Nigeria's Human Rights Record: An Assessment of the Last Two Decades

The struggle for human rights in Nigeria has been long, arduous, and continues to this day. Before establishing the current democratic government in 1999, Nigerians were subjected to sixteen years of oppressive military rule marked by scores of human rights violations. The Nigerian military not only governed with brute force but also institutionalised human rights violations into the Nigerian legal system through decrees. For example, during the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari, the state promulgated Decree No.2 which permitted indefinite detention without trial and the infamous Decree No.4 punishing free speech. The disregard for human rights violations is common in dictatorships. It is also on this basis that democracy has gained ascendancy, globally, as the best form of government with the greatest capacity to promote development and guarantee the fundamental rights of citizens. Therefore, the return of Nigeria to democracy and the consequent inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 was marked with widespread optimism around an improvement in respect for human rights. Especially as the 1999 constitution explicitly stipulated fundamental human rights provisions such as the right to life, the right to assemble freely, freedom of expression, and personal liberty. This report examines human rights conditions in Nigeria since 1999 and compares them to the constitutional guarantees and international human rights standards. The performance of human rights conditions was measured based on the state's performance around four key indicators: unlawful detention, torture and extrajudicial killings, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression and the press.

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