Dear Acting President Jonathan,

We write to you as acting president of Nigeria to urge you to use your time in office to put the protection of human rights at the center of your presidential agenda. Concretely, we urge you to take meaningful steps to address the impunity that underscores so many of Nigeria's very pressing human rights problems, including endemic corruption, inter-communal violence, abuses by state security forces, and the crisis in the Niger Delta.

The two and a half years of the Yar'Adua presidency have seen a disappointing rate of progress, if not significant setbacks, in addressing these concerns. You have the chance to do better. Not only has the Nigerian government undermined efforts to tackle widespread corruption, but government security forces continue to commit serious abuses, such as extrajudicial killings and torture, with impunity. Promising initiatives that were undertaken by the Yar'Adua administration, such as police and electoral reform, have yet to translate into any tangible policy changes. Meanwhile, the government's 2009 amnesty plan for the Niger Delta has failed to address the root causes of the violence and instability - corruption and mismanagement of oil wealth and the arming of criminal gangs by ruling-party politicians.

Human Rights Watch is encouraged by your February 9, 2010 statement to the nation pledging to tackle the prevailing "culture of impunity" in Nigeria and to "more robustly" prosecute the anti-corruption campaign. Your removal, the following day, of Justice Minister and Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa, under whose watch this culture of impunity flourished, was an important first step. We urge you in your capacity as acting president to continue this positive momentum to tackle the following serious human rights problems.

Inter-Communal Violence

The January 2010 deadly outbreak of sectarian violence in Jos and surrounding communities in Plateau State left several hundred dead. We estimate that since 2001, the lives of at least 3,000 Nigerians have been blighted in four major episodes of inter-communal violence in Plateau State, and yet, those who have committed these terrible acts of violence have not been held accountable.

Indeed, the failure to hold the perpetrators accountable fuels these recurring outbreaks of inter-communal violence across Nigeria, which have claimed the lives of more than 13,500 in the past decade. In a statement to the nation on January 21 you pledged to hold accountable the perpetrators and sponsors of the most recent violence in Plateau State. We urge you to follow through on this very welcome statement by ensuring that the police conduct a thorough criminal investigation, with prosecutions of those responsible for these horrific crimes.

We further urge you to take steps to overturn what we believe to be one of the root causes of inter-communal violence in Nigeria: state and local government policies that deny "non-indigenes" - people who cannot trace their ancestry to what are said to be the original inhabitants of an area - the right to compete for state and local government jobs and that discriminate in admission to state-run universities. These discriminatory policies exacerbate ethnic divisions in communities and relegate millions of Nigerians to the status of second-class citizens in their state of residence.

Human Rights Watch urges you to take the following concrete steps to end the impunity and discriminatory government policies that sustain this cycle of violence:

  • Investigate, arrest, and prosecute according to international fair trial standards the individuals responsible for organizing or carrying out the January 2010 sectarian violence in Jos and neighboring communities, including the January 19 massacre of at least 150 people in the town of Kuru Karama, as well as the previous inter-communal clashes that left hundreds dead in Plateau State (2001, 2004, 2008), Kano (2004), and Kaduna (2000 and 2002).
  • Sponsor legislation that expressly bars all federal, state, and local government institutions from discriminating against "non-indigenes" with respect to any matter not directly related to traditional leadership institutions or other purely cultural matters.

Conduct of Security Forces

Human Rights Watch notes with concern that the Nigerian security forces, most notably the Nigeria Police Force, have consistently been implicated in serious human rights violations. In the course of their normal duties, the police routinely extort money from ordinary citizens, carry out extrajudicial killings, and torture criminal suspects in police custody.

The Nigerian police were credibly implicated in several highly publicized extrajudicial killings in July 2009 during clashes in northern Nigeria between security forces and a militant Islamist group known as Boko Haram. The violence left more than 800 people dead, most of whom, according to government authorities, were suspected Boko Haram members. On July 30, the police brazenly executed Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of Boko Haram. Despite the then attorney general's August 2009 acknowledgement to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights of Yusuf's killing in police custody, and his pledge to investigate the killing, not a single police officer has been disciplined for the extrajudicial killing of Yusuf and other suspected Boko Haram members.

These were not isolated abuses by the security forces. In responding to the November 2008 sectarian violence in Jos, the police and military were collectively implicated in more than 130 unlawful killings during which police officers or soldiers gunned down residents in their homes, chased down and killed unarmed men trying to flee to safety, and lined up victims on the ground and summarily executed them. Once again, the responsible authorities have failed to hold anyone accountable for these crimes. Meanwhile, the authorities have still not brought to justice members of the military implicated in the massacre of more than 200 civilians in Benue State in 2001 and the complete destruction of the town of Odi, Bayelsa State, in 1999.

Human Rights Watch is encouraged by your statement on February 9 that the "government will not tolerate the culture of impunity that is fast becoming an unwelcome part of our socio-political life" in Nigeria and, as such, we urge you to take the following steps:

  • Launch transparent, comprehensive, and impartial investigations into members of the security forces allegedly responsible for the killing of hundreds of people in Maiduguri, Borno State (2009), Jos, Plateau State (2008), and Benue State (2001), and for the razing of the town of Odi in Bayelsa State (1999). Prosecute in accordance with international fair trial standards those found implicated in abuses.
  • Order the inspector general of police to set up a national plan of action to root out endemic corruption and widespread abuses in the police force, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and extortion.


We welcome your commitment to "more robustly" carry out anti-corruption efforts and to "strengthen the capacity" of Nigeria's anti-corruption agencies. The fledging anti-corruption campaign suffered a series of setbacks under the Yar'Adua presidency, including the removal of Nuhu Ribadu, the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), two weeks after he filed charges against the powerful former Delta State governor James Ibori. Senior EFCC investigators and prosecutors were also sacked, and in December 2009 corruption charges against Ibori were dismissed.

While Farida Waziri, the current EFCC head, has secured the conviction of ruling-party chieftain, Olabode George, and brought corruption charges against a handful of government officials and powerful bankers, she has failed to indict key allies of President Yar'Adua's who are credibly implicated in the massive looting of the state treasury, including former Rivers State governor Peter Odili. Meanwhile, the country's tremendous oil wealth, which could have been used to improve the lives of ordinary Nigerians, continues to be squandered and siphoned off by the governing elite, leaving poverty, malnutrition, and mortality rates among the worst in the world.

We urge you to follow up on your commitment to address corruption by taking the following steps to strengthen the capacity of Nigeria's anti-corruption agencies:

  • Call on the National Assembly to pass the Freedom of Information bill, which would give Nigerians the legal right to compel government institutions to release important information such as government budgets, expenditure reports, and financial audits.
  • Enact a law requiring the president, all members of the National Assembly, and all ministers in the federal cabinet to issue and publicize annual declarations of the total value of all personal assets. Require all state governors and senior state and local government officials to do the same.
  • Subject state and local government expenditures to greater oversight and transparent audits. This should include requiring all state and local governments to compile and regularly publish funding sources, budgets, expenditure reports, and contracts awarded, and requiring that funds allocated to discretionary budget lines be reported in detail.
  • Investigate, arrest, and prosecute according to international fair trial standards, or publicly explain the reasons for not prosecuting, the former state governors identified in 2006 as "corrupt" by then-EFCC executive chairman Nuhu Ribadu.
  • Propose an amendment to the Nigerian Constitution that would rescind the immunity from all criminal prosecution currently enjoyed by sitting governors.

Violence and Poverty in the Niger Delta

The government's 2009 amnesty, cash payouts to armed militants, and a proposal to give oil-producing communities a 10 percent stake in government oil ventures bought some respite from militant attacks in the Niger Delta. However, the amnesty has further entrenched impunity and failed to address the government corruption, political violence, and environmental degradation that underlie the violence and discontent in the Niger Delta. A similar amnesty granted to rival armed groups in 2004 failed to end the Niger Delta violence. Indeed, kidnappings and attacks on oil facilities have started again and militants have pledged to launch new attacks.

The two years prior to the 2009 amnesty were marked by a worrying increase in armed attacks by militants on oil facilities and kidnappings of oil workers and ordinary Nigerians in the Niger Delta. Not without irony, many of the armed groups active today gained their experience and power as hired guns for ruling-party politicians who, since at least 2003, have used armed gangs to violently rig elections and provide security for illegal oil "bunkering" operations. Oddly, Nigerian authorities have remained unwilling to apprehend and bring to justice the state agents who have armed and mobilized criminal gangs in the Niger Delta.

The failure of successive presidents to meaningfully investigate, arrest, and prosecute those involved in the embezzlement of Nigeria's vast oil wealth has greatly sustained crushing poverty and further fueled the culture of impunity. Human Rights Watch therefore urges you to take the following concrete steps to tackle the corruption and political violence that underlie the Niger Delta conflict:

  • Launch an independent inquiry to establish the links between government officials and criminal activities in the Niger Delta such as oil "bunkering" and the sponsorship of criminal gangs. Prosecute in accordance with international fair trial standards those found implicated in arming and sponsoring criminal gangs.
  • Investigate, arrest, and prosecute according to international fair trial standards state and local government officials in the Niger Delta responsible for embezzling public funds, including former Rivers State governor Peter Odili and former Delta State governor James Ibori.

Free and Fair Elections

The 2007 elections were marred by widespread violence, vote-rigging, and intimidation. President Yar'Adua promised to reform Nigeria's violent and corrupt electoral process. However, two and a half years later, electoral reforms have stalled, and recent state elections in Ekiti and Anambra were again characterized by intimidation and fraud rather than the will of the people.

Human Rights Watch welcomes your recent call to prosecute all those who committed electoral offenses in the February 6 elections in Anambra State. But we note with concern that Nigerian authorities have still not investigated, much less prosecuted, those responsible for sponsoring or carrying out the 2007 election violence that left at least 300 dead.

We also emphasize the urgent need for credible and impartial leaders to uphold the integrity of electoral laws and institutions, noting with concern that the current chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Maurice Iwu - who has presided over and legitimized the results of these phenomenally flawed elections in Nigeria - has long lost the confidence of leading civil society groups, the Nigerian Bar Association, and Nigeria's opposition parties.

To begin to restore confidence in Nigeria's broken electoral system, we urge you to take the following immediate steps:

  • Dismiss the current INEC chairman Maurice Iwu and appoint, for approval by the Senate, a new chair who has broad civil society support and the confidence of Nigeria's political parties.
  • Launch a transparent, comprehensive, and impartial investigation into allegations of corruption, vote-rigging, and sponsorship of political violence committed during and since the 2007 elections by elected officials, members of the police force, and INEC personnel. Prosecute in accordance with international fair trial standards those found implicated in election violence and fraud.

The Nigerian government under your leadership can and should tackle the culture of impunity that allows the serious human rights problems outlined in this letter to persist. We urge you to exercise bold leadership by ensuring accountability for these abuses and to address their root causes. Human Rights Watch stands ready to assist you in this urgent effort.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch


Attorney General and Minister of Justice Kayode Adetokunbo
Minister of Police Affairs Ibrahim Lame
Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Ufot Ekaette
President of the Senate David Mark
Speaker of the House of Representatives Dimeji Bankole
Inspector General of Police Ogbonna Onovo
Farida Waziri, Executive Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
Roland Ewubare, Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission
EU Head of Delegation in Nigeria David MacRae
UK High Commissioner to Nigeria Bob Dewar
US Ambassador to Nigeria Robin Sanders