In Damning Report, US Says Impunity, Massive Corruption Still Prevalent in Nigeria

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• Shiite, IPOB extrajudicial killings, Dasuki’s detention cited as rights abuses, violation of rule of law

Tobi Soniyi in Lagos

The United States Department of State has again issued a damning assessment of Nigeria under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari in its 2017 Country Report on Human Rights released last Friday in Washington D.C.

In the 48-page report posted on the website of the State Department, the U.S. government said impunity remained widespread at all levels of government in Nigeria, further noting that the Buhari-led administration lacked transparency.

A copy of the report obtained by THISDAY, added that government officials engaged in massive corruption.
Corruption, the report said, was not limited to government officials but very rampant among the security agencies.

The report stated: “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
“Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services.”

On the anti-corruption agencies, the report noted that although the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) efforts remained largely focused on low – and mid-level government officials, following the 2015 presidential election both organisations started investigations into and brought indictments against various active and former high-level government officials.

It, however, observed that the EFCC often did not observe all due process safeguards and refused to obey court orders granting bail to the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki.
“Many of these cases were pending in court. According to both ICPC and EFCC, the delays were the result of a lack of judges and the widespread practice of filing for and granting multiple adjournments.

“EFCC’s arrests and indictments of politicians continued throughout the year, implicating a significant number of opposition political figures and leading to allegations of partisan motivations on the part of the EFCC.

“In a case brought by the EFCC, in November a federal court convicted four firms allegedly used by a former aide of former President Goodluck Jonathan of laundering 1.67 billion naira ($$55.3 million) in stolen funds.

“In its pursuit of corruption, the EFCC often did not observe all pertinent due process safeguards. In November, the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice declared unlawful the arrest and detention in 2015 of former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki.

“A court ordered him released on bail in a case brought by the EFCC for the alleged diversion of 13.6 billion naira ($$443.2 million) intended to purchase military material during the Jonathan administration. Despite the court order, he remained in detention,” said the report.

In support of the claim that impunity remains the order of the day in Nigeria, the report further noted that government did not often take steps to prosecute officials who perpetuated impunity whether in the security forces or elsewhere in government.
It, however, acknowledged that government did take steps to investigate such impunity but failed to bring to book those who violated the law.

The report cited various instances including the atrocities allegedly committed in the North-east by members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) and the refusal to bring to justice military men who killed members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria in 2015 in circumstances adjudged to be extrajudicial.

“As of November, the government had not adequately investigated or held police or military personnel accountable for extrajudicial killings of supporters of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra,” the report added.

Excerpts from the report added: “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 (Yemi Osinbajo) 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 state department report stated that respect for human rights generally remained appalling in Nigeria.
The report identified the following as the most significant human rights abuses: extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages; criminalisation of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labour.

Speaking during the official release of the report, the acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour of the US Department of State, Mr. Michael Kozak, said the 2017 report marked the 42nd year that the U.S. has published the country-specific annual Human Rights Reports.

He said the law requires the U.S. executive to produce the report every year.
According to him, “This goes back to the 1970s when Congress said to the Executive Branch, ‘When we’re making decisions about foreign assistance and security assistance and trade agreements and all of that, we’d really like to know: what is the human rights situation in the countries that we’re dealing with’.”

He said the U.S. did not produce the report to pass judgment “on other countries, or to name and shame”.
“It’s to fulfil a statutory responsibility to our Congress to try to produce the most accurate description of what we find is going on in other countries so that they can use that in making decisions,” he explained.
Efforts to get the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, to react to the report proved abortive as his phone was switched off.