Last updated: 25 August 2020

Coronavirus Response

Both federal and state governments have imposed a variety of restrictions on civic freedoms in light of COVID-19. For instance, the Ogun State government banned disseminating false information about COVID-19 and instituted a stay-at-home order, and the Lagos State government issued regulations granting the governor broad powers to restrict gatherings, movements, and different activities. Enforcement of some of these has been quite severe, leading to an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission. The federal government also imposed strict lockdowns in Lagos, Ogun, and the Federal Capital Territory. In some instances, lockdowns failed to exempt essential workers such as medical personnel and resulted in crowded conditions at border crossings between states.

Pushback from civil society groups and others prevented the House of Representatives from rushing enactment of a Control of Infectious Diseases Bill without public consultations. Critics asserted that the bill would grant excessive power to law enforcement and violate fundamental rights.

For additional details, see ICNL’s COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker entry for Nigeria.


At the Senate’s public hearing for the proposed “Social Media Bill” (the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations; and for Related matters Bill, 2019), the preponderance of submissions, including from civil society groups, journalists, and the Nigeria Communications Commission, recommended that the Bill be dropped. However, the Nigerian Army supported the Bill. Among other things, the Bill would punish transmitting a false statement or one that might “Influence the outcome of an election to any office in a general election.”


Nigeria is a federal republic of thirty-six states and a Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, whose basic law is the 1999 Constitution (as amended). As a former British colony, the legal system of Nigeria follows the common law tradition, but there is also a provision for the application of traditional or indigenous customary laws and Shari’a (i.e. Islamic-based) law. Customary and Shari’a law were previously limited to civil matters where all the parties consented, but after 1999 some states in the northern part of Nigeria extended Shari’a law to criminal matters and social interaction.

Nigeria is home to a wide variety of civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some of them came into existence even before the country was formed in 1914 and others in the period before independence in October 1960. Many others have formed since then.

The main laws that relate to CSOs are found in federal legislation. Because the Constitution guarantees freedom of association, there is no restriction on those who wish to join together for any kind of purpose, provided that the purposes for which the group is formed, or the methods that it uses, are not themselves illegal. The range of CSOs is as wide and diverse as the country itself, including local ‘elites’ clubs, traditional age class associations, unions in villages and small towns, and national organizations with thousands of members. While not every group or association must register, those that wish to enjoy the benefits of legal personality or the limited tax advantages that may be available must be registered or incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), Cap. C20, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

One issue of pressing concern to civil society, and especially humanitarian groups in the northeast, is terrorism. Although the government has declared Boko Haram defeated, both Boko Haram and Islamic State-affiliate ISWAP (Islamic State in West Africa Province) have continued to make attacks in Nigeria, including targeting the convoy of the Borno State Governor in March 2019 and Nigerian army commanders in January 2020.  However, the Nigerian Army has taken the fight to the terrorists, and they appear to have been unable to re-establish themselves as a ‘caliphate’ as they had done in 2014.

But life is insecure for inhabitants of states in the North-Eastern zone of the country, as they are subject to attacks or outright robbery or extortion whereby farmers are forced to deliver part of their yield to the insurgents or risk losing the entire crop. The tactics of Nigerian security agencies in the war against Boko Haram have also led to accusations of human rights abuses, to which their standard reaction has mostly been to attack the integrity, patriotism, or motives of those making the accusations (while  agreeing to investigate some egregious or well-attested incidents). This has implications for the relationship between freedom of speech and the secrecy and/or propaganda associated with wars and the morale of those fighting them.

While the war in northeast is being waged, there has also been an increase in violence from ‘bandits’ in several northern states, such as Zamfara State, where the Governor complained that the security agencies were worse equipped than the criminals.  Although there was a decrease in herder-farmer violence in the Middle Belt, perceptions of bias on the part of law enforcement agencies exists against the background of the crackdown on the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), an Igbo organization that seeks independence for the southeast and other adjacent non-Igbo areas. IPOB was declared a terrorist organization in 2017 and its leader was arrested, but after being released on bail, he disappeared. Rumours that then spread through social media that the Federal Government had killed him were proven false when he appeared at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. By contrast, none of the leaders of any of the sections of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, which speaks for nomadic herders who are mostly Fulanis (as is the President), appear to have even been invited for questioning or been cautioned by the security agencies, despite combative and threatening statements made in reaction to grazing bans in some states, or the establishment of a regional security outfit in the southwestern states, Àmọtẹkùn. However, individual perpetrators of attacks by herders have been arrested and charged in several Middle Belt and Southern States.

Another group which complains of being treated differently in Nigeria is the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, which was banned in July 2019 for “engaging in acts which were both terrorist and illegal”  following a protest in Abuja over the continued detention of its leader, Sheik al-Zakzaky, in which eleven protesters, one journalist and one police officer were killed.  The group is Shi’ite, while most of Nigeria’s Muslims are Sunni: however, other Shi’ite sects operate in Nigeria.

The herder-settler conflict illustrates that Nigeria faces the same problems of deeply divisive and often false information spread through both social media and mainstream media that other countries have faced in their own democratic processes. The role of social media in spreading disinformation using false pictures (e.g., to portray armed herders and scenes of massacres which may be sourced from entirely different countries) presents a problem to which the government has responded with generalized stigmatiaation of all negative reports as ‘hate speech’ or ‘fake news.’

Supporters of the current administration introduced two bills before the National Assembly:  The Bill for An Act to Provide for The Prohibition of Hate Speeches and For Other Related Matters (the ‘Hate Speech Bill’); and the Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill (‘the Social Media Bill’).  Both propose sweeping powers and draconian punishments, and are strongly opposed by Nigerian civil society groups.  Such legislation would also have to survive any challenge based on the constitutional right to freedom of speech, as well as provisions in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The President, Vice-President, Governors and Deputy Governors elected in the February and March 2019 elections were sworn in on May 29, 2019. On October 30, 2019, the Supreme Court dismissed the election petition and challenging the outcome of the presidential election filed by the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.

Organizational FormsCivil society organizations (CSOs)
Registration BodyCorporate Affairs Commission
Approximate NumberDigitization has improved record-keeping, while decentralization has improved access for those searching for information on individual companies.
Barriers to Entry1 – Minors, persons of unsound mind, undischarged bankrupts, and those convicted within the previous 5 years of an offence involving dishonesty cannot be registered as trustees or directors.
2 – The President may issue an order to prohibit a CSO that is “dangerous to the good government of Nigeria or of any part thereof.”
3 – Both Nigerian and foreign CSOs seeking incorporation may face hurdles in the form of various requirements.
4- Ban on the registration of gay clubs, societies or organizations.
Barriers to Activities1 – If a CSO wishes to engage in activity that involves a government Ministry, Department, or Agency (MDA), it may need to satisfy the criteria of that MDA.
2 – Some GONGOs are perceived as undermining independent CSOs.
3 – Certain state governments have been sought to pressure and even subvert CSOs.
4- Ban on the registration of gay clubs, societies or organizations.
5- President has the power to prohibit groups even if they are unregistered.
Barriers to Speech and/or AdvocacyThe Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2014 not only makes same sex marriage illegal, but it also provides that: “Any person or group of persons that … supports the registration, operation, and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence …”

Bloggers and journalists who are critical of the country’s leaders, particularly at the State level, face increasing pressure, arrest, beatings, and threats to stop reporting, while the government has also resorted to treason-related charges where demonstrators call for the removal or resignation of elected leaders.

Barriers to International ContactNone
Barriers to ResourcesNone
Barriers to AssemblyFailure to provide protection for and excessive use of force on protests that oppose government policies and excessive government control over the route and time of protests.
Population214,028,302 (July 2020 est.)
Type of GovernmentFederal Republic
Life Expectancy at BirthTotal population: 60.4 years (2020 est.)
Male: 58.6 years (2020 est.)
Female: 62.3 years (2020 est.)
Literacy RateMale: 72.1%
Female: 52.7% (2018 est.)
Religious GroupsMuslim, Christian, indigenous
Ethnic Groups250 or more, including Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, Idoma, Nupe
GDP Per Capita$5,900 (2017 est.)

Sources: Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, (Washington, DC).

Ranking BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index158 (2019)1 – 188
World Bank Rule of Law Index19 (2018)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index35 (2018)100 – 0
Transparency International146 (2019)1 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: Partly Free
Political Rights: 3
Civil Liberties: 5 (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States IndexRank: 14 (2019)178 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes1993
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)No
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes1993
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)No
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)Yes1967
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)Yes1984
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against WomenYes2004
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes1991
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)No
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)Yes2010
Key Regional AgreementsRatification*Year
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)Yes1975

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The current Constitution of Nigeria came into force on May 29, 1999 and has been amended (altered) four times as follows:

  1. May 2010: First Constitution Alteration Act (mostly election-related changes)
  2. May 2010: Second Constitution Alteration Act (further election-related changes)
  3. February 2011 (National Industrial Court of Nigeria)
  4. May 2018: Fourth Constitution Alteration Act (several changes, including reduction in age limits for standing for election, time limits for election petitions, term limits for Vice President/Deputy Governor who completes a principal’s term, and financial autonomy for state legislatures and state judiciary)

Chapter IV of the Constitution enshrines fundamental rights, including the freedoms of association and assembly. Section 39 guarantees the right to receive and impart information. Section 40 guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association. Section 45 permits these rights to be restricted in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health, or to protect the rights or freedoms of others.

Sections 39 and 40 provide as follows:

Section 39:

  1. Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
  2. Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions;
    Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfilment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for, any purpose whatsoever.
  3. Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society:
    (a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
    (b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.

Section 40: Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:

Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Nigeria is a federal republic and the main laws that govern civil society are derived from federal legislation, including the following:

While criminal offences may be created by federal legislation, most criminal laws are state laws which derive from the Penal Code (originally applicable in 19 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory) and the Criminal Code (originally applicable in 17 southern states).

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. The Bill for An Act to Provide for The Prohibition of Hate Speeches and For Other Related Matters was presented in the National Assembly in March 2018 but was later abandoned in June 2019 following strong public criticism. In November 2019, the Bill was re-introduced for consideration before the National Assembly where it currently remains. The Bill prohibits ethnic discrimination and hate speech, creates a wide range of offenses with accompanying penalties, and establishes an Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches. There is concern that several provisions of the Bill may unduly restrict the freedom of expression in contravention of international law. For example:

– Section 4 (1) of the Bill defines “hate speech” as the use, publication, presentation, production, play, provision, distribution or direction of the performance of any material whether written or visual that is, “threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior.” Moreover, an individual commits an offense if he or she expresses “hate speech” with the “intention thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such ethnic group in Nigeria.”

– Section 4(2) of the Bill contains punishments that do not adhere to principles of necessity and proportionality by providing that a person who commits hate speech shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.

– The scope of the offense of ethnic harassment is overly broad in Section 5.

2. The Nigerian parliament had long been considering a Social Media Bill and a public hearing on the Bill was finally held on March 9, 2020 in Abuja. Dozens of CSOs, however, worked together to challenge the restrictive legislation, which includes imposing a heavy fine on anyone who fails to comply with an order from the police to correct a statement. The chair of the public hearing indicated that the senate committee would not negatively impact the people’s wishes.

3. Following harmonization between the two chambers of the National Assembly and after amendments to reflect changes requested by the President last year, the Companies and Allied Matters Act (Repeal and Re-Enactment) was passed by the Senate on the March 10, 2020.  It now has to be passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the President for assent.

Organizational Forms

A wide range of CSOs may be formed in Nigeria simply by individuals coming together for whatever collective purposes upon which they have agreed, provided those purposes are lawful. They include companies limited by guarantee, associations with incorporated trustees, unincorporated associations, co-operatives, and traditional organizations akin to friendship societies, such as town unions and other mutual benefit organizations.

For CSOs seeking legal entity status, the two most frequent options are associations with incorporated trustees and incorporation as a company limited by guarantee. Both of these forms of registration are governed by the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) and are handled by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

company limited by guarantee is formed for the promotion of commerce, art, science, religion, sports, culture, education, research, charity, or other similar purposes. The income and property of the company are applied solely towards the promotion of its purposes.

An association with incorporated trustees is an association of persons that appoints one or more trustees and pursues registration under Part C of the CAMA. There are two types of associations with incorporated trustees. The first type occurs where trustees are appointed by a community of persons bound together by customs, religion, kinship or nationality; the second type arises where trustees are appointed by a body or association of persons established for any religious, educational, literary, scientific, social, development, cultural, sporting, or charitable purpose.

Public Benefit Status

Under the Companies Income Tax Act (CITA), the profits of a company engaged in ecclesiastical, charitable, or educational activities of a public character, or promoting sporting activities are exempt from income tax. Not-for-profit companies engaged in other activities may apply to the President of Nigeria for an order to exempt them from taxation on their income or profits, no matter what the source.

In addition, incorporated Nigerian companies donating to Nigerian CSOs engaged in ecclesiastical, charitable, or educational activities of a public character, or to any of the bodies listed in the Fifth Schedule to the CITA, may claim tax relief for donations of up to 10 percent of their profits. Individuals, however, do not receive any tax relief for donations to Nigerian CSOs.

Barriers to Entry

There are several potential barriers to the formation of CSOs in Nigeria:

Potential Founders, Trustees, Directors. At least two persons over 18 are required to form a company, although minors may join in formation. Minors, persons of unsound mind, undischarged bankrupts, and those convicted within the previous five years of an offence involving dishonesty cannot be registered as trustees or directors.

Presidential power to prohibit organizations. While Nigerian law does not prohibit the formation or operation of unregistered groups, the President may issue an order to make unlawful a CSO that is “dangerous to the good government of Nigeria or of any part thereof.”  Although there are few examples of organizations that have been refused registration because of such an order, this power has been used against unregistered organizations. For example, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) was proscribed by the Obasanjo administration; the group is non-violent but seeks secession or the break-up of Nigeria. The radical Islamic sect Boko Haram has also been proscribed: while this was clearly a reaction to the violent methods of the Boko Haram group itself, other peaceful Islamist groups have found themselves the target of police raids and arrests after being wrongly tagged “Boko Haram” members.

Registration Procedures. Both Nigerian and foreign CSOs seeking incorporation under the CAMA may face hurdles in the form of various requirements. For example:

  • A CSO that wishes to incorporate as a company limited by guarantee needs to have its structure approved by the Federal Government. There is no specific procedure for securing such approval, but applications are handled by the Attorney-General of the Federation. CSOs adopting this procedure may be required to make adjustments; for example, a CSO with educational objects may be required to have a director with a background in education on its board. Generally, however, difficulties that CSOs experience are more likely to be due to administrative bottlenecks or inefficiency than to attempts at political control.
  • A CSO can challenge any refusal to make a decision on its application for registration by applying for an order of mandamus to compel the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to take a decision. However, there is no fixed time for deciding on an application.
  • For associations with incorporated trustees, each change to its trustees or its registered constitution must be published in newspapers with an unspecified waiting period before any changes can take effect. Any member of the public can object to the proposed change or to the CSO’s original incorporation. While the affected CSO may challenge any objection, the process causes delays.
  • The proposed trustees of CSOs may be required by CAMA to undergo a police background check, although these powers are rarely exercised in the case of incorporated trustees.
  • Registration fees must be paid as stipulated in subsidiary regulations under the CAMA. The fees range from N21,000 (US$150) for the registration of Incorporated Trustees to N10,000 (US$75) for a company whose nominal share capital does not exceed one million naira (US$7,500). While these fees are relatively modest, not-for-profit organisations do not enjoy any waivers or reduced fees. They must also pay stamp duty on their registration or incorporation documents.

Foreign Organizations. Foreign CSOs may be incorporated just as local CSOs under CAMA. However, they must comply with the same rules as local organizations. This means they are prohibited from having a name that may be acceptable in their home countries but which could be interpreted in Nigeria to be the name of a government body (thus “National” in the name of a foreign CSO could be considered problematic).

A foreign CSO that is not able to incorporate under CAMA may still operate in Nigeria if it is registered with the National Planning Commission. This status is achieved when the Ministry grants the foreign CSO’s request for a bilateral agreement. Once the agreement is completed, the foreign CSO has a legal personality in Nigeria. However, that status comes at the price of fairly extensive control by the Ministry, which acquires powers over the operation of the foreign CSO. The Ministry may appoint members to its Board, approve the hiring of its key personnel, and approve its budget because the essence of the bilateral agreement is that the foreign CSO becomes a quasi-consultant to the Ministry.

LGBTQ Organizations. The registration of LGBTQ clubs, societies and organizations are prohibited under Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which President Jonathan signed into law in January 2014.  It should be noted, however, that no society or organization that is formed for unlawful purposes can be registered in any event, but the Act specifically bars the registration of LGBTQ organizations.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Additional registration or certification requirements. If a CSO wishes to engage in some activity that involves a government Ministry, Department, or Agency (MDA), it may need to satisfy the criteria of that MDA. For example, a CSO that wishes to engage in election observation may need to seek registration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Refusal by the INEC to register the CSO would not mean that the CSO would cease to exist or prevent the members of that CSO from engaging in election observation (provided that its members could do so within the rules generally applicable to election observation). However, members of a CSO that is registered with INEC would probably be issued some kind of identification that would enable its members to move freely and enter certain locations, such as collation centres, that otherwise would be closed off to the general public.

A CSO that is providing developmental support – e.g., digging boreholes for water or providing some educational support – might seek to be registered with the relevant state or federal MDA, at least for the purpose of facilitating communication. Many CSOs, however, carry out such activities without seeking to be placed on any such “approved list.”  Registration with an MDA is not to be confused with incorporation by the CAC, as it is the latter that confers legal personality. In some cases, depending on the objects for which an organization is formed, the CAC requires a prospective association to secure prior certification by a particular ministry or department.

GONGOs. The government has established government NGOs or “GONGOs.”  For example, during the 2007 elections, election-observation organizations sprang up and were recognized and accredited by the INEC. This was perceived as an attempt to undermine and overshadow the statements that were issued by independent CSOs that were critical of the conduct of the elections.

Harassment. While CSOs have not been subject to harassment by the Federal Government, certain state governments have been known to attempt to pressure and even subvert CSOs and to single out certain CSOs for special adverse treatment. In such cases, however, CSOs have the right to challenge the government in court.

From time to time, the police attempt to claim that they have the power to restrict the rights of Nigerians to hold public meetings based on colonial-era legislation, but in view of the constitutional guarantees on freedom of association and assembly, such powers are often successfully challenged in the courts.

Prohibition on LGBTQ clubs, societies, and meetings. In January 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which bans same-sex marriages and civil unions and prohibits the registration of LGBTQ clubs, societies or meetings in Nigeria.  It also prohibits their “sustenance, processions and meetings.” It is not required that any group of people register, but the President has the power to prohibit groups or organisations even if they are unregistered. The Act appears to prohibit LGBTQ clubs and organisations even without the need for presidential intervention; however, the constitutionality of this provision against freedom of assembly and association guarantees has not yet been tested.

Foreign Organizations.  Foreign CSOs may be incorporated just as local CSOs under CAMA, but must comply with the same rules as local organizations with regard to names which are acceptable in their home countries, but which are deemed to be capable of being interpreted as the names of government bodies.“

Case of Borno State and Boko Haram. This military effort has put Boko Haram on the back foot since 2015, with reports that some of its members are attempting to blend into the local population in Borno State, which is the locus of the insurgency. There are concerns about Boko Haram retreating to local villages or even IDP camps and the government has been embarrassed over reports of starvation in northeastern Nigeria. There have also been reports of the government appropriation of aid intended for IDPs and other abuses of IDPs. Governor Shettima of Borno State also condemned the UN and other international CSOs for profiting from the crisis and spending more on themselves and armored vehicles than on IDPs or the population. When this attracted blowback from the UN and the international community, the Governor said that he had been referring to local NGOs. Although no local CSOs working in Borno State have funds for armored vehicles, the Borno State Government now requires all local CSOs to register and gain accreditation. The process does not appear to be settled and is thus considered to be haphazard, but all CSOs are affected and not only CSOs working with IDPs.

In terms of operations in Borno State, NGOs have been required to go to the Borno State Government House to collect a 15-page registration form, which required nearly 70 supporting documents.  These requirements have been modified but the process is still unsettled.  At first the Borno State Government said that NGOs that had not been registered or accredited would not be permitted to enter IDP camps or to hold workshops. This has also been modified, but the Department of State Security (DSS) has attended a number of CSO workshops and attempted to stop them on the grounds that they have not been authorized. There are also increasingly frequent checks by the Nigerian Immigration Service on the immigration status of CSO members.

Barriers to Speech/Advocacy

Companies registered under CAMA are prohibited from making any donation or gift to a political party, or from making any gift or donation “for any political purpose” (Section 38(2) of CAMA). Any breach of this prohibition could result in the officers and any member of the company that voted for such a donation being liable to refund the amount or value of the gift to the company and could also result in conviction and fines in an amount equal to the value of the gift. Human rights and pro-democracy CSOs have not been affected by these provisions, which have been interpreted as applying to partisan politics, registered political parties, and candidates for elective offices.

The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014 does not prohibit any advocacy for a change in the law on homosexuality, but makes it an offence to “support the registration, operation, and sustenance of LGBTQ clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria …” After an initial wave of activity, there appears to be little effort on behalf of the government to enforce the provisions of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. However, a challenge to the Act failed when the Federal High Court in Abuja struck the case for lack of standing.

Bloggers have come under increasing pressure in Nigeria since 2016, especially when they have challenged the ruling party. For example, Abubakar Usman, who is known for his strong pro-APC views (APC is the ruling party), was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged cyberstalking in August 2016. The EFCC said Mr. Usman’s activities contradicted sections of the Cybercrime Act. Usman was released after spending more than 36 hours in custody but was placed on ​ ​administrative bail with conditions that he must make himself available to the EFCC whenever he receives an “invitation” from the EFCC.

The trends did not improve in 2017, with reports of the Kaduna State Government arresting those whom it accused of making false reports on the Internet. In addition, the Nasarawa State Urban Development Board demolished Breeze FM, a privately owned station that was licensed by the National Broadcasting Commission. Furthermore, two journalists were beaten and later told to never write anything against the Ebonyi State government (see the News Items section below in this report for more details).

Similar trends continued in 2019. For example, a journalist, Agba Jalingo, was kept in police detention for over a week over a report about an alleged diversion of N500 million by the Cross River governor. Jalingo, who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, a Cross River State-based newspaper, was charged with treason. The SSS also took Omoyele Sowore into custody because Sowore, a social critic and publisher of Sahara Reporters, called for a revolution in Nigeria. The SSS spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, told reporters, however, he was unable to say whether or not the SSS had any credible intelligence that confirmed Sowore had the capacity to execute a takeover of government in Nigeria.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no restrictions preventing Nigerian CSOs from contacting and cooperating with colleagues in civil society, whether inside or outside the country. CSOs are also free to cooperate with and contact businesses or government bodies, subject to the desire or requirements of any such body. The National Planning Commission has overall responsibility for managing multilateral and bilateral economic co-operation, development aid and technical assistance, and to this end, has embarked on the registration of international and local CSOs, with a view to ensuring that they operate in line with Nigeria’s direction and vision.

Barriers to Resources

There are no major legal barriers to resources under Nigerian law. A CSO may conduct business activities directly, but where incorporated with trustees or limited by guarantee they must apply the proceeds of such economic activity to the purposes of such organization. Registered CSOs are free to compete for government funds if this accords with the purposes for which they were established.

While there is no restriction barring CSOs from receiving foreign funding, it would strengthen civil society if there were some incentive for Nigerian citizens to contribute to or fund CSOs and obtain tax relief for doing so. However, there is some indication that even though the Nigerian government itself receives foreign funding support, it finds it convenient to berate or criticize civil society as being “sponsored” by foreign interests, with the underlying suggestion that such organizations are unpatriotic and – by criticizing government – are being paid to act contrary to Nigeria’s interests.

In October 2011, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Civil Society and Donor Agencies, stated that its duties included the formulation of policies and guidelines for the coordination and regulation of the activities of external donor agencies in Nigeria and expressed concern at the lack of coordination of foreign development assistance and the possibility of duplication. It also stated its intention to track and monitor foreign assistance.

Barriers to Assembly

The Nigerian Constitution, in Section 40, protects the freedom of assembly: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely …” The Public Order Act regulates assemblies.  Since coming into force in 1990, the Public Order Act has been the subject of litigation. In 2007, the Court of Appeal quashed several sections of the Public Order Act; the Court’s decision, however, has not yet been reflected in legislative changes.


Previously notification was required, but this is no longer the case. Now if event organizers notify the police, it is for the purpose of arranging police protection. In 2007 the Court of Appeal quashed several sections of the Public Order Act, including one section relating to advance notification in All Nigeria Peoples Party v. Inspector-General of Police. In the lead judgment, Adekeye JCA held:

“The Public Order Act should be promulgated to compliment sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution in context and not to stifle or cripple it.  A rally or placard carrying demonstration has become a form of expression of views on current issues affecting government and the governed in a sovereign state.  It is a trend recognized and deeply entrenched in the system of governance in civilized countries – it will not only be primitive but also retrogressive if Nigeria continues to require a pass to hold a rally.  We must borrow a leaf from those who have trekked the rugged path of democracy and are now reaping the dividend of their experience (italics added for emphasis).”

In his contribution Mohammed JCA said:

“In present day Nigeria, clearly a Police Permit has outlived its usefulness.  Certainly in a democracy, it is the right of citizens to conduct peaceful processions, rallies or demonstrations without seeking and obtaining permission from anybody.  It is a right guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution and any law that attempts to curtail such right is null and void and of no consequence (italics added for emphasis).”

Time, Place and Manner Restrictions

The surviving portion of Section 1 of the Public Order Act empowers a State Governor to prescribe the route by which and the times at which any procession may pass. In addition, while the use of uniforms in general is not prohibited, and indeed, is specifically permitted by section 7 of the Public Order Act, section 7 does prohibit the wearing of any uniform if the Commissioner of Police in the state is of the opinion that wearing it is offensive or is likely to provoke a breach of the peace.


In practice the State sometimes uses force to break up assemblies even where these are peaceful.  The basis for allowing some assemblies to go ahead while preventing others appears arbitrary, but can usually be traced to the political interests of the government in power, since the Nigeria Police Force – although ostensibly a service for the entire Federation – is answerable to the President, and thus more likely to do his bidding, either express or anticipated.

Where political issues are at stake, the police response may be dictated by the political interests of those in power.  In January 2010, when then-President Umaru Yar’Adua was absent without explanation, demonstrations calling for a proper resolution of the crisis and formal handover of power to then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan were well policed in major cities.  But in January 2012, when Nigerians demonstrated against a fuel price increase under the rubric #OccupyNigeria, the police initially provided protection but then changed strategy toward the continuing demonstrations, which were broken up or prevented by a show of force from the police and the armed forces. The reason given for the volte face was said to be intelligence reports that Boko Haram was planning to take advantage of the demonstrations and protests to foment trouble in Nigeria. The excuse about the fear that protests are going to be hijacked is frequentl