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REVIEW: Three years of Buhari in office, and a poor human rights record


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ON May 29, 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, like his predecessors, solemnly swore the oath of the office of president. Repeating after Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed, Buhari assured Nigerians that as President he would discharge his duties in accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, that he would strive to preserve the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution, and that he would do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear of favour, affection or ill-will.

Three months to this moment, Buhari also described himself as ‘a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms’ during his famed Chatham House address. Three years on, however, it can hardly be said that Nigeria’s President has kept religiously to this oath ― or his claim to conversion. A number of events that have taken place under the president’s watch in his first three years show that his government has violated fundamental human rights, entrenched in the country’s constitution, and condoned such violations.

Despite assurances from Buhari before and after his election to be deeply committed to human rights and freedom, human rights abuses have remained one of the evident failings of this administration. Such abuses have in fact led to the intervention of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court, among other international bodies.


Between December 12 and 14, 2015, the Nigerian army reportedly killed up to 348 Shiites, including unarmed protesters and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). According to a representative of the Kaduna state government, 347 bodies were handed over by the army for a secret mass burial in Zaria. The commission of inquiry set up by the government confirmed this in August, 2016.

Also, Amnesty International in April, 2016, released evidence that the army used excessive force against civilians, killed more than 350 persons in the process, and went to great length in covering up the atrocity. The army had claimed it killed only seven Shiites in self-defence after they blocked a public road and attempted to assassinate army chief Tukur Buratai ― an allegation strongly denied by the IMN.

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During the 2015 siege on the sect’s enclave, prominent leaders of the movement and Zakzaky’s son, Aliy, was extra-judicially killed. In a similar attack in July, 2014, three of Zakzaky’s sons were also killed.

However, rather than take clear action, Buhari suggested during an interview in December 2015 that the victims brought the tragedy upon themselves by “hitting the chest of generals”. Nearly a year after, in August 2016, he said his government would issue an appropriate response after studying the report of the judicial inquiry. That response has still not been given, nor have the issues been addressed.


During the military operation of December 2015, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky was arrested by the Nigerian army, and endlessly kept in detention without a court charge. A year after his arrest, an Abuja division of the Federal High Court ordered the government to release him and his detained wife, Zeeenat, to the police within 45 days, who shall then take them to a safe place within 24 hours. It also ordered the SSS to pay a fine of N50 million to the applicant and his wife.

Buhari government has disregard the court order, despite protests by members of the IMN. After El-Zakzaky was rumoured to have died in custody, he was allowed to speak to a select group of journalists at the DSS Abuja office in January to debunk the rumours ― his first appearance in two years. And then, in April, the Shiite leader was charged by the government with murder. It is unclear for whose murder he was charged.

An illustration of Dasuki and El Zakzaky in prison. CREDIT: Thisday


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Despite assurances of the president in speeches, especially delivered abroad, of his commitment to stick to law and order in fighting corruption and terrorism, the government has continued to do the opposite. This fact is particularly pronounced in the case of Sambo Dasuki, former National Security Adviser, alleged to have diverted $2.1 billion arms fund. He has been granted bail by different courts on at least five occasions; yet he remains in custody.

In 2015, he was granted bail by a Federal High Court in Abuja, only to be immediately rearrested at the gates of Kuje prison. In October 2016, the ECOWAS Court also ordered the federal government to pay a compensation of N15 million to Dasuki for his “unlawful arrest”. Again, in January 2017, an Abuja High Court reaffirmed the validity of bail granted to the former NSA and five others. In May, after pleading not guilty to all the charges, he was granted yet another bail by Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf of an Abuja High Court.


Another case of Buhari administration’s human rights violation is how members of the fourth estate have been treated since it started. For 2017 alone, the ICIR reported the harassment and arrests of ten journalists and bloggers.

Prominent among these cases were those of Austin Okai, a blogger arrested for circulating reports of Yahaya Bello’s alleged inflation of contracts to acquire vehicles, and three journalists from Channels TV, Silverbird TV and AIT, who were attacked and arrested by officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Recently, Aminu Nurudeen, a reporter at Voice of Liberty was also reported to have gone into hiding after Kano State Police Command invited him over IGP Ibrahim Idris’s viral video.

In January 2017, the Nigeria police raided PREMIUM TIMES head office in Abuja, and arrested the newspaper’s publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi and the paper’s judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu over a story involving the Army and its operations.

Yet, another pointer to the administration’s poor human rights records is the Global Impunity Index, which draws attention to countries where the killers of journalists walk free. According to the 2015 ranking, Nigeria was ranked the 13th worst country in the world. But in the 2017 ranking, the country has moved two points higher.

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In its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, released a few days to Buhari’s visit to the White House, the United States accused Buhari’s administration of not taking sufficient action on various allegations of rights violation, especially by military personnel.

The report stated: “Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.

“Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public. In August, the acting president convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement. As of November, the panel had not issued a report.”

The report also mentioned and condemned certain instances of human rights abuses, such as extrajudicial killings of supporters of the IPOB movement in 2016, killing and mass burial of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in 2015, and arbitrary abduction of persons perceived to be anti-establishment.


Amnesty International (AI), a global movement that campaigns against human rights abuses, has also been critical of  Buhari administration. In its 2017/2018 Human Rights report released in February, the organisation condemned the Nigerian military for totally disregarding human rights in its fight against terrorism. The army, it said, carried out “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and torture and other ill-treatment, which, in some cases, led to deaths in custody”.

In another report released on Friday, Amnesty International  revealed that thousands of female internally displaced persons are being subjected to sexual abuse by military personnel. The organisation’s investigations revealed that women, young girls and children were “raped and starved to death” by soldiers in various ICP camps, and many were sexually exploited usually in exchange for food supplies.

For a president who had sworn to  preserve the Nigerian constitution and the rule of law,  Buhari’s human rights record in the last three years comes below expectation, not only of his ardent critics, but of many Nigerians who have invested high hope in his presidency.

'Kunle works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via [email protected] or, if you're feeling particularly generous, follow him on Twitter @KunleBajo.

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