Nigeria: Election must pave the way for better human rights protections

Election campaign posters in Lagos, Nigeria, ahead of the February 2023 election, May 2022. Photo: Tolu Owoeye / Shutterstock

Elections are a cornerstone of democracy, but if they are held amidst insecurity and human rights violations, their value and legitimacy are called into question. As Nigerians prepare to cast their votes on 25 February, ARTICLE 19 emphasises the need for a transparent and fair electoral process in Nigeria, one that guarantees the fostering of accurate and reliable information, and safety for journalists, electoral commission members, and for all citizens. The protection of human rights and security should be a non-negotiable aspect of any election.

Nigeria first began holding presidential elections with the birth of the republic in 1960. While significant improvements have been made to ensure fairer and freer elections, the last presidential election, held in 2019, was marred by violence, voter intimidation, and electoral fraud. In some cases, the results of the election were disputed, leading to political instability and violence.

The process of vote counting and collation has been seen as problematic, with allegations of manipulation, intimidation and vote-buying. The INEC, which is responsible for organising and conducting federal elections, has been criticised for its lack of transparency and impartiality. This was the case in 2019, as credible reports by the National Democratic Institute’s Nigeria International Election observation team indicated that various irregularities took place, and recommended that the INEC increase transparency and to better communicate about the electoral process in order to build trust with Nigerian citizens.

Reliable media reports indicate that, in the last three elections, which took place in 2011, 2015 and 2019, more than 1,149 people, including INEC employees and security officers, were killed.

Regardless of  a range of warnings to prevent violence in electoral cycles, the recent attacks against several INEC offices and the extensive use of  disinformation throughout the campaign period raises deep concern. 

‘The integrity and credibility of elections, which serve as a foundation of democracy, are put at risk when they occur in a climate of insecurity and disregard for human rights. Ensuring that the upcoming election in Nigeria is secure, impartial, and protects the basic rights of all its citizens is of the utmost importance to strengthen Nigerian democracy and stability,’ stated Alfred Nkuru Balakali, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa. 

‘Disinformation and false narratives have a negative impact on voters’ choices and behaviours during an election. Candidates running must refrain from resorting to misinformation and favour the accurate speech on their governance plans to allow citizens to make informed choices and strengthen the credibility of their votes,’ he added.

Journalists’ safety

The right to freedom of expression and access to information is a fundamental human right, and so is the safety of journalists, which remains a challenge in the country. Despite the crucial role journalists play in reporting on elections and ensuring that citizens are informed about the election process, attacks on them during these periods is a common occurrence in many countries, including Nigeria. 

The attacks on journalists while they were covering the 2019 general election in Nigeria highlight the challenges they face in carrying out their work. Nigeria is considered to be among the most dangerous and difficult countries in West Africa for journalists. Reports in 2022 regarding attacks against journalists confirm the need for enhanced protection for media professionals in the context of the election. It is unacceptable that media workers should be subjected to violence and intimidation while performing their professional duties. 

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, as well as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, recognise the right to freedom of expression and the right of journalists to carry out their work without fear of violence or intimidation.


During election periods, a considerable amount of disinformation is shared on various platforms, particularly on social media. The impact of this disinformation can be devastating, ranging from undermining the electoral process and disproportionately influencing voting patterns to fuelling increasing violence and disrupting social cohesion. It can also damage the country’s reputation on the international stage. To mitigate the impact of disinformation during elections, it is crucial for voters to exercise caution and take the necessary steps to verify the accuracy of information before sharing it. This includes being vigilant and questioning the authenticity of information, fact-checking using reliable sources, and avoiding the spread of false or misleading information. It is important to rely on trustworthy sources of information to ensure that information being shared is accurate and unbiased. By taking these steps, voters can help prevent the spread of disinformation and ensure a fair and credible electoral process.

While it is vital for individuals to acknowledge their duties to stem the spread of disinformation, especially in the context of Nigeria’s 25 February election – reports have indicated the extent to which online disinformation has increased in the run up to the election – it is important to ensure freedom of expression is upheld in line with international standards. The United Nations has called on States to avoid ‘disproportionate measures such as internet shutdowns and vague and overly-broad laws to criminalise, block, censor and chill online speech and shrink civic space’. It has further states, ‘These measures are not only incompatible with international human rights law but also contribute to amplifying misperceptions, fostering fear and entrenching public mistrust of institutions.’

Nigeria’s legislative framework regarding disinformation can be very restrictive. Global Partner Digital (GPD), ARTICLE 19 and partners developed the LEXOTA platform, which provides information on laws and regulations in Nigeria. It notes that the country has several laws that criminalise the dissemination of false information, including the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act of 2015 and the Penal Code. While these laws are intended to combat the spread of false information and protect public safety and order, they can, and have been, used to suppress free speech and legitimate dissent.

Nigeria is ranked 79 out of 161 countries in the 2022 Global Expression Report – ARTICLE 19’s annual review of the state of freedom of expression and the right to information around the world.

For more information, please contact:

Maateuw Mbaye, Program Assistant, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email:  T: +221785958337

Aissata Diallo Dieng, Office Manager, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email:  T:+221338690322