The Human Rights Committee concluded today its review of the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Nigeria.
In his opening remarks, Audu Ayinla Kadiri, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the composition of the Nigerian delegation was a testimony to its commitment to the implementation of the Covenant. He apologized for Nigeria’s inability to submit its second periodic report. Nigeria had implemented many initiatives to improve the effectiveness, accessibility, accountability, transparency and fairness of the justice system, such as the development of justice sector reform action plans and the establishment of judicial research and training centres. The Nigerian Government was firmly committed to promote and protect the human rights of Nigerians. While much had been done in this regard, across a broad range of fields, the Government acknowledged that challenges remained.
Committee Experts thanked the delegation for their presence and stressed that the purpose was to find common ground so that the Committee may formulate recommendations aiming to help the Government to move forward. They pointed out that corruption remained rampant and that implementation of the legislation was weak. They also asked the delegation to comment on recent events, notably the killing of people in Biafra region and the killing of 350 people in Zaria, in Kaduna province. Experts asked if there was a law that prohibited discrimination that would cover direct and intersected forms of discrimination. Was the Government considering repealing article 214 of the criminal code which criminalized sexual acts between persons of the same sex? What measures were in place to address the discriminatory effects of legislation on polygamy and repudiation?
Mr. Kadiri, in concluding remarks, said that the dialogue had been interesting and illuminating and the delegation had done its best to answer the Experts’ questions. “All is well that ends well,” he said, stressing that the delegation and the Committee shared a common purpose. The delegation looked forward to cooperating further with the Committee.
Ahmed Amin Fathalla, Committee Chair, in his concluding remarks, thanked the delegation. He recalled that parties to international legal instruments had to abide by their obligations. It had been a fruitful debate, he stated.
The delegation of Nigeria consisted of representatives of the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, the Department of State Services, the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage .
The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/ .
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 4 July, to consider the second periodic report of Mauritania (CCPR/C/MRT/2 ).
The Committee has before it the replies of Nigeria to the Committee’s list of issues. (CCPR/C/NGA/Q/2/Add.1 )
Presentation by Nigeria
AUDU AYINLA KADIRI, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the composition of the Nigerian delegation was a testimony to its commitment to the implementation of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights. He apologized for Nigeria’s inability to submit its second periodic report, adding that the responses provided by Nigeria did not answer all the questions raised in the list of issues and questions. The Government of Nigeria had constituted a national working group on treaty reporting with a view to ensure timely preparation of reports to treaty bodies. He assured that Nigeria’s subsequent reports on the implementation of the Covenant would be regular, in line with the provisions of article 40 of the Covenant.
The Constitution of Nigeria guaranteed access to justice for everyone, and provided for pro bono legal assistance to indigent persons in the enforcement of their fundamental rights. The law provided access to justice for women who were victims of violence. Nigeria had implemented many initiatives to improve the effectiveness, accessibility, accountability, transparency and fairness of the justice system, such as the development of justice sector reform action plans and the establishment of judicial research and training centres. Several measures and initiatives had been adopted to strengthen civil and military cooperation in the fight against terrorism and insurgency, such as the appointment of a Human Rights Adviser in the Office of the Chief of Defence Staff and the establishment of a Human Rights Desk in the Army Headquarters and Divisions of the Nigerian Army. A human rights curriculum had been introduced in the training institutions of the various armed forces, the Nigerian Police Force and other law enforcement agencies. This aimed to inculcate in the trainees universal human rights values.
Mr. Kadiri stressed that the Nigerian Government was firmly committed to promote and protect the human rights of Nigerians. While much had been done in this regard, across a broad range of fields, the Government acknowledged that challenges remained.
Questions by the Committee Experts
Committee Experts thanked the delegation for its presence and emphasized that the purpose of this dialogue was to find common ground. The Committee sought to formulate recommendations that would help the Government to move forward. The questions and comments put forward by the Committee should be interpreted against the background of the positive steps taken by the Government. Experts noted that Nigeria had declared no reservations to the adoption of the Covenant. They asked for details on the “fundamental human rights enforcement procedure” put in place in the country. On the national human rights commission, could the delegation comment on the concerns regarding the dismissal of the Governing Council, the consultative process related to the appointment of its head, and the fact that it was reporting to the executive rather than the legislative branch? They requested information on the legal framework underpinning the use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular the possibility to use lethal force to protect property. What was the legal status of the police force order 237? They also asked the delegation to comment on recent events, notably the killing of people in the Biafra region and the killing of 350 people in Zaria, in the Kaduna province.
The Committee pointed out that corruption remained rampant and that the implementation of the legislation was weak. Could the delegation provide information on corruption-related prosecutions, convictions and sentences in the past five years? What was the state of adoption of the bill protecting whistle blowers? Despite legislation and policy initiatives, the maternal mortality rate was still high. Experts requested data on this issue and information on the obstacles faced by the Government in tackling it. What efforts had been made to ensure safe and affordable access to contraceptives?
Noting that the law permitted abortion only when the woman’s health was at risk, Experts asked about the number of criminal prosecutions related to abortions that had taken place in the past few years. Could the delegation comment and provide more information on clandestine abortions? Experts said they were pleased that the State party had found the list of issues useful. Turning to the state of emergency, and while acknowledging the seriousness of the situation faced by the State party, they stressed the importance of assessing compliance with article 4 of the Covenant, which set out a set of norms for which no derogation was possible, even in a state of emergency. The cutting of access to GSM mobile phone networks aiming to disrupt Boko Haram communications had resulted in hardships for civilian populations. Could the delegation comment on the necessity and proportionality of this measure?
Regarding the terrorism prevention act, which seemed to give broad powers to the State and included very harsh sentences, Experts expressed concerns about overreach and potential extreme applications of the counter-terrorism framework. Turning to the death penalty, they recalled that a moratorium was in place. How many sentences had been commuted or were slotted to be commuted? To what extent was the moratorium holding, Experts asked, citing declarations of public officials, notably from the Ogun province, who were considering the resumption of executions. Nigeria had taken steps in the right direction. It would be good at this point to switch from a de facto moratorium to a de jure one as well as to ratify the second Optional Protocol. On internally displaced persons, Experts requested information on arrests conducted in camps and the investigation related to the tragic airplane bombing that killed civilians in a camp in 2017.
Turning to discrimination, Experts asked if there was legislation prohibiting discrimination? Did it cover direct and intersected forms of discrimination? What was the judicial remedy that addressed instances of discrimination? Was the Government considering repealing article 214 of the criminal code which criminalized sexual acts between persons of the same sex?
Experts noted that most of the girls from Chibok had been rescued, but information was missing about the oil workers that had been kidnapped. Did the delegation have any information on their fate? Military forces had reportedly committed human rights violations, such as death in detention, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, in connection with the fight against Boko Haram. Could the delegation inform the Committee of steps taken to investigate and address allegations of human rights violations by the Nigerian security forces?
Experts also asked what was being done to improve the land rights of women in Nigeria and address the negative impacts of Sharia law on women’s inheritance rights. What measures were in place to address the discriminatory effects of legislation on polygamy and repudiation? On intercommunal and ethnic-based violence, what steps were being taken to protect civilians and respond speedily to early warnings? What measures were in place to provide women and girls with safe shelters?
Replies by the Delegation
AUDU AYINLA KADIRI, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said it was strange that the Committee was putting more emphasis on the negative aspects. The moratorium on the death penalty was voluntary; nothing had compelled the Government to put it in place. The Committee could improve its working methods by clustering questions, which would make it easier to respond to and manage time. He thanked the members of the Committee that had talked of finding “common ground” and expressed appreciation for this approach.
The delegation said a national treaty depository had been created in the Ministry of Justice so that people could be abreast of conventions and foster compliance on the part of the Government.
AUDU AYINLA KADIRI, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the chief executive of the national human rights commission was appointed by the President and the decision was sent to the Senate for approval. The commission had the capacity and resources to fulfil its mandate. Nigeria was a developing country; its resources were limited. The Commission had not cried out that it was underfunded.
On the use of force and the proportionality of the responses of security forces, the delegation pointed out that the Nigerian Constitution allowed that the police use reasonable force when necessary, in accordance with the law. Regarding Al-Zazaky, the leader of the Shia group, he had been granted bail in Abuja and had subsequently faced criminal accusations in a different state where he was now on trial. On the issue in Biafra, there had been a clash between demonstrators and the army and the Government had always made it clear that when allegations of abuse arose, an entity would be tasked to examine the matter. The Government was serious about human rights issues.
Mr. Kadiri said Boko Haram was an existential threat. There were no absolute liberties, not anywhere, as one person’s liberty ended where another person’s liberty started. Regarding the Al-Zazaky case, there were two jurisdictions and two trials: one at the federal level, the other at the state level. Bail was not possible for the latter trial.
The delegation explained that the Government continued to address corruption. A new policy required that everything that belonged to the Government be paid into a single account, and cross-jurisdictional cooperation measures were put in place. Issues of illicit financial flows were attended to. Qualitatively and quantitatively, a lot had been going on and Nigeria stood ready to learn from other jurisdictions, but one of the areas of weakness of the Government’s policies and efforts on anti-corruption was international cooperation.
Mr. Kadiri said corruption was difficult to fight and Nigeria was doing its best because it undermined human rights. Turning to the state of emergency and terrorism, he said that Boko Haram was a well-organized body. It was not a question of civilians providing them with resources, it was about the political economy of terrorism. Even more developed countries were struggling to address terrorism; no country had a rule book or a manual.
The delegation said that those who were willing to repent were being rehabilitated. Those that said that they were not ready to change had to undergo the judicial process. There were over one million internally displaced persons in camps due to Boko Haram’s actions, and those responsible had to be tried. The Nigerian Government had established the North-East Development Commission to address comprehensively issues related to internal displacement, by, for instance, helping people resettle and regain their livelihoods.
On sexual violence against internally displaced persons, Mr. Kadiri pointed out that this issue had been reported on two years ago, and the Government had welcomed the constructive remarks and launched an inquiry. As a developing country, Nigeria also had developing institutions, and therefore needed the support of international institutions, including this Committee. Turning to discrimination, he asked the Committee for details on the allegations. Even when the military was in power, it had not been able to control the press, which was vibrant and very free. Issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people constituted a “red line”. Same-sex marriage was discussed in Parliament, which rejected it. Opinion polls confirmed that Nigerians were against it. “It’s alien to us,” he said. Why do those that were economically or militarily more powerful think that they could impose their views on Nigerians, he asked?
The delegation said that Nigeria was making progress in ensuring that women were not subjected to discrimination. In that regard, the country needed more support from the international community.
Mr. Kadiri explained that, in Nigeria, under the federal system, land did not belong to the federal Government, but rather to the states.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
Committee Experts clarified that this was not a court, but rather a constructive dialogue aiming to evaluate the implementation of the Covenant in the State party. Since the goal was also to make recommendations, the Committee focused on the empty part of the glass, even though it knew that it was indeed half full. The Committee did not have any sympathy for terrorists and terrorism. It was nevertheless important for Nigeria to comply with international norms. To ensure that there was an “lessons-learned” process, Experts thought it was important to identify the mistakes that had been made in dealing with terrorism related matters. On corruption, Experts asked about the impact of the adopted measures. Could the delegation provide examples and statistics to illustrate the progress achieved in that regard? What was the status of the law on the protection of whistle blowers?
Experts pointed out that the delegation had not responded to questions on maternal mortality and clandestine abortions. Would the Government consider allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest and non-viable pregnancies? On same-sex marriage, Experts pointed out that expressing support for a gay organization could lead to being sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years. There had been testimonies of torture and murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Nigeria as a sovereign nation had signed the Covenant, and many organizations, including African organizations, had condemned the situation in Nigeria. In that context, would the State party consider mitigating aspects of this law, notably section 5 which criminalized the expression of support for gay organizations?
Committee Experts requested information about the existing restrictions on the use of force. Did specific pieces of legislation provide these restrictions? Noting that confessions made as a result of torture may not be used in courts in theory, they pointed out that there were reports to the contrary, according to which victims of torture were particularly vulnerable when they were not represented by a lawyer. Experts also asked the delegation to comment on trial delays and mass trials. Turning to detention conditions, Experts requested information on inmates’ access to healthcare, and on bedding and overcrowding issues, as well as on house demolitions and forced evictions, allegations on use of force during said demolitions, and reports of family separations resulting from these practices. Was a moratorium on mass evictions being considered until appropriate regulations were put in place in Lagos state?
On liberty and security of persons, Experts sought clarifications on arrests carried out in the absence of a warrant and the related regulations and safeguards. Lengthy pre-trial detentions remained a problem, and information on this matter was needed. Experts requested assurances that all religious minorities enjoyed freedom of religion, in all states, as the Committee had received reports about Christians in northern states who faced discrimination. How did the Government respond to hate speech and incitements to violence? It was good that Nigeria had an ex-ante process for judicial review. There were reports that mobile phone surveillance was extensive in Abuja. What measures were in place to prevent abuse in this regard? There had been reports of violence occurring in relation to the elections and observers had expressed concerns about the turnout rate, which might be related to internal displacement issues. Could the delegation comment on these issues? Experts asked for information on women’s representation in the north and the elections-related bill that had been vetoed by the President.
On hate speech, Experts asked about its legal definition and safeguards preventing overly broad interpretation. Could the delegation comment on concerns that libel accusations had been used to harass journalists who were critical of the Government? Could it also clarify whether current regulations related to peaceful assemblies required prior authorization by authorities? Were there any plans to adopt comprehensive minority rights protection measures, including on linguistic rights?
Replies by the Delegation
AUDU AYINLA KADIRI, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that answers to some of the follow-up questions had already been provided during the response to the first round of replies. Furthermore, some of the other questions were really unexpected. He urged the Committee to exercise due diligence regarding the veracity of the information that it had received. Some questions posed by Experts should not even have been brought to the delegation.
On arrests, the delegation said a person, after being arrested, was taken to the police station, where he had to opportunity to give an account of what had happened. To kill a fly, one needed not to use a hammer, and this principle guided the use of force in the country. Terrorists had been tried in public trials that were broadcast live on television. Each of them had legal representation and went through the judicial rituals even if they had admitted to their crimes. All public officials were required to declare their assets to ensure no one was living above their means. The Chief Justice was not able to comply with this requirement and retired voluntarily. The National Judicial Council was the body that rendered final decisions on potential applicants’ fitness to be appointed as judges. Politicians did not influence this process.
On the military’s alleged detention of a large number of women, Mr. Kadiri said that to the best of the delegation’s knowledge, this was not true. On the alleged arrests and persecution of bloggers, he said he was not aware of this.
The delegation said that no journalists had been detained. The harassment of journalists only existed in the realm of imagination. There was a free press in Nigeria. Certainly, the Government had electronic media outlets, but there were also several media outlets that were privately owned. In the capital, there was even a private radio focusing on human rights called Human Rights Radio & TV.
Mr. Kadiri said that, as a Nigerian, and having hosted a trade union leader at his residence just a few days ago, he was very surprised to hear allegations that trade unionists were being arrested and killed in his country. The Committee had to exercise due diligence with regard to the information that was given to it about the situation in Nigeria.
On detention conditions, the delegation said that prisoners had free access to education, and quite a number of them had graduated from the National Open University of Nigeria, which had extended its academic activities to prisons. There were Ph.D. candidates in Nigerian prisons. In an effort to decongest the prisons, the Government had constructed a brand new detention facility. In all the prisons, especially those in urban areas, new cell blocks were being constructed. The prisons mentioned by the Committee were exceptional cases, located in rural areas, and were now almost empty. Information on the number of inmates held in Nigerian prisons would be provided at a later time. Prisoners in Nigeria were also trained in certain trades such as carpentry and tailoring to ensure they enjoyed good living conditions after their release.
The issue of housing was overblown, said Mr. Kadiri. Nigeria was developing, and urbanization required that slums be demolished. In some of these areas, people had been living in conditions that were not conducive to their health. They had been given notification and provided with alternatives. The Government had taken care of the displaced persons, alternative accommodation had been provided to them, their children had been enrolled in schools, and livelihoods had been restored, the delegation assured.
Turning to the issue of freedom of religion, the delegation stated that the law mentioned by the Committee was about open preaching. It did not target Christians, but rather everyone who sought to preach outside of places of worship. The law regulated the use of public space, and sought to prevent the propagation of ideas conducive to radicalization. On surveillance, in Nigeria, there was no targeting of people apart from the normal activities by law enforcement agencies to detect and prevent criminal activities. Human rights activists were treated like ordinary Nigerians who were all subject to the law of the land.
Mr. Kadiri, replying to questions on elections, emphasized that the Electoral National Commission was independent. The President had already left to go to his village to vote and was angry when the Commission decided to postpone the elections. Internally displaced persons voted in large numbers in camps; it was not true that they had not been allowed to vote. By and large, the election and its outcome were considered fair and reflective of the will of the people, despite isolated incidents, he added.
The delegation said that, in preparing for the last elections, the Government had strategized to increase the representation of women. This work had started in 2017. Prominent leaders of civil society organizations and leading political parties had been consulted. Programmes had been rolled out to address violence that deterred women from participating in political life. Presently, efforts were being made to appoint more women in critical decision-making positions. Furthermore, the turnout of female voters, especially in the northwest, had been impressive. There had also been female candidates that had put their names forward to become president and vice-president, something which had never happened before.
On the right to assembly, the only thing that was required was notifying the police, and this was done to ensure the police could provide protesters with protection. There had already been action taken prior to the crime bill to address corruption and related offences. The Government had taken measures to forestall illicit financial transaction, and Nigeria had been certified as fulfilling the requirements of the United Nations anti-corruption convention. It was also a member of the Egmont Group. Going forward, Nigeria hoped that international cooperation would improve on these issues. On maternal health, efforts were deployed to build community health centres and provide free medical care to pregnant women.
Mr. Kadiri said there was no structural discrimination against ethnic minorities in Nigeria. Nigeria was a federation of states, not ethnic groups. States did not use ethnic or tribal origins in their social engineering. The existence of three levels of government was enshrined in the constitution. It was not even a matter to be discussed here; nobody would run a modern state based on ethnic groups.
Committee Experts said the remarks about due diligence were out of place, as Experts had had to do a lot of work and research in the absence of a report, and given that the State party had only replied to some of the Committee’s questions.
AUDU AYINLA KADIRI, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the dialogue had been interesting and illuminating and the delegation had done its best to answer the Experts’ questions. “All is well that ends well,” he said, stressing that the delegation and the Committee shared a common purpose. The delegation looked forward to cooperating further with the Committee.
AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation. He recalled that parties to international legal instruments had to abide by their obligations. There was no need to make references to other States, as the focus was on the report at hand. It had been a fruitful debate, he stated.