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    Country Reports


Combined second and third periodic reports dated 26 February 1997

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is located on the southern coast of West Africa. Divided into thirty states and a federal capital territory, Abuja, the population of Nigeria is estimated to be approximately 104 million people, making it the most populous country on the African continent.1 Approximately ninety percent of the population is a member of one of the ten ethnic groups: the Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Ibibio, Edo, Tiv, Nupe, Ibo, Kanuri, and Ijaw.2 The official language is English. Hausa is the most widely spoken of the 250 African languages in Nigeria, followed by Yoruba and Ibo.3 Approximately half of the population is Muslim, about thirty-five percent are Christian, and the remainder adhere to the traditional beliefs of their ethnic groups.

Political Structure

Nigeria is constitutionally a federalist state, with certain powers held by the states and others reserved to the federal government. According to the Constitution, the president is to be elected every four years by popular vote, and the judiciary is to consist of state and federal courts. However, the country's history has been marked by constitutional chaos, including a number of coups, a series of military leaders (who frequently take the title of president), and problematic elections. The last civilian president to take office after a free election was Alhaji Shehu Shagari, elected in 1979. In 1985, Major General Ibrahim Babangida, became president4 after a coup and declared a plan to revive civilian rule with elections in October 1990.5 However, Babangida held on to the presidency until 1993, when elections were held and Moshood Abiola, a civilian and the publisher of the Concord newspaper, claimed victory.6 Banbangida charged fraud in the election, the results were annulled, and Abiola was jailed under accusation of treason-as he still is, despite court orders granting bail.7 His health is deteriorating.8 Shortly after the annulled election, General Sani Abacha became president in yet another coup. 9

General Abacha's rule has been characterized as an "expression of hardline northern military elite bent on maintaining its longtime hold on the country's politics."10 Fearing coup attempts, Abacha rarely leaves his mansion and surrounds himself with a 2000-man personal security service that answers only to the president or his single trusted aid, Major Hamza El-Mustapha.11 He is heavily guarded by soldiers and maintains a separate string of plain-clothed police agents.12 He does not tolerate criticism; suspecting General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua13 of "lamenting the state of affairs in Nigeria at a conference in Stockholm in 1995,"14 plotting a coup against him, and demanding restraints on the president's power, he had both men arrested and placed in detention. On December 6, 1997, Yar'Adua died in detention.15 Human rights organizations contend that he was repeatedly denied medical care.16

Elections for the presidency are to be held in August 1998 after several postponements. General Abacha is the candidate of all five approved parties. A lawsuit challenging this selection process, charging intervention by the government, was dismissed in Lagos on May 25, 1998.17

Human Rights

Nigeria's political setting cannot be understood without an examination of the country's dismal human rights situation. The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the United Nations, Amnesty International (AI), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the International Center Against Censorship, an international human rights organization committed to the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, have all criticized the government's human rights record. In June 1996, the International Center Against Censorship sent a letter to General Abacha, expressing concern about the continuing of secret trials against alleged military conspirators, the execution of nine Ogoni minority rights activists, and the disregard for the right to freedom of expression, as direct violations of Nigeria's obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.18 The nine members of the Ogoni ethnic group were sentenced to death by the Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal (CDST) based on their alleged connection with the killings of four Ogoni notables at Giokoo in May 1994.19 The Center also complained about the arbitrary use of the 1984 State Security Decree No. 2,20 to detain Nigerians who voice their opposition to the continuation of military rule.21 Among the nearly 200 people currently detained for political reasons, Rebecca Onyabi Ikpe represents the numerous women held hostage because either their relatives are government critics, they expressed their own political views (nonviolently), or they are connected to a political opposition group.22

Rebecca Onyabi Ikpe is considered to be a prisoner of conscience, convicted in July 1995 of treason and other related offenses by a secret military tribunal. Amnesty International claims that the human rights abuses suffered by these prisoners include forced detention, torture, extra-judicial execution, and denial of medical treatment. Beko Ransome-Kuti, a prominent human rights activist, Moshood Abiola, and several journalists remain in prison under allegations of sedition, criticizing the government, conspiracy or being an accessory to the plotters.23

In April 1997 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights voted to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Nigeria, citing concern over widespread abuses of citizens, lack of judicial safeguards, and an absence of progress on democratic reforms.24


For the last several years, journalists have been threatened with arrest, torture, forced exile, and assassination for their publications detailing either government scandals, coup plots, corruption or tension within the armed forces.25 According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a US-based advocacy group, while Nigeria has the most diverse press in Africa, the country has experienced "the most extreme deterioration of conditions for the press in Africa."26

There are approximately sixty-six major newspapers and sixty periodically published newsmagazines in the country.27 Additionally, Nigeria has fifty state-owned television stations and forty state-owned radio stations.28 Journalists who freely express their views regarding the internal politics of the military government do so at the risk of losing not only their own lives, but the life of the medium for which they report. Tell, Nigeria's most effective news magazine, cannot be published in a conventional office. On at least two occasions, Nigerian authorities raided its printing offices, confiscating the available copies of the magazine.29 Currently, Tell's editorial meetings are held in obscure locations such as mosques, taxis and churches in an effort to evade the threat of detention or forced exile. In February, 1996, the publisher of the Guardian newspaper, Alex Ibru, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.30 The reason for the attack was Ibru's attempt to present an accurate portrayal of the politics and corruption that characterized the military government.31

In 1995, Christina Anyanwu, publisher and editor of the Sunday Magazine, was arrested and sentenced to jail by a military tribunal in a secret trial for being an accessory to the plotters after she published an article regarding the alleged coup attempt in 1995.32 While incarcerated, suffering from typhoid, malaria and high blood pressure, Anyanwu was awarded the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, a US $25,000 prize awarded annually on the recommendation of a jury of fourteen journalists.33

Foreign journalists in Nigeria are not immune from censure. In January 1996, Paul Adams, a correspondent for the London Financial Times, was arrested and charged with "possession of seditious material."34

Legal Structure

Women's interests are particularly affected by operation of multiple legal systems governing family law. Depending on her place of residence, type of marriage, ethnicity, and religion, a woman's rights and responsibilities with respect to marriage, divorce, custody of children, property ownership and control, and inheritance may be governed by statutory, customary, or Islamic law. This regime is further complicated by the federal system, which places customary law within the legislative competence of the states but retains federal jurisdiction over statutory marriage. Some states have instituted legislation regulating customary law marriages, creating a merger between customary and statutory law that is unusual in the African context. The eastern states passed an Age of Marriage Law in 1956, for example, that established sixteen as the minimum age of marriage under customary law and voided any violative marriages.35

The jurisdictional boundaries of the three family law systems are complex, and the customary law is not unified. Courts are frequently faced with the problem of determining not only whether customary law is applicable, but which customary law should be applied.

In its 1997 report on the human rights situation in Nigeria, the U.S. State Department indicated that "the nature of the case usually determines which court has jurisdiction. In principle, customary courts and Shari'a courts have jurisdiction only if both plaintiff and defendant agree to it, though in practice fear of legal costs, delay, and distance to alternative courts encourage many litigants to choose these courts." Moreover, women's testimony is not accorded equal weight to that of men in the Shari'a courts.36


Nigeria's economy has been built on its huge high-quality oil reserves, with over 90% of its foreign exchange earnings coming from oil exports.37 However, the income from petroleum production has not been used to benefit the population, as much of the revenue has been skimmed by the political elite and high-ranking government employees, including particularly the military.38 The per capita GDP is approximately US $260, and an estimated twenty-nine percent of the population subsists on less than $1 per day.39

Agriculture employs approximately seventy percent of the country's work force and accounts for nearly one-fifth of the GNP. As a result of lower market prices, drought, the growing population, and the rising competition for skilled labor in other sectors of the economy, agricultural production has been on a steady decline since 1960.

Women in Public Life

In 1988, the CEDAW Committee asked the Government about the low level of women's political participation. Although they remain few, a number of qualified women have been active in politics. These include Nike Omoworare-Agunbiade, the first female Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly in Oyo State; Tokunbo Awolowo Dosunmu, daughter of the late opposition leader, Obafemi Awolowo; and Bose Omorilewa, a trader who was recently elected to the Oyo state assembly.40 The lack of women in politics seems to be attributable more to resistance by male politicians and lack of support from women voters than from lack of qualified female candidates.41


Initial report to CEDAW, 9th Session (1988).


  • Whether laws specifically designed to protect women from discrimination were under consideration. (#618)
  • The identification of practices and customs that were detrimental to the health and safety of women and girls (that is: female genital mutilation, early pregnancies, polygamy). (#620)
  • A request for information regarding the prevalence of prostitution and the measures taken to rehabilitate women who participated in it. (#623)
  • Information regarding Nigeria's population policy; and specifically, information concerning legality of abortion. (#632). 42


Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (tenth, eleventh, and twelfth reports considered 6 and 10 August 1993).

Recommendations and Observations:

  • Concern about the continued interethnic conflicts and the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian Police Force in protecting the civilians and their rights.
  • An economic crisis, continued interethnic and religious conflicts, as well as a tense political environment were the primary contributors to the occurrence of human rights violations in Nigeria. Improve the condition in the country.
  • Implement national legislation prohibiting racist organizations and the promotion, publication, and circulation of racially discriminatory propaganda. Adopt legislation that provides for the effective protection and reparation of individuals within the state against whom acts of racial discrimination are committed.
  • Provide the Committee with more detailed data on the ethnic composition of the society.

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (thirteenth report considered 17 August 1995).

Concerns and Recommendations:

  • Discrimination has not been adequately addressed.
  • Provide additional information on the implementation and practice of the legislation prohibiting racial discrimination.
  • Monitor the country's legal, political and social arenas because a breakdown in either of the three could have perpetuated ethnic conflicts.
  • Concerned about the suggestion that the Government contributed to ethnic discord.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the protection it provides to its inhabitants against racial discrimination.

Human Rights Committee (initial report considered 3 April 1996).

Concerns, Recommendations and Observations:

  • The proliferation of interethnic and inter-religious conflict appeared to infringe upon the enjoyment of rights and freedoms protected under the Covenant.
  • Adopt Decree No. 22 of 1995 (to establish the National Human Rights Commission).
  • The Committee praised the establishment of a Ministry of Women's Affairs and Social Welfare, focused on the promotion of women participating at every level of the political, social and economic arena.
  • Committee reiterated its concern regarding the continued disappearances, abductions, extrajudicial executions, inhuman treatment, arbitrary detentions and the presence of special secret tribunals that ignore the notion of fair trial as mandated by article 14 of the Covenant in Nigeria. Regarding the conditions in the places of detention, the Committee was concerned about the overcrowding, absence of adequate food and sanitation, and the high number of deaths that occurred during detention.
  • Concerned that a large number of detainees were being held without having been charged and that the death penalty was imposed for crimes that were not the "most serious offenses."
  • Concerned about the restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.
  • Noting allegations that two officials of a Nigerian human rights organization had their passports impounded and were prevented from attending the fifty-sixth session of the Committee, the Committee emphasized that the consideration of reports takes place in public meetings and that representatives of both local and international nongovernmental organizations are entitled to attend the meetings at which reports are considered and to provide information to the members of the Committee on an informal basis.
  • Concerned about the low level of women's participation in public life, the continuation of marriage regimes that permit polygamy and do not fully respect the equal rights of women, and in particular the widespread practice of female genital mutilation and forced marriage. 43


1 Amnesty International, Amnesty International Country Report: Nigeria, Internet, available from www.amnesty.org, accessed on 28 February 1998. U.S. Department of State, Nigeria: Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997, 30 January 30, 1998, on-line. Nigeria: Earth Summit, on-line, Internet, available from http://www.un.org/, accessed on 1 March 1998. Country Profile: Nigeria, Internet, available from http:// www.ABC.com, accessed on 3 March 1998. back

2 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: United Republic of Nigeria, 6 and 10 August 1993, on-line. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: Nigeria (10 and 11 August 1995), on-line. back

3 Ibid. back

4 Nigeria: The Ibrahim Babangida Regime, on-line, Internet, available from: http://www.nigerian.galleria.com, accessed on 3 March 1998. back

5 Paul Ejime, "Babangida Defends Annulment of Presidential Polls," Nando Times: Panafrican News Agency, 18 August 1997, on-line. back

6 Ibid. back

7 Ibid. Amnesty International, Amnesty International Country Report: Nigeria, on-line, Internet, available from www.amnesty.org, Internet, accessed on 28 February 1998. back

8 Appeal to Nigerian Leader General Sani Abacha on 12 June to Mark Anniversary of Annulled Elections, Internet, available from http://www.ifex.org, accessed on 11 March 1998. back

9 Paul Ejime, "Babangida Defends Annulment of Presidential Polls," Nando Times: Panafrican News Agency, August 18, 1997, on-line. Richard Carver, "Nigeria: On the Brink of Civil War?" Internet, available from: http://www.unhr.ch/ref.world/country/writenet/wringa.html. back

10 Judith Leynse, "CPJ Names 10 Enemies of the Press on World Press Freedom Day, May 3," Committee to Protect Journalists, 3 May 1997. back

11 Howard W. French, "Nigeria, a Proud Nation in a Free Fall, Seethes Under a General's Grip," New York Times, 4 April 1998, on-line. back

12 Ibid. back

13 Amnesty International News Release, Nigeria: Death of Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Does Not Bode Well for Others Detained in Harsh Conditions, Internet, available from: http:// www.amnesty.org, accessed on 28 February 1998 (providing background information regarding Shehu Musa Yar'Adua). back

14 Amnesty International, Amnesty International Country Report: Nigeria. back

15 Amnesty International News Release, Nigeria: Death of Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Does Not Bode Well for Others Detained in Harsh Conditions. back

16 Most prisons in Nigeria do not have medical facilities. back

17 "Nigeria Voids Suit on Campaign," New York Times, 26 May 1998, on-line. back

18 Appeal to Nigerian Leader General Sani Abacha on 12 June to Mark Anniversary of Annulled Elections, Internet, available from: http://www.ifex.org. accessed on 11 March 1998. back

19 Ibid. Amnesty International, Amnesty International Country Report: Nigeria. back

20 Amnesty International, Amnesty International Country Report: Nigeria. Howard W. French, "Nigeria, a Proud Nation in a Free Fall, Seethes Under a General's Grip." back

21 U.S. Department of State, "Nigeria: Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997." back

22 Amnesty International, "Nigeria: Rebecca Onyabi Ikpe, Prisoner of Conscience," Internet, available from :http://www.digitalrag.com, accessed on 1 April 1998. back

23 Amnesty International, Amnesty International Country Report: Nigeria. back

24 "Commission on Human Rights Votes for Special Rapporteur on Nigeria; Resolution on China Fails to Come to a Vote," United Nations Press Release HR/CN/804 (16 April 1997). back

25 "Nigeria's Persecuted Press Fights Back Underground," New York Times, 15 April 1998, on-line. back

26 Ibid. back

27 Nigeria: A Closer Look, Internet, available from: http://www.theskanner.com. back

28 Ibid. back

29 Amnesty International, Amnesty International Country Report, Nigeria. back

30 Richard Carver, "Nigeria: On the Bring of Civil War?" back

31 Ibid. back

32 Jailed Nigerian Journalist Awarded UNESCO Prize, e-mailed message from: vaina@sfu.ca. "Nigeria's Persecuted Press Fights Back Underground." back

33 Ibid. back

34 Ibid. back

35 Ibid. back

36 U.S. Department of State, Nigeria: Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997. back

37 Ibid. back

38 Richard Carver, "Nigeria: On the Brink of Civil War?" back

39 "Nigeria: African Review 1998," Janet Matthews Information Services, Quest Economic Database March 1998, Internet, available from: http://web.lexis-nexis.com/research/retri, accessed on 7 April 1998. back

40 Ibid. "Nigerian Women in Politics," e-mailed message from: Edward.Olowo-Okere@vuw.ac.nz. back

41 Remi Oyo, "Politics as 'Male Preserve' Comes Under Attack in Nigeria," Inter Press Service and Global Information Network 1998, Internet, available from: http://www.tbwt.com/articles/africa/africa260.htm, accessed on 21 May 1998. back

42 Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Nigeria, CEDAW, 7th Sess., CEDAW/C/SR.157 (1988). back

43 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Concluding Observation of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: Nigeria, 6 and 10 August 1993, on-line. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Concluding Observation of the Human Rights Committee: Nigeria, 3 April 1996, on-line. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Concluding Observation of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: Nigeria, 10 and 11 August 1995, on-line. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Concluding Observation of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: Nigeria, 17 August 1995, on-line. back





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