Insights from the Nigeria In-Country Working Group

April 10, 2021 •


As Africa’s most populous country and one of the Continent’s most diverse, Nigeria faces complex challenges in strengthening the country’s security governance environment.  Nation-wide endSARs protests, which erupted in Nigeria in October 2020, have illustrated that the issue of mainstreaming the protection and promotion of human rights within national security arrangements are at the forefront of citizen calls for change.  The Nigeria In-Country Working Group (ICWG), co-chaired by LITE-Africa and the Swiss Embassy in Abuja, is working to improve human rights performance within the public and private security sector through a wide variety of activities related to Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR), including advocacy, cross-pillar coordination, and training on the VPSHR, all supported by the Voluntary Principles Association (VPA)’s one-year Core Funding (2019-2020). A diversity of activities was carried out despite significant constraints imposed by covid-19.  

To highlight some examples, the Nigeria ICWG facilitated two training sessions with government officials on security and human rights which were held at the Swiss Embassy in Abuja. The Ministry of Justice, the Executive Director of the National Human Rights Commission, and the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development attended the sessions. Their feedback was incorporated into the Nigeria ICWG’s work plan, illustrating the value of a collaborative approach.   The Nigeria ICWG also facilitated a training presentation with public and private security personnel at the Oil Producers Trade Section Retreat, an industry group which brings together 30 national and international oil and gas companies. 

The Nigeria ICWG has also sought to increase knowledge and uptake of the VPs is through the identification of focal officers within relevant Nigerian Government institutions. Representatives from the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Justice, Nigeria Delta Affairs, Police Affairs, Petroleum Resources, as well as the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation were identified as critical stakeholders for advocacy engagement related to the VPSHR. Subsequent meetings with Ministers and permanent secretaries were conducted to underscore the benefits of implementing the VPSHR.  An important outcome of many of these meetings was the assignment of focal officers from each ministry to attend Nigerian ICWG meetings and champion the implementation of the VPs within their respective government Ministries.  Relatedly, the Nigerian ICWG has illustrated that embassies can play an important role in stakeholder engagement related to implementation of the VPs.  For example, the Canadian High Commission in Nigeria has been commended by the Nigerian ICWG for its role facilitating advocacy engagements with the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and the Ministry of Interior, with the working group stating that the former joined the Nigeria ICWG through the efforts of the Canadian High Commission.    

To broaden the reach of training on the VPs, the Nigeria ICWG recruited organizations with similar mandates to join the working group and has also allowed organizations to participate periodically in meetings as observers.  Connected Development (CODE), Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) and PRAWA recently joined the Nigerian ICWG and were strategically targeted as a result of their previous experience implementing human rights training programs with the Nigerian Police Force.  As a result of organizations with similar mandates working collaboratively, the Nigerian ICWG has helped to prevent a duplication of efforts on work related to security and human rights issues by enhancing coordination, information-sharing and aligning advocacy objectives among working group participants.     

The strategic planning of the Working Group has been informed by a LITE-Africa and Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) baseline assessment and scoping study on the status of VP implementation activities in Nigeria in 2019-2020.  The findings of the study were incorporated in the Report of the National Baseline Assessment: Promoting Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in Nigeria which was funded by DCAF’s Human Rights Implementation Mechanism (SHRIM).  The report outlines several challenges impacting the human rights performance of Nigeria’s security sector.  Among the challenges include the lack of capacity of civil-society organizations and the absence of comprehensive and targeted laws related to protecting and promoting human rights within the extractive industry particularly in relation to provisions addressing security arrangements.  Taken together, these challenges have fostered a business environment whereby companies are unclear of state policies and professional standards on security and human rights, the work of civil-society organizations in advancing human rights in the security sector is made more difficult and rights-holders are largely unaware of their entitlements as outlined in the International Bill of Rights.   

These challenges are well-documented in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Nigeria in which reform of the security sector to better reflect international human rights principles is a reoccurring thread woven among many of the Review’s recommendations.  In many ways, the work of the Nigeria ICWG both builds-upon, and responds to, the UPR’s recommendations related to security and human rights.  Through awareness-raising, targeted advocacy, and stakeholder mapping, training and engagement, the Nigeria ICWG has sought to foster positive change in Nigeria’s security sector by helping to lay the preliminary groundwork for the operationalization of many of the security and human rights related recommendations set in forth in the UPR review of Nigeria.   

In a recent video statement, Joel Bisina, the Executive Director of LITE Africa observed that the coordinated, collaborative nature of the Nigerian ICWG has helped raise awareness of human rights among community stakeholders and has challenged public push-back of the VPs as promoting a Western agenda through the ICWG showcasing the principal role national civil-society organizations play in driving the process. Members of the Nigerian ICWG have indicated how aligning the VPs with other initiatives, particularly the Nigeria’s National Action Plan on business and human rights and the increase in focal officers has moved Nigeria closer to joining the VPs.  Speaking to this progress, Bisina noted that the VPs in Nigeria “have come a long way since discussions began in 2006.”  Over the course of the next 5-10 years, he stated that he “envisions Nigeria becoming a very active participant in the VPI and influencing other African nations to sign on. Nigeria is slow, but once they come into something and they believe in it, they become active drivers of it.  I see a situation where security and human rights violations will be minimized to create a more peaceful operating environment for corporations.   Such an environment will only enhance a healthier relationship between companies and communities.  Both parties will have a win-win situation.”   

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