Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts

Friday, May 17, 2024

Activists in Nigeria condemn mass ‘forced marriages’ of 100 girls and young women

Human rights activists in Nigeria have launched a petition to stop a plan to push 100 girls and young women into marriage in a mass ceremony, which has caused outrage in the west African country.

The plan, sponsored by Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, the speaker of the national assembly in the largely Muslim north-western state of Niger, were criticised by Nigeria’s women’s affairs minister, Uju Kennedy Ohanenye. She said she would seek a court injunction to stop the ceremony next week and establish if any of the girls were minors.

Sarkindaji said the girls and young women were orphans whose parents were killed in attacks by kidnapping gangs that roam northern Nigeria. He said he would pay dowries to the grooms.

A petition launched on Wednesday that has more than 8,000 signatures said the Niger state government should prioritise the education of the girls instead of forcing them into marriage.

“We demand immediate action to halt the proposed forced marriages and to instead implement measures that will empower these girls to lead dignified and fulfilling lives,” the activists said.

Critics have expressed concern that some girls may be underage or being forced to comply for financial gain.

Sarkindaji and the Imams Forum of Niger said the marriage ceremony would go ahead on 24 May and insisted the girls were not underage.

Child marriages are common in the mostly Muslim north, where poverty levels are higher than the largely Christian south. Although the legal age of marriage is 18 under federal law, Nigerian states can set their own age.

Niger’s legal marriage age is also 18, but Sarkindaji’s spokesperson said that under sharia law, which is practised in the state, a girl can be married when she reaches puberty.

After meeting on Wednesday, the imams forum said it would take legal action against Kennedy Ohanenye if she did not withdraw her statement suggesting the girls were minors, its secretary, Umar-Faruk Abdullahi, said on local TV.

“We have given the minister seven days to withdraw her statement she used against us, against our speaker, against the Muslim community … that we want to force them into marriage and the children are underage,” said Abdullahi.

Kennedy Ohanenye did not respond to requests for comment.

The Guardian

Related story: Ending Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Arrest of journalist in Nigeria triggers criticism of worsening press freedoms

A Nigerian journalist's arrest last week has triggered criticism of worsening press freedoms in the West African country.

Daniel Ojukwu with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism went missing last Wednesday in the economic hub of Lagos. His family and employer found out on Friday that he was detained and held in a police station for allegedly violating the country's Cybercrime Act, often criticized as a tool for censorship.

The arrest of Ojukwu, who was later transferred to the Nigerian capital of Abuja, follows his report about alleged financial mismanagement of over 147 million naira ($104,600) involving a senior government official, according to his employer, the foundation.

Nigeria is ranked 112th out of 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. It is known for the country's tough environment for journalists who face frequent abductions, arrests and prosecution, usually after reporting on chronic corruption and bad governance plaguing the oil-rich country.

At least 25 journalists have been prosecuted under the country's Cybercrime Act since it was introduced in 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. They include eight detained under President Bola Tinubu whose government, in power since May last year, touts itself as one encouraging press freedoms — a claim it repeated last week during World Press Freedom Day events.

The Cybercrime Act was amended this year to remove some harsh provisions but the police still use it to "silence journalists and critics," Amnesty International's Nigeria office said.

Nigeria's law requires a suspect to be charged or released within 48 hours following arrest. Ojukwu, however, was not allowed any means of communication or access to a lawyer until his third day in custody, said Oke Ridwan, a human rights lawyer who met with the journalist at the police station where he was held.

Nigeria's Minister of Information Mohammed Idris Malagi told The Associated Press that he is making efforts to resolve the case and is "on top of the issue." Local and international civil society groups have condemned the detention.

It is a "symptom of a larger problem within Nigeria's law enforcement agencies, and their relationship with politically exposed persons undermining democratic principles," a coalition of at least 30 civil society groups known as the Action Group on Protection of Civic Actors said in a statement on Monday.

"The Nigerian Police Force has veered off course from its duty to uphold law and order to become an oppressive tool in stifling dissent and independent journalism," it added.

AP

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Baby factories continue to thrive in Nigeria

Child traffickers often abduct girls and young women, take them to isolated locations and impregnate them. When they give birth, their babies are sold to childless couples. The practice has existed for years in Nigeria.

So-called baby making factories are facilities in Nigeria to which girls and young women are lured, impregnated and held against their will until they give birth.

The "factories" are usually small, illegal facilities parading as private medical clinics that house pregnant women and subsequently offer their babies for sale.

In some cases, young women have been held against their will and raped before their babies are sold on the black market.

The practice is largely prevalent in the southeastern states of Abia, Lagos, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo.

Around 200 underground baby factories have been shut over the last five years, according to Nigerian security agencies, however new facilities open to replace the closed ones.

Earlier this month, police officers stormed a hideout in Abia where they rescued 16 pregnant girls and eight young children.

Maureen Chinaka, a police spokeswoman revealed that the rescued girls were between the ages of 17 and 27 and had been told that they would be paid to leave the baby factories without their babies.

Last June, 22 pregnant young girls and two babies were rescued from a facility in the same state, where they had been held hostage.
Why do the factories exist?

There is a thriving market for babies among couples who are struggling to bear their own children. They are willing to pay between 1 million naira (€576) and 2 milion naira (€1,152) for a baby.

There is a higher demand for male babies, which tend to be sold at a higher price than baby girls.

Clare Ohunayo, a Nigerian activist and educationist, told DW that as long as there is demand for babies, the practice will prevail.
Supplying a demand

Ohunayo blames it on high levels of poverty and the stigma that comes with being a childless couple in Nigeria.

"The desperation that drives the baby factory has two sets of players. The first set is driven by the fear of poverty as a result of the socio-economic conditions of Nigeria," she said.

Those who own these facilities where the girls are kept, the men who impregnate them, and the girls themselves are all pushed into it by poverty, according to Ohunayo.

Some young female Nigerians told DW that they remain vulnerable because of their poor living conditions.

"This baby booming industry, even though it has been in existence, the reason it's coming up [is] because people are really really stressed in terms of striving for a daily living," a young resident of Abuja said.

Another Abuja resident told DW that: "We are experiencing an increase in crime rates due to hardship and poverty."

But not everyone blames it on poverty.

"Actually I think what is causing this menace has to do with moral decadence. Immoral people are desperate to make money. This is why you see this kind of thing happening, but to me I think it's very bad," said one Nigerian man.

Giving birth to children is considered signifcant in many African societies, and often couples unable to have their own children face humiliation, even from family members.

The demand for male children makes the practice especially lucrative, according to police officials.

"On the other side you have childless couple who want to avoid the stigma of [being] childless," said Ohunayo, describing a major cultural factor behind the baby factories.
Ending the baby factory business

Florence Marcus, a lawyer with the Abuja-based Disability Rights Advocate Center told DW there are laws to help tackle the menace.

"This issue of baby factories is a gross violation of the rights of the victims, especially these young ladies who are often taken to these facilities without theor consent," she said.

"The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act prohibits all forms of violence against person, particularly women and girls. The law provides maximum protection and effective remedies for the victims and also punishment for the offenders."

Several arrests have been made across the Nigerian states in which the practice is prevalent.

Zakaria Dauda, spokesman for the National Agency for the Prohibition in Trafficking in Persons, a government body, told DW that the organization will continue to make arrests and ensure that pepatrators are punished.

"We know [with] the issue of baby factory most victims are usually young girls. We warn people of the dangers of such vices," he said.

"And those who become suspects, we take them [in] for people to also know that there is a crime being perpetrated called sale of babies."

By Ben Shemang, DW

Related stories: Video - Baby trafficking syndicate arrested in Imo state

Baby factory raided in Lagos, Nigeria

16 pregnant women freed from baby factory in Nigeria

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Education policy leads to increased girls enrollment, reduced child marriage in north-west Nigeria

Despite security challenges, the education sector plans in six north-west Nigerian states led to a significant increase in girls’ enrollment in secondary schools and a reduction in the percentage of girls married before the age of 18, a new report has shown.

The report said before the introduction of state education plans, the average girls’ secondary school enrollment declined and rates of early marriage increased.

The study – Gender Review and Advocacy For Gender Responsive Education Sector Planning (GRESP) – was authored by the development Research and Projects Centre (dRPC) with the support of the Malala Fund.

The report covers a gender review of 11 years (2011 to 2023) of State Education Sector Plans (SESPs) in Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, and Zamfara States.

SESPs is the only official education policy in Nigeria that mainstreams girls’ education goals within the education system and establishes performance indicators for government outcomes within the basic education system.

There was a five per cent increase in secondary school enrollment rates across the six states during the period of the education sector plans and the rate of child marriage fell by an average of 6.9 per cent across the states during the period of the plan, the report said.

It further pointed to an intersectionality between the two outcome indicators – enrollment and early marriage. Jigawa State, with the highest increase in enrollment for girls at the basic education level, was also the state with the second most significant reduction in the age of marriage.

Conversely, Kaduna State, which experienced the lowest change in enrollment rates for girls within the same period, also experienced the least change in the age of marriage for girls among the six states.

In terms of positive change in girls’ education outcomes, Jigawa State also takes the lead, followed by Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kaduna.
 

Methodology

The dRPC researchers aimed to generate empirical evidence to show how the components of education sector plans and operational plans deliver a gender-responsive education system that keeps girls in school and supports their learning outcomes.

Applying a mixed method research methodology, the gender review first conducted a trend analysis of two girls’ education outcomes to establish patterns in the period before sector plans were introduced in Nigeria and the period during education sector planning in Nigeria.

At the launch of the report last Tuesday, experts said the review is timely and significant, coming against the background of the exogenous shocks to the school system in Nigeria. The shocks include COVID-19 and its impacts and the incessant attacks on schools and abductions of schoolchildren in the region

The researchers also conducted a Focus Group Discussion with a total of 180 school-age children.
 

Factors threatening school enrollment

The insecurity in north-west Nigeria has led to the compulsory closure of many schools. This is a major factor that would likely stop students, especially girls, from achieving their education plans for the future, the report states.

“Compulsory school closures had a significant impact on students’ psychological, social, and mental well-being, causing a large number of students to forget nearly everything they had learned at school prior to the start of the lockdown and school closure,” it added.

The attacks on some schools may have also deterred some students from going to school. About 14 per cent of female and male participants from educational schools and 7 per cent of girls in all-girls schools mentioned that insecurity and school attacks were factors that could stop them from achieving their educational plans.

The researchers also found that while insecurity was a factor, poverty and lack of financial support are also a threat to future education while COVID-19 also played an impact.

When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on their education, 13 per cent of students from girls’ schools responded indicating a loss of interest in continuing education as a result of COVID-19.

No boys gave such a response, the report said.

Other factors mentioned by participants included drug abuse and peer pressure, bribery and corruption, fear of not succeeding in school, fear of not getting employment after graduation, and discouragement by the community members.

The report noted that gender responsiveness in education sector planning calls for flexibility to adjust to these unpredictable challenges emerging from the environment impacting negatively on the education of all children, especially girls.
 

Second stage of analysis

The second stage of the gender review sought to explore relationships between the trend in girls’ education outcomes established in the first step in the analysis and the structures and functions of bureaucracy prescribed by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) model of gender-responsive education.

The GPE model of Gender Responsive Education Sector Strategic Planning (GRESP) argues that during the formation phase of planning, the application of three specific process factors can contribute towards positive girls’ education outcomes.

The factors include: gender equality and girls’ education policies and strategies integrated into education sector plans; Stakeholders, including CSOs and local communities as well as government departments that are consulted during the design; and the GRESP has adequate financial resources allocated to gender equality and girls education strategies.

Here, the analysis found clear and consistent correlations, thus confirming the prescriptive powers of the GPE model of gender-responsive education planning.

Findings show that Jigawa, Kano, and Katsina states budgeted for activities derived from State Education Sector Plans (SESP). While in Kaduna, Sokoto, and Zamfara states, there was less alignment between the activities of the state education sector plans and annual budgets.

In terms of SESP activities in the annual budget, Jigawa State emerged as the state that allocated the most funds to SESP activities. On the contrary, Zamfara, Katsina, and Sokoto performed poorly in terms of allocating funds for SESP activities.
 

Call for Action

The report noted that with new administrations at the federal and state levels, this is the time for a definitive understanding of what works for girls’ education and what has not worked for girls in the education system of states implementing education sector plans over the 11 years of 2011 to 2023 in Nigeria.

Experts said the findings of the report provide an opportunity to strengthen the gender transformative plans through the advocacy of civil society stakeholders. They said evidence-informed advocacy is critical in Nigeria in 2023 given the recent findings of the 2022 UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report, which showed that the out-of-school population of Nigeria virtually doubled between 2016 and 2022 to 20 million.

Trailing behind India and Pakistan, Nigeria now stands as the third country with the largest out-of-school population. The majority of these children are recognised by the Nigerian government to be girls, many of whom are in the northwestern states with education plans.

In its 2018 data on out-of-school children, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) reported the estimated number in Nigeria as 10.1 million out of which there were approximately 3.2 million out-of-school children cumulatively in the six northwestern states covered in the dRPC report.

The 3.2 million is about 31.84 per cent of the total estimated number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. Out of this number, 1.9 million were boys and 1.2 million were girls.
 

Why the six north-west states?

In terms of criteria for selecting the states studied, the researchers said the review of the gender responsiveness of education sector plans of Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, and Zamfara was “strategic and important for generating evidence of what works for girls’ education.”

The six states are accessing the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) funding.

The GPE is an independently governed partnership that includes national governments, multilateral organisations, civil society, the private sector, and foundations.

Established in 2002 as the Education for All Fast Track Initiative, the GPE has evolved and now designs evidence-informed and gender-responsive education sector plans.

GPE contends that gender responsiveness in education sector plans offers the most comprehensive and systematic approach to delivering change in girls’ education.

For a country such as Nigeria, GPE serves as a mobilisation point for donor coordination of multiple development impact investors, including the World Bank and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to fund the country-led basic education interventions very often with a specific focus on girls’ education.

Between 2012 and 2020 when Nigeria became a GPE partner, a total of $101 million has been awarded in grants to the West African country, of which $81 million has been disbursed as of January 2020.
 

States’ performance

In 2020, dRPC organised a gender workshop for the recipients of the grants to assess their education sector plans in terms of gender transformative, gender-responsive, integrated, or gender-blind characterisation.

The result shows that delegates from Kano and Jigawa states assessed their respective education sector plans as gender blind. Delegates from Sokoto and Katsina assessed their education sector plans as gender-responsive.

Meanwhile, delegates from Kaduna State assessed their plan as ranging between gender responsive and gender transformative. This was highlighted by the fact that the state has done much to mainstream gender into the education sector plan.

“We have rated Kaduna to be between transformative and responsive (high on the responsive and just going into the transformative scale),” the researchers said.

By Kabir Yusuf, Premium Times

Related stories: Video - Nigeria aims to return millions of children to school by 2027

School in Nigeria helps girls to heal after Boko Haram

Friday, February 9, 2024

Video - Activists Working to End Painful Practice of Breast Ironing in Nigeria



A harmful practice called breast ironing or flattening affects about 3.8 million women in Africa, including some parts of Nigeria. The practice aims to delay development in adolescent girls. Gibson Emeka has this story, narrated by Salem Solomon.

VOA 

Related story: Ending Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria

 

 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

House advances resolution to increase sanctions on Nigeria over persecution of Christians

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has advanced a resolution to increase sanctions and pressure on the Nigerian government over the rampant persecution of Christians and other minorities in the country.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, the resolution would call on the Biden administration to designate Nigeria a “country of particular concern” (CPC), a designation that comes with additional sanctions.

The resolution would also urge the administration to appoint a special U.S. envoy to Nigeria to monitor and report on incidents of persecution.

Smith and other proponents of the bill, including Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), maintain that adding Nigeria to the State Department’s CPC blacklist would be an effective means to pressure the Nigerian government to address the persecution.

Sean Nelson, a legal counsel for ADF, has previously told CNA that the CPC list is “the most powerful tool the U.S. government has to influence the religious freedom situation in other countries.”

For years now Nigeria has been recognized by religious rights groups as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian. According to Open Doors International 4,998 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2023, meaning that 82% of all Christians killed for their faith last year were in Nigeria.

In late January, Nigerian Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of the Diocese of Makurdi told CNA that the persecution amounts to a Christian “genocide” in which radical Islamic groups’ goal is to “systematically” eliminate the Christian population from Nigeria.

Despite this, the Biden administration has left Nigeria off the CPC list for the last three years. This year the administration’s decision to leave Nigeria off the list came just weeks after a series of attacks on Christmas left more than 200 Nigerian Christians dead.

Smith said in a Wednesday statement that the Nigerian government “has enabled widespread murder and violence through indifference and a gross failure to protect victims and prosecute Islamist terrorists” and that the US State Department “is not using all the tools provided to hold guilty parties accountable.”

“Following the Biden administration’s repeated failure to designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern despite widespread outcry, we are grateful to the members of Congress who are taking these vital steps to increase pressure on Nigeria for its egregious violations of religious freedom,” Nelson said in a Wednesday press release.

“No person should be persecuted for their faith, and it is imperative that the U.S. government condemn the targeted violence, unjust imprisonments, and egregious blasphemy laws that plague Christians and religious minorities in Nigeria,” he added.

Nelson told CNA that the resolution “lays out an undeniable case that Nigeria has engaged in and tolerated egregious, systematic, and ongoing violations of religious freedom, and some of the worst in the world, particularly for Christians in the north.”

If Congress passes the resolution, Nelson said he hopes the Biden administration would “listen and change course.”

“More importantly,” he said, he believes the resolution’s passage “would send an immense signal of support for the victims of persecution in Nigeria themselves, who have asked for the international community to raise their voices and would put pressure on the Nigerian government to take the persecution seriously, hold attackers accountable, and free those who have been imprisoned and charged under blasphemy-related allegations.”

“There has already been a great amount of outcry over the lack of the CPC designation for Nigeria by the USCIRF and civil society organizations that focus on international religious freedom,” he said. “Having the voice of Congress echo those concerns would also give the concerns an international amplification that is sorely needed.”

According to Nelson, the Nigerian resolution will now move forward for a vote in the House. However, no date has been set for when the vote will take place.

By Peter Pinedo, CNA

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Ending Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria

“In my clan, they do it in infancy; some others do it in adulthood. My mother was even cut off when she was about to get married. I was cut when I was just five years old, so I didn't know much about it" said now-26-year-old Miss Uzodimma Lucy Ogodo, the Executive Director of Tomorrow, is a Girl Initiative, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.


"I am a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM). In my community, Abakaliki, FGM is a common practice. Young girls and women are brainwashed into accepting it as our culture. I first learned about it when I was in sixth grade. I asked my mother to explain what it was about. I asked whether I was cut since I can't remember how much it hurt, the implications to my health, the psychological effect of knowing that an essential part of me was brutally chopped off, and the other harmful effects," Uzodinma explained.

"Upon further inquiry, my mom said that I was cut out of ignorance; on their own part, she and my father realised it was wrong to have cut me," Uzodinmma continued, her expression betraying her self-assured manner. As a result, my other siblings were not cut, “no girl or woman deserves to be cut; it simply destroys our spirit."

"My NGO, Tomorrow is Girl Initiative, was founded in a bid to advocate for an end to FGM practice, and it was in my quest for deeper understanding that I became emotionally invested in the cause. Growing up, I was deeply troubled by the fact that no woman deserves to be cut, knowing the dangers involved," she explained.

Every year, millions of girls and women around the world are at risk of undergoing FGM, with Nigeria contributing to 15% of the total population, globally. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a harmful practice that specifically alters or damages the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons. Although the practices that uphold female genital mutilation (FGM) differ from one culture to another, the operation is typically performed between the ages of infancy and adulthood, and it is well-documented that it has health, social, economic, emotional, and sexual complications.

From what I observed, the system-transformative strategy that called for our collaboration with boys men, and women, traditional rulers and priests, was quite effective. Therefore, I propose that we employ that strategy more frequently. 

In a similar tone, 51-year-old Mrs. Josephine Ezaka, from Amudo, in the Ezza South local government area of Ebonyi State, said she knew about FGM as a child. “It was my grandmother who took me to where I was cut. It was very painful. After the cutting, they use hot water to wash the cut part. As you can imagine, it's very painful. I was like six years old then. I didn't know the implications of the FGM.”.

“Since I got married, I realised that I don't have the urge for sex, as other women used to tell me how sweet it is. My husband has even complained to some people." Josephine Said.

Through joint support from UNICEF, UNFPA, and the government, FGM is no longer practiced in Amudo. Josephine acknowledged the significant role played by UNICEF and UNFPA interventions, coupled with high enlightenment facilitated by the involvement of the church and traditional rulers.

Expressing her commitment, Josephine affirmed, "I did not subject any of my children to FGM. We are actively combating the practice, actively seeking those rumored to use Vaseline powder for cutting. The proven dangers of FGM emphasize the urgency of preventing daughters from undergoing it, as evidenced by numerous cases of women dying during childbirth due to FGM."

“There's a popular story of a woman, though late, who had no opening but a little opening for her to urinate just because of a dangerous vaginal cut in the name of FGM. She died without having a child." Josephine said it sadly.

By Ijeoma Onuoha-Ogwe, UNICEF

Related stories: Calls for law against female genital mutilation to be introduced in Nigeria

Pregnant woman flees Nigeria to Canada to save unborn children from female genital mutilation

Friday, January 12, 2024

Soldiers arrested in Nigeria after viral torture video

The Nigerian army has arrested two soldiers after a viral video allegedly showed them torturing a civilian.

In the footage, a man in military fatigues and another in civilian clothing repeatedly kick and whip a third shirtless man, as he repeatedly pleas for mercy.

"No, no sir, abeg! [I beg]. I will confess sir, abeg!" the man cries out.

The army has expressed "utmost dismay" at the "unprofessional conduct" allegedly displayed by the officers.

"It is instructive to mention that the soldiers involved in that unprofessional conduct have been clearly identified and arrested," the army added in a statement on Wednesday.

The alleged assault took place in Nigeria's Rivers state, but the date is unclear.

The circulation of the video on social media platforms earlier this week prompted widespread condemnation of the soldiers and Nigerian army, with one user on X describing the soldiers' behaviour as "highly cruel, barbaric and nothing but abuse of power".

The army has assured that it will conduct a thorough investigation to address the incident and promised to "sanction those involved".

International human rights groups have previously criticised Nigeria's army for alleged rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.

Nigerian soldiers used to have a reputation for acting with impunity - for many years it was rare for soldiers to face disciplinary action if they attacked civilians.

But this has changed in recent years. Army chief Taoreed Lagbaja vowed to make the army more disciplined and professional when he was appointed last year.

By Gloria Aradi, BBC


Thursday, December 14, 2023

Christian mother on bail after 19 months prision time in Nigeria for “blasphemy”

A judge in Bauchi State, Nigeria, has granted bail to Rhoda Jatau. Jatau, a Christian and mother of five, had been imprisoned since May 2022 for allegedly sharing a video on WhatsApp condemning the lynching of Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a Nigerian university student who was murdered and set on fire by a mob of her classmates in May 2022 for sharing her Christian faith. ADF International is supporting Jatau’s defence.


Prior to being granted bail, from the time of her arrest over 19 months ago, Jatau was repeatedly denied bail and detained incommunicado, only having intermittent access to legal counsel and family members during court appearances.

“We are glad to see that Rhoda Jatau finally has been granted bail after being denied it for so long,” said Sean Nelson, legal counsel for ADF International. “No person should be punished for peaceful expression, and international religious freedom advocates must continue to speak up on Rhoda’s behalf. We will continue to seek justice for Rhoda, and we are hopeful that the unjust charges against her will be dropped completely.”

The Nigerian ADF International allied lawyer, serving as lead counsel on Jatau’s case, responded: “After 19 long months in prison, we are happy that Rhoda finally has been released on bail. We thank all who have been praying for Rhoda, and we ask for your continued prayers as her case continues.”

Before granting bail, a judge in Bauchi State, Nigeria, refused to dismiss prosecutors’ case in their trial against Jatau. The decision to continue with the prosecution followed a “no case submission” filed by Jatau’s lawyers after the prosecution had rested based on serious evidentiary issues. Jatau’s lawyers raised significant legal failures in the prosecution’s case, and argued that they had not established the basic elements of their case against Jatau.

The grant of bail followed international outcry over Jatau’s imprisonment. Highlighting both Jatau and Yakubu’s cases, and in response to appeals from ADF International and other religious freedom advocacy organizations, United Nations experts sent a joint allegation letter to the Nigerian government earlier this year. The letter emphasized the danger of blasphemy laws as a violation of international human rights and called attention to Jatau’s unjust imprisonment.

Jatau’s trial is currently scheduled to resume on 19 December, but holiday schedules may push her next court date into 2024. Jatau is being charged under sections 114 (public disturbance) and 210 (religious insult) of the Bauchi State Penal Code and faces up to 5 years imprisonment if convicted of the charges against her.

Nigeria’s Persecution of Christians

The cases of Rhoda Jatau and Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu are but two examples of the widespread violence against religious minorities, including Christians in Northern Nigeria, prevalent in Nigeria today.  

Together with other religious minorities in Nigeria, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria is especially severe. Worldwide, over 5,500 Christians were killed for their faith last year. Of those, 90% were Nigerian.   

The criminalisation of blasphemy in Nigeria carries with it dangerous implications for the country as a whole. In a country of more than 200 million, split nearly evenly between Christians and Muslims, blasphemy laws are a significant driver of societal tensions. These laws punish the innocent for expressing their beliefs, silence people from sharing their faith, and perpetuate societal violence. Blasphemy laws throughout Nigeria encourage brutal mob violence and inflict severe harm on minority Muslims, Christian converts, and others. 

ADF International also is supporting the legal defence of Nigerian musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Sufi Muslim who was sentenced to death by hanging for sharing song lyrics that were deemed “blasphemous” on WhatsApp. With the support of ADF International, Yahaya is appealing his case to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the hopes of overturning the death penalty blasphemy laws in Nigeria. Yahaya remains in prison awaiting his appeal. Yahaya has been imprisoned for over three and a half years.  

ADF International

Related stories: Woman jailed in Nigeria for ‘blasphemy’ for 18 months over WhatsApp message

Nigerian accused of blasphemy stoned to death

Mob kills student over ‘blasphemy’ in northern Nigerian college

Friday, December 1, 2023

Woman jailed in Nigeria for ‘blasphemy’ for 18 months over WhatsApp message

For sharing a message among her co-workers that criticised a mob action last May, Rhoda Ya’u Jatau has spent the last year in police detention on charges of blasphemy towards Islam.

The healthcare administrator with the Warji local government in Bauchi, northeastern Nigeria was arrested a few days after forwarding the video condemning the burning to death of Deborah Yakubu, a university student in Sokoto, another state, over alleged blasphemy.

Prosecutors allege that by sharing the video, Jatau, then 45, committed multiple offences of inciting disturbance, contempt” for religious creed, and cyberstalking.

Last Monday, a Bauchi state high court rejected her “no-case submission”. Kola Alapinni, lead counsel at Abuja-based nonprofit Foundation for Religious Freedom who is familiar with the case, told Al Jazeera that the defence team is expected to make a case when the court sits again in December.

If found guilty, Jatau, a mother of five and Christian, could be sentenced to a few years in prison, he said.

The court’s decision has sparked public outrage in parts of Nigeria, a country with a history of religious extremism.

“This really shows how far extremism has permeated deeply into our institutions,” said Ndi Kato, politician and executive director of Dinidari, an advocacy group for women’s rights in the Middle Belt region, as central Nigeria is often referred to. “You will lock a person for just forwarding a message because you don’t think that it favours what you believe in? I don’t think that has any place in our society today.”
 

‘Highly restricted’

Half of Nigerians are Muslims and a slightly smaller proportion – 45 percent – of their compatriots are Christians but Nigeria is officially a secular country whose constitution allows for freedom of speech and religious association. For decades, religious tensions have found their way into many facets of life in what is also an ethnically diverse country. This is most pronounced in northern Nigeria where many states have adopted variations of the conservative Islamic law since the country’s return to democracy in 1999.

Before and after the law, dissenting beliefs and opinions or actions deemed to be blasphemy have routinely sparked riots, mob action, or jail sentences in the region. Across the north, judgements critics of Islamic law consider harsh, including death by stoning, have been handed out repeatedly.

This has also been the case in Bauchi, one of Nigeria’s 36 states, which is wedged between the predominantly Christian Middle Belt and the mostly Muslim northeast. The state adopted Islamic law in 2001.

Nigeria is one of the 12 countries in the world that still criminalises blasphemy and one of the seven where it is punishable by death, according to Alapinni.

Isa Sanusi, country director for Amnesty International in Nigeria, said blasphemy or accusations of blasphemy are now a tool for gross human rights violations or even for “settling personal scores”.

“Repeatedly, Nigerian authorities failed to uphold and protect human rights by making sure that people are not either killed or attacked for expressing their opinions,” he told Al Jazeera.

Wakili Mathew Laslimbo, the general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Bauchi, said the minority Christian community in the state is unhappy about Jatau’s arrest. He told Al Jazeera that the association had tried everything possible to help, including trying to meet the state governor, to no avail.

“The arrest prove[s] to us that the freedom of speech and religion is highly restricted … the church continues to pray for her during gatherings,” her pastor Rev Ishaku Dano Ayuba told Al Jazeera.

The Bauchi state government did not respond to a request for comments. Temitope Ajayi, a presidential spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that the federal government had no knowledge of the case.
 

A pattern of extremism

There have also been other high-profile cases of blasphemy in recent years.

Mubarak Bala, an atheist and president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria who was arrested on the allegation of a blasphemous post on his Facebook account, has been in detention since 2020. Similarly, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a Sufi (Islamic) gospel artist, was sentenced to death on the charge of sharing blasphemous song lyrics on WhatsApp. The case is still in court.

Amnesty International has called for their immediate and unconditional release, as well as protection of their rights afterwards.

“Nigerian authorities must wake up to their national and international legal obligations to protect and promote human rights, including the right to freedom of religion,” Amnesty director Sanusi said.

In August, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief released a statement on the issue.

“We express concern over the criminalisation of blasphemy in Nigeria contrary to international human rights law and standards and the rising episodes of violence relating to accusations of blasphemy targeting religious minorities in Nigeria,” it said.

According to Sanusi, the latest case underscores the need for justice through a fair trial of all people suspected of responsibility for mob violence to deter would-be perpetrators.

After Yakubu’s lynching in Sokoto, the arrested perpetrators were let off the hook due to the negligence of the prosecution who refused to show up at the court hearing. In contrast, since Jatau was arrested by the police, she has been denied bail and her family has been in hiding for fear of violence against them.

Jatau’s ongoing ordeal, Dindari’s Kato said, is part of a pattern that signals that women in the north and Nigeria as a country are not safe.

“A person who was complaining about this injustice is the person that is going to jail,” she said. “Extremism takes out women and it is just disheartening. This means that women are not safe and we need to speak.”

Last August, the sultan of Sokoto, considered the leader of all Muslims in Nigeria, told new recruits in the one-year mandatory national youth service programme that Islamic law would not apply to non-Muslims among them.

Alapinni agrees, pointing out that Nigeria’s Court of Appeal had indeed ruled in two earlier cases that Islamic law is limited to Islamic personal law which includes succession, inheritance, and marriage.

“There is no room under the constitution for Sharia criminal law,” he said. “The sultan [of Sokoto] is right when he says the Sharia law is not supposed to affect non-Muslims. In fact, the Sharia criminal law should not have been promulgated in the first place … [it] has no place … in a country multicultural, diverse and multireligious like Nigeria,” he said.

By Pelumi Salako, Al Jazeera

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

76 people arrested in Nigeria for attending suspected gay party

On Saturday, October 21, 76 people, including 59 men and 17 women, were arrested in northern Nigeria for attending an alleged LGBTQ+ birthday party where organisers were suspected of planning to host a same-sex wedding.

Buhari Saad, a spokesperson for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), said, “We apprehended 76 suspected homosexuals at a birthday party organised by one of them who was due to marry his fiancĂ© at the event.”

The arrests took place in Gombe State, a paramilitary organisation under the government where Islamic Sharia law can be applied alongside the federal and state judicial systems. Under Sharia law, homosexual relations can be punishable by death.

The NSCDC spokesperson refused to say under which law the suspects will be charged, but death penalties passed in Sharia courts must be approved by the state governor, and this punishment has never been enforced.

Those arrested were the latest targets of Nigeria’s 2014 Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act which bans gay marriage, same-sex relationships and membership of gay rights groups.

According to this legislation, people in same-sex relationships can face of up to 14 years in prison. In recent years, security forces have intimidated LGBTQ+ people in Nigeria and carried out numerous raids on gatherings where they suspect same-sex weddings are taking place.

In August, Nigerian police arrested dozens of people after raiding a gay wedding in the southern city of Warri. Those arrested were paraded before spectators and journalists before being released.

Similarly, last December, police arrested 19 young people for attending an alleged gay wedding in the centre of Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. The couple narrowly escaped and were able to flee the area before the arrests began. Those arrested were not charged and instead asked to “change their lifestyle” through “counselling.”

Amnesty International has condemned these raids saying: “In a society where corruption is endemic, the law prohibiting same-sex relationships is increasingly being used for harassment, extortion and blackmail by law enforcement officials and other members of the public.”

Nicole Lee, Yahoo News 

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Thursday, August 31, 2023

Dozens arrested at gay wedding in Nigeria

Gay rights activists in Nigeria are criticizing the arrest and detention this week of dozens of people who attended a same-sex wedding. It is one of the biggest mass arrests in recent years targeting the country’s LGBTQ community.

A Nigerian police spokesperson said 67 people remained in custody on charges they broke the law by attending the same-sex wedding in the Delta state town of Ekpan.

The Delta state police said they received information about Monday’s wedding after officers on routine patrol Sunday randomly stopped one of the invited guests and interrogated him. It was not clear if he was stopped based on what he was wearing.

The police raided the wedding venue on Monday and rounded up the two grooms, along with guests.

Authorities also paraded the defendants before the media and said the accused will be made to face the law.

"We already have the remand warrant from the court to still have them in custody because we still have more evidence to bring up together,” Bright Edafe, the Delta state police spokesman, told VOA by phone, “but by the end of this week, they'll be charged to court."

Edafe said police recovered materials, including hard drugs and gay marriage ceremonial dresses, during the raid.

If convicted, the defendants face 14 years’ imprisonment, according to an anti-homosexuality law that went into effect in 2014. Police said others accused in the case will be jailed for 10 years if convicted.

The latest arrests come five years after police raided a hotel in Lagos and arrested 57 men for homosexuality.

But criticism has been growing following the latest incident. Rights group Amnesty International condemned the arrests in a statement on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and asked authorities to "put an immediate end to this witch-hunt."

The group said that the arrests discriminated based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, and that Nigeria's law was being increasingly used by officers to harass, blackmail and extort victims.

"Basic rights of privacy, freedom of association has been rolled back, and it's worrying because you don't see public pushback against this,” said Kayode Somtochukwu Ani, founder of Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation. “And because these human rights abuses are launched on minorities, particularly minorities … the state knows that they can drum up moral panic about [it]."

Edafe said he disagrees with activists defending the detainees.

"If Amnesty International knows what they're doing, they'll know that there's a law in this country that prohibits gay marriages, so calling the same government who put that law in place to take action, I wonder what kind of action they're requesting,” he said. “This is Nigeria, and whomever must live in this country must live by the laws of the land."

Homosexuality is widely viewed as a Western import in many parts of Africa, including Nigeria.

In May, Uganda passed a law that punishes homosexuality by imposing the death sentence, despite pressure from Western governments and rights organizations. Two men this week were charged under the new law for what authorities called "aggravated homosexuality."

By Timothy Obiezu, VOA

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Friday, June 16, 2023

Nigerians languishing in prison for petty crimes

The Hope Behind Bars Africa has said that most awaiting trail inmates in Nigeria have been languishing in our Custodial facilities for petty crimes like loitering or hawking.

The human rights and criminal justice reform organisation said apart from such petty and misdemeanours cases, one would also find civil cases like disagreements between business partners that was given criminal correlations.

Executive Director Hope Behind Bars Africa, Mrs. Funke Adeoye revealed that 40 percent of the cases so far handled by the organisation are simple cases.

Adeoye said Nigeria’s prison population was 76,982 on the 30th of May 2023, the number which is spread across 240 custodial facilities, has about 69.3% awaiting trail inmates.

She said this yesterday in Abuja, during the organisation five years impact report/strategic plan launch and press conference.

She said, “40 percent of the cases we have handled are actually simple cases. Cases like people arrested for hawking, loitering and a lot of cases that the sanctions is less than three years. We also find very frequently people arrested by the Special Anti-Robbery squad for armed robbery but when we go into the nitty-gritty of the case we find their is no evidence, most of the cases are stalling for years on ending because their is really no evidence against the person on trail.


“We also find a lot of Civil cases that have been given criminal correlations, for instance, someone having a contract with another person and he gets the police to pick up the person, the person gets arrested and remanded.

“In the past five years, our organisation has dedicated major aspects of its work to providing free legal services to indigent pre-trial detainees, engaging in welfare, empowerment, reformation and reintegration interventions.

“Nigeria’s prison population was 76,982, on 30 May 2023. This number spreads across 240 custodial facilities. Inmates awaiting trial constitute about 69.3 percent of the prison population. This is the highest percentage of awaiting-trial prisoners in Africa,

“Hope Behind Bars Africa, having recognised this challenge, decided to leverage its legal network to foster access to justice. We started out directly representing inmates for free here in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and expanded to Kano and Edo states. Currently, we have a network of lawyers in Kaduna, Niger, Nasarawa, Edo, Kano and FCT. We have represented 420 indigent pre-trial detainees so far. About 40 percent of this number were charged with simple offences, 20 percent for misdemeanours, and the rest for felonies, capital crimes and fundamental human rights actions.”

By Matthew Ogune, The Guardian





Friday, January 13, 2023

Sacking of unmarried pregnant police officers scrapped in Nigeria

A rule banning unmarried Nigerian police officers from getting pregnant and ensured their sacking if they did, has been scrapped.

In a landmark case, a judge ruled the regulation was discriminatory as it did not apply to male officers who got co-workers pregnant.

The case was brought by a corporal who was sacked in 2021 after getting pregnant.

The woman was awarded 5m naira (£9,100) in compensation.

The ex-officer - who is named in Nigerian media as Omolola Olajide - challenged her dismissal on grounds of discrimination since her male counterparts are not dismissed in similar circumstances.

Although Ms Olajide was compensated for the violation of her fundamental right to freedom from discrimination, she will not get her job back as she was on probation at the time of her dismissal.

In a ruling in the south-western city of Akure, Justice Dashe Damulak said the regulation was "discriminatory, illegal, null and void" and struck it out.

The judge ruled that the regulation "violates sections of the Nigerian constitution as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Ratification and Enforcement Act, which abolished discrimination on basis of gender".

Nigerian police have not yet responded to the ruling, but experts believe it could have far-reaching consequences for other organisations which have similar regulations.

By Alex Binley, BBC

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Gay Wedding Raided in Nigeria - 19 Arrested

The Islamic police have arrested 19 people accused of organizing a gay wedding in the city of Kano, in conservative northern Nigeria, a spokesman said Tuesday (December 20).

Kano is one of 12 northern Nigerian states that introduced sharia law in 2000, where Islamic courts operate alongside the state judicial system.

This is not the first time the Islamic police have made arrests, accusing youths of organizing a gay wedding. Each time, the suspects have denied it, saying they had gathered to celebrate.


Homosexuality is punishable by death under Islamic law, but no execution has ever been carried out.

The 19 people, 15 women and four men in their 20s were arrested Sunday in a multipurpose hall, Lawan Ibrahim Fagge, a spokesman for the Islamic police, told AFP.

"Our men broke into the venue where a gay couple was holding a wedding and arrested 19 men and women, including the wedding planner," he said.

However, Fagge said the alleged couple managed to escape and police are looking for them.

The suspects, meanwhile, have been taken into custody pending further investigation, the spokesman said.

In 2014, Africa's most populous country - which is very religious - passed a law against same-sex marriage. Since then, homosexuality has been punishable by 10 to 14 years in prison.

The Islamic police, the "Hisbah" in Kano, have in the past arrested several people accused of planning gay and lesbian marriages, without any convictions.

In 2018, the Hisbah arrested 11 young women on charges of planning a lesbian wedding.

They had refuted the charge, stating that they belonged to a dance club and wanted to celebrate the appointment of their club's president.

In January 2015, the Hisbah arrested 12 young men at a hotel in the suburbs of Kano on suspicion of planning a gay wedding. The youth had also denied it, saying they were planning a friend's birthday party.

African News

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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Possible review of U.S. security assistance to Nigeria after Reuters abortion report

U.S. Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has requested a review of U.S. security assistance and cooperation programs in Nigeria following Reuters reporting on an illegal abortion program and killing of children carried out by the Nigerian military.

Risch, in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken seen by Reuters, also called for the State Department to examine the potential use of sanctions in addition to an expeditious review of U.S. security assistance and cooperation.

"I look forward to hearing more about the Department's planned response to the serious and abhorrent allegations levied against a long-standing beneficiary of U.S. security assistance and cooperation which, if deemed credible, have done irreparable harm to a generation of Nigerian citizens and to U.S. credibility in the region," Risch said in the letter dated Friday.

Nigeria's information minister was not immediately available to comment on the requested review.

A Reuters investigation this month found that since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion program in the country’s northeast, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls.

Many had been kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants. Resisters were beaten, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance, witnesses say.

Nigerian military leaders denied the program has ever existed and said Reuters reporting was part of a foreign effort to undermine the country's fight against the insurgents.

Last week, Reuters also reported that the Nigerian Army and allied security forces have slaughtered children during their gruelling 13-year war against Islamist extremists in the country’s northeast.

Nigerian military leaders told Reuters the army has never targeted children for killing. They said that the reporting in the article was an insult to Nigerians and part of a foreign effort to undermine the country’s fight against the insurgents.

Nigeria's military chief on Friday called on the National Human Rights Commission to launch an independent investigation into the illegal abortion program reported by Reuters, according to reports.

The Human Rights Commission had already said it would launch an investigation, according to reports.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson, asked about Risch's letter, said the United States is still reviewing the Reuters reporting and will then determine next steps.

"Decisions to proceed with the provision of military training and equipment are made on a case-by-case basis and consider a variety of factors, including respect for human rights and adherence to the law of armed conflict," the spokesperson said.

"Our existing defense sales to Nigeria include robust components focused on human rights, preventing civilian harm, and promoting military justice and accountability."

The department vets all Nigerian security force units nominated for applicable training and assistance and does not provide security assistance to a force unit if there is credible information indicating it has committed a gross violation of human rights, the spokesperson added.

Earlier this year, the United States approved nearly $1 billion in weapons sales to Nigeria, after Nigeria took delivery last year of Embraer-made A-29 Super Tucanos, a slow-flying plane that can provide close air support to infantry much like a helicopter.

The deal, approved in April, had been put on hold over concerns about possible human rights abuses by the Nigerian government.

The United States has also obligated about $6 million between 2016 and 2020 for the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.

By David Lewis, Reuters

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Friday, December 16, 2022

Imam Sentenced to Death Over Blasphemy in Nigeria

A Nigerian Shariah court has sentenced a prominent Sufi Muslim cleric to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad in a rare capital punishment ruling against an imam.

The Upper Shariah court sentenced Sheikh Abduljabbar Nasiru Kabara for what was seen as his revisionist preaching.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue that can lead to a death sentence in a dozen predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria, where Islamic law operates alongside common law.

Death sentences are rarely carried out.

Judge Abdullahi Sarki Yola found Kabara guilty of blasphemy. He had been in custody since his arrest in July 2021.

"This court has established all the charges brought against you and hereby sentences you to death in accordance with Shariah provision on blasphemy," Yola said during the hourlong judgment.

The judge ordered the confiscation of Kabara's two mosques and his personal library.

Kabara sat quietly throughout the judgment in the courtroom packed with lawyers and journalists, with scores of armed police and other paramilitary personnel on guard outside.

Kabara objected to his counsel's plea for leniency and maintained his innocence, calling on his followers to remain calm.

Kabara, from the Qadiriyya Sufi order, has been at odds with other Sunni Muslim clerics in northern Nigeria, particularly ultraconservative Salafi.

Their disagreement stemmed from his approach to Islamic history and theology, which he claims are replete with myths, lies, distortions and concoctions.

Kabara's opponents accused him of insulting the companions of the prophet, some of whom Kabara accused of lying about the prophet, and maliciously portraying him in a bad light.

Kabara's conviction for blasphemy is the third in recent years in Kano.

In August 2020, a Shariah court in the city gave the death penalty to singer Yahaya Aminu Sharif from the Tijjaniyya Sufi order for a song he shared online that was found to have blasphemed the prophet. His case is on retrial.

Abdul Nyass, a Tijjaniyya Sufi Muslim cleric, was sentenced to death in 2015 for blasphemy against the prophet in his preaching. The sentence has not been carried out.

In April, a Kano high court jailed Mubarak Bala, an atheist, to 24 years for blasphemous online posts against the prophet.

AFP

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Wednesday, December 14, 2022

U.S. call on investigation of Reuters report of children allegedly killed by Nigerian government

The U.S. military on Tuesday called on Nigeria to conduct an independent investigation of allegations in a Reuters report that the Nigerian army killed children in its fight against insurgents.

"The Department of Defense is concerned by the allegations reported in the Reuters article, and we join our colleagues from the State Department in urging the Government of Nigeria to conduct an independent investigation," a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement.

The U.S. military on Tuesday called on Nigeria to conduct an independent investigation of allegations in a Reuters report that the Nigerian army killed children in its fight against insurgents.

"The Department of Defense is concerned by the allegations reported in the Reuters article, and we join our colleagues from the State Department in urging the Government of Nigeria to conduct an independent investigation," a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement.

By Phil Stewart, Reuters

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Friday, December 9, 2022

Nigeria government denies Reuters report of mass ‘abortion programme’ of Boko Haram victims

Nigeria’s military has denied conducting a years-long illicit programme to carry out abortions among women and girls who have been victims of armed groups in the northwest, a claim reported by Reuters on Wednesday.

“Since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme in the country’s northeast, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls,” the news agency said.

It said many of the women and girls had been kidnapped and raped by armed fighters, adding that those who resisted an abortion ran the risk of being “beaten, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance.”

The report was based on witness statements from 33 women and girls, five health workers, and nine security personnel involved in the alleged programme, and on military documents and hospital records “describing or tallying thousands of abortion procedures”.

Most of the abortions, Reuters said, were carried out without the woman’s consent and some were conducted without their prior knowledge, through abortion-inducing pills or injections passed off as medications to boost health or combat disease. The agency was unable to establish who created the abortion program or determine who in the military or government ran it.

United States Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday that Washington was looking into the report.

“It was a harrowing report. … It’s a concerning report and for that reason, we are seeking further information,” he said.

Northeastern Nigeria is the epicentre of a conflict spearheaded by armed groups, most notably Boko Haram in 2009.

More than 40,000 people have been killed and about two million people displaced in the long-running conflict, which has spilled into neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

In its reaction, the Nigerian army lashed the report as “a body of insults on the Nigerian peoples and culture. Nigerian military personnel have been raised, bred and further trained to protect lives,” it said.

“[The] Nigerian military will not, therefore, contemplate such evil of running a systematic and illegal abortion programme anywhere and anytime, and surely not on our own soil.”

Religion plays a core part in Nigerian life, with Islam as the dominant faith in the north of the country, and Christianity in the south.

Abortion is illegal in the country except when the mother’s life is in danger.

In the north, illegal pregnancy termination carries the risk of a 14-year jail term.

Al Jazeera

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First Lady of Nigeria allegedly ordered the beating of student for calling her fat

Nigeria’s first lady ordered security operatives to detain a student and also supervised his beating at the country’s presidential villa, his lawyer has alleged.

Aminu Mohammed Adamu, 24, was detained by police in the capital Abuja over a tweet he posted on June 8 that contained what prosecutors said were defamatory remarks about Aisha Buhari, the president’s wife, his lawyer Agu Chijioke Kingsley told CNN. A defamation lawsuit brought against Adamu by the first lady has since been dropped.

According to Kingsley, Adamu, a final year environmental management and toxicology student at a university in northern Nigeria, had been trailed by “plain-clothed security operatives” and arrested at the Federal University, Dutse, in Jigawa State on November 18.

“My client said he was arrested at school and taken to the presidential villa where he met with the first lady who told the security operatives to beat him … and he was beaten before he was detained at a police station in Abuja,” Kingsley told CNN.

Spokespeople for Nigeria’s national police and Department of State Services told CNN they were unaware of Adamu’s arrest.

A spokesperson for the Abuja police command did not comment when reached by CNN, while presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu did not return CNN’s request for comment on the allegations of assault against Adamu by the first lady.

The Nigerian first lady, Aisha Buhari, hasn’t spoken publicly about the incident.

Adamu was brought before an Abuja court last Tuesday (November 29), more than a week after his arrest.

“He was charged with criminal defamation, he pleaded not guilty,” according to his lawyer, who added he was in the process of applying for Adamu’s bail days after his arraignment when the charge was dropped by the first lady.

Adamu had earlier been moved from the police facility he was being detained to prison where he was remanded on the orders of the court.

“On Friday (December 2), we were called to move the bail application. On getting to court, the police said they were withdrawing the matter entirely because the first lady had decided to withdraw the case against my client,” Kingsley told CNN.

Adamu’s detention was widely condemned by Nigerians and human rights groups who called for his release using the hashtag #FreeAminu on social media.

The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) also called for nationwide demonstrations while demanding Adamu’s unconditional release.

A police commissioner in Nigeria has also called for the first lady to be prosecuted.

“She did not only have him arrested but he was also beaten and tortured in the (Presidential) Villa … This is not acceptable,” said Naja’atu Mohammed, a commissioner in the Police Service Commission (PSC), an oversight body of the Nigeria Police Force.

“There are laws governing every offense in this country, so why is she not abiding by the law? If indeed he defamed her character, she should follow due process and take him to court. Mrs. Buhari should be prosecuted for taking the law into her hands,” Mohammed told CNN.

Last month, two TikTok comedians were publicly whipped and ordered to wash toilets in northern Kano State for making a video that a court ruled had defamed the state Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje.

The Nigerian branch of Amnesty International says it is concerned that freedom of speech is being eroded in Nigeria.

“Amnesty International is concerned by the growing number of attacks on freedom of expression in Nigeria. The authorities are increasingly using unlawful arrests and ill-treatment to stifle those who criticize the state. This must stop now,” the human rights group said in a tweet on the day Adamu was released.

It also tweeted that “the heavy-handed mistreatment of Aminu Adamu Muhammed is a clear attempt to strike fear into the hearts of young Nigerians who use social media to hold the powerful to account. The Nigerian authorities must urgently respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression.”

After two weeks in detention, Adamu was freed and reunited with his family. His uncle Shehu Azare told CNN he is now focused on writing his final exams and would not speak out about his ordeal.
‘Apology to oppressor’

Adamu received a hero’s welcome when he arrived at his university shortly after his release and later posted a tweet apologizing to the president’s wife, saying “it was never my intention to hurt your feelings … I will change for the better … I’m also grateful for your forgiveness…”

In a video that followed the tweet, Adamu reiterated his gratitude to the first lady, which angered many Nigerians who criticized him for “apologizing to his oppressor.”

“I’ll like to thank the first lady of Nigeria … for finding me worthy in her heart to forgive my recent actions and for her moral advice that I should change for the better … I’ll abide to those words,” Adamu said in his video.

Reacting to Adamu’s apology to the first lady, one Nigerian tweeted: “I don’t even understand him, (he) left everyone who stood by him, and he is apologizing to an oppressor?? How come?!!!” ​

Some other commenters said Adamu had “done the right thing” by apologizing to the president’s wife.

“To me, it’s not in order, because we’ve been pleading with the first lady (to release Adamu) before he was taken to court, but she refused to accept the plea and took him to court where he was arraigned and remanded in prison. So, there’s no point for that (apology),” his uncle Azare told CNN.

“Many people have been complaining about that (apology). People look at it as very wrong to be asking for forgiveness from someone that beat you and inflicted harm on you,” he added.

By Nimi Princewill, CNN

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