Respect for human rights in Nigeria is at risk as the civic space continues to be squeezed by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian security forces.

Impunity for decades of human rights abuses by Nigerian police came under global condemnation when non-violent, nation-wide protests demanding reform and accountability for the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) were brutally crushed by police and military forces. At least 55 people were killed and hundreds were injured. The government has not enacted any reforms or held any security force personnel accountable.

The government has responded violently to criticism of its handling of the insurgency of the armed group Boko Haram in the northern provinces of the country, inter communal violence in the Middle Belt provinces that have taken on religious tones, and outrage over government corruption.

The government has passed multiple laws to muzzle dissent including the Freedom of Information bill, the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation bill, the Prohibition of Hate Speech bill and the Cybercrimes and Anti-Terrorism Act. All of these directly violate regional and international human rights standards and impede the work of human rights defenders and journalists. The government has also taken steps to restrict funding for NGOs including requiring profile checks of staff and possible board members of civil society organizations (even if they do not reside in Nigeria).

Members of some civil society organizations have faced intimidation and physical harm for expressing concerns over the government’s Boko Haram counter insurgency or have encountered obstacles when investigating human rights abuses committed by the military against alleged Boko Haram suspects. Groups operating in the restive Niger Delta region face similar impediments.

In December 2018, for example, the Nigerian army responded to an Amnesty International report on the alleged failure of the military to protect residents vulnerable to attacks in central Nigeria by threatening to shut down the group’s Nigeria office. On March 20, 2017, protesters carrying a coffin invaded Amnesty International’s office in Abuja chanting slogans against the organization like “Amnesty International supports Boko Haram,” and “You are demonic, leave Nigeria now.” The protesters, some of whom were internally displaced persons from camps outside Abuja, said they were paid N1400 every day by agents of the sponsors of the protest, who they met at Unity Fountain, Abuja.

Security services including the DSS and police periodically arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government. Army personnel in some cases threatened civilians who were assumed to have provided information to journalists or NGOs on misconduct by the military.


  • The United States is extremely concerned over the violent crackdown on the peaceful #ENDSARS protesters calling for police reform.
  • The United States urges President Buhari to respect the rights of all Nigerians, including protesters, and to engage in genuine police and security sector reform.
  • Nigeria is facing a growing threat to freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. As Africa’s largest democracy, President Buhari must reverse this trend and protect political space.


  • Write to President Buhari and urge him to make public all reports of investigative findings led by military or government panels or committees into allegations of extra-judicial executions and unlawful killings, including the Presidential Investigative Panel to Review Compliance of the Armed Forces with Human Rights Obligations and Rules of Engagement;
  • Urge President Buhari to respect the right to peaceful protest, including the #ENDSARS protests, and undertake police and security sector reform.


Adotei Akwei

Deputy Director, Advocacy & Government Relations

(202) 509-8148

[email protected]