Democracy and rights
Democracy has been significantly strengthened in
Nigeria 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.
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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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
President Yar'Adua proposes a pardon to all members of Mend, to enable
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.