Background Briefing

Abuse of State Power

As polling day approaches, the federal government is presiding over an increasingly partisan use of state power and resources to further the political agenda of the ruling PDP. Not only have the police failed to curb violence and other abuses related to the elections, but they are alleged to have crippled opposition campaigning in some areas through uneven enforcement of the law. The federal government has also brought “indictments” of questionable legality against opponents of the leadership of the ruling party in an attempt to have them disqualified from the elections. Most troubling of all, INEC has indicated that it may ignore any court ruling ordering a reversal of those disqualifications.

Police Failings and Abuses

In Nigeria, where the illegal use of violence for political ends is common, the police have an essential role in ensuring peaceful, free and fair elections.

The police plan to deploy at least 200,000 officers on election day and have increased those officers’ firepower by equipping them with some eighty thousand newly-purchased firearms.100 However, Nigeria’s police force has shown itself unwilling to actively pursue sponsors of political violence in the run-up to the campaign.101  

Nigeria’s police force as a whole is underpaid and prone to use of violence, torture and involvement in other abuses.102 This gives rise to concern that some officers will be mobilized to help subvert the electoral process in some areas. There have already been complaints from officials and candidates outside the PDP of partisan police behavior in some places. In Anambra State Human Rights Watch received numerous complaints from opposition political figures and from the state governor’s office that Mobile Police (MOPOL) Unit 29 was exclusively deployed to protect and to serve the PDP gubernatorial candidate in the state, Andy Uba, providing armed force far in excess of his security needs wherever he chose to travel within the state.103

In some cases the police have reportedly been used as instruments of harassment against opposition candidates. In December 2006, for example, Chris Ataguwu, AC senatorial candidate for Anambra South senatorial district, was arrested and detained for two weeks without charge and reportedly told that he would be released only if he renounced his intention to stand in the election.104

Several opposition parties have also reported to Human Rights Watch on police interference in their constitutional right to campaign and hold rallies before the elections. In Anambra State, Orumba South District Prince Bonti Onouigbo of Akbo community, the Action Congress organizer in the district complained, “I wrote to the police to ask permission for a rally but it was denied on the pretext of violence. Then the police came to Orumba and were patrolling all over the place.”105 Opposition All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP) officials also claimed that the police turned down requests from the ANPP to hold rallies in four northern states; police officials denied these allegations to journalists.106

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) “Indictments” and Judicial Harassment

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has a laudable record in building cases against numerous allegedly corrupt Nigerian politicians in recent years. But as the elections have drawn near, its actions have sparked considerable controversy. In early February, the EFCC produced a list of 135 would-be candidates whom it claimed were corrupt and thus unfit to stand for election.107 The majority of those listed were either opposition candidates or individuals within the PDP seen as having ties to the vice president.108 Relations between Obasanjo and his deputy have long been tense and degenerated into open political warfare when the vice president spearheaded opposition to Obasanjo’s failed bid to secure a third term in office.


The list has been attacked in many quarters for its apparent selectivity. While numerous members of the opposition were included on the list, it omitted the names of several powerful people within the PDP who are widely seen as corrupt and whom EFCC Chairman Nuhu Ribadu has publicly denounced as corrupt on previous occasions. These included the gubernatorial candidate for the PDP in Oyo state, Christopher Alao-Akala; the vice-presidential candidate for the PDP, Goodluck Jonathan; and the PDP gubernatorial candidate in Ogun State, Olubenga Daniel.109 None of these individuals was on the list published and reviewed by the administrative panel. However, numerous press reports claim that their names were on an earlier draft of the list along with several other allies of the president, but were subsequently struck off at the behest of the presidency.110

Although the EFCC claimed that its list was merely ‘advisory’ to political parties, the federal government promptly set up the ad hoc ‘Administrative Panel’ to investigate the individuals named by the EFCC. It reviewed the cases of 77 and on February 13, 2007 issued a report that purported to “indict” 37 of them after sitting for only 48 hours.111 Those indicted were not given any real opportunity to appear before the panel to defend themselves.

The government has argued that as indictees, the candidates concerned are barred from running for office under the Nigerian constitution, which clearly states that anyone who has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by an “Administrative Panel” is ineligible to stand for election.112 Critics have argued that because of their lack of due process and because the “indictments” are not meant to be followed with any form of legal proceeding but appear designed simply to allow the disqualification of certain individuals from the polls, the relevant constitutional provisions should not be held to apply. In any case, the defendants’ fundamental and constitutional rights to a fair trial appear to have been disregarded.113

One INEC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Human Rights Watch that INEC Commissioner for Legal Affairs Mohammed Abubakar argued that INEC should not disqualify any of the “indicted” candidates unless ordered to do so by a court of law. Shortly thereafter the commissioner was arrested by the EFCC on charges of corruption.114 “It was a warning to the rest of us,” the INEC official told Human Rights Watch.115

The question of INEC’s mandate to disallow the “indicted” candidates is a matter of serious legal controversy and is currently before the courts. On March 19 a federal high court quashed the government’s case for disqualifying the indicted candidates. The government appealed and at the time of writing the case was working its way towards a final decision by Nigeria’s Supreme Court.116 The Nigerian Bar Association has affirmed that in its opinion, the power to disqualify candidates resides firmly in the courts, by virtue of Section 6 of the 1999 constitution.117 INEC Chairman Maurice Iwu clams that INEC is not “disqualifying” candidates but only “disallowing” them in line with its legal mandate to verify documents submitted to it.118

Through delay tactics, the government may be able to keep the indicted candidates off the ballot regardless of any eventual court ruling. INEC Chairman Maurice Iwu has said that “the time for substitution [of new candidates for those already submitted to INEC by various parties] is over and we cannot substitute any name found defective after this stage.”119 This means that parties whose candidates have been disqualified will not be able to compete in those races at all; the AC for instance will have no presidential candidate if Atiku is not allowed to stand.

INEC’s actions have had the effect of clearing the field of PDP opponents in some key races and eliminating one of the PDP’s two most powerful challengers in the race for President. In Anambra State, INEC has ‘disallowed’ both the sitting Governor of Anambra State Peter Obi and a former governor of the same state, Dr. Chris Ngige, from contesting the elections in Anambra.120 Both Obi and Ngige had planned to stand on behalf of opposition parties who many analysts believe capable of mounting a strong challenge to the PDP in Anambra State. 

Human Rights Watch believes that the selectivity of the EFCC/INEC intervention, coupled with the irregularities and total lack of due process surrounding the work of the panel set up by the presidency amount to a gross interference in the electoral process, and constitutes a violation of Article 25 of the ICCPR. At best, INEC has allowed itself to be shoehorned into a government-dictated timeline that does not afford adequate time for the controversy to be handled by the courts, shortened further because of INEC’s own deadlines for printing the ballot papers. Under the circumstances, INEC’s behavior could either provide significant advantage to the ruling PDP party in many key races, or it could de-stabilize the process. Neither outcome reflects favorably on INEC.

Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and the Action Congress

Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar emerged as one of two prominent opposition candidates for president in the April elections after his well-publicized feud with President Obasanjo led him to decamp from the PDP and accept the presidential nomination of the opposition Action Congress. Since then the presidency has presided over administrative proceedings that have indicted the vice President over the theft of more than $145 million allegedly perpetrated when Abubakar was head of the government’s Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).121 The presidency also engaged in a bid to force the vice president from his office, which would have stripped him of the immunity from criminal prosecution that he enjoys as vice president; that move was struck down by the courts but as of the time of writing the government’s appeal is still pending.

INEC has announced its decision that the vice president’s indictment disqualifies him from standing in the April polls and that his name will be excluded from the ballot. Abubakar is still fighting his exclusion from the April ballot in the court. Government critics argue that his indictment was orchestrated for the sole purpose of eliminating the PDP’s most credible opposition challenger from the polls.

The vice president’s exclusion from the ballot is troubling because it appears to fit into the same pattern as the broader campaign to exclude other prominent opposition candidates from the polls, which has been carried out in a selective manner and with scant regard for due process. Most worrying is INEC’s assertion that even if Abubakar eventually prevails in the courts and obtains a ruling ordering INEC to place him on the ballot, INEC may disregard that ruling for the reason that it will by then have run out of time to print ballots that include the vice president’s name. Maurice Iwu, chairman of INEC, told a press conference on March 15 that, “If INEC accedes to court judgments seeking to change candidates now, fundamental logistic problems would be created. And this may critically affect the ultimate efficiency and success of the elections.”122

Alongside the attempt to exclude the vice president from the ballot, several of his aides and supporters appear to have been targeted for criminal prosecution. The head of the Atiku Campaign Organisation, Iyorcha Ayu, was arraigned before a federal high court, Abuja on a five-count charge of terrorism on February 23, 2007. Ayu, a former president of the Senate and government minister, was granted bail on self-recognition.123

100 Human Rights Watch interview with Sunday Ehindero, inspector general of police, Abuja, February 20, 2007. See also “Police to get 80,000 guns, 32m bullets for elections,” The Vanguard, March 7, 2007.

101 See above, Political Violence.

102 See Human Rights Watch, “Rest in Pieces”: Police Torture and Deaths in Custody in Nigeria, July 2005.

103 Human Rights Watch interviews, Awka February 12-16, 2007.

104 Human Rights Watch interview with Action Congress official and former Deputy Governor Anambra State, Dr. Chimweke, Awka, February 12, 2007.

105 Human Rights Watch interview with Prince Bonti Onouigbo, Awka, February 12, 2007.

106 The Vanguard reported that police officials stated publicly that Buhari was “persona non-grata” in the state. The Vanguard , March 7, 2007.

107 Abdul Jimoh, “EFCC Release lists of candidates adjudged corrupt and unfit for elections,” Sahara available at (accessed March 16, 2007).

108 The list, for example, included a surprisingly large number of PDP politicians from the vice president’s home state of Adamawa. The full list is available online at

109 Human Rights Watch interviews with journalists; a copy of the list that is purportedly the original includes these names and is on file with Human Rights Watch.

110 Abdul Jimoh, “EFCC releases lists of candidates adjudged corrupt and unfit for elections”,, see also The Sun, February 10, 2007.

111 Report of the Administrative Panel of Inquiry on Alleged Corrupt Practices of Some Public Officers and Other Persons, on file with Human Rights Watch.

112 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Articles 66(1)(h), 107(1)(h), 137(1)(i) and 182(1)(i).

113 Emeka Mamah, This Day, March 20, 2007. In accordance with Article 25 of the ICCPR, persons who are otherwise eligible for election should not be unreasonably or arbitrarily excluded. Removal from office or exclusion from eligibility for elected office should be established by law and incorporate fair procedures. See Human Rights Committee, General Comment 25 (57), Adopted by the committee at its 1510th meeting, July 12, 1996, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.7.

114 See Ike Abonyi And Chuks Okocha, “EFCC Arrest 3 INEC Commissioners, director,” This Day, February 15, 2007.

115 Human Rights Watch interview with INEC official [name withheld], Abuja February 19, 2007.

116 Emeka Mamah, “Court quashes Govt Paperon Atiku”This Day, March 20, 2007.

117 David Iriekpen.

118 Luka Biluyat and Emmanuel Ulayi, “INEC clears 486 for Guber Polls,” The Vanguard, March 9, 2007.

119 Luka Biluyat and Emmanuel Ulayi, “INEC clears 486 for Guber Polls,” The Vanguard, March 9, 2007 .

120 Chris Ngige became governor of Anambra on the PDP ticket following the 2003 elections. He was subsequently stripped of his office amidst allegations that the election had been rigged and his opponent, Peter Obi of APGA, was installed in his place. Obi himself was briefly impeached in a highly controversial move by PDP state legislators but was then reinstated and continues to occupy the governor’s office.

121 See “Nigeria Senate Urges Action on VP,” BBC News Online, February 27, 2007, (accessed March 16, 2007).

122 Emmanuel Bello and Aliyo Machika, “Atiku not on INEC list,” Daily Trust, March 16, 2007.

123 Nigerian Tribune, February 26, 2007 at