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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report

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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report 2006

Title Page Previous Next Contents | Country Reports >Federal Republic of Nigeria

Federal Republic of Nigeria

Chapter IV, § 37 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria declares that "the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected."[3824] The Constitution also allows courts to exclude certain parties from judicial proceedings for "the protection of the private lives of parties."[3825] However, the Constitution's ban on secret societies[3826] raises concerns regarding the privacy of association.

National Identity Card System

A national identity card system was first conceived in 1979 by then-Military Head of State, General Obasanjo.[3827] The Department of National Civic Registration was established at that time, with the responsibility of issuing national identity cards.[3828] Since then, however, there have been many bumps in the implementation process.[3829] In February 2003, the Nigerian government, headed by President Obasanjo, launched an extensive National Identification Card Drive in which everybody over 18 years of age was eligible to participate.[3830] While registration for the identity card is not compulsory, those who choose to participate are required to provide information that includes name, age, sex, address, occupation, state of origin, local government area, height measurement, thumbprint, and passport photograph.[3831] While possession of an identity card is not required, it may be necessary to have a card to obtain government services including health insurance.[3832] Of Nigeria's estimated 120 million inhabitants, about 60 million citizens are eligible to register for the national identity card.[3833] During the registration period from February to March of 2004, 52 million Nigerians registered for the cards.[3834]

Fifteen million Nigerians were issued fingerprint-embedded ID cards in 2006. Alhaji Shuaibu Sabon-Birni, the director of Civic Registration in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said that the estimated number of Nigerians between the ages 18 and above is 60 million, and he hopes that every eligible Nigerian will be issued an ID card in 2007.[3835] As of June 2007, the cards have been distributed in 27 states.[3836] The latest identity card scandal involves allegations that millions of aliens have registered for national identity cards, thus defeating one of the objectives of the system.[3837] To respond to this, the Minister of Internal Affairs has requested that the Nigeria Immigration Service strictly monitor identity card distribution.[3838]

The government’s National Identity Management Commission is also trying to establish a National Identity Database to centralize the data contained within the identity cards.[3839] The database will “provide a medium for the identification, verification, and authentication of citizens of Nigeria.”[3840] No person or corporate body may access information in the database about any individual absent explicit consent by that individual.[3841] However citizens will be required to supply an identification number in order to receive a passport, transfer land, open a bank account, use credit cards, acquire insurance of any type, register to vote and pay taxes.[3842]

The identification card system was intended to provide data for government planning, to assist in identification of illegal immigrants, and to enhance national security and cohesion.[3843] The identity card may also assist the Nigerian Police in investigation and control of crime.[3844] In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs anticipates that the identity card project will resolve the conflict between the north and south over which region is more populous.[3845] The system is opposed by some northern politicians who fear that the identification card may be used to verify other population records, including voter rolls.[3846]

Many Nigerians, especially those in the northern part of the country, objected to use of the national identity card to obtain voter cards for the elections of April and May 2003.[3847] However, because the methods of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) produced a tally of validly registered voters that was almost identical to the number of persons registered under the national identity card program (about 61 million), it turned out there was no need to use the national identity card to obtain a voter card.[3848]

To enhance security at the University of Lagos, in March 2005 the University administration announced that its students would be required to carry fingerprint cards.[3849] This development is partly in response to a violent student protest at the University in January 2005.[3850] The school was closed for two months, and reopened in March following a re-registration process that included issuance of fingerprint cards.[3851] To be issued a card, students were required to supply photographs of themselves and their guarantors, provide personal data, and sign an undertaking to be of good conduct.[3852]


The principal body for Nigerian information technology policy is the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), a sub-agency of the Nigerian Communications Commission. NITDA developed a Nigerian Information Technology (IT) Policy, which was approved by the Nigerian Federal Executive Council in 2001.[3853] The IT Policy identifies some of its objectives as "promot[ing] legislation (Bills & Acts) for the protection of online business transactions, privacy and security,"[3854] and "enhanc[ing] freedom and access to digital information at all levels while protecting personal privacy."[3855] The IT Policy names as one of its strategies, "[e]nsur[ing] the protection of individual and collective privacy, security, and confidentiality of information."[3856]

The menace of fraudsters soliciting victims via e-mail prompted the Nigerian government in 2002 to create a National Committee to address the problem.[3857] NITDA was involved in this process, and one of the committee's recommendations was a draft Cybercrime Act.[3858] However, in 2004 the government established the Nigerian Cybercrime Working Group, an Inter-Agency body that incorporated the NITDA, in order to directly address the issue of cybercrime and to take over the project.[3859]

In 2005, the Nigerian government sponsored the Computer Security and Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Bill (otherwise known as the Cybercrime Bill).[3860] The Cybercrime Bill aims to “secure computer systems and networks and protect critical information infrastructure in Nigeria by prohibiting certain computer based activities” and to impose liability for global crimes committed over the Internet.[3861] The Cybercrime Bill will require all service providers (telephone and internet) to record all traffic and subscriber information for such period as specified by the President, and to release this information to any law enforcement agency on the production of a warrant.[3862] Such information may only be used for legitimate purposes as determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, or other lawful authority.[3863] The bill does not provide independent monitoring of the law enforcement agencies carrying out the provisions, nor does the bill define “law enforcement agency” or “lawful authority.”[3864] Finally the bill does not distinguish between serious offenses and emergencies or minor misdeamenors.[3865] As a result it may conflict with Article 37 of Nigeria’s Constitution, which guarantees the privacy of citizens including their homes and telephone conversations, absent a threat on national security, public health, morality, or the safety of others.[3866] The Cybercrime Bill currently sits before the Nigerian National Assembly.[3867]

Nigerian Evidence Act

The Nigerian Evidence Act protects the confidentiality of communication during marriage. It provides that no husband or wife shall be compelled to disclose any communication made to him or her during marriage by his or her spouse; nor shall he or she be permitted to disclose any such communication unless the person who made it, or that person's representative, consents, except in suits between married persons or proceedings in which one married person is prosecuted for certain specified offenses.[3868]

Sharia – Islamic Law

The operation of Sharia Law[3869] in 12 northern Nigerian states[3870] also raises issues of privacy. Of particular concern is a provision in several states for the punishment of adultery by stoning to death.[3871] While no one has been stoned for adultery under the Sharia laws, several accused Nigerian women have had to undergo judicial proceedings in which, by necessity, the consideration of the details of their sexual lives have been the basis for both their prosecution and defense.[3872] Criminalization of zina, or sexually related offenses, is used to deprive both men and women of their rights to privacy and to freedom of expression and association.[3873] Since 2000, at least 10 individuals have been sentenced to death and dozens have been sentenced to amputation or flogging.[3874] While Sharia courts continue to issue death sentences, no sentence has been implemented since 2002.[3875] The number of sentences issued by Sharia courts has decreased, and authorities seem to be reluctant to carry out sentences.[3876] In 2004, appellate courts overturned three death sentences.[3877] In early 2006, the Nigerian government began releasing or speeding up the trials of up to 25,000 inmates in an effort to reduce prison populations. The releases affect men and women detained under the Sharia and criminal penal systems.[3878]

Freedom of Information

Under current practices, most government information in Nigeria, even basic facts and information, is classified as top secret.[3879] In addition, a number of laws prevent civil servants from divulging official facts and figures.[3880] The most significant of these laws is the Official Secrets Act, which makes it an offense for civil servants to give out government information and for anyone to receive or produce such information. In addition, government departments often withhold information from one another.[3881]

In 1999, a Freedom of Information Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. It was first introduced by a private initiative of human rights advocates.[3882] However, the legislature's four-year term passed without a vote on the bill.[3883] The draft bill would have allowed citizens and non-citizens to make information requests, mandated the annual publication of certain operational records by every government institution, and provided several exemptions to the disclosure requirement (e.g., certain international affairs and defense matters, certain law enforcement and investigation information, and information of a personal nature).[3884] The bill was resubmitted to the current National Assembly in 2003.[3885] The Freedom of Access to Information Bill 2004 seeks to provide access to public records while protecting those records that should not be public knowledge.[3886] The bill facilitates greater access to federal, state, and local government information.[3887] The bill defines "public record" as "a document in any form having been prepared or having been or being used, received, or possessed or under the control of any public or private bodies relating to matters of public interest."[3888] However, the bill protects an officer who refuses to release the information or record requested if it is deemed to contain information "the disclosure of which may be injurious to the conduct of international affairs and the defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."[3889] The category of "injurious" information includes "trade secret, financial, commercial or technical information that belongs to the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any State or Local Government thereof."[3890] To promote greater transparency in the government, the bill also calls for a three-year imprisonment for those who falsify or destroy official records to avoid disclosing them.[3891] Based on fears of public officials about unrestricted access to information by those who are not Nigerian citizens, the bill would provide access to Nigerians only.[3892] The bill has been vigorously promoted by the Freedom of Information Coalition, a group of more than 100 media groups, business interests, and human rights organizations.[3893] The bill was passed by the House in August 2004[3894] and by the Senate in November 2005,[3895] but in April 2007, President Obasanjo declined to sign the bill into law.[3896] The bill must now be passed by two-thirds majority of the House and Senate in order to become law.[3897]

The Lagos State Government is also drafting a Freedom of Information Bill.[3898] The state Commissioner of Information and Strategy has indicated plans to set up an information center where researchers could obtain information about state governance.[3899] Lagos State has also indicated plans to translate the 1999 Constitution into Yoruba language.[3900] According to the state Commissioner of Information and Strategy, this will enable people at the grassroots level to know their rights.[3901]

Recent Developments

In July 2007, the Internal Affairs Ministry finalized plans to issue its new biometric Harmonised Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Passport.[3902] The passport will be issued in addition to an e-passport already made available earlier this year. The government plans to phase out the current machine-readable passport by year’s end.[3903] The ECOWAS and e-passports contain an individual's biometric features – fingerprints, eyes, and face.[3904] The ECOWAS Passport is slated for issuance in late July.[3905] Reports following the earlier issuance of the e-passport indicate that applicants are being charged as much as five times the set application fee in order to receive the e-passport.[3906]

Nigerian HIV-positive employees face discrimination-based termination without feasible legal redress. As reported to PlusNews, the news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a courtroom barred a former employee from entering the courtroom to sue for wrongful termination from fear that she may infect others.[3907] In a separate case of wrongful termination, even the intervention of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, Nigeria’s NGO dedicated to fighting the HIV epidemic, could not aid the fired employee in collecting damages.[3908] To address these issues, in May 2007, the federal government approved the National Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS. The policy aims to remove the stigma associated with HIV and protect the affected individuals from workplace discrimination.[3909] However, human rights activists claim that companies remain unaware of a similar policy passed two years ago. Further, no national law or system of enforcement oversees the implementation of these policies. [3910]

International Commitments

Representatives from the Nigerian legislature participated in the Study Group on Access to Information in July 2004, along with representatives from Fiji Islands, India, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, British Columbia, Scotland, and Ghana.[3911] To help prevent terrorism at sea and in ports, the United Nations has sponsored a biometric identity verification system that could affect 1.2 million maritime workers.[3912] Nigeria is one of eleven countries to have ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) Seafarers Identity Documents Convention 2003, which implements this international biometric identity verification system.[3913] The Convention requires ratification by two countries, and came into force in February 2005.[3914] Ratifying states will be required to issue new documents that conform to the standards for converting two fingerprints into a biometric template that will be stored in an internationally standardized barcode printed on the Seafarers' Identity Document.[3915]

[3824] 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chapter IV, § 37, available at <>.
[3825] Id. at Chapter IV, §36 (4)(a).
[3826] Id. at Chapter IV, §38 (4).

[3827] "SAGEM Resumes ID Cards Production," Africa News, June 3, 2004.; "Nigeria: Collect Your ID Cards, FG Urges," Africa News, March 6, 2005.
[3828] "Nigeria: Collect Your ID Cards, FG Urges," supra.
[3829] "SAGEM Resumes ID Cards Production," supra.
[3830] Nigerian Information Service Center, "National Identity Card for Nigerians," February 20, 2003, available at <>.
[3831] "Nigerians Register for National Identity Card from Today,", February 18, 2003, available at <>.
[3832] See “Final Report of the Committee on Harmonisation of National Identity Cards,” National Identity Management Commission, March 2006, available at <>; "Bad Start for Nigerian ID Scheme," BBC News, February 19, 2003, available at <>.
[3833] Id.
[3834] "SAGEM Resumes ID Cards Production," supra.

[3835] “60 million ID cards for Nigeria,” Security Document World, Febraury 7, 2006 <>.
[3836] "Borno, Gombe, Get 2.9 Million Identity Cards,” The Guardian, June 8, 2007, available at <>.
[3837] "Nigeria: Shocker Over National Identity Card Scheme," Africa News, March 6, 2005.
[3838] Id.

[3839] “National ID Database Bill Passes Second Reading,” This Day, February 7, 2007.
[3840] Draft National Identity Management Commission Bill, H.B. 257 (2007), available at <>.
[3841] Id.
[3842] Id.

[3843] "Bad Start for Nigerian ID Scheme," supra; "Obstacles to National I.D. Card Project Identified," This Day (Nigeria) – AAGM, November 9, 2004.
[3844] "Obstacles to National I.D. Card Project Identified," supra.
[3845] "National ID Card Will Reconcile Nigerians," Africa News, August 9, 2004.
[3846] "Bad Start for Nigerian ID Scheme," supra.

[3847] T.A. Akinyele, "The 2003 Nigerian Elections that Broke the Jinx," West Africa Review, available at <>.
[3848] Id.

[3849] "Nigeria: Unilag Students Get Finger-Print Identity Cards," Africa News, March 31, 2005.
[3850] Id.
[3851] Id.
[3852] Id.

[3853] "The Nigerian National Information Technology Policy," Jidaw Systems website <>.
[3854] "Nigerian National Policy for Information Technology: USE IT" iv, available at <>.
[3855] Id. at 32.
[3856] Id. at 33.

[3857] Sam Olukoya, "Nigeria Grapples with E-Mail Scams," BBC News Online, April 23, 2002, available at <>.
[3858] Femi Oyesanya, "The Nigerian Patriot A[ct] Is Coming: Compliments of NITDA," News, July 6, 2004, available at <>.
[3859] Nigerian Cybercrime Working Group <>.

[3860] “Nigeria: New Wire Tapping, Cyber Crimes Bill in Nigeria,” This Day, Oct. 18, 2006.
[3861]Computer Security and Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Bill 2005, available at <>.
[3862] Id. at §§ 11-13.
[3863] Id. at § 11.
[3864] “Nigeria: New Wire Tapping, Cyber Crimes Bill in Nigeria,” This Day, October 18, 2006.
[3865] “Before that Cybercrime Bill is Passed,” This Day, November 15, 2006.
[3866] Id.
[3867] Id.

[3868] Evidence Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990, Chap 164.

[3869] The Sharia is a body of Islamic law that governs not only aspects of religious faith, but also offers dictates for the conduct of everyday secular activities.
[3870] Dan Isaacs, "Nigerian in Crisis over Sharia Law," BBC News Online, March 26, 2002, available at <>.
[3871] Id.
[3872] Id.
[3873] Amnesty International, Report 2005, Nigeria, available at <>.
[3874] "Nigeria: Under Islamic Law, Rights still Unprotected," Human Rights Watch, September 21, 2004, available at <>.
[3875] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2005, Nigeria, available at <>.
[3876] Id.
[3877] Amnesty International, Report 2005, Nigeria, supra.
[3878] Amnesty International, Public Statement, “Nigeria: ‘Release’ of up to 25,000 detainees and prisoners,” Jan. 9, 2006, available at <>.

[3879] Sam Olukoya, "Rights-Nigeria: Passage of Freedom of Information Bill Stalled," IPS-Inter Press Service, June 21, 2004, available at <>; "Nigeria; Mother of All Democratic Dividends: Benefits of FOI Bill," Africa News, November 17, 2004.
[3880] Olukoya, "Rights-Nigeria: Passage of Freedom of Information Bill Stalled," supra.
[3881] Id.

[3882] Wahab Abdulah, Tunde Sesan & Margaret Odeyemi, "Atiku, Attah Back Freedom of Information Law," Vanguard (Nigeria) – AAGM, May 4, 2005.
[3883] Olukoya, "Rights-Nigeria: Passage of Freedom of Information Bill Stalled," supra.
[3884] Freedom of Information Bill 1999, available at <>.
[3885] Olukoya, "Rights-Nigeria: Passage of Freedom of Information Bill Stalled," supra.
[3886] "Nigeria; House Commences Debate on Freedom of Information Bill," Africa News, August 6, 2004.
[3887] "Nigeria; House Passes Freedom of Information Bill," Africa News, August 26, 2004.
[3888] Id.
[3889] Id.
[3890] Id.
[3891] “Nigeria’s Senate Approves Freedom of Information Bill,” International Journalists’ Network, Nov. 11, 2006 <>.
[3892] "Nigeria; House Commences Debate on Freedom of Information Bill," supra.
[3893] Olukoya; "Campaign on Freedom of Information Bill Begins," This Day (Nigeria), August 2, 2004.
[3894] "Nigeria; House Passes Freedom of Information Bill," supra.
[3895] “Nigeria’s Senate Approves Freedom of Information Bill,” International Journalists’ Network, Nov. 11, 2006 <>.
[3896] "Niger: President Ignores Freedom of Information Bill Amid ‘Charade’ Elections,” Africa News, Apr. 24, 2007 <>.
[3897] Id.

[3898] "Nigeria: Lagos to Send Freedom of Information Bill to National Assembly," Africa News, May 29, 2004.
[3899] Id.
[3900] Id.
[3901] Id.

[3902] “Nigeria Takes New Passport Steps,” Security Document World, July 9, 2007 <>; “E-passport to Take Effect Early Next Year,” The Guardian, December 1, 2006, available at <>.
[3903] “Nigeria Takes New Passport Steps,” Security Document World, supra.
[3904] "Country to Roll Out West African E-Passports,” This Day, July 6, 2007.
[3905] “Immigration Controller Fired Over Passport Fraud,” Vanguard, July 6, 2007.
[3906] “Nigerian Passport Costs N15,000,” The Guardian, June 17, 2007 available at <>.

[3907] “Workplace policy to protect HIV-positive people is ‘toothless,’” July 12 2007, PlusNewsGlobal, available at <>.
[3908] Id.
[3909] “FG Approves Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS,” This Day, May 13, 2007.
[3910] “Workplace policy to protect HIV-positive people is ‘toothless,’” supra.

[3911] "PanAfrica: Parlimentarians Call for Greater Access to Information," Africa News, July 14, 2004.
[3912] "Biometric Identity Verification System Comes into Force," The Press Trust of India, February 11, 2005.
[3913] Id.; ILOLEX, Current List of Ratifying Countries <>.
[3914] Id.
[3915] Id.

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