My memo to Nigeria's next president: you must prioritise human rights

As tens of millions Nigerians prepare to cast their vote for their next president, my message to the winner of these elections is this: make human rights your top priority.

For too long, 'human rights improvements' seem to have lingered at the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list for Nigeria’s authorities. Whether it be instability as a result of armed insurgents, an unfair justice system, the consequences of environmental devastation, inadequate housing or (for some) lack of clean water, the next president has a lot to address.

Last month, the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan postponed polling day in an attempt to secure areas in the north-east which have been blighted by Boko Haram.  The supposed rationale was to pave a safe way for the potential voters living in affected areas to safely reach a polling station, as the instability across the region effectively left them disenfranchised.

Noble efforts it would seem. However given that just a few days ago, there were reports of yet another kidnapping of hundreds of boys, girls and women by Boko Haram (which the government has denied) and threats of disruption on election day – it would appear that this operation has not been wholly successful.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has blighted parts of Nigeria for years. In January Amnesty reported on one of the worst attacks committed – on Baga and its neighbouring towns – which left hundreds of people dead, and over 3,700 structures damaged or completely destroyed.

Despite Boko Haram’s serial atrocities, the Nigerian government’s response has been woefully slow. Regional summits, global outcry and social media campaigns have taken place. Yet little has been done to bring perpetrators to account or to provide basic security for those affected.

Meanwhile in the Niger Delta, thousands have suffered from environmental devastation, as a result of hundreds of oil spills. Thousands of villagers have had to drink polluted water, eat fish that reeks of petrol and farm on spoiled land. In a rare victory earlier this year, more than 15,000 people were awarded a £55 million out-of-court settlement with Shell Petroleum. However given the oil giant has tentacles in the Nigerian government, Shell has been able to evade responsibility for decades of environmental damage to the Niger Delta. 

Human rights concerns in Nigeria are not confined to north-east or in the Niger Delta. Poverty and inequality ravage much of the country. Millions of people lacking access to adequate housing have been forcibly evicted from their homes.  Lagos, for example, is a clear example of where poverty and riches collide.

Meanwhile, 68% of the 55,000 people held in Nigeria’s overcrowded prisons have been convicted but have been waiting, for their cases to conclude. Those who have been convicted have been through unfair trials and torture in custody is rifeMoses Akatugba, tortured in detention and sentenced to death for a crime allegedly committed while he was a juvenile, is one of more than a thousand people currently languishing on death row.

Elections on 28 March provide a great chance for Nigerians to urge the next president to make human rights their top priority and to ensure all legal steps are taken to provide safety for all its civilians. Let’s get those human rights ‘to-do's ticked off the list.


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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