(Abuja) - Candidates in Nigeria's April 2011 elections should put the country's pervasive human rights problems at the heart of their political campaigns, platforms, and upcoming debates, Human Rights Watch said today in a "Human Rights Agenda" to candidates. If elected, they should carry out long overdue reforms, Human Rights Watch said.

On April 2, 9, and 16, respectively, Nigeria will hold legislative, presidential, and gubernatorial elections. Those elected will need to address the country's profound human rights challenges: communal violence, abuses by government security forces, endemic corruption, violence in the Niger Delta, pervasive election-related abuses, and a culture of impunity for all manner of human rights violations.

"Nigeria needs leaders who will tackle the country's long-ignored human rights problems," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Addressing these problems should top the agenda for both candidates and voters alike."

Many Nigerians expected the end of military rule in 1999 to bring much-needed improvements to the country's human rights situation. But three successive administrations have left those hopes largely unfulfilled, Human Rights Watch said. For decades, the governing elite has largely squandered and siphoned off the nation's tremendous oil wealth, while neglecting basic health and education services for the vast majority of ordinary citizens.

"Candidates should send a clear signal that they intend to break with the past and to bring genuine reform to the country," Dufka said. "They should propose specific steps to stop inter-communal violence, reduce pervasive corruption, reform the security services, and strengthen the rule of law."

Presidential and vice presidential debates are scheduled for March 28-30, in the nation's capital, Abuja. Among the recommendations presented in the paper, Human Rights Watch calls on candidates to:

  • Identify measures to end the cycle of inter-communal violence and address the root causes of the violence;
  • Propose steps to hold government security forces accountable for abuses and to address systemic police corruption;
  • Explain how to improve anti-corruption efforts in the country and to make government more transparent and accountable; and
  • Make a commitment to conduct their own election campaign without violence, intimidation, or other abuses.