I conducted an official country visit to Nigeria from 19 August to 3 September 2019. I warmly thank the Federal Government of Nigeria for their invitation to visit the country, and the officials I met for their availability and support.
I also thank the United Nations (UN) Office in Nigeria and the UN country team. Their logistical and substantive support during my visit was invaluable.
The principal goals of my visit were to examine situations of violations of the right to life by State and non-State actors; the Federal State security strategy and the responses at Federal and State level to allegations of arbitrary deprivation of life. I considered violations allegedly committed by State security agencies and by non-State actors, particularly in the North East, Middle Belt and South of the country, as well as actions taken by the State to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. I also examined specifically the killings of women and members of the LGBTQI community, and, as part of my gender-sensitive approach to my mandate, I included a focus on Nigeria’s criminalization of abortion.
During the twelve days of my mission, I held meetings with the Permanent Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the United Nations Office in Geneva and in New York, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the African Union, representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the Department of Security Services, the National Commission for Refugees and IDPs., the National Security Advisor, the Director of Legal Services of the Federal Ministry of Defence, and the Commander of Operation Safe Haven, the National Human Rights Commission, and representatives of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). I also held meetings with authorities at the State level, including the Security Adviser for the Governor of Benue State, the Commissioner for Defence, the Commissioner for Police and the Director of State Security Services of Benue State; the Attorney General of Plateau; and the Governor of Rivers State.
I met with members of the diplomatic community, international, regional and national human rights organizations; with women and men working for human rights at the grassroots level; with community and religious; media workers, including journalists; activists; LGBTQI individuals; internally displaced women and men; and with victims of human rights violations and abuse, including survivors, eye witnesses and family members whose relatives have been brutally killed.
These preliminary findings have been presented today to the authorities as part of the end of mission debriefing. The official final report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2020. I am looking forward to engage and work with the Government and all relevant stakeholders to receive more information and clarification on these preliminary observations.
The overall situation that I encountered in Nigeria gives rise to extreme concern. By many measures, the Federal authorities and the international partners are presiding over an injusticepressure cooker. Some of the specific contexts I examined are simmering.
The warning signs are flashing bright red: increased numbers of attacks and killings over the last five years with a few notable exceptions; increased criminality and spreading insecurity; widespread failure by the federal authorities to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, even for mass killings; a lack of public trust and confidence in the judicial institutions and State institutions more generally; high levels of resentment and grievances within and between communities; toxic ethno-religious narratives and “extremist” ideologies - characterised by dehumanization of the “others” and denial of the legitimacy of the others’ claims; a generalised break down of the rule of law, with particularly acute consequences for the most vulnerable and impoverished populations of Nigeria.
Over the course of its tumultuous history, Nigeria has confronted many challenges and much conflict, including military rule and mass killings. It has also experienced economic boom and considerable economic growth, particularly in the 1990s thanks to its oil resources. Perhaps it is this history that leads (some) commentators, analysts and even officials themselves to downplay or ignore the warning signs or to assume that no matter their gravity that these will be overcome.
However, the absence today of accountability functionality is on such a scale that pretending this is anything short of a crisis is a major mistake. It is a tragedy for the people of Nigeria. Unchecked, its ripple effects will spread throughout the sub-region if not the continent, given the country’s central economic, political and cultural leadership role.