The “2017 Human Rights Report” for Nigeria issued by the U.S. Department of State has accused Nigeria of restrictions to Freedom of Expression, especially the unrepentant persecution of journalists while also calling out the country on gross violation of other human rights and continued lack of transparency in government.
Citing various cases of victimisation of journalists, the Report said “the Security services increasingly detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government.”
In Section 2 titled: Respect for Civil Liberties, the Report indicated that “Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government frequently restricted these rights.” Citing the Freedom House’s annual survey of media independence, Freedom of the Press 2017 which described the press as “partly free,” the Report said a large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, and sometimes violence.
The requirement of Libel/Slander Laws “limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defence of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression,” the Report said.
Noting that Defamation remains a criminal offence in Nigeria, carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines, it cited as an instance the police raiding of Premium Times in 2017 due to the newspaper’s refusal to retract stories regarding the army and its operations which the Chief of Army Staff’s Office reportedly found defamatory. It said: “Allegations of libel are also used as a form of harassment by government officials in retaliation for negative reporting.”
Although it noted that there were few government restrictions on access to the internet, the Report emphasised the concerns that have been expressed by civil society organizations regarding the broad powers provided by the Cybercrimes Act of 2015.
In its Section 4, the Report also chides the Nigerian Government on its unrepentant corruption and lack of transparency. “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity,” it said, adding that, “massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services.”
The Report also assessed Nigeria on other human rights issues including extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; and forced and bonded labour.