Field Report for Nigeria #1: Two Underlying Issues

Participants of the N-Map workshop at the MacArthur Foundation in Abuja
Participants of the N-Map workshop at the MacArthur Foundation in Abuja


by Abby Goldberg

Last week, N-Map Executive Director Adam Stofsky and I traveled to Nigeria as part of a year-long project supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Our goal is to explore how N-Map can support the work of local groups in Mexico and Nigeria to advance human rights through the integration of tactical video and new media into legal and advocacy campaigns.

Nigeria is not an easy or simple country.  With over 160 million inhabitants (on record), it is larger than the rest of West Africa combined.  The nation has a long history of political instability, which was exacerbated by the discovery of oil in the 1970s.

Over six days in Nigeria, we split our time between Lagos and Abuja.  The two cities could not be more different.  Lagos is a sprawling, boisterous city of millions (estimates range from 11 million to as high as 21 million!).  The city is an exceptionally vibrant mix of chaos and enterprise, of poverty and creativity.  It is hectic, noisy, sprawling, and traffic-ridden – but many Lagotians have a deep passion for their city. Abuja, the capital, by contrast, was designed by urban planners, and the city sports green vegetation and flowers, organized roads, and a much greater number of “oyibo”, or white people, as they are called.  There is also a much stronger Muslim presence than in the predominantly Christian south.

In both cities, Adam and I presented N-Map’s work to two groups of about twenty organization leaders, and held strategy sessions with seventeen individual organizations. (See end of post for more information on these groups) The human rights defenders we met exhibited their amazing resiliency in the face of incredible challenges, a spirit that proved inspiring.  Meeting with so many different organizations, we had the opportunity to learn about all kinds of human rights challenges facing Nigeria such as forced displacement, extrajudicial killing, police abuse, sexual violence, among numerous others as well as diverse approaches to addressing them, from paralegal and community health work, litigation, public advocacy campaigns, work directly with the government and police to develop model police stations and advocate for better pay for police as a strategy to fight corruption, and more.  (These will be written about in more detail in subsequent posts).  From feedback we’ve received thus far, we have been excited and encouraged to learn that our work helped to spark new thinking among groups working on the ground in how to incorporate media into their advocacy for greater impact, and there is widespread interest in working with N-Map in the future.

Over the next week, we will be posting to the blog to discuss the major issues which the human rights community in Nigeria is confronting, as well as initial thoughts about N-Map’s findings as we develop plans for future collaborations in country. We look forward to hearing our online community’s feedback, reactions, and most importantly, suggestions.

MDGs sign ironically placed in slum community under threat near Lagos.
MDGs sign ironically placed in slum community under threat near Lagos.

This first post focuses on two of the major issues that pervade every human rights battle in the nation: corruption and impunity.

CORRUPTION: The most prominent and pervasive issue we heard about, that touches almost every human rights problem in Nigeria, is corruption. In fact, on Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception index, which tracks the level of fraud and exploitation in all nations’ government and public sectors, Nigeria ranks a low 139 out of 174.  During one meeting, I learned that despite thirteen years of 6% growth in GDP, poverty is rising in Nigeria. While one would have expected a rise in GDP to equate to a reduction in economic hardship among the larger population, the resources are illegally used for personal enrichment rather than the combat the myriad of problems the state is facing.

IMPUNITY: Another equally pressing issue undercutting many groups’ work is impunity.  With minimal investigation into criminal accusations, and a dismal rate of prosecution, most criminals in Nigeria get away with their crimes, which only further encourages unlawful behavior. One poignant example emerged while Adam and I were in Nigeria, as all the major news outlets covered the possibility of amnesty for an Islamist insurgent group operating in the North called Boko Haram.  Boko Haram is responsible for more than 2,000 deaths in their attempts to create an independent Islamic state in the nation’s predominantly Muslim North. Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan argued that an amnesty might offer the group an incentive to stop the violence and engage in peaceful, democratic discussions. However, if given amnesty, why wouldn’t other violent insurgents also feel free to commit heinous crimes as an entry point for negotiation with the government? The amnesty offer seems particularly toothless because the Boku Haram won’t even accept it!  This is just one concerning example of the widespread impunity we are working with.

While the above two issues pervade almost all of the specific areas of human rights we learned about, their effects pervade all the other issues human rights groups are working on as well, which we will discuss in our upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

Organizations We Met With in Nigeria:

  1. National Human Rights Commission –
  2. Enough is Enough –
  3. WRAPA –
  4. WARD-C –
  5. IPAS Nigeria –
  7. Global Rights –
  8. Open Society Foundations West Africa –
  9. SERAC –
  10. SERAP –
  11. LEDAP –
  12. Access to Justice –
  13. Partnership for Justice –
  14. Centre for Democracy and Development –
  15. Justice for All –
  16. Yar’adua Center – no website link
  17. Community groups in Ilasan slum.

One thought on “Field Report for Nigeria #1: Two Underlying Issues

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