Human Rights Day: Sowore's rearrest, proposed social media bill and other violations in Nigeria

People demonstrate to demand the release of opposition activist Omoyele Sowore in November 2019 in Abuja
  • In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), an important document about protecting the rights of everyone.
  • Human Rights Day became official two years later and has since been celebrated annually across the world on December 10.
  • Business Insider Sub Saharan Africa takes a look at some of the latest human rights violations in Nigeria.

Nigeria gained independence in 1960 from Britain. However, democracy was not fully adopted until the end of military rule in 1999.

With democracy came a constitution that was supposed to bring about a new era of regular elections and fundamental human rights. According to the 1999 constitution, these include:

  • The right to life
  • The right to dignity - This means no Nigerian should be subjected to torture or inhuman treatment
  • The right to personal liberty
  • Right to a fair hearing
  • Right to freedom of expression 

Despite the provisions of the constitution, there have been several human rights violations in recent times. They include:

  • Sowore's rearrest and the crackdown on Nigerian journalists 

Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian human rights activist and former presidential candidate, was arrested on August 3, 2019. The founder of the online publication called Sahara Reporters was detained and charged with treason, cyberstalking and for calling for a peaceful protest against President Muhammadu Buhari's administration.

He remained in a Department of State Services (DSS) detention facility even after a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered his immediate release on September 24th.

The world watched on in horror as he was forcibly rearrested at the Federal High Court in Abuja on December 6th. This was barely 24 hours after he was released on bail after spending four months in the detention.


Sowore is just one of the growing number of journalists who have been arrested by the security officials. Like him, Jones Abiri, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Weekly Source newspaper, was arrested in May and charged with cybercrime, sabotage and terrorism.

Agba Jalingo, who publishes the Cross River Watch paper, was arrested in August and charged with treason. His bail request has been declined.


Commenting on the scary situation, Anietie Ewang, Nigerian researcher at Human Rights Watch, said, “These [recent] incidents suggest a disturbing trend towards repression of freedom of expression and create a climate of fear which may stifle the media. Throwing reporters in jail for doing their job of informing the public sends a chilling message to journalists, activists and citizens.”

Others like Fisayo Soyombo have had to go into hiding. “I made two more calls that night [to government sources] and it was clear I was in trouble,” Soyombo said. This was after his piece on corruption in Nigeria’s criminal justice system was published.

Nigeria currently ranks as 12th out of 13 on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index on the worst records of unsolved murders of journalists.

  • Two harsh bills that violate Nigerians' right to freedom of expression

The ‘Hate Speech Bill’ and the ‘Social Media Bill’ are a major cause for concern right now. The hate speech bill, also called the ‘Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill’ is being championed by Sen. Sabi Abdullahi while the social media bill tagged the ‘Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill’ is led by Sen. Mohammed Sani Musa.

If passed, anyone found guilty of violating the social media bill will pay a fine of N300,000 while corporate bodies will pay a fine of N10 million. This passed the second reading on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, November 20, 2019.

The hate speech bill, which was initially thrown out, comes with a death penalty or life imprisonment.

  • Arbitrary arrests and detention

These days, it is not uncommon to hear about the arbitrary arrests and detention of young men especially those with dreadlocks and tattoos carrying a backpack with laptops.

These men are usually arrested by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the Nigeria police in general solely because of their appearance without evidence of a crime.

Narrating his experience, Tony said the policemen stationed at Ojuelegba shouted at him to “hold it there” before seizing his ID card, phones and laptops. He was released after parting away with N20,000.

“It was certainly one of the worst days of my life. These days when I alight from the commercial bus at Ojuelegba, I just take to my heels. I would not be extorted again like that in this town,” the 24-year-old said.


As the world celebrates Human Rights Day themed: 'Youth Standing Up for Human Rights,' it is time for more young people to fight against the growing threat to Nigeria's basic human rights.

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