Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is a constitutional democracy with a diverse population and complex legal system. The country has made significant strides in promoting human rights, as evidenced by the ratification of various international human rights treaties. Nigeria, as a democratic nation, places significant importance on upholding human rights within its constitution and legal framework. The criminal investigation and trial processes play a critical role in protecting these rights and ensuring justice for all citizens. However, the criminal investigation and trial processes in Nigeria face numerous human rights challenges, impacting the fairness and effectiveness of the justice system.

This paper examines the key human rights issues within the Nigerian criminal justice system, analyzes their implications, and proposes potential solutions to strengthen human rights protection and ensure fair and just criminal proceedings.


The Right to a Fair Trial:

The right to a fair trial is a cornerstone of the criminal justice system and is protected under section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended); the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and other relevant Nigerian laws. It is also protected under regional and international human rights instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, several factors impede the realization of this right in practice.


 Prolonged Pre-Trial Detention:

One of the major human rights challenges in Nigeria is the excessive use of pre-trial detention. Many individuals, particularly those from marginalized communities, experience prolonged detention without trial, violating their right to liberty and the presumption of innocence. The Nigerian criminal justice system often faces delays in processing cases, leading to overburdened courts and backlogs.

To address this issue, the Nigerian government should invest in alternatives to pre-trial detention, such as bail reform and diversion programs. Implementing legal reforms to streamline the judicial process and provide timely trials can help reduce the backlog of cases and alleviate pre-trial detention pressures.


  Access to Legal Representation:

The right to legal representation is a crucial aspect of a fair trial. However, many accused individuals, especially in rural areas, face difficulties in securing competent legal counsel, leading to an imbalance within the adversarial system.

To address this issue, Nigeria must enhance legal aid services to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their financial status, have access to qualified legal representation. Awareness campaigns can be conducted to inform citizens of their right to legal representation and the avenues available to access legal aid.


Trial Delays and Backlogs:

Trial delays are a common issue in the Nigerian criminal justice system, affecting both victims and accused individuals. Lengthy trials can undermine the right to a speedy trial, impacting the lives of those involved and impeding justice.

To tackle trial delays, the Nigerian government should invest in modernizing court infrastructure and adopting case management systems. Additionally, the judiciary should employ case management techniques to ensure the timely resolution of cases. Adequate training and resources for judges and judicial staff are essential to expedite proceedings.


Police Misconduct and Brutality:

Instances of police misconduct and brutality have been a significant concern in Nigeria. The excessive use of force during arrests and interrogations, arbitrary arrests, and torture have been reported, particularly in vulnerable communities. These actions not only violate the right to life and liberty but also erode public trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.


Excessive Use of Force:

The use of excessive force by law enforcement is a recurring problem in Nigeria. Often, confrontations between security forces and civilians result in unnecessary violence, leading to injuries and loss of life.

To address this issue, Nigeria should establish robust mechanisms for independent oversight and accountability. Independent bodies responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct should be empowered and adequately resourced. Moreover, comprehensive training on human rights and the use of force should be mandatory for all law enforcement personnel.


Torture and Extrajudicial Killings:

Torture and extrajudicial killings are grave human rights violations that have been reported in Nigeria. Victims of torture often suffer physical and psychological trauma, and extrajudicial killings deny individuals their right to life and due process.

To combat torture and extrajudicial killings, Nigeria must prioritize the investigation and prosecution of security personnel involved in such acts. Establishing specialized units within the police force and judicial system to handle cases of police misconduct can enhance accountability and deter future abuses.


Lack of Accountability:

The lack of accountability for police misconduct and brutality remains a significant barrier to justice in Nigeria. Cases involving security personnel often face challenges in the prosecution and conviction of the perpetrators.

To promote accountability, Nigeria should ensure that investigations are transparent and impartial. Independent bodies, such as civilian oversight commissions, should be tasked with overseeing investigations and holding law enforcement personnel accountable for their actions.


Right to Privacy and Surveillance:

Advancements in technology have expanded the capabilities of criminal investigations in Nigeria, but they have also raised concerns about violations of the right to privacy. The use of surveillance technologies, such as mass data collection and electronic monitoring, may infringe upon individual privacy rights.


Mass Data Collection:

Mass data collection by government agencies and private entities can compromise individual privacy rights in Nigeria. The extensive gathering and storage of personal data without proper safeguards can lead to abuse and unauthorized access.

To safeguard privacy rights, Nigeria needs to enact comprehensive legislation to regulate the use of surveillance technologies. Legal frameworks must be established to ensure that surveillance practices are subject to judicial oversight, strict adherence to proportionality tests, and respect for individual rights. Additionally, independent bodies, such as data protection agencies, should be tasked with overseeing and enforcing data protection laws.


 Electronic Monitoring and Phone Tapping:

The use of electronic monitoring and phone tapping by law enforcement agencies has raised concerns about the violation of privacy in Nigeria. Surveillance without proper authorization and oversight can lead to unwarranted intrusions into the lives of individuals.

To prevent abuses, Nigeria must establish clear legal procedures for obtaining and using electronic surveillance evidence in criminal investigations. Judicial warrants should be required for surveillance, and access to such evidence should be restricted to authorized personnel.


Safeguarding Privacy Rights:

Nigeria must prioritize the safeguarding of privacy rights in the digital age. Public awareness campaigns can be instrumental in educating citizens about their rights and raising awareness about potential privacy violations. Additionally, the Nigerian government should collaborate with international organizations and privacy experts to develop best practices for data protection and surveillance.


Impartiality and Independence in Investigations:

The impartiality and independence of criminal investigations are vital to ensuring fair and just criminal proceedings in Nigeria. However, challenges related to political interference and inadequate resources can undermine the integrity of investigations.


 Political Interference:

Political interference in criminal investigations remains a significant concern in Nigeria. The influence of politicians and powerful individuals on law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial bodies can compromise the objectivity of investigations.

To bolster impartiality and independence, Nigeria should strengthen the role of independent prosecutorial bodies, such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC). These bodies should be insulated from political influence, and their leadership should be appointed through transparent and merit-based processes.


Independent Prosecutorial Bodies:

The effectiveness of independent prosecutorial bodies in Nigeria depends on their autonomy and capacity. Adequate resources should be allocated to these bodies to ensure effective and efficient investigations. Moreover, coordination and collaboration between different law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial bodies are crucial to avoid conflicts of interest and promote comprehensive investigations.


Adequate Resources for Investigations:

Nigeria should invest in the capacity-building of law enforcement agencies and investigators to ensure that they have the necessary resources and training to conduct thorough and impartial investigations. The recruitment and training of specialized investigators can enhance the quality and effectiveness of criminal investigations.


 Juvenile Justice:

The treatment of juveniles within the criminal justice system remains a pressing human rights issue in Nigeria. Despite legal protections for children, many young offenders find themselves subjected to the same punitive measures as adult criminals.


Detention of Juveniles:

Detention of juveniles should be a measure of last resort, according to international human rights standards. However, overcrowded juvenile detention centers and a lack of rehabilitation programs continue to be challenges in Nigeria.

To promote juvenile justice, Nigeria should prioritize diversion programs and restorative justice practices to keep young offenders out of the formal criminal justice system. Specialized courts and detention centers that cater to the needs of juveniles should be established, focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration rather than punishment.


 Lack of Rehabilitation Programs:

Rehabilitation programs for juvenile offenders are essential in breaking the cycle of criminal behavior and reintegrating them into society. Nigeria should invest in education, vocational training, and counseling programs for juvenile offenders to facilitate their successful reintegration into the community.


Diversion and Restorative Justice:

Diversion programs that divert young offenders away from the formal criminal justice system can be effective in promoting juvenile justice. Restorative justice practices, which involve dialogue and reconciliation between offenders and victims, can also contribute to reducing recidivism among juvenile offenders.


Discrimination and Disparities:

Discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status remains a persistent challenge in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. Racial profiling and targeting of certain communities by law enforcement agencies raise concerns about systemic bias and disparate treatment.


 Ethnic and Religious Bias:

Ethnic and religious biases can influence police conduct, investigations, and trial outcomes in Nigeria. Prejudices based on ethnicity and religion can lead to targeted arrests and unfair treatment of certain groups.

To address these disparities, Nigeria must invest in cultural competency training for law enforcement personnel. Data collection and analysis should be used to identify disparities and inform evidence-based policy changes to eliminate systemic bias.


Socioeconomic Disparities:

Socioeconomic disparities can also impact access to justice and the treatment of individuals within the criminal justice system. Individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may face challenges in accessing legal representation and obtaining a fair trial.

To mitigate socioeconomic disparities, Nigeria should invest in legal aid services to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their financial status, have access to competent legal representation. Awareness campaigns can also be conducted to inform citizens of their rights and the avenues available to access legal aid.


 Addressing Systemic Bias:

Addressing systemic bias in Nigeria’s criminal justice system requires comprehensive reforms and a commitment to promoting equality before the law. The Nigerian government should engage with civil society organizations and international partners to identify and address areas of systemic bias within the justice system.


Challenges in the Criminal Justice System:

In addition to specific human rights issues, Nigeria’s criminal justice system faces broader challenges that impact human rights protection and the rule of law.


Overcrowded Prisons:

Overcrowded prisons are a persistent problem in Nigeria, leading to unsanitary conditions, human rights abuses, and increased risk of disease outbreaks.

To address this issue, Nigeria should explore alternatives to incarceration, such as community service and probation, for non-violent offenders. Investing in prison infrastructure and enhancing rehabilitation programs can also alleviate prison overcrowding. 


Corruption in the Justice System:

Corruption within the criminal justice system undermines the integrity of investigations and trials, eroding public trust in the rule of law.

To combat corruption, Nigeria must prioritize the enforcement of anti-corruption laws and establish independent oversight bodies to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices within the justice system. Strengthening internal accountability mechanisms within law enforcement agencies can also deter corrupt behaviour.


Inadequate Training for Criminal Justice Personnel:

The effectiveness of Nigeria’s criminal justice system depends on the competence and professionalism of its personnel. Inadequate training can impede the quality of investigations, trials, and victim support.

To address this challenge, Nigeria should invest in continuous training programs for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judicial staff. Training should focus on human rights principles, legal procedures, and best practices for handling criminal cases.


Strengthening Human Rights Protections:

To ensure fair and just criminal proceedings and protect human rights, Nigeria should adopt a holistic approach that encompasses legal reforms, awareness campaigns, and collaboration with civil society and international organizations.


Legal Reforms and Policy Changes:

Nigeria should undertake comprehensive legal reforms to address the human rights issues identified in this paper. Reform efforts should prioritize protecting the right to a fair trial, curbing police misconduct and brutality, safeguarding privacy rights, and promoting impartiality and independence in investigations.


Awareness and Sensitization Programs:

Public awareness campaigns are essential in educating citizens about their rights and raising awareness about potential human rights violations. Government agencies, civil society organizations, and the media can collaborate on educational programs aimed at promoting human rights within the criminal justice system.


Collaboration with Civil Society and International Organizations:

Collaboration with civil society organizations and international partners can enhance Nigeria’s efforts in protecting human rights within its criminal justice system. Civil society organizations can serve as watchdogs, advocating for human rights, and providing support to victims. International organizations can offer technical assistance, expertise, and financial support for human rights initiatives.



Protecting human rights within criminal investigations and trials is crucial to upholding the rule of law and ensuring justice for all citizens in Nigeria. The right to a fair trial, addressing police misconduct and brutality, safeguarding privacy rights, promoting impartiality in investigations, ensuring juvenile justice, eliminating discrimination and disparities, and overcoming broader challenges within the criminal justice system are essential steps toward creating a fair, just, and human rights-respecting criminal justice system in Nigeria.

By prioritizing legal reforms, awareness campaigns, and collaboration with civil society and international partners, Nigeria can strengthen human rights protections and enhance public trust in its criminal justice system. A comprehensive and multifaceted approach is essential to promoting justice, fairness, and respect for human rights within Nigeria’s criminal investigations and trials.


About the author

Chioma Henrietta Okoli is a Senior Legal Officer at National Human Rights Commission, Nigeria where she promotes and protects human rights policies. She is also currently enrolled as a PG student at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa.



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