Entrenching Impunity: Federal Government Complicity, Human Rights Abuse and Corruption

“Many people have been killed in this system and no one has been held to account for it.”
—Hon. Ben Chuks, Anambra State

During its eight years in power the Obasanjo administration made little significant effort to ensure that government officials and members of the security forces implicated in violations of civil and political rights, including election-related violence, were held to account. While only a small minority of the human rights abuses documented in this report were directly carried out by federal government officials, the federal government’s failure to combat widespread impunity for abuses orchestrated by government and PDP officials at the state and local level has fostered the unabated continuation of those abuses.

Impunity and Governance in Nigeria

Throughout Nigeria there exists a deeply entrenched culture of impunity that developed at all levels of Nigeria’s government under military rule and remains as a source of the country’s worst human rights abuses since the return to civilian rule in 1999. On several occasions since then, the Nigerian military has carried out misdirected reprisals against civilian populations, destroying entire communities and murdering hundreds of Nigerian civilians.124 No one has been held to account for ordering or participating in those atrocities. The Nigerian police routinely torture criminal suspects and others who fall into their custody. President Obasanjo’s rhetorical acknowledgement of the problem of police torture in 2005 was not followed up by any meaningful action to bring those responsible to account or prevent future abuses.125

More than 11,000 Nigerians were killed in hundreds of separate outbreaks of intercommunal and political violence during the Obasanjo administration.126 Many of those deaths came about in large scale and apparently highly organized massacres along ethnic and religious lines. No one has been held to account for their role in organizing or inciting those massacres.127 During the same period several high profile Nigerians were assassinated in attacks widely believed to be politically motivated, including Attorney General Bola Ige in December 2001.128 No one has been held to account for any but one of those killings—and the government’s claim to have “solved” Ige’s murder days before Obasanjo left office provoked widespread skepticism.129

Nigeria’s police force has the reputation of being a notoriously corrupt and ineffective institution whose failures lay at the heart of government failure to take effective action against impunity. In one recent public opinion survey carried out across Nigeria, respondents overwhelmingly voted the police to be the country’s most corrupt public institution.130 At the same time, the police’s capacity to carry out criminal investigations is extremely lacking. As the director of one civil society organization that works to monitor police conduct in Nigeria put it: “The police do not have the capacity to move forward with a case unless they were there when it happened. If you say you saw someone hanging around an armed robbery, they will get that person and torture him. If not, they suspect no one.”131

These failures are tremendous, but in fact the Nigerian government has done far worse than simply fail to address the problem of impunity effectively. Through many of its actions the federal government has encouraged the commission of human rights abuses at the state and local levels and has thereby undercut its own limited efforts at promoting reform and accountability. In many cases federal institutions have worked actively to prevent individuals accused of human rights abuses from being held to account.

Rewarding Abuse and Corruption

Many individuals facing credible allegations of human rights abuse and corruption have been rewarded with positions of influence and power by the government and the PDP. Anambra State political godfather Chris Uba—whose alleged crimes are detailed in the Anambra case study of this report—remains a member of the PDP board of trustees. Chris Uba’s brother Andy received the presidency’s political support for his bid for the governorship of Anambra State despite his implication in corrupt activities and his campaign team’s open recruitment of cult gangs to intimidate his electoral opponents. Oyo State political godfather Lamidi Adedibu has retained his position of political power within the PDP and Oyo politics as a whole despite his open involvement in fomenting political violence in the state. The situations in Oyo and Anambra States and the roles of the Uba brothers and Adedibu are discussed below in this report.132

Corruption at the top

Top-level government officials have not only failed to rein in the corruption at lower levels; they have repeatedly been implicated in scandals themselves and escaped any form of sanction. Sunday Ehindero, Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police until June 2007, had publicly stated his commitment to combat corruption within the police force and address serious police abuses. When he stepped down as inspector general some of Ehindero’s aides were reportedly caught trying to smuggle N21 million in stolen money ($161,000) out of police headquarters and many reports indicated that the money was being taken on Ehindero’s behalf.133 No charges have been brought against him as of the time of writing and no public response to the allegations has been forthcoming from any federal government institution.

President Obasanjo himself was implicated in a number of scandals during his last years in power, including an alleged attempt by his aides to bribe members of the National Assembly to support Obasanjo’s bid for a third term. Days before leaving office, Obsanjo controversially sold off two of Nigeria’s three troubled oil refineries to a consortium of investors including Transcorp, a corporation that has purchased a number of high profile government and other assets since its formation in 2004.134 Transcorp has itself been a target of controversy since it became known that Obasanjo had acquired 200 million shares of its stock by unknown means.135 The Obasanjo administration’s last-minute sale of the refineries to Transcorp aroused such controversy that it played a minor part in triggering a nationwide strike in June 2007.136

Impunity and the 2007 Elections

Nigeria’s fraudulent 2007 elections provided a vivid illustration of the unshakable confidence many Nigerian public officials and politicians have in their own impunity. Just as remarkable as the massive scale of the fraud that characterized the polls was the openness with which violence, vote theft and other abuses were carried out. Human Rights Watch and election observer groups reported ballot box stuffing, intimidation and other abuses carried out in the most public manner possible.

In some cases political leaders openly bragged about their plans to rig elections and unleash violence on their opponents. In the town of Funtua in Katsina State, for example, residents complained that their local government chairman gave a public address several days before the elections during which he bragged that the elections would be rigged in favor of the PDP. One woman present at the event told Human Rights Watch that:

The chairman was stating publicly that people should just burn ANPP posters and that even if they cut ANPP supporters nothing will happen…He said Funtua is PDP and any other party is inconsequential and the PDP will win no matter what happens. He said whether through hook or by crook he had taken a promise to do whatever it takes to deliver Funtua. He said, “INEC is ours, the police is ours.” The hoodlums follow him wherever he goes.137

The PDP won the statewide elections in Funtua by a landslide and after the first round of voting the town erupted into violence between PDP and ANPP supporters. Several buildings including the local government secretariat were burned to the ground.138

No one has been investigated, let alone held to account for the systematic rigging of Nigeria’s 2007 elections. Addressing this failure depends upon President Yar’Adua and those around him. The dilemma, however, is that they all owe their offices to those same fraudulent elections.

The Nigerian Police and Impunity for Political Violence

The Nigerian police often lacks the capacity to work effectively and is riddled with corruption that dilutes its effectiveness further still. But just as important as the police’s shortcomings as an institution are political pressures that often prevent the police from investigating abuses connected to politicians or other prominent allies of the ruling party. As one prominent politician from southwestern Nigeria said to Human Rights Watch, “Political crimes are not ordinary crimes. In such cases the [state’s] Commissioner [of Police] becomes a messenger from above—he requires a nod from higher authorities to function effectively…so what needs to change is the mindset in Abuja.”139 One Lagos-based activist noted that “there is a lot of second-guessing also. Even if the president does not issue a directive [not to investigate someone], people try and guess what he would and would not like.”140

The effects of the police force’s equivocal commitment to accountability were clearly evident during the months surrounding the 2007 elections. Rather than attempt to investigate and bring to account sponsors of election-related violence, the leadership of the police force largely fell into a pattern of refusing to respond to incidents of political violence orchestrated by leading politicians or influential members of the PDP.

Human Rights Watch interviewed then-Inspector General of Police Sunday Ehindero, an appointee of President Obasanjo, during the run-up to the election. Asked about the police response to scores of widely publicized instances of election-related violence, Ehindero said that he knew of “only one” incident of election-related violence that had taken place during the entire pre-election period—an incident that happened to occur in his physical presence.141 That level of public unconcerncoming from Nigeria’s top police official was remarkable, especially considering that lower-level police officers had promised robust investigations of many other clashes and attempted murders at the time.142

Similarly, after the elections had come and gone the Commissioner of Police in Oyo State at the time, Jonathan Johnson, insisted to Human Rights Watch that “there was no violence in Oyo State” during the entire electoral period aside from “a few areas of ballot-box snatching” on the days of actual voting.143 In fact, Oyo was one of the bloodiest theaters of political violence in the whole of Nigeria before, during, and after the elections and the architects of much of that violence were widely known.144

In several cases, police officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch lamented these problems but said that they were helpless to overcome the political resistance to investigations of prominent politicians responsible for violence and other abuses (see box 3 below). The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in one town in Rivers State told Human Rights Watch that he witnessed a mob led by a local politician attack his police station on election day, destroying or stealing all of the election materials that had been stored there and driving off the officers inside. Human Rights Watch interviewed him hours after the incident at his home, where he had shed his uniform and was drinking beer in the early afternoon to calm his nerves. Asked if he would make any arrests since he knew some of the individuals involved, he replied, “No, it’s impossible. The thing has come and gone. The only thing to do is to pray.”145

Box 3: A Commissioner of Police Discusses Impunity

The following is an excerpt from an interview with the Commissioner of Police in a state in southern Nigeria, conducted in advance of the April 2007 elections. The name and other identifying details of the commissioner have been withheld to protect him against possible reprisal:

Definitely cult members will be used by politicians [during the elections], without question. They know how to get at them… There are even policemen and soldiers who can be used by people in power to do what thugs would normally do…

One should expect by now that issues like cultism should have been taken seriously, very seriously, by the government…but the reverse appears to be the case…From what I can gather they have accepted cultism as a normal thing that should be expected in the universities. This is in spite of the fact that some of these cultists are murderers and armed robbers and they can be recruited easily by politicians to commit violent acts—they are like a cheap market, they are there in large numbers at all times to be recruited. So there is nothing actually to deter students from continuing to enlist in these various cult groups.

We learned that some politicians—I don’t want to mention names— have empowered one of the cult groups—[name withheld]—and they were used in one of the recently concluded party primaries as touts to ensure that certain candidates were elected.

Law enforcement must be empowered to do the proper thing. If government is serious it is not that difficult. But where a policeman has not fed since the previous day, what can he do? In the past year the police in [this state] have lost 42 men, 28 of them killed violently. And it’s nothing. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not news that policemen are dying on a continuous basis.

If I had a way of paying my children’s school fees I think I might just put in my resignation letter and retire.146

Selective Use of Anti-Corruption Institutions

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was set up by the Obasanjo government in 2003 to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, including fraud and corruption. The EFCC earned plaudits from many Nigerians and from the international community in its first few years for aggressively pursuing corruption allegations against a range of prominent government officials including several sitting governors. One of the EFCC’s greatest and most unprecedented successes came in securing the conviction of former Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun on charges of corruption in 2005.147

In the months leading up to the 2007 elections, however, the Obasanjo government manipulated the EFCC into selectively pursuing opposition politicians and opponents of President Obasanjo within the PDP.148 This was done so openly that it destroyed much of the institution’s credibility and effectiveness as both a deterrent and a mechanism of accountability.149

Most controversially, the EFCC sought to bar a long list of candidates from standing in the April elections by cooperating in government efforts to issue so-called “indictments” on charges of corruption that made no pretense of adhering to basic standards of due process. Almost all of those on the EFCC’s now-infamous “list” were members of the opposition or well-known opponents of Obasanjo within the PDP.150

At the same time, prominent and notoriously corrupt members of the PDP have been left untouched by any sort of EFCC investigation. Many of the individuals who have escaped the attention of the EFCC are faced with credible evidence of precisely the kind of corruption that fuels many of the abuses described in this report. To cite just a few of many examples:

  • Christopher Alao-Akala, then the PDP nominee for governor in Oyo State, was reportedly put on the EFCC list of candidates deemed “unfit” to run in the 2007 elections but then taken off in response to political pressure. The same allegations were made regarding current Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, then serving as governor of Bayelsa State.151

  • An investigation into allegations of corruption by PDP chieftain Olabode George during his time as head of the Ports Authority was allowed to die without any convincing explanation on the part of the EFCC.152

  • The EFCC refused to investigate widespread allegations of corruption against Andy Uba, a powerful aide to President Obasanjo and ultimately the PDP candidate for Governor of Anambra State, even after he was caught by US customs officials attempting to smuggle $170,000 in cash into the United States on board Nigeria’s presidential jet.153

  • The EFCC made no real attempt to investigate credible allegations that officials in the presidency attempted to bribe members of the National Assembly into voting in favor of Obasanjo’s abortive attempt at changing the constitution to allow himself a third term in office.154

  • Where the EFCC did exercise its power under Obasanjo, it was often for the purpose of coercing individuals into acquiescing to the will of the presidency. In Anambra State, for example, PDP officials combined bribery with the threat of EFCC investigation to coerce legislators into impeaching opposition Governor Peter Obi. One of the legislators involved, who ultimately yielded to the demands being made of him, said “The way we see it, the EFCC, it has nothing to do with whether you have committed any offense or not. They will come and arrest a person for any reason and keep him behind bars until he succumbs to what they want him to do.”155 Similar situations reportedly surrounded the impeachment of Bayelsa State governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and attempts at impeaching several other PDP Governors seen as hostile to the Presidency.156

    124 In November 1999 the Nigerian military razed the town of Odi in apparent retaliation for the killing of several soldiers by an armed gang in the town. See Human Rights Watch, Nigeria—The Destruction of Odi and Rape in Choba, December 1999,  On October 22–24, 2001, several hundred soldiers of the Nigerian army killed more than 200 unarmed civilians and destroyed homes, shops, public buildings and other property in more than seven towns and villages in Benue State in central-eastern Nigeria. See Human Rights Watch, Nigeria—Military Revenge in Benue: A Population Under Attack, vol. 14, no. 2(A), April 2002, On August 24, 2006, the Nigerian military razed the community of Aker Base outside Port Harcourt after militants abducted an Italian oil worker and shot one soldier there. See “Nigeria: Military Must be held to Account for Razing of Community,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 29, 2006,

    125 Human Rights Watch, Nigeria—“Rest in Pieces”: Police Torture and Deaths in Custody in Nigeria,vol. 17, no. 11(A), July 2005,; “Nigeria: Obasanjo Confirms Torture, Killing by Police,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 22, 2005, The UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Torture echoed Human Rights Watch’s findings of widespread police torture after a mission in early 2007. See “Torture Widespread in police custody in Nigeria, UN Rights Expert Says,” UN News Center, March 12, 2007, (accessed July 12, 2007).

    126 See above, The Scale of Nigeria’s Violence Epidemic.

    127 Ibid.

    128 Prominent Nigerians who have been assassinated in unsolved crimes since the return to civilian rule include—along with Bola Ige—Marshall Harry, Funsho Williams, Aminasaori Dikibo, Barnabas Igwe, and Dele Arojo. See, e.g., Amnesty International, Nigeria: Impunity for Political Violence in the run-up to Nigeria’s April 2007 elections, AI Index: AFR 44/004/2007, April 12, 2007, (accessed July 12, 2007).

    129 With just days to go to the end of his tenure, President Obasanjo announced that Ige’s murder had been “solved” after a delay of several years and that the mastermind behind the assassination was a drug baron who was behind bars at the time of Ige’s death. The announcement was greeted with widespread public skepticism. The Daily Trust, for example, noted in an editorial that “very few Nigerians believed Obasanjo and [Inspector General of Police] Ehindero” when they claimed to have solved the long-dormant case. “Reopen Unsolved Murders,” Daily Trust, June 19, 2007.

    130 See Abimbola Akosile, “Nigeria Police, Most Corrupt—Survey,” This Day, June 16, 2007.

    131 Human Rights Watch interview with Innocent Chukwuma, Director, CLEEN Foundation, Lagos, February 6, 2007.

    132 See below, Oyo and Anambra State case studies.

    133 See, e.g., “The Scandal at Force Headquarters,” The Daily Sun, June 18, 2007, (accessed July 12, 2007).

    134 Transcorp press release, “Bluestar Consortium Wins Bid for Port Harcourt Refining Company,” May 17, 2007, (accessed July 12, 2007). Bluestar consortium includes Transcorp, Dangote Group, Zenon Oil and the Rivers State Government. The heads of the Dangote Group and Zenon Oil are close to Obasanjo politically and the Rivers State government was one of Nigeria’s most flagrantly corrupt state governments during the Obasanjo administration.

    135 See, e.g., “The Dirty Transcorp Deal,” Newswatch, August 28, 2006. Available online at (accessed July 12, 2007).

    136 A nationwide strike paralyzed Nigeria for several days in late June 2007. The demands of the strikers included reversing a recent fuel price increase along with Obasanjo’s sale of the refineries to the consortium including Transcorp. The compromise settlement that was struck did not include reversing the refinery sale.

    137 Human Rights Watch interview, Funtua, April 20, 2007.

    138 Human Rights Watch interviews, Funtua, April 20, 2007.

    139 Human Rights Watch interview, Ibadan, February 9, 2007.

    140 Human Rights Watch interview with Innocent Chukwuma, Lagos, February 6, 2007.

    141 Human Rights Watch interview with Sunday Ehindero, Abuja, February 21, 2007. The incident Ehindero referenced was a clash between rival PDP factions at a rally in the town of Akure. That clash is described in the Oyo State case study below.

    142 By that point Nigeria had already witnessed more than 70 incidents of election-related violence that had been widely reported in the press, and in some instances lower-level police officers had promised investigations. See Human Rights Watch, Election or “Selection”?,pp. 19-21.

    143 Human Rights Watch interview with Jonathan Johnson, Ibadan, April 26, 2007.

    144 See below, Oyo case study.

    145 Human Rights Watch interview with Divisional Police Officer, Rivers State, April 14, 2007.

    146 Human Rights Watch interview, Nigeria, February 2007.

    147 Balogun was charged with stealing some $98 million while serving as Inspector General of Police. He was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. See “Nigerian ex-Police Chief Jailed,” BBC News Online, November 22, 2005, (accessed July 12, 2007). While news of his unprecedented conviction bolstered government anti-corruption efforts, his relatively lenient sentence inspired a great deal of controversy.

    148 See Human Rights Watch, Election or “Selection?”,pp. 31-37.

    149 In the wake of Nigeria’s April elections the International Crisis Group called for a moratorium on all EFCC prosecutions until some acceptable degree of impartiality and credibility of the institution could be established. International Crisis Group, Failed Elections, Failing State?, Africa Report no. 126, May 30, 2007, (accessed July 12, 2007).

    150 See Human Rights Watch, Election or “Selection?”,pp. 31-37. The entire list of individuals on the EFCC “blacklist” is available online at (accessed July 12, 2007).

    151 Human Rights Watch interviews with journalists and western diplomatic sources, Lagos and Abuja, early 2007.

    152 Olabode George was accused of involvement in fraud after an EFCC investigation uncovered massive corruption at the NPA during his stewardship. It was alleged that George awarded nearly 30,000 separate contracts worth N85 billion as head of the NPA and that many of these were fraudulent. While EFCC investigations turned up evidence linking him to the fraud, charges were never pursued and no explanation was ever provided by the EFCC or the Presidency for this omission. See, e.g., “Nigeria Port Authority Fraud: Bode George’s Many Lies,” The News, June 6, 2007, available online at (accessed July 12, 2007).

    153 See Human Rights Watch, Chop Fine, pp.98-99; Gilbert Da Costa, “Nigerian Opposition Leaders Seek Probe of Indicted Presidential Aide,” Voice of America, November 8, 2006, (accessed November 8, 2006).

    154 Human Rights Watch, Chop Fine, p. 97.

    155 Human Rights Watch interview with Anambra State legislator, Awka, February 12, 2007.

    156 See International Crisis Group, Failed Elections, Failing State?, p. 16, calling for a three-month moratorium on EFCC prosecutions and noting that “Most Nigerians…did not see Obasanjo’s pursuit of these men as a genuine campaign for good government.”