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Human Rights Watch urges Tinubu to respect media freedom, improve human rights

“Tinubu is set to take the reins at a time of deep uncertainty about the nation’s affairs.”

• May 25, 2023
TINUBU; Human Rights Watch

Nigeria: New Government Should Improve on Human Rights

Protect civilians; respect media freedom; prioritise social security

ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigeria’s incoming President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should ensure that human rights are central to all his policies both at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said today in an agenda outlining key human rights priorities for the new administration.

Human Rights Watch, in the agenda, urges the new administration to prioritize improvements in five key areas. They are: to promote civilian protection in conflict areas; respect and protect media freedom and the right to free expression; bolster the social safety net to tackle entrenched poverty and inequality; protect and promote the rights of internally displaced people; and to adopt a foreign policy that centers human rights.

“Tinubu is set to take the reins at a time of deep uncertainty about the nation’s affairs including worsening poverty and inequality, high levels of insecurity, and recurrent violations of civil and political rights,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Once in office, the president-elect should focus on these critical issues and make efforts to reverse course on significant human rights backsliding.”

Tinubu, who was declared winner of the February 2023 presidential elections, is to be inaugurated on May 29 for a four-year term. The elections were marred with irregularities including violence at the polls and an inability to upload election results from polling units in real time. The inauguration is taking place amid ongoing petitions challenging Timbu’s victory at the Court of Appeal, which functions as the presidential election tribunal.

In his campaign manifesto, Tinubu emphasised “security of life and property” as a top priority for his administration. He stated that part of his strategy to achieve this is to “first pull most Nigerians out of poverty and provide the basic needs for a decent life and social justice for all, irrespective of region, tribe, and religion.”

Human Rights Watch urges President-elect Tinubu, once in office, to act on his campaign promises to tackle critical levels of insecurity, ensure civilian protection and accountability for rights abuses, protect Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, and prioritize efforts towards the realization of an adequate standard of living for all. The incoming administration should also support constitutional democracies, especially in West Africa, and stand up for fundamental rights and democratic freedoms in its foreign policy considerations.

Nigeria has been failing to ensure economic and social rights for everyone, including the right to an adequate standard of living, Human Rights Watch said. 

According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 133 million people in the country live in multidimensional poverty, experiencing high levels of deprivation in areas including sanitation, health care, food, and housing. Inequality has also reached extreme levels as the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen at an alarming rate.

However, the country lacks a functioning social security system to protect against economic shocks and income insecurity throughout people’s lives, including during common life events such as old age, unemployment, sickness or giving birth, and caring for dependents.

In the North-West, gangs commonly called “bandits” carry out widespread killings, kidnappings, sexual violence, and looting. In the North-East, the conflict between the Islamist armed group Boko Haram, its breakaway factions, and the Nigerian security forces has killed an estimated 350,000 civilians and created a humanitarian crisis that includes the displacement of more than two million civilians within Nigeria and over 280,000 to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. 

In the South-East, anti-government groups apparently clamouring for secession kill and maim people to enforce their sit-at-home order requiring people to stay home, with the aim of shutting down all public places, including businesses and schools.

Security forces responding to the insecurity and in other instances across the country are implicated in gross human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, and extrajudicial killings. Security forces also use excessive force to suppress citizens’ rights to protest, while the authorities have repeatedly failed to hold officers responsible for abuses to account.

Government actions also indicate significant regression on the right to free expression and media freedom. These include an eight-month ban on Twitter in 2021, efforts to introduce a social media bill aimed among other things at criminalizing government critics, arrests and detentions of critics and journalists, and sanctions on media outlets for critical reporting.

“Tinubu promised to address the cycle of violence, injustices, and endemic poverty that millions of Nigerians face every day,” Ewing said. “The incoming president should put his words into action by taking steps to improve human rights and ensuring that his administration shows the utmost regard for the rule of law and democratic principles.”

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