Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988

Nigeria is ruled by a military regime under President Ibrahim
Babangida, who came to power in an August 1985 coup. He led
the overthrow of a previous military regime, which had seized
power from a civilian government in December 1983. A
30-member Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) is the country's
main decisionmaking organ, while a mixed military/civilian
cabinet presides over the Federal Government's executive
functions. Military governors head each of the 21 states.
The 1979 Constitution remains partially in effect, but
significant provisions, namely those guaranteeing free
elections, political parties, due process, and habeas corpus,
are suspended. Federal and state legislation, promulgated by
decree, is exempt from challenge in the courts. The Federal
Military Government presented plans in 1987 to return the
country to democratic, civilian rule characterized by a
two-party system by 1990--later postponed to 1992. Following
nationwide elections for local governing councils in 1987 and
1988, a constitutional assembly began deliberations on a draft
constitution in June 1988.
The Government enforces its authority through the federal
security apparatus--the military, the State Security Service
(SSS), and the national police--and through the courts. No
separate law enforcement agencies exist at the state and local
levels. The Government generally exercises effective control
over the security apparatus, but deficiencies in organization,
management, and implementation of control have led to human
rights violations.
Nigeria, with an estimated population of 110 million, is
Africa's most populous country. It has a mixed economy in
which the Government plays a major but declining role. In
1986 President Babangida announced a structural adjustment
program calling for increased reliance on market forces and
the private sector. Though the program formally was to end in
June 1988, its essential elements remain in place, including a
sweeping privatization effort affecting 92 state-owned
companies and ambitious diversification projects, e.g., the
liguefied natural gas plan.
Under the AFRC, human rights in Nigeria continued to be
circumscribed in 1988. The Government enforced limits on
press freedom; it proscribed organizations and detained
persons it considered threatening, including journalists and
trade unionists; and constrained political expression and
association, at least until 1989, when some partisan political
activity will be allowed to resume. Nevertheless, the
Government repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to human
rights, which it defines in essentially Western terms, and
initiated steps toward the reestablishment of a democratic
system, e.g., the constitutional assembly. There is tension
between the Government's commitment to fundamental liberties
and its concern to maintain security and order in a country
that suffered a devastating civil war in the mid-1960's and
still experiences strong ethnic, regional, and religious
divisions. However, in the lively press and public operation
of local human rights organizations and among lawyers,
academics, and political leaders, including President
Babangida, human rights is an ongoing subject of debate. A
major human rights concern is the slow pace of the court
system: more than half the prison population has never been
convicted of any crime, although many prisoners have been
awaiting trial for years.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political Killing
There was no evidence of politically motivated killing at
government or private instigation in 1988. The October 1986
letter-bomb killing of the editor-in-chief of an influential
newsmagazine. Dele Giwa, remains unsolved despite a continuing
government investigation.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearance.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
A portion of the 1979 Constitution still in effect outlaws
torture and mistreatment of prisoners. Nigerian law provides
that such excesses be dealt with in criminal or civil
proceedings. There were no reports or allegations of torture
in 1988. However, public allegations and evidence of police
brutality frequently surfaced, primarily in connection with
the treatment of suspected armed robbers.
In 1988 there was considerable attention given to prison
conditions, which remain poor because of the lack of basic
necessities. Food and medical facilities are particularly
inadequate. As a result, malnutrition and disease are
prevalent among those unable to receive support from private
outside sources. The Government has announced plans for a
program to build several new prisons. In May 1987, inmates at
Benin prison rioted over food supplies, resulting in the
deaths of 24 prisoners.
In addition to the poor conditions in the general prison
system, recent confirmed reports indicate that the Government
ran for 10 years an unofficial island prison, Ita-Oko, which
the press reported was set in "some of the most inhospitable
conditions known to man." The prison was closed on September
29, the day its existence was reported in the Lagos press.
Accessible only by boat or helicopter, it was reported to be
escape-proof for its approximately 20 prisoners. The Obasanjo
Government founded the prison in 1978 and originally intended
the island camp to be a "rehabilitation center" for homeless
and idle Nigerians and illegal aliens who, it was alleged,
were prone to crime. Under the Buhari regime it was used to
incarcerate civilian and military detainees. The prison's
population peaked under Buhari, when 50 prisoners were
detained there. According to the Nigerian civil liberties
organization, which discovered the prison, inmates were at the
mercy of the Nigerian security forces who determined their
length of stay.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Babangida Government has retained the authority to detain
without charge persons suspected of acts prejudicial to state
security or harmful to the economic well-being of the country,
as well as those suspected of being a threat to the Government
under Decree 2 of 1984, the State Security (Detention of
Persons) Decree. This Decree suspends sections of the 1979
Constitution guaranteeing citizens the right to fair trial,
due process, and judicial determination of the legality of
detention (habeas corpus). While it imposes no time limit and
disallows challenges of the detention in a court of law, the
Decree provides for administrative review of such cases every
3 months. Several persons, including former politicians
returning from self-exile, were detained under this Decree
during 1987. In 1988 journalists and labor leaders were
detained under this Decree for questioning, usually for
periods of several days. In addition, the Federal Military
Government announced in August 1988 that the authority to
arrest and detain without trial had been extended to the
Minister of Internal Affairs, who will now share this power
with the Chief of General Staff and the Inspector-General of
Some Nigerians were detained in 1988 without being held under
the provisions of Decree '2 of 1984. Cumbersome administrative
procedures and bureaucratic inefficiency can result in persons
suspected of criminal offenses being held for extended periods
without charge or trial. This is so even though provisions of
the 1979 Constitution still in force stipulate that persons
charged with crimes should receive a fair public trial in
civilian courts within 3 months from the date of arrest. The
Minister of Internal Affairs stated in September that, of a
prison population of 58,000, 27,860 prisoners are awaiting
trial. Human rights activists and press reports state that
unless someone outside has kept track of the prisoner and his
case, legal assistance may be delayed for years while the
prisoner remains incarcerated. High Court chief judges
continued in 1988 to exercise their right to release detainees
who have already spent more time in prison than they would
have if they had been convicted for their alleged crimes.
Following religious riots in northern Nigeria in March 1987,
about 700 persons were detained for investigation. The Civil
Disturbances (Special Tribunal) Decree, Decree 2 of 1987,
promulgated after the riots, provided for investigation and
the arrest and trial by a special tribunal of those suspected
of committing specified offenses. Although this Decree made
northern Nigeria's criminal procedure code the applicable law
for the trials, administrative confusion resulted in long
detentions into 1988 without charge or bail for many.
However, by year's end, all of those involved had appeared
before the tribunal, and either had been convicted or
released. The cases of those who were found guilty were being
reviewed by the Kaduna state military governor.
In 1988 the Government continued a process, begun in 1986, of
reviewing the cases of persons detained or convicted under
various decrees during the previous military administration
(1984-1985), many of whom have already been released. At the
end of 1988, the number of political detainees and prisoners
was unknown but believed to be few. Most of those arrested as
a result of the 1985 coup that brought Babangida into power
have been released. Two exceptions had been former Head of
State Muhamadu Buhari and his second-in-command, Tunde
Idiagbon; however, both were released in December but remained
subject to restrictions on their travel abroad. Shehu Shagari
and Alexander Ekwueme, the former civilian President and Vice
President overthrown in 1983, remained under similar
restrictions in 1988.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The 1984 decree modifying the 1979 Constitution left the
judiciary relatively unscathed, but it shifted judicial
responsibility for certain specified offenses to special
military tribunals that were established outside the regular
judicial system. The regular judiciary is composed of both
federal and state courts and includes procedures for appeals
from courts of first instance to appeal courts at state
levels, then to the Federal Court of Appeals, and finally to
the Federal Supreme Court. Courts of first instance under the
1979 Constitution include magistrate or district courts,
customary or area courts, religious or Shari'a courts, and for
some specified cases, the state High Courts. In some
instances, the nature of the case determines which court
enjoys jurisdiction. In others, when jurisdiction is
overlapping, as in the case of customary and Shari'a courts,
the plaintiff can designate the court. Shari'a, or Islamic
Courts, are limited by the Constitution to the 11 northern
states of Nigeria.
Trials in the regular court system are public and adhere to
certain constitutionally guaranteed individual rights. These
include a presumption of innocence, the right to be present at
a public trial, to confront witnesses and present evidence,
and to be represented by legal counsel if desired. In capital
cases, the Government provides counsel for indigent
defendants. In other cases, indigents must rely for counsel
on the Nigerian Legal Aid Council, which has limited
resources. There is a functioning bail system. Bail,
however, is denied to those charged with murder and armed
Through decrees promulgated by the previous military
government that are still in effect, the AFRC transferred
jurisdiction over cases involving corruption, currency
violations, armed robbery, and a variety of miscellaneous
offenses, such as drug trafficking and illegal oil bunkering,
from the civilian judicial system to special military
tribunals. In these cases, those charged have access to legal
assistance, bail (except in the case of armed robbery), and
the right to appeal (except in the case of armed robbery and
conviction under the Civil Disturbances Decree). In contrast
to the previous regime, however, civilian judges head all
Special Tribunals even though a representative of the military
and the police are also included. Convictions for armed
robbery by the Special Robbery and Firearms Tribunals carry
the death sentence and no right of appeal, although the
sentence must be confirmed by state military governors before
it is carried out. Conviction under the Treason and Other
Offenses Tribunal (formed in 1986) also carries the death
sentence and provides for appeal only to the Joint Chiefs of
Staff. The Special Appeal Tribunal began its first hearing in
September 1987. Recommendations of the Appeal Tribunal are
subject to AFRC confirmation.
There is criticism of the mandatory death penalty without
right of appeal, especially for convictions for armed robbery
where the sums involved are minor and there appear to be
irregularities in procedure. Armed robbers have been
sentenced to death for stealing sums as small as about $65.
In another case, 12 males aged 16 to 18 were sentenced to
death in a trial that the press and legal observers charged
was riddled with irregularities. At year's end, the case was
under review by the state governor.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Nigerian society is generally free of arbitrary interference
by the State in the private lives of its citizens. Provisions
of the 1979 Constitution still in force provide for rights of
privacy in the home, correspondence, and oral electronic
communications. While there have been isolated instances of
unauthorized forced entry by security elements, the State does
not carry out general surveillance of the population.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The modified 1979 Constitution continues to provide for
freedom of expression and the press. In addition, the 1979
Constitution reserves for the federal and state governments
the exclusive right to own and operate radio and television
stations. There are no restrictions on ownership of print
media, and Nigeria has a lively press. Among the many
Nigerian daily newspapers are seven privately owned national
dailies with large circulations, one daily owned by the
Federal Government, and another in which the Federal
Government owns a majority share. Many states operate their
own daily or weekly newspapers. In some states, privately
owned dailies compete with state papers. Six weekly
newsmagazines (including two new ones in 1988) vie for
national readership.
In practice criticism of the Government is tolerated, and
there is generally open discussion of political, social, and
economic issues. The AFRC, however, uses various techniques
to limit public political expression and press freedom, e.g.,
it frequently cautions journalists, both publicly and
privately, on their responsibility and the limits of the
Government's tolerance of press freedom. As a result,
journalists maintain that self-censorship is common.
In 1988 federal and state governments continued to interrogate
and detain editors and reporters of newspapers when those
organs published stories with which the Government took strong
exception. There have also been allegations of harassment of
editors and publishers by the security forces. Government
officials have denied access to certain government buildings
(such as State House) to journalists who published stories
which the Government found embarrassing. The magazine This
Week was suspended for several weeks for publishing a story on
the President's advisors.
The Government also influences publications through
administrative means. The military governor of Lagos State
was considering a law which would compel publishers to send
advance copies of publications to state officials when
requested and to inform them of appointments of new editors.
Penalties for violations would include heavy fines or closure
of press offices. Because Lagos is the governmental,
commercial, and information center of Nigeria, this edict
would have repercussions throughout Nigeria if enacted.
Several other states were also reported to have enacted such
laws or to be considering them.
Academic freedom has generally been respected, although events
in 1988 clouded the picture. In March the Government deported
a university professor, Patrick Wilmot, a Jamaican national
who had lived in Nigeria since 1970 and is married to a
Nigerian citizen. Although the Government accused Wilmot of
spying for the South African Government, it never attempted to
bring him to trial, nor did it produce any evidence to
substantiate the charges. The Government, however, accused
Wilmot of being a "radical" and of inciting students to
"radical activities." His deportation came at a time when the
Government had begun to warn Nigerians against so-called
radical activity, and one state governor commented that "the
deportation of Dr. Wilmot is a note of warning to other
university dons who might toe his line." The Government has
also cited the activity of "radicals" within the National
Association of Nigerian students (NANS) and the Nigerian
Labour Congress (NLC) as one of the reasons for banning the
former and suspending the latter. The Academic Staff Union of
Universities (ASUU) was also proscribed by decree in July.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Nigeria's 1979 Constitution assures all citizens the right to
assemble freely and to associate with other persons in
political parties, trade unions, or other special interest
association. In practice, however, there are important
limitations. The provision regarding the right to form and
join political parties was suspended by Decree 9 of 1984.
This Decree also authorizes the Government to dissolve or ban
any other group considered to have objectives similar to those
of a political party. Police monitor gatherings suspected of
violating the ban. The Government frequently reminded
Nigerians during 1988 of the continuing ban on political
activity, and it also disbanded at least one group it
suspected of violating the ban. The Government intends to
allow the formation of political parties, limited to two, in
1989, but has insisted that both political parties must be
national--that is, command significant support in all 21
states--and that neither be based on religion.
Nigerians form and participate in a wide variety of special
interest organizations, including religious groups, trade
groups, women's organization, and professional associations.
Organizations are not required to register with the
Government. Following the March 1987 religious disturbances,
however, the Government required that religious groups be
sanctioned by either the Christian Association of Nigeria or
the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. Permits are not
normally required for public meetings unless the venue is
outdoors in a government facility and police security would be
appropriate. In most states, open-air religious services,
outside a church or a mosque, continue to be prohibited. The
ban on NANS remains in effect, although some universities have
allowed campus student governments to return.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion '
Nigeria's 1979 Constitution prohibits the federal and state
governments from adopting any religion as a state religion.
This is adhered to in practice. Constitutional provisions
providing for freedom of religious belief, religious practice,
and religious education are generally respected. Allegations
persist of harassment of Christians by officials in the
predominantly Muslim areas of northern Nigeria in the form of
bureaucratic obstacles to church construction that delay
projects, sometimes indefinitely. In 1988 Muslims in Plateau
State, where Christians are in the majority in local
governments, made similar charges. There are no restrictions
on the numbers of clergy trained nor on contacts with
coreligionists in other countries. Religious travel,
including the hajj, is permitted and is even subsidized by the
Federal Government. Missionaries and foreign clergy, though
limited by quotas, are permitted to work in Nigeria. The
Government places no obstacles in the way of Nigerian
missionaries working in other countries.
Tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities remain
high in some parts of Nigeria, though there has been no
repetition of the violent religious rioting which took place
in the northern state of Kaduna in 1987. In the aftermath of
those disturbances, the Governm.ent instituted a ban, still in
effect, on all religious organizations on postprimary
campuses, while the right of individual students
to practice their religion in recognized places of worship.
Several state governments temporarily banned religious
preaching and the playing of religious cassettes outside
places of worship, without the written permission of police.
Publication of advertisements paid for by religious
organizations remains banned, and religious programming on
radio and television remains limited in some areas. In July
1987, the Government launched the Advisory Council on
Religious Affairs, comprised of equal numbers of Christian and
Muslim leaders. Some Christian leaders initially boycotted
the Council's proceedings. By mid-1988, the Council had won
acceptance from leaders of both religious communities,
although it had not held a formal meeting by the end of 1988.
The 1982 ban on the Maitatsine religious sect, the source of
bloody disturbances in 1982 and 1983, remains in effect. The
group still exists but is closely monitored by the police.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Nigeria's Constitution entitles citizens to move freely
throughout Nigeria and to reside where they wish. The same
provision prohibits expulsion from Nigeria or the denial of
entry to or exit from Nigeria to any citizen. In general,
these provisions have been observed. Following the local
elections in December 1987 and March 1988, the authorities
ordered in June the chairmen of local government areas to
inform their respective state governors of their travel
outside of their areas. An attempt has also been made to
order traditional rulers to inform local government chairmen
of their travel. Police blockades, ostensibly to combat the
high crime rate, are set up throughout the country, and
security authorities are often accused of demanding bribes or
staging false arrests. There have also been cases of military
personnel harassing citizens or taking the law into their own
hands over personal disputes without being disciplined or
punished. The Government has spoken out against these
practices, but there have been few prosecutions for them.
Nigerians travel abroad in large numbers, and many thousands
are studying abroad. Exit visas are not required. However,
passports of editors and reporters have been seized to prevent
them from traveling after their publications have printed
stories offensive to the Government. Citizens who leave
Nigeria have the right to' return. Citizenship cannot be taken
away for any reason, including political reasons, from persons
who are citizens by birth or naturalization. No known
penalties have been levied on Nigerians who have emigrated,
settled abroad, or acquired another nationality. However,
Nigeria does not recognize dual nationality, and
naturalization in another country does not release Nigerians
from Nigerian laws.
Nigerians are free to change their place of work within
Nigeria, but local laws and custom sometime disadvantage
citizens not indigenous to the area. For example, access to
limited places in elementary and secondary schools is more
difficult for children of residents of other areas who must
also pay higher school fees than the children of local
Nigerian law and practice permit temporary refuge and asylum
in Nigeria for political refugees from other countries.
Nigeria supports and cooperates with the Lagos office of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Repatriation of refugees is normally conducted in accordance
with UNHCR standards. In 1987 and 1988, several hundred
Chadian refugees were repatriated at their request. No
refugees were expelled in 1988.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
In 1988 citizens did not have the right to change their
national or state governments through the electoral process.
The 30-member AFRC headed by President Babangida is the
highest political authority in Nigeria; there is no elected
legislative body, and political parties are prohibited.
President Babangida has repeatedly stated that 1992 is the
date for returning Nigeria to complete civilian rule. The
Government based its program for transition to civilian rule
on the recommendations of the civilian Political Bureau, which
conducted a nationwide year-long public debate on Nigeria's
political future during 1986 and presented its findings to the
AFRC in April 1987. While many of the Bureau's
recommendations were accepted, the Government rejected or
amended many other significant provisions, especially on
socioeconomic policy. An appointed civilian Constitutional
Review Commission completed its work in early 1988 and in
April presented a draft constitution to the AFRC.
In June the Constituent Assembly, made up of representatives
elected by local government areas and including
representatives of special groups (labor, women, religious
leaders) -appointed by the Government, began the process of
ratifying the Constitution. The new Constitution is expected
to resemble closely Nigeria's 1979 Constitution. The
Government, however, recommended a major change calling for a
two-party rather than the multiparty system which permitted
six political parties to participate in the last elections in
1983. While the Government has generally permitted
deliberations to proceed without interference, it ended the
Assembly's debate on extending the jurisdiction of Shari'a
Islamic courts when Christian and Muslim delegates became
The Government also appointed a National Population Commission
to undertake a nationwide census in 1991. The Government has
indicated, however, that the results of the census will not be
used for redrawing political districts for the national
elections in 1992.
In December 1987, the Government organized elections for local
government area councils. In those jurisdictions where the
results of these elections were invalidated because of fraud
or mismanagement (about 6 percent of the total), new elections
were held in March. In September the Federal Military-
Government suspended from office an elected chairman of a
local government area for alleged financial irregularities
connected to his involvement with a state-owned company. This
act established that during the period of transition to
civilian rule, the Federal Military Government may suspend
elected officials without reference to the judiciary.
In local government elections, all citizens 18 years and older
were eligible to vote. Dates have been set for additional
elections at local and state level in the run-up to 1992.
Thousands of former Nigerian government officials, both
civilian and military, are prohibited from participating fully
in the transition process, although they remain eligible to
vote. In September 1987, the Government significantly
extended a ban announced in 1986 on partisan political
activity for a large number of former politicians from the
last civilian regime (1979-83) to include many political
figures from the first civilian republic (1960-66) and past
and present high-ranking military leaders. These persons,
including President Babangida himself, will be barred from
contesting any election until after the transition is
completed in 1992. Also, former politicians who were officers
of the previous parties will be forbidden to hold office in
any political party or to run for elected office until that
time. Furthermore, any person convicted or removed from
office for various misdeeds at any time since 1960 will be
banned for life from contesting elections or holding any
political party office.
Along with the July 1987 announcement of the political
transition program, the Government promulgated Decree 19 of
1987, which makes persons who might in any way forestall or
prejudice the transition program liable to a prison term of up
to 5 years. The Special Tribunal authorized to try offenses
under Decree 19 was formed in October 1987. Its decisions may
be appealed to the Special Appeal Tribunal. In addition,
anyone who takes part in forming a political body prior to the
lifting of Decree 9 (1984) or encourages others to join him in
misrepresenting or distorting the provisions of the transition
program is subject to the same penalty. No one has yet been
charged under Decree 9, but the Government has frequently
warned that such violations are being monitored and are
subject to prosecution.
The composition of the AFRC and Cabinet reflects greater
ethnic and religious diversity than any Government in the
recent past. There are currently no women, however, on the
AFRC or the National Council of Ministers (Federal Cabinet).
Five women serve as directors general in cabinet departments;
some serve on state executive councils or as commissioners in
state governments. A few women also won posts in the local
government area elections in December and March. One woman
sits on the Federal High Court, and several sit on State High
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
As far as is known, the Government did not respond to Amnesty
International's (AI's) several 1988 appeals concerning
commutation of individual death sentences and an end to
executions. There were no investigations of alleged human
rights violations in Nigeria during 1988 by any international
or nongovernmental agency. The Babangida Government has
repeatedly renewed its pledge to uphold basic human rights and
to tolerate criticism from local human rights advocates. It
does not interfere with local human rights organizations. The
Human Rights Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association
monitors the domestic human rights situation and consistently
speaks out against human rights abuses. At least three other
groups also monitor human rights practices in Nigeria: the
Council of Human Rights, an independent organization founded
in late 1985; Citizens for Human Rights; and the Civil
Liberties Organization, which was founded in 1987, discovered
Ita-Oko prison and published what it considered human rights
violations in 1988. The former Bar Association president and
chairman of its human rights committee continues to hold the
post of Attorney General and Minister of Justice. AI
maintains an office in Ibadan and has active chapters
throughout the country, both on university campuses and among
civil servants. Its annual human rights report is publicized
in the Nigerian Press.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
There is no official policy of discrimination among Nigeria's
250 ethnic groups, and laws do not specifically favor one
group over another. The Government generally makes a
conscious effort to strike a balance among different groups in
its decisionmaking and in appointment to key governmental
positions. However, Nigeria has a long history of tension
among the diverse ethnic groups, and tradition continues to
impose considerable pressure on individual government
officials to favor their own ethnic or religious group.
Allegations of religious and ethnic favoritism or harassment
persist. Ethnic and regional hiring quotas based on
considerations of federal character are observed in most
public sector employment. Persons whose family is not
indigenous to their state of residence frequently experience
difficulty in jobseeking, school enrollment, and other areas.
Women have always had economic power and exerted influence in
Nigerian society through women's councils or family
connections. As primary school enrollment increases, women
are gaining greater access to education. There has been a
dramatic increase in the number of women who have university
degrees and who have become professionals, including teachers,
lawyers, doctors, judges, senior government officials, media
figures, and business executives. Despite a degree of
economic independence, women suffer discrimination in
employment and other areas, experience social prejudice, and
have only a few representatives in the political arena.
The pattern of discrimination against women varies according
to the ethnic and religious diversity of Nigeria's vast
population. In some states, husbands can prevent their wives
from obtaining employment or passports. In many states, a
widow cannot inherit her husband's property, which in the
absence of children usually reverts to the husband's family.
Women do not receive equal pay for equal work, and male
professionals receive fringe benefits not extended to their
female counterparts. Female circumcision is still practiced
in some areas, as is the selling of young girls for marriage
by poor rural families.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
In 1981 organized labor claimed 3 million members out of a
total work force of 30 million. All Nigerian workers 16 years
or older may join trade unions, with the exception of members
of the armed forces and designated employees of essential
government services as defined by the Federal Military
Government, which it may vary by decree. Employers are
obliged to recognize trade unions and must pay a dues checkoff
for employees who are members of a registered trade union.
Nigeria has an active trade union movement, and one which has
been, within limits, relatively free. However, this movement
has been subject to government oversight which reached
extraordinary proportions during 1988.
Despite provisions in the 1979 Constitution and Nigeria's
ratification of 28 International Labor Organization (ILO)
conventions, government decrees and policy continue to
restrict labor freedoms. A 1978 decree created a single
central labor body, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)
forcibly merged a number of unions into 42 industrial unions,
and deregistered all other unions. The Government has not
acted upon the ILO Committee of Experts' finding, first
enunciated in 1979 and subsequently repeated, that this decree
violates ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and
protection of the right to organize, to which Nigeria is a
party. Nor has the Government accepted the Committee of
Experts' recommendation that the decree be amended.
Since 1978 the NLC has been subject to close government
oversight. In February 1988, the Government dissolved the
national and state executive councils of the NLC, appointed a
temporary administrator, and in September announced that it
would merge the present 42 unions into 19 prior to holding new
NLC elections in December; the plan was abandoned prior to the
The 1978 decree also created senior staff associations for
white collar workers, which a 1986 decree explicitly excluded
from NLC membership, forcing two such associations to withdraw.
Since 1975 government policy has permitted international labor
affiliation only with the ILO and the Organization of African
Trade Union Unity and associated pan-African labor
federations. Government policy does permit, however, informal
"fraternal relations" with foreign unions and international
trade secretariats as long as there is no formal affiliation.
The right to strike is recognized by law, again except in the
case of essential services. The definition of essential
services varies; in 1988 nurses struck and were allowed to
negotiate their grievances. On the other hand, during the
April-May labor unrest, the Federal Military Government made
it clear that strikes by utility workers would not be
Work stoppages, strikes, and protests during 1988 focused
primarily upon worker and trade union opposition to the
Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and pay issues. The NLC
organized a campaign in November 1987 to protest against the
Government's announced intent to remove or reduce oil
subsidies as a part of the SAP. A series of nationwide
strikes, focused in the north, took place in April when the
Government raised petroleum product prices by amounts varying
from 6 percent to 300 percent. The Government detained an
estimated 140 workers and trade union leaders in the wake of
these strikes. They were eventually released as part of an
agreement between the unions and the Government to end the
strikes and to undertake extended discussion between
government and labor representatives over the issues
involved. Those discussions continued at year's end.
University lecturers went on strike in June to demand payment
of salary increases promised them since January, and bank
workers were also on strike in July demanding payment of new
salary increases. In October some senior employees of the
National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) disrupted power in
the north and elsewhere, demanding NEPA's commercialization,
removal of employees from the civil service structure, and
increased salaries. In November railway workers struck for 1
day to press their demand for 3-months' back salaries.
Dockworkers went on strike in December, protesting the delayed
payment of salary step increases to which they were entitled.
In response to the June strike by professors and staff, the
Government proscribed the Academic Staff Union of Universities
(ASUU) , which has not been replaced by another organization.
Government officials claimed the strike continued illegally
after the dispute had been referred to the industrial
arbitration panel. The 1978 Trade Disputes Decree forbids
strikes and lockouts while disputes are under mediation by
this body. In December, 11 senior NEPA employees were
sentenced to life imprisonment, subject to confirmation by the
AFRC, for conspiracy and inducing certain employees to disrupt
electrical power service. Also in December, the Government
released three bank union officials, who had been detained
since July. The release of the bank officials was believed to
be a good will gesture toward the newly elected President of
the NLC, Paschal Bafyau.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The labor laws of Nigeria permit collective bargaining between
management and trade unions. However, a series of restrictive
measures imposed by the Government during the last 2 years
significantly reduced the range of issues left for
bargaining. In February 1987, the National Economic Emergency
Decree of 1985, which granted the Federal Military Government
broad authority over labor matters, was extended for 2 more
years. The Federal Military Government transferred to state
governments the power involuntarily to deduct special levies
from the salaries of workers for financing state development
projects. A national wage freeze, imposed in 1984, was lifted
in January, allowing a return to collective bargaining on
basic salary levels. Collective bargaining is common in the
industrial sector of the economy which, however, is relatively
small. Nigerian law protects workers against retaliation by
employers for labor activity. Labor legislation is applied
uniformly throughout Nigeria.
I c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Nigeria's 1979 Constitution provides that "no person shall be
required to perform forced or compulsory labor." While this
provision is generally observed, two exceptions have been
made. The first is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)
begun under the Gowon regime (1966-1975). All Nigerian youths
or young adults who have completed college or university
training and are under the age of 30 must complete 1 year of
work in the NYSC. Jobs range from agriculture to office work
and teaching, and some effort is made to match jobs with
previous training or post-NYSC occupational goals. The
Government also attempts to use the NYSC to build "federal
character" by sending individuals to work in parts of the
country away from their area of upbringing or ethnic
affiliation. The other exception is the environmental
clean-up campaign, begun under the Shagari regime and
continued by the present Government. All citizens are
required to spend the morning of the final Saturday of each
month tidying their house, yard, and neighborhood. All
movement during this period is suspended, and persons may be
arrested for violating this rule. This does not include
emergencies or official travel. At the end of the morning,
full freedom of movement is restored.
The ILO Committee of Experts has noted that various provisions
of the Labor Decree of 1974, the Merchant Shipping Act, and
the Trade Disputes Decree of 1976 impose sanctions that
obligate work for breaches of labor discipline or for taking
part in a strike. The Committee has urged the Government to
adopt the necessary measures to bring these laws into
compliance with ILO Convention 105.
d. Minimum Age of Employment of Children
Nigeria's 1974 Labor Decree prohibits employment of children
under 15 years of age in commerce and industry and restricts
other child labor to home-based agricultural or domestic
work. The Labor Decree does allow the apprenticeship of
youths aged 13 to 15, but only under specific conditions.
Apprenticeship exists in a wide range of crafts, trades and
state enterprises; with respect to apprentices over the age of
15, their activity is not specifically regulated by the
Government. As most of Nigeria's large population lives in
rural areas, the Government's ability to enforce these laws is
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Nigeria's 1974 Labor Decree also established a 40-hour
workweek, prescribes 2 to 4 weeks of annual leave, and sets a
minimum hourly wage for commerce and industry which amounts to
about $25 a month. This wage is sufficient only for the most
minimal standard of living in the cities. The 1974 Decree
contains general health and safety provisions, some aimed
specifically at young and female workers, enforceable by the
Ministry of Employment, Labour, and Productivity. Employers
must compensate injured workers and dependent survivors of
those killed in industrial accidents. The ineffectiveness of
the Ministry in enforcing these laws in the workplace is
regularly criticized by labor unions