate. No further progress was made by the end of the year. The Domestic Violence and Other Related Matters Bill, which was debated by the Lagos House of Assembly, had not become law by the end of the year.

In December the Federal Government announced the introduction of a Bill on reform of discriminatory laws against women and a Bill on elimination of violence from society, which would cover all forms of violence including domestic violence.

Prisoner releases, pre-trial detention

In January the Federal Government announced an initiative aimed at speeding up the trial or unconditional release of up to 25,000 inmates out of a prison population estimated by the government at 45,000. However, no tangible results were seen by the end of the year. In November the government announced a case-by-case review of the prison population. Again, no action was evident by the end of the year.

An estimated two-thirds of all people held in prisons were awaiting trial, and the average pre-trial detention period was estimated to be at least five years, with many people detained for 10 years or more without going to trial.

Impunity

A Judicial Commission of Inquiry established to investigate the killing by police of five Igbo traders and one woman in June 2005 submitted its report to the government in August 2005. The report was published by a civic organization, the CLEEN Foundation. Eight police officers were charged with murder. The trial had not concluded by the end of the year. On 14 August the Abuja High Court granted bail to two of the accused, a Deputy Commissioner of Police and a constable.

Journalists and human rights defenders

Human rights defenders and journalists critical of the government, and in particular of President Obasanjo, continued to face intimidation and harassment.

In June Bukhari Bello was dismissed as Executive Secretary of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission, four years before the expiry of his contract. The termination of his tenure appeared to have been related to his comments on the repression of the media by security agencies and his criticism of the government.

• On 8 November the managing editor of The News newspaper, Babafemi Ojudu, was detained overnight in Abuja reportedly on the orders of the Inspector General of Police. He was not formally charged, but was questioned about an allegation by a murder suspect that he had tried to generate false allegations about an impeached state governor.

• On 22 December the head of the editorial board of the privately owned Thisday newspaper, Godwin Agbroko, was found shot to death in Lagos in suspicious circumstances.

Forced evictions

Several incidents of forced evictions were reported as well as frequent threats of forced eviction. Nigeria was named one of the three worst violators of housing rights by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions.

Development under the Abuja Master Plan resulted in several incidents of forced evictions. In November the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory reportedly stated that some 80 per cent of the houses demolished in Abuja city centre and its environs did not qualify for compensation because they had been built illegally.

Bill outlawing same-sex relationships

In January the Minister of Justice presented to the Federal Executive Council a Bill outlawing same-sex marriages, involvement in same-sex marriages and same-sex relationships in public or in private. The draft bill provided five years' imprisonment for any person involved in a same-sex marriage or who aided or abetted such a union. The draft bill also prohibited the registration of gay organizations. The Bill was presented to the Senate in April. No further progress on the bill had been made by the end of the year.

AI country reports/visits

Reports

• Nigeria: Rape - the silent weapon (AI Index: AFR 44/020/2006)

• Nigeria: Oil, poverty and violence (AI Index: AFR 44/017/2006)

• Nigeria: Government interference with the independence of the National Human Rights Commission (AI Index: AFR 44/012/2006)

• Nigeria: Same Sex Bill negates Nigeria's obligations to fundamental human rights (AI Index: AFR 44/013/2006)

• Nigeria: AI statement for the public hearing on the domestic violence and related matters bill (AI Index: AFR 44/010/2006)

• Nigeria: Open Letter to President Obasanjo (AI Index: AFR 44/008/2006)

• Nigeria: Making the destitute homeless - forced evictions in Makoko, Lagos State (AI Index: AFR 44/001/2006 )

Visits

AI delegates visited Nigeria in January/February and in November/December.