The United States of America’s 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices has returned a damning verdict on Nigeria’s human rights records, stating that “impunity remains widespread at all levels of government” in the country.
The report which was published on the website of the US Department of State, said several acts of gross human rights abuse were committed by both government and non-government actors within Nigeria in the year under review, many of which were not investigated.
The US Human Rights Reports cover internationally recognised individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.
Some of the human rights issues raised in the report include unlawful and arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention in life-threatening conditions particularly in government detention facilities; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions including civilian detentions in military facilities; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; among others.
“The government took steps to investigate alleged abuses but fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government,” the report read in part.
‘The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.”
Where a panel of inquiry was set up to investigate alleged rights abuse by security agencies, the report noted that the findings and recommendations of such investigative panels were not made public.
For instance, “in August 2017 the acting president (Yemi Osinbajo) convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, and the panel submitted its findings in February. As of November, no portions of the report had been made public.”
The report also cited how the federal government has failed to hold any member of the Nigerian Army responsible for the killing and illegal mass burial of over 300 Shiite Muslims in Kaduna State in 2015, in spite of the report of a panel of inquiry set up by the Kaduna State government which said that the army was responsible for the atrocity.
Also cited was how the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East led to the death of thousands of persons, the internal displacement of approximately 1.8 million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 225,000 Nigerian refugees to neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. in 2018 alone.
The conflict over land and other resources between farmers and herders also resulted in an estimated 1,300 deaths and 300,000 persons internally displaced between January and July 2018, the report pointed out.
Other incidents of rights abuse perpetrated by government security agencies in Nigeria, as cited by the US report, include the case of Jones Abiri − a Bayelsan journalist who was arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) in 2016 but was held incommunicado till 2018 after a public outcry. There was also the constant harassment and illegal detention and torture being carried out by the men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police, popularly known as SARS.
The report also detailed the sorry state of prison facilities in Nigeria, stating that most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old, were heavily overcrowded, and lacked basic facilities especially for female inmates, many of whom give birth in prison and their children left there without adequate care.