Federal Republic of Nigeria


Nigeria has a high number of persons in pretrial detention.  This is largely attributed to the severely under-resourced law enforcement authorities, which face a high rate of crime.  In turn, uneducated and misinformed police officers turn to heavy-handed tactics when dealing with suspects in what is already a corrupt judicial system which relies heavily on confessions.  As a result of Nigeria’s escalating rate of armed robberies, police have adopted a common practice of shooting suspects in the legs and feet once they have been apprehended, either to ensure they do not run away or as a scare tactic to elicit confession to the crime.  The label of “armed robber” has frequently been used as an excuse to warrant illicit police behavior including detention, torture, and extrajudicial executions for failing to pay a bribe.
Police brutality in pretrial detention is a frequent issue. One example of police brutality reported detainees being forced to torture one another in front of other detainees, including children—a tactic employed by police officers in order to illustrate their authority over detainees as well as the subsequent despair of detained suspects.  In one known instance, detained suspects were denied medical treatment despite having been shot by police during their arrest.
Co-mingling of genders is also problematic in Nigeria.  Visits to detainment facilities in Nigeria evidenced that male and female suspects were not separated, which turn left female detainees increasingly susceptible to physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. The practice of not separating male and female detainees was also found in Equatorial Guinea and Nepal.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur’s report on Nigerian detention facilities found:

  • Severe overcrowding
  • Operating at double or triple capacity
  • Lacking in basic physical and sanitary conditions
  • Port Harcourt Prison held 2,420 detainees for a facility designed to hold 800 detainees (92% of 2,420 detainees were awaiting trial)
  • Pretrial detainees were subject to even worse holding conditions than convicted felons, justified by directors of the facilities that, their guilt not yet being proven, there is less pressure to allocate the appropriate conditions and resources to properly care for them.

Domestic Laws Governing Pretrial Detention

            State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984
Under the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2 of 1984, a person may be held in pretrial detention indefinitely on security grounds.  There is no apparent mechanism for appealing pretrial detention and there appears to be no maximum time limitation for pretrial detention.
            Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusations) Decree No. 4 of 1984
The Public Officers Decree No. 4 of 1984 prohibits “false accusations” against government officials and allows pre-trial detention in case of a suspect accusation.
            International or Multilateral Treaties Concerning Arbitrary Detention
Nigeria acceded to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on July 29, 1993.
Nigeria acceded to the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance on July 27, 2009.
Nigeria ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1983.

Case Examples / Practical Observations

            Halima David
Ms. Halima David (age 38) was held in pretrial detention for six years. While in detainment, Ms. David was reportedly beaten by a female police officer, forced to swallow teargas, refused medical attention despite being pregnant (as a result lost her child), forced to buy medicine with her own money, and refused contact with her seven children. She could not afford a lawyer.  [Source: “Refworld | Pretrial Detention and Torture: Why Pretrial Detainees Face the Greatest Risk.” Refworld. Open Sociey Foundations, 34. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.]             Benjamin Saro
Mr. Benjamin Saro (age 24) was arrested on January 19, 2001 in a police raid and was charged with conspiracy and armed robbery. Mr. Saro reportedly endured grave physical tortured and was solicited for money by police officers. Mr. Saro has been awaiting trial in Kuje Prison for more than six years.  [Source: “Refworld | Pretrial Detention and Torture: Why Pretrial Detainees Face the Greatest Risk.” Refworld. Open Sociey Foundations, 36. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.]

Local Organizations

            Legal Aid Council Nigeria
The Legal Aid Council is the leading provider of free, qualitative, and timely legal aid services in Nigeria, ensuring social justice and the emancipation of the oppressed, reprieve to the weak and vulnerable thereby giving voice to the voiceless.
The Council operates through offices in 36 states, 6 zone offices, 13 Legal Aid Centres in Local Government Area Councils, and is headquartered in Abuja.
The Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) is an initiative established in nine states of the Legal Aid Council whose focus is to provide timely and uninterrupted legal services to those who are in conflict with the law at the point of arrest. The Scheme addresses the following core initiatives:

  1. Ensure prompt decision on arrest, arraignment, and prosecution of alleged criminal offenders
  2. Ensure coordination between Legal Aid Council, the Police, and the prosecutorial authorities
  3. Reduce the number of detainees awaiting trials
  4. Reduce the duration detainees spend in pretrial detention
  5. Reduce the turn-around period for legal advice on pending prosecutions and complaints

Legal Aid Council Headquarters Contact
Federal Secretariat Complex
Phase II (Head of Service)
3rd Floor Block C
Central Area, Abuja


In 2014, the total pretrial detention rate in Nigeria consisted of 70 percent of the prison population. The end of 2013 marked 39,034 pretrial detainees in the country’s prisons with some awaiting trial more than 10 years. The issue of pretrial detention in Nigeria underscores the shortage of trial judges and undue political influence, which in turn promote rampant corruption across the judicial system.
The average time spent in pretrial detention is 3.7 years.

Other Sources

As of January 2014, no known U.S. citizens are presently in pretrial detention in Nigeria.


Pretrial Rights International has soft launched to begin helping pretrial detainees around the world. DISCLAIMER: We are constantly working to improve the content on this site. The material contained on this site is in beta form. It does not provide legal advice. If you need legal assistance, contact a lawyer.

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