Nigeria Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Democracy has been significantly strengthened in Nigeria abbreviated as NG, since the military dictatorship fell and the country gained a people-elected leadership in 1999. However, the democratic shortcomings continue to be large and the government is considered authoritarian. The judiciary is relatively independent, although corruption and political pressure exist.

Government critics are allowed to act fairly freely, although it may be sensitive to criticize the government’s way of dealing with the fight against terrorism and corruption.

Violence and accusations of cheating generally occur in elections and testify that democracy is still fragile. The first time a people elected leader surrendered to another was 2007. The first time one party handed over power to another was 2015.

Many consider that the Constitution gives the federal government too much power. For example, all security forces, including the police, are governed by the central government, which also appoints judges.

Political parties can be formed freely and seem fairly undisturbed by state interference. However, the party system is weak after the many years of military dictatorship, when parties were banned and regime critics were persecuted.

Voluntary organizations and human rights groups can operate relatively freely. An exception is organizations that work to strengthen the rights of LGBT people.

Several commissions have been set up to combat the corruption that permeates society. Virtually every governor in the country has been subjected to a corruption investigation. However, few people are convicted of corruption crimes, and accusations of corruption are often used as political weapons. In 2019, Nigeria ranked 146th among 180 countries in the Transparency International Index of Corruption in the World (see full list here). It was two investments worse than the year before.

Freedom of expression and media

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press and opinion but in reality it is cropped. Many holders of power use prosecution to silence critics. Both politicians and militant groups threaten journalists and murders of journalists occur. At the same time, Nigeria has an outspoken press, and a lively internet scene.

The war against Islamist sect Boko Haram terrorizing northeastern Nigeria has contributed to a deteriorating media position. Boko Haram has threatened and attacked journalists, and the authorities are referring to the serious security situation to harass and arrest journalists.

However, Nigeria was a dangerous country for media representatives even before. At least ten journalists have been murdered since the early 1990s. Threats and police brutality are commonplace. The security service is often reported to be involved by arresting media representatives, seized newspapers or harassing newspaper vendors. High-ranking politicians often exert pressure on the media to prevent transparency or stop the publication of troublesome information. A person charged with slander is required by law to prove the veracity of published information.

Reporters Without Borders placed Nigeria in 115th place among 180 countries in its index of freedom of the press in the world 2020, an improvement of five steps since the year before (the entire list is here). Freedom House describes the media situation in Nigeria as “partly free”.

Internet users are increasingly using social media to protest against injustice, abuse and police violence. The protest movements began by demanding justice for women who are violent, but now encompasses several issues related to abuses in Nigeria. The increased pressure that online campaigns put on power has led to the arrest of suspected perpetrators, including two police officers. The country’s celebrities, who otherwise tend to stay out of politics, have also begun to vent their displeasure on social media.

Judicial system and legal security

The judicial system has a British model. The Supreme Court deals with disputes between the federal government and the states as well as between the states. Under the Supreme Court there is an appellate court. Some of its judges should be knowledgeable in Islamic law and customary law, which is applied in certain civil cases. In addition, there is a federal court and courts in the states.

In northern Nigeria, in the early 2000s, state courts began to generally apply Sharia law to Muslim citizens. The federal government has questioned whether this is in accordance with the Constitution but has not intervened in the judicial order (see also Religion). The introduction of Sharia law contributed to violent clashes between Muslims and Christians in several parts of Nigeria.

Respect for human rights has improved since the return to democracy. The image of an independent judiciary was strengthened after the 2007 election, when several judgments following complaints of cheating meant that the government party’s victory was annulled. At the same time, legal security is weak. The police and security services are guilty of torture, rape and summary executions, even by detainees. Nearly three-quarters of the prisoners have not received any sentence.

In many places, militia groups or civilian guards act as abusers and even kill people whom they designate as enemies. The cause may be anger at ordinary crime. But in the background, there are often ethnic or religious contradictions that have increased leeway as a result of the restoration of democracy. Land conflicts occur, and in the Niger Delta different groups are fighting for increased self-government and an increased share of oil income. Riots and clashes often occur. Police and military are sometimes involved, but usually it is between civilian groups that the discharges take place. In total, tens of thousands of people have been killed in violence since the reign of civilian government.

The death penalty occurs. At the federal level, no one has been executed in recent years, but the death penalty has been sentenced and enforced at the state level in some cases. In states where sharia occurs, several people have been sentenced to death by stoning, but the judgments have not been enforced.

Amnesty International reports on war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by military, police and security forces in the fight against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. Boko Haram commits brutal abuses against the civilian population.

A commission investigating the human rights violations committed in 1966–1999 published its report in 2005, identifying three military leaders who were personally responsible for summary executions during their time in power. But all three – Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari and Abdulsalami Abubakar – could still continue to be politically active at a high level. Buhari was elected President in 2015.

Nigeria Immigration Statistics



The President is seeking care abroad

Yar’Adua travels to Saudi Arabia for treatment of a heart disease. At home, a constitutional crisis arises and many demand his departure.


More Boko Haram violence

Violence shakes three states, with about 800 dead as a result.


Boko Haram behind violence in the north

The Islamist group is involved in violence in four states, not least in Borno where up to 1,000 people die. Boko Haram’s leader Mohamed Yusuf is arrested and arrested.

Okah accepts amnesty proposals

The message from the Mend leader causes him to be released from detention (see February 2008).


Damages to ogoni activists

Shell agrees to pay compensation to relatives of Ken Saro-Wiva and other activists executed in 1995 (see Modern History). The oil company denies guilt but pays to avoid an impending lawsuit in a New York court.

Proposed amnesty

President Yar’Adua proposes a pardon to all members of Mend, to enable disarmament.


Mend cuts an oil tanker and a ship

It is the guerrilla’s first major attack since September 2008. The military responds with a massive effort, which, judging by everything, was planned to try to knock out the guerrillas.


Mend breaks the armistice

The guerrilla in the Niger Delta breaks its cease fire after four months after the government attacked an allied group’s camp.