Nigeria Fails to Guarantee Human Rights for Marginalised Groups

By Babatunde Okunoye and Ashnah Kalemera |

With a population of over 190 million, Nigeria is Africa’s largest telecommunications market, boasting more telephone and internet users than any other country on the continent. Over the past 20 years, the country has transitioned from a military regime to a relative democracy, albeit with human rights challenges,  especially for marginalised populations and increasingly, in the online sphere.

With an internet penetration of 27%, millions of Nigerians have flocked online to communicate and express themselves in ways not possible during the decades of military rule. The internet and social media have become effective vehicles for channelling citizens’ criticism of government, and have also enabled journalists to quickly report and disseminate stories on corruption and poor service delivery.

However, the vigorous online activity of Nigerians has been met with stiff resistance from the political elite. Although sections 38 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantee freedom of thought and expression, a number of laws restrict free speech. Among them is the 2015 Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevent) Act. Section 24 of this law which speaks to cyber-stalking is a major instrument for the prosecution of bloggers, journalists and critical voices online.

Similarly, sections 52 and 60 (chap. 7) of the Criminal Code provide that slander, libel and defamation are criminal offences punishable by imprisonment. Accusations of libel are used by state authorities against journalists and bloggers for critical or “negative” reporting. Meanwhile, although the Constitution guarantees the privacy of citizens’ correspondence, Nigeria has no specific legislation that protects data privacy of citizens offline and online.

As a United Nations (UN) member state, Nigeria underwent the third cycle human rights assessment under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism during the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in November 2018. In its national report, the Nigeria delegation noted the development of a Cyber Security Strategy with key components on data protection and privacy. It added that the country was in the process of finalising a national action plan on business and human rights “in response to the call by the United Nations to address the negative impact of business on human rights.”

During the session, Nigeria went on to receive a total of 290 recommendations regarding human rights protection at legal and institutional level. Whereas digital rights including the right to privacy and the right to freedom of opinion and expression online were not reflected in the recommendations made to Nigeria, five from Australia, Italy, Canada, Ireland and Chile relating to freedom of association, expression, and privacy are implicitly relevant to the online sphere. Nigeria also received up to 14 recommendations on equality and non-discrimination, with regards to women and sexual minorities, which are relevant to internet freedom.

These recommendations echoed those in previous reviews  that remained largely unimplemented, with the internet freedom landscape characterised by censorship, arbitrary detentions and arrests of journalists, bloggers and citizens for comments made online. Obtaining access to public information also remained a challenge, as did access and affordability to the internet. Read more about UPR and internet Freedom in Nigeria under cycle one and two and recommendations submitted  by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Small Media, and Paradigm Initiative

In March 2019, Nigeria went on to accept 240 of the 290 recommendations. It is reported that the Nigerian delegation stated that they did not support recommendations on rights of sexual minorities, on the grounds of being “against national values”. Provisions under section 4 of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act prohibit the “registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations” as well as “the public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly”. If found guilty, the penalty is 10 years imprisonment.

As internet freedom advocacy in Nigeria continues, including via the push to pass the revised Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, and implementation of the recommendations from the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in preparation for Nigeria’s next UPR in November 2023, it is imperative that efforts emphasise the need for freedom of opinion, expression, association and assembly, online and offline, to be realised for all segments of society – including religious, ethnic and sexual minorities.

Apply For UPRoar: Advocating for Internet Freedom with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

Apply Now |
Are you interested in Internet Freedom? Are you worried about the social and economic impact of internet shutdowns? The increase of media censorship? Is your government using outdated media laws to regulate online spaces? Are they inventing new policies to clamp down on internet users? Do you want to do something about it?! Then read on!
In the lead up to the 2018 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), Small Media and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) are hosting a 2-day interactive capacity building workshop on Internet Freedom and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The workshop is part of a wider project working to support civil society organisations across Africa to engage with the UPR process through research, capacity development and developing tools to support internet freedom advocacy.
If your application is accepted, you’ll join us in Accra, Ghana, where you and your co-participants will work together on interactive projects with the guidance of our trainers and mentors. You’ll be introduced to the UPR process, learn how to leverage different moments during the UPR timeline for advocacy, practice gathering and analysing data and creating infographic material to campaign around key issues relating to internet freedom, and create a practical advocacy plan that you can implement to follow up on recommendations made in the periodic reviews.
The shining stars who attend this workshop will also have the opportunity to apply to attend a DATA4CHAN.GE (D4C) workshop in 2019 where they will develop data driven advocacy campaigns that support independent research or organisation UPR objectives.
This call is open to individuals who are interested in and preferably have experience in human rights advocacy and are active in the following countries: Angola, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Applicants must have knowledge of Africa’s ICT sector and its role in development and governance. Participants must ensure availability for the duration of the workshop as well as FIFAfrica – 4 days excluding travel.
Complete the application form here.
The deadline for applications is 18.00 East African Time on July 31, 2018.
For questions, please email [email protected].

Universal Periodic Review: Civic Groups Urge Burundi to Respect Free Expression

By Edrine Wanyama and Kesa Pharatlhatlhe |
The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) alongside Article 19, the East Africa Law Society, the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) and DefendDefenders have called for repeal of Burundi’s Penal Code and the 2015 Press Law to address provisions that undermine freedom of expression. In a submission to the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Burundi to be considered in January 2018, the five organisations highlighted the worsening situation for freedom of expression and association in Burundi since its last UPR in 2013.
The organisations stress the need for the Burundi government to reopen closed radio stations, create an enabling environment for media freedom, and refrain from attacks against journalists and critics. Additionally, the submission called for the establishment of an independent body to conduct thorough investigations into crimes of violence against journalists and opposition leaders.
The UPR submission covers the legal and regulatory framework on freedom of expression, including restrictions on press freedom, restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as freedom of information online and offline in the East African country.
Despite recommendations made to Burundi in the second cycle of the UPR to ensure that these rights are upheld in line with international standards, it continues to maintain a repressive regime. The government has enacted draconian legislation and severely curtailed citizens’ fundamental human rights and basic freedoms.
Article 31 of the country’s constitution guarantees the protection of freedom of expression but it has been undermined by the government’s restrictions on the media, failure to reform existing laws that violate freedom of expression such as the Penal Code Act, and the enactment of laws such as the 2015 Press Law that do not conform to international human rights standards.
In its second review, Burundi received numerous recommendations to safeguard journalists against violence and harassment and to guarantee that journalists and human rights defenders have the freedom to carry out their work independently and without fear of persecution, prosecution or intimidation. However, the country has failed to implement these recommendations. The situation is by the lack of an independent judiciary and law enforcement authorities that condone violations of these rights.
In the latest submission, it is highlighted that the media regulatory body – the National Communications Council (Conseil National de la Communication) lacks independence from the executive and wields broad powers to regulate all media. Additionally, access to information is limited due to the absence of an access to information law..
The submission notes continued efforts to control and limit the online flow of information. It cites cases of government-initiated internet blockages and the arrests of social media users. Further, the introduction of mandatory SIM card registration leaves user information vulnerable to abuse in the absence of a data privacy and protection law.
The report notes that there remain restrictions to freedom of assembly and association including limiting opportunities to demonstrate against the ruling party. Towards the end of 2013, Burundi enacted Law 1/28 to, regulate public demonstrations and assemblies, which contravenes the country’s ’s constitutional guarantees under Article 19 and 32.
The report also notes that the Burundi government has failed to fully implement freedom of assembly and association as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which it is party.
The submission thus echoes recommendations made in the previous UPR round in 2013 and calls for legal reform in the areas of press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information. Additionally, the submission urges Burundi to refrain from blocking access to social media platforms and to repeal legislation on SIM card registration which violates privacy and freedom of expression.
Echoing the 2013 submission, there is also a call for private media establishments shut down by the government to be reopened. The submission also calls for the immediate release of journalists who are in detention and an end to the harassment and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders. This is in the wake of the 2016 indefinite suspension of operating permits of five civil society organisations and five media organisations, including the Burundi Union of Journalists. Additionally, the submission calls for an independent body to regulate the communications sector, in accordance with international and regional freedom of expression standards.
The report calls for the enactment of a right to information law so as to enhance transparency and accountability in governance.
Read the full submission here.