Partly Free
A Obstacles to Access 17 25
B Limits on Content 25 35
C Violations of User Rights 18 40
Last Year's Score & Status
57 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Internet freedom improved in Nigeria, as internet connectivity increased and social media platforms remained accessible throughout the 2023 presidential and gubernatorial elections. However, mis- and disinformation coordinated by state-affiliated groups and powerful political actors undermined the credibility of online information and contributed to an increase in tensions between ethnic groups during the election period. A new code that requires platforms to take down unlawful content within 48 hours could incentivize companies to remove legitimate political expression. Journalists and ordinary users face criminal charges for posting content criticizing powerful individuals, and online journalists continue to be subjected to harassment, intimidation, and violence.

While Nigeria has made significant improvements to the quality of its elections since the 1999 transition to democratic rule, the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections, which saw former president Muhammadu Buhari reelected and the All Progressives Congress (APC) regain its legislative majority, were marred by irregularities. Corruption remains endemic in the key petroleum industry. Security challenges, including insurgencies, kidnappings, and communal and sectarian violence in the restive Middle Belt region, threaten the human rights of millions of Nigerians. Military and law enforcement agencies often engage in extrajudicial killings, torture, and other abuses. Civil liberties are undermined by religious and ethnic bias, while women and LGBT+ people face pervasive discrimination. The vibrant media landscape is impeded by criminal defamation laws, as well as the frequent harassment and arrests of journalists who cover politically sensitive topics.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2022 - May 31, 2023

  • In October 2022, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) approved the Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms, which requires all internet intermediaries to remove unlawful content within 48 hours, potentially restricting free expression (see B2).
  • The Facebook page of an investigative journalism outlet was repeatedly targeted with coordinated mass reporting and takedown requests in retaliation for their investigative work on the former Bauchi State police commissioner (see B2).
  • Legal retaliation for online expression encouraged self-censorship. Two TikTok users were sentenced to public flogging for defaming the governor of Kano State in a video. Ten other TikTok users were sued in Sharia court for promoting explicit content in their videos (see B4 and C3).
  • State-affiliated groups and political parties paid networks of social media influencers to post false narratives about their opponents and operated troll farms to harass and delegitimize opposition voices online during the 2023 presidential elections (see B5).
  • Youth mobilized online during the 2023 presidential elections as the #Obidient movement on social media increased young people’s political consciousness (see B8).
  • Online journalists faced threats, intimidation, and physical violence in retaliation for their reporting on powerful political or business figures (see C7).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 3.003 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because both internet penetration and mobile speeds have increased, according to some measurements.

Infrastructural challenges, including unreliable access to electricity, hamper both access to the internet and internet speeds.

According to the Digital 2023 report, Nigeria had an internet penetration rate of 55.4 percent as of January 2023.1 According to the Nigerian Communications Commissions (NCC), the number of internet subscriptions increased by 10 million from January 2022 to December 2022.2

The government’s new National Broadband Plan 2020–25 (NBP), which replaced the 2013–18 plan, aims to expand broadband penetration to 70 percent by 2025.3 As of April 2023, the NCC reported a broadband penetration rate of 48.14 percent.4

According to NCC data, the number of fixed-line telephone connections improved to 16,531 in April 2023.5

In September 2021, the National Executive Council approved the rollout of fifth-generation (5G) technology for mobile networks in Nigeria after a trial period in three major cities. In August 2022, the mobile network operator MTN rolled out 5G services at 190 sites in seven states.6 Currently, the NCC estimates that only 60,000 out of about 220 million Nigerians have been able to take advantage of this service.7

Access to higher quality internet in Nigeria has also been potentially impacted by the launch of SpaceX’s Starlink in the country in January 2023. Although former president Buhari claimed that Starlink’s deployment brought Nigeria’s broadband penetration rate to 100 percent,8 the impact on connectivity is still uncertain given the high costs of the hardware and subscription for satellite services (see A2), and reports of unreliable service during rainy weather.9

Vandalism and destruction of communication infrastructure is common and persisted through the coverage period.10 Power cuts frequently disrupt service and access. During the coverage period the country experienced a number of electricity grid collapses11 and power outages due to insufficient electricity generation and allocation.12

Shortfalls in the power supply also undermine the quality of internet service offered by providers. Telecommunications base stations in Nigeria are typically powered by diesel generators, which reportedly account for 80 percent of their operating expenses.13

The average fixed-line broadband download speed is 12.23 megabits per second (Mbps) and the average mobile download speed is 22.78 Mbps.14 In 2019, the NITDA released its Framework and Guidelines for Public Internet Access. The framework aimed to guarantee minimum quality standards and set other guidelines for shared connections.15

Nigeria is served by seven international undersea cables; the newest, Google’s Equiano, began operation in December 2022.16 An eighth cable, 2Africa, is expected to land in Nigeria in 2023.17

In 2018, the Association of Submarine Cable Operators of Nigeria (ASCON) was formed to “promote, encourage, and assist in the protection of subsea cable infrastructure and ancillary equipment and facilities from marine activities, man-made and natural hazards.”18

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 1.001 3.003

Although significant digital divides along the lines of gender, geography, and language persist, affordable data services for mobile subscribers have increased internet access. In its 2021 Affordability Report, the Alliance for Affordable Internet ranked Nigeria 19th out of 72 low- and middle-income nations for the implementation of policies leading to affordable internet access.1 However, during the coverage period, the country experienced a surge in the cost of living,2 which also affected the cost of internet data plans offered by network operators.3 Two of the country’s most widely used internet service providers (ISPs), MTN and Airtel, announced price increases in their data plans.4 The NCC ordered the service providers to reverse the price hike, stating that the service providers had only received a provisional approval of the implemented increase and not a final approval.5 In March 2023, the cost of a monthly plan with 1.5 gigabytes (GB) of 4G internet from MTN, Glo, and Airtel, the country’s most widely used ISPs, was 1000 naira ($2.25) per month.6

The recent rollout of 5G networks and Starlink satellite internet services (see A1) present exclusive options for the few Nigerians who can afford them. Reports reveal that the cheapest 5G-enabled smartphone available in Africa costs $300.7 Similarly, a Starlink setup kit costs about $600, and using the service requires a monthly subscription of $43.8 This is unaffordable for many in Nigeria, where about 40 percent of residents live on one dollar per day.9

Cost remains a major impediment to internet access for many Nigerians in rural areas. Due to the unreliable electricity supply (see A1), those who can afford it often rely on private generators and standby battery-powered inverter systems to remain online during power outages.

The price of fuel in Nigeria tripled in May 2023 following an announcement by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that his administration was discontinuing Nigeria’s fuel subsidy.10 Due to the dependence of many on private generators for electricity, surging fuel costs are expected to have a massive impact on the cost of connectivity.

In July 2022, the federal government announced that it would impose a 5 percent excise tax on telecommunication services, borne by subscribers, in an effort to increase revenue.11 The policy was widely criticized by citizens and telecommunications service providers alike and in September 2022, the federal government suspended the policy over concerns it would negatively impact the digital economy.12 However, in late December 2022, it was reported that the government was reconsidering the suspension of the excise tax. In response, the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria reported that they intended to sue the government over the policy in 2023.13

Nigeria’s internet landscape is characterized by a significant urban-rural divide and a slowly narrowing gender digital divide. According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2022 report, 1.30 percent fewer women have internet access than men.14 The wide electricity gap between urban and rural areas creates internet access issues: 91.4 percent of Nigeria’s urban population has electricity, while just 30.4 percent of the rural population does.15

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 6.006 6.006

There were no restrictions on connectivity to the internet or mobile networks during the coverage period. Mobile network restrictions were last reported in 2014 and 2015 in three northern states during a state of emergency due to the Boko Haram insurgency.

The backbone connection to the international internet is decentralized, resulting in a climate of healthy competition with little government interference. Multiple players have built fiber networks that crisscross the country, including Phase3 Telecom, Globacom-1, MainOne, Suburban Telecom, Multi-Links Telecommunications, and MTN. There are now active internet exchange points (IXPs) in five regions.1

Preceding the March 2023 presidential elections, civil society organisations across the world cosigned an advocacy letter to remind the Nigerian government of the importance of an open and unrestricted internet.2 The government did not exert technical or legal control over internet connectivity during the elections despite reported election violence across the country.3

In October 2020, when Nigerians took to the streets to protest police brutality in the #EndSARS protests (see B8), there were concerns that the government would seek to disrupt internet connectivity. Civil society organizations like Paradigm Initiative led advocacy efforts around internet shutdowns and conducted a public education campaign on circumvention and measurements tools.4

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 5.005 6.006

There are no significant legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers in Nigeria.

The information and communications technology (ICT) market in Nigeria has expanded considerably over the past two decades, with the number of licensed ISPs growing from 18 in 2000 to 243 as of March 2023. The growth of fixed-line broadband providers has slowed in recent years with the rise in mobile access.1 Despite the large number of registered ISPs, there is a high degree of market concentration.2 Five privately owned mobile service providers also provide internet access: MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9Mobile (formerly Etisalat), and NTEL, which began operations in 2016 after acquiring the license of the defunct national telephone service provider NITEL.3 In 2016, MTN acquired Visafone, securing access to its 800-megahertz (MHz) spectrum.4 While Starlink is expensive compared to other internet service options, it may further diversify the market for ISPs in Nigeria following its January 2023 rollout (see A1 and A2).

In November 2022, MTN was awarded a 5G license after an auction by the NCC, giving it a head start on the deployment of 5G technology and leading other members of the industry to fear it could achieve market dominance.5 To discourage an industry monopoly and undue advantage, the NCC capped the maximum amount of spectrum a licensee can acquire at 200MHz of the 3.5 gigahertz band.6

The NITDA’s 2019 Framework and Guidelines for Public Internet Access is designed to regulate the provision and use of public internet access in Nigeria. According to the framework, public internet access points (PIAPs) must register with the NITDA and obtain approval from the body to carry out their operations.7

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 2.002 4.004

Regulatory bodies that oversee service providers have historically had a reputation for independence, though some actions by the NCC have called the body’s autonomy into question.1 The 2003 Nigeria Communications Act vests regulatory responsibility over the ICT sector with the NCC. The government nominates the NCC’s nine-member board of commissioners. The NCC’s current chief executive and executive vice chairman, Umar Garba Danbatta, was appointed in 2016 through a process that was viewed as fair. Danbatta, a leading academic, is considered an industry expert.2

The NCC’s close relationship with Isa Pantami, the minister of communications and digital economy, has undermined perceptions of the regulator’s independence.3 During his tenure, Pantami has been reported to regularly issue orders to the NCC, potentially acting beyond his supervisory scope, and has drawn the NCC into his feuds with other members of government.4 In November 2021, Pantami directed the NCC to develop grants to support higher education institutions’ research on emerging technologies.5 In December 2020, Pantami also issued directives to the NCC on awarding contracts,6 ordered the suspension of SIM cards,7 and asked the regulator to end some charges relating to National Identity Number (NIN) retrieval.8

The NITDA, which was established in 2007, is tasked with planning, developing, and promoting the use of information technology in Nigeria. The agency also supervises the management of the country code top-level domain (.ng).9 Although the NITDA appears to operate independently, its director general, who is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the agency and the implementation of policy, is a political appointee who reports the current minister for communications and digital economy.10 Additionally, critics have questioned whether the agency can legitimately formulate regulations, frameworks, and guidelines regarding the internet in Nigeria. In October 2022, Paradigm Initiative, through a legal suit, has asked the courts to determine the NITDA'S powers as they relate to the protection of personal data and the issuance and enforcement of sanctions.11 The agency’s recent release of the Code of Practice for Internet Intermediaries also raises questions around how strictly the code will the enforced and if the agency will have the practical capacity to enforce it.

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 4.004 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because the government did not block social media platforms during the coverage period.

In recent years, the Nigerian government has blocked some social media platforms and political content found online. During the coverage period, social media platforms remained accessible, no new websites were blocked or filtered by the Nigerian government, and there were no reported efforts to compel service providers to do so. Generally, the complex nature of Nigeria’s internet infrastructure makes it difficult to carry out systematic filtering or censorship.

The Nigerian government blocked online content relating to the #EndSARS protests (see B8), including the Feminist Coalition’s website,, and; they remained inaccessible at the end of the coverage period.1 The websites, which first became inaccessible in November 2020, belong to organizations that played prominent roles during the civic protests.2

According to data from the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), sixteen pro-Biafran websites that were blocked in 2017 continued to show signs of censorship during the coverage period.3 Patreon, a platform where individuals can pay for monthly subscriptions to access content from creators, showed signs of blocking on some ISPs in Nigeria during the coverage period.4

In June 2021, the Nigerian government ordered that Twitter be blocked on most major networks. Days earlier, the platform had deleted a post from then-president Buhari’s account and suspended the account for 12 hours, stating that the post, which seemed to threaten violence against Biafran secessionists, violated Twitter’s rules on abusive behavior.5 The government subsequently threatened to prosecute Nigerians accessing Twitter through circumvention tools and ordered media organizations to stop using the platform.6 Twitter became accessible again in January 2022. According to authorities, the ban was lifted after Twitter agreed to several conditions, including setting up an office in the country, appointing a designated country representative to interface with the Nigerian authorities, and paying taxes to the government; the company, however, has not acknowledged agreeing to these conditions.7

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 3.003 4.004

The government does not regularly issue takedown requests, though there are concerns that online content relating to the #EndSARS protests may have been removed by content providers in October 2020 (see B8).

That month, a fund used by the Feminist Coalition, a civil society group, to distribute support to protesters was inoperable for nine days on the online payment processing platform Flutterwave. The interruption was ostensibly due to “scheduled maintenance,” though the Feminist Coalition indicated that the closure of the account was related to their role in the #EndSARS protests,1 and they later said it would be permanently closed. Media reports also indicated that the Flutterwave platform was temporarily suspended, which the company later disputed.2 Separately, a YouTube feed from Arise News was taken down while livestreaming at the Lekki toll gate, a day after security forces shot and killed at least 12 peaceful protesters there. The feed was reportedly flagged for copyright violations; it was restored a few hours after being removed.3

In October 2022, the Facebook page for the online investigative journalism outlet WikkiTimes was taken down for allegedly violating the platform’s community guidelines, after what WikkiTimes suspected was coordinated mass reporting of their account in retaliation for their investigative work. Despite contacting Facebook multiple times to appeal the decision, they were unable to restore the page. In November 2022, Facebook suspended the outlet’s new page after WikkiTimes published an investigation into the former Bauchi State police commissioner. The page was down for several weeks while the outlet worked with Facebook to regain access.4

According to Google’s updated transparency report, there were three government requests for content removal made by the Consumer Protection Authority between January and June 2022.5 These requests were for seven content items related to issues of fraud and regulated goods and services. Only four of these seven content items were eventually removed by Google as the remaining three requests did not contain sufficient information. Between July and December 2021, Facebook reportedly restricted 93 pieces of content “in response to private reports of defamation.”6 In the same period, Twitter received one legal demand to remove content, which it complied with.7

In October 2022, the NITDA approved the Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms.8 The code mandates that all internet intermediaries “act expeditiously upon receiving a notice from an Authorised Government Agency of the presence of unlawful content on its Platform” by acknowledging “receipt of the complaint and tak(ing) down the content within 48 hours.” The code defines unlawful content simply as ‘any content that violates an existing Nigerian law.’ Although the code has not yet been applied to any case, Nigerians reportedly fear that it will serve as a tool for repression of free expression and that it was published to serve as a “backdoor way of regulating the media.”9

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 2.002 4.004

Restrictions on internet content lack transparency. The blocking of 21 pro-Biafra websites in 2017 was not carried out through a transparent process. The block was ordered by the NCC based on Section 146 of the 2003 Nigeria Communications Act (NCA), which obligates ISPs to cooperate with the NCC to preserve national security and prevent crime.1 The government frequently relies on Section 146 to justify content restrictions. The blocking of websites associated with the #EndSARS protests in November 2020 also lacked transparency (see B2).

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 3.003 4.004

The persistent arrest of users for their online activities under the 2015 Cybercrime Act has resulted in growing self-censorship, particularly among professional journalists who publish content online (see C3). Self-censorship has worsened in recent years as the extent of the Nigerian security services’ surveillance and interception powers has been revealed (see C6).1 However, some journalists persist in their work, despite potential repercussions (see B8, C3, and C7).

Recent arrests of individuals in northern Nigeria for their online activities have contributed to growing self-censorship. Two TikTok creators who were arrested in Kano State in November 2022 stopped making videos about political and religious content following their release (see C3). Six other Nigerian TikTok creators also anonymously reported that they avoid certain issues and sounds in their videos, and make sure to dress appropriately in their videos to prevent repercussions from authorities.2

Nigeria’s LGBT+ community is marginalized, and online self-censorship is common among LGBT+ individuals.3 Many LGBT+ internet users report feeling unsafe using their real names online, preferring to engage anonymously,4 likely due to societal prejudice and measures like the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2014, which criminalizes public displays of same-sex relationships.5

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2.002 4.004

Political figures and government officials sometimes seek to manipulate the online environment on sensitive issues. Many media companies in Nigeria are owned or controlled by politicians and government officials,1 potentially influencing their reporting.

Before and after the 2023 presidential elections, powerful actors have propagated disinformation and misinformation, manipulating public perception in the process.2 An investigation published by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in January 2023 revealed that political parties regularly paid networks of social media influencers and microinfluencers to amplify disinformation and post false narratives about their opponents, often exploiting ethnic and religious differences.3

The leader of the House of Representatives made false and misleading claims to journalists about the amount of money that politicians needed to have in cash for the election process.4 The first lady shared a fake press release on the recirculation of old banknotes, which was later debunked by the Central Bank.5 An aide to then-president Buhari shared incorrect information about the electoral process and conduct on a CNN interview.6 A vocal supporter of the ruling party shared a doctored photo of a rival presidential candidate on Twitter which cast him in bad light.7 A key member of an opposition party made several incorrect or unproven claims about the performance of the APC.8 Some political leaders shared fake election results and footage falsely claiming that ballot-box stuffing was widespread.9

In addition to manipulating information during elections, political officials and their appointees often spread unverified information or undermined legitimate news in an effort to whitewash their administration or policies.10 For example, the government denied the occurrence of shootings during the #EndSARS Protests, referred to as the #LekkiMassacre on social media, even though there were live streams of the incident.11 The Minister of Information and Culture described a report on the shootings as “a triumph of fake news and the intimidation of a silent majority by a vociferous lynch mob.”12

A 2022 study from the Center for Democracy and Development West Africa found that state-affiliated groups coordinated disinformation campaigns and operated troll farms aimed at harassing and delegitimizing opposition voices online. Influencers, domestic political consulting firms, and even bots use language associated with “fact-checking” to gain credibility, which further undermines the integrity of the information space.13

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 3.003 3.003

There are no significant economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online. The state does not limit the ability of online outlets to sell advertisements or attract investment, advertisers are generally free to do business with any online media outlet, and owners of online media outlets do not need informal connections with government officials to be economically viable.

However, during the coverage period, banking industry policies affected individuals’ ability to complete international transactions, such as paying for advertising on social media platforms or subscribing to content platforms like YouTube. Major banks in Nigeria suspended the use of naira-denominated cards for international transactions.1 This has had a practical effect on the amount of advertising that Nigerians can pay for on international content platforms like Facebook and Instagram.2

ISPs in Nigeria are not known to manipulate network traffic or bandwidth availability, and generally respect the principles of net neutrality. There are no barriers to establishing online news outlets, blogs, or social media channels.

In June 2021, the NBC issued a statement directing social media platforms and online broadcasters to apply for broadcast licenses.3 As of July 2021, the major global social media platforms apparently had not registered with the NBC, and Nigerian social media companies that sought to register reported inaction by the regulator and an absence of a framework to carry out the government’s directive.4 In January 2022, the NBC reportedly halted efforts to force social media platforms and online broadcasters to obtain broadcast licenses.5

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 3.003 4.004

Nigeria is home to a diverse blogosphere, which has become a source of reliable news for many users and provides space for vibrant debate on a broad array of political and social issues. Diverse political viewpoints are represented on Nigerian websites and blogs, though some independent online media outlets faced backlash under previous governments.

There were robust and lively social media conversations during the 2023 election period, with both progovernment and opposition voices active across social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The same is true for charged topics such as the #EndSARS protests or government handling of security issues; critics and supporters of the government continue to have robust media conversations.

Nigerians are typically able to access a range of local and international news sources that are independent, balanced, and broadcast in the main languages spoken in the country. Many of these local news sources are also available online. International news sources like the BBC are also popular in Nigeria and offer online content in local languages,1 including English-based Pidgin.2 However, some communities struggle to find online content in their local language. The majority of content is in English, and local languages are vastly underrepresented.

Online media outlets, social media pages, blogs, and websites feature a diversity of voices, providing content produced by ethnic minorities,3 religious groups,4 women,5 and LGBT+ people.6

A February 2022 study by CDD West Africa found that social media platforms are common avenues for spreading mis- and disinformation in Nigeria. False or misleading information online impacts the information space offline as well, as Facebook and Twitter posts are frequently reprinted in newspapers and shared in radio broadcasts. Such content has made it more difficult for Nigerians to access credible information on important issues and has contributed to increased polarization along ethno-religious lines.7

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 5.005 6.006

Online mobilization tools are generally freely available to users. As active social media users, Nigerians have become prolific digital campaigners, innovatively using social media and communications apps to call for social or political change. Ahead of the 2023 presidential elections, Nigerians’ online mobilization increased following an earlier decrease due to the Twitter ban in the last coverage period and the state’s disproportionate response to the #EndSARS protests in 2020.

During the 2023 presidential elections, social media was wielded by citizens as a tool for civic participation.1 Young people used social media to organize the #Obidient political movement in support of Labour Party candidate Peter Obi.2 This online mobilization for a third-party underdog increased the political consciousness of young people and boosted their participation in the elections.3 While powerful actors used misinformation (see B5), no technical or legal measures were taken by the government to undermine or restrict online mobilization.

The government’s blocking of Twitter in the previous coverage period (see B1) impacted social media users’ ability to mobilize online, since Twitter was widely used for organizing social campaigns.4

Protests erupted across Nigeria in October 2020 after a video spread on social media of members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit with a history of abusive behavior, shooting a man in Delta State.5 Nigerians mobilized to call for the SARS unit to be disbanded, and the decentralized movement also took up calls for an end to police brutality and the unconditional release of arrested protesters.6 The protests were primarily organized on Twitter and Facebook, and protesters used social media to raise funds, mobilize volunteers, organize medical support, gather evidence to exonerate protestors accused of violence, and more.7 The movement largely dispersed after the Nigerian military opened fire on protestors at the Lekki tollgate, a popular protest site, killing at least 12 people.8 The Lekki Massacre remains under investigation by the government.9

The government also imposed restrictions on people affiliated with the #EndSARS movement. Websites associated with protest organizers were blocked (see B1), while #EndSARS-related online content may have been removed by content providers in October 2020 (see B2). The Central Bank of Nigeria also froze the accounts of identified protesters and organizations that were supporting the protests.10

The #RevolutionNow hashtag is often used in online discussion of poor governance and corruption, sometimes leading to protests offline. For instance, protests using the #RevolutionNow hashtag were held on Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary on October 1, 2020 in Lagos, Abuja, and other Nigerian cities. 11 12 State Security Service operatives arrested and brutalized protesters in Osun State.13

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 3.003 6.006

Nigeria’s 1999 constitution guarantees freedoms of expression and the press, but these rights are not always respected in practice, including for online activities.

Paradigm Initiative, a digital rights organization, led efforts to codify protections for internet freedom through the introduction of the draft Digital Rights and Freedom Bill in 2015. The bill’s objectives include protecting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online; guaranteeing the application of human rights within the digital environment; providing sufficient safeguards against online abuse and providing opportunity for redress; and equipping the judiciary with the necessary legal framework to protect human rights online. As of March 2023, the bill had gone through its first reading at the National Assembly and was awaiting a second reading. President Buhari declined to sign a previous version in March 2019.1

Though the Freedom of Information Act 2011 allows organizations to request access to public information, the government often does not respond to these requests. For instance, in March 2022, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the NCC both ignored requests from civil society organizations for information regarding the government’s decision to grant security agencies unfettered access to the commissions’ databases.2 There have been few cases where the judiciary grants access to information after the government denies the request.3

Nigeria’s judiciary has achieved a degree of independence, but political interference and corruption—as well as a lack of funding, equipment, and training—hamper its ability to adjudicate cases. President Buhari’s January 2019 suspension of Nigeria’s chief justice,4 which occurred without the involvement of the National Judicial Council (NJC) or the National Assembly, as required by law,5 brought the judiciary’s independence further into question. In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court issued a press statement in March 2023 cautioning members of the public not to attack the judiciary after the Court’s decisions in two election-related cases prompted concerns about its independence and impartiality.6 In March 2023, the Supreme Court issued a directive to the Federal Government regarding the enforcement of the ongoing currency redesign policy, however, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the president both failed to issue a statement complying with the order. These developments were criticized by the Nigerian Bar Association, which expressed concerns over a decline in the respect for the judiciary’s independence in a democratic Nigeria.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

Before leaving office in 2015, former president Goodluck Jonathan signed the Cybercrime Act 2015 into law, which provides a framework for addressing cybercrime but contains broadly worded provisions that can be used to punish legitimate expression.1 Duplicating existing libel laws, Section 24 of the law penalizes “cyberstalking” and messages that are “false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will, or needless anxiety to another” with up to three years in prison, a fine, or both.2 Section 26 penalizes distribution of “racist or xenophobic material to the public through a computer system or network” with up to five years in prison, a fine of up to 10 million naira ($22,500), or both.3 Reporting has also revealed that Section 27, which criminalizes any person who “aids, abets, conspires, counsels, or procures another person(s) to commit any offence under [the Cybercrime] Act,”4 is being used to prosecute journalists.5

Several civil society organizations have filed lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of the Cybercrime Act’s provisions.6 In 2019, the court of appeal in Lagos upheld the constitutionality of Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act.7 However, in July 2020, one of the suits brought before ECOWAS by Law and Rights Awareness Initiative received a favorable judgment from the court, which stated that Section 24 of the Act was a violation of Articles 9(2) and 19(3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and ordered Nigeria to amend or repeal the section.8 In March 2022, in a similar case brought by SERAP Nigeria, the ECOWAS court again ruled that the “vague and arbitrary nature” of Section 24 violated the ICCPR and the ACHPR and ordered Nigeria to amend the law.9 No such amendment has taken place.

The implementation of harsh interpretations of Sharia (Islamic law) in 12 northern states has increasingly affected internet freedom in those regions—notably in the form of blasphemy charges leveled against people for their online activities, often with long pretrial detentions (see C3).

Libel is a criminal offense in Nigeria, including online, with the burden of proof resting on the defendant. Print media journalists covering sensitive issues such as official corruption and communal violence are regularly subject to criminal prosecution.

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2.002 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because arrests for online activity did not result in extremely lengthy prison sentences.

During the coverage period a number of bloggers, journalists, and private citizens were arrested for their online activities, including criticism of government officials and violation of blasphemy laws in states under Sharia jurisdiction. Instances of intimidation and penalization for online activities increased during the coverage period with more criminal punishments being meted out for actions that fall under the purview of free speech.

In March 2023, Blessing Edet was arrested and charged with six counts under Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act for allegedly defaming the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, after she posted on Facebook alleging that he was involved in extramarital affairs.1 She pleaded not guilty to the charges and was granted bail until her trial in May 2023.

In April 2023, journalists Gidado Yushau and Alfred Olufemi were convicted on charges of criminal defamation and conspiracy following their investigative reporting into alleged cannabis use at a rice processing factory for the online newspaper News Digest.2 They were given sentences of five months in prison or a fine of 100,000 naira ($225), but announced they would appeal the decision. Prior to their arrest in 2019, police had carried out telecommunications surveillance and accessed call records to bring the journalists into custody (see C6).3

In February 2023, the police declared a Nigerian woman living abroad wanted for defamatory statements she allegedly made online about the Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. The police asserted that she was criminally liable under Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act and Section 233D of the criminal code.4

In November 2022, two Nigerian TikTok content creators, Nazifi Isa Muhammad and Mubarak Muhammad, were each arrested and convicted of defaming the governor of Kano State in a satirical political video.5 They were fined 10,000 naira ($22.50) and sentenced to public flogging and thirty days of community service.6 Following their release, the two creators reportedly began avoiding posting about political and religious topics (see B4).

In September 2022, 10 other Nigerian TikTok content creators were sued in a Kano State Sharia court for “promoting explicit content” in their music.7 One of those 10, Murja Ibrahim Kunya, was later arrested in January 2023 and charged with criminal intimidation, disturbance of public peace, obscene acts, and dishonest execution of deed of transfer.8

In October 2022, the publisher of the online news site Fresh Insight, which regularly published critical reporting on the Kwara State government, was arrested and charged for sending WhatsApp messages that alleged that the Kwara State governor’s press secretary had financially influenced the outcome of a local journalists’ union election.9

In August 2022, Agba Jalingo, publisher of the online news outlet CrossRiverWatch, was arrested for allegedly defaming Elizabeth Ayade, the sister-in-law of the governor of Cross River State. Although he was released days after his arrest, he was charged in December 2022 under Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act for publishing claims on his website that caused Ayade “annoyance, ill will and insult.”10 He was granted bail and released from prison in April 2023.11 Jalingo had previously been arrested for his reporting and social media posts about the governor of Cross River State.

In July 2022, two journalists, Haruna Mohammed Salisu and Idris Kamal, were detained for 48 hours, assaulted (see C7), and charged with cyberstalking after they reported on threats the Bauchi State APC chair had received before his death.12 The pair was released on bail, but the case was ongoing as of May 2023. That same month, five journalists for the online newspaper Peoples Gazette were arrested after the outlet published a story on law enforcement activity at the home of Nigeria’s former chief of army staff.13

In May 2022, Olamilekan Hammed Adewale Bashiru, publisher of the news website EagleForeSight,14 was arrested after publishing a story about the Ogun State governor’s alleged criminal history. He was granted bail in June 2022, but remained in prison due to the bail’s stringent conditions. Bashiru was released in November 2022 after five months in detention.15

In November 2021, a Nigerian contributor to the Epoch Times, Luka Binniyat, was arrested and charged under Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act after publishing an article on genocide against Christians in Kaduna State.16 He was released on bail in February 2022 after 84 days in custody.17 Binniyat was set to stand trial for cyberstalking in September 2022,18 though his trial was further delayed after a judge reportedly failed to attend.19

In July 2021, Isma’il Isah was arrested in Sokoto State for a Facebook post in which he purportedly made blasphemous comments.20 Isah allegedly also made derogatory comments about an official he believed denied him the opportunity to secure an appointment in the local government. The status of his case is unknown.

In April 2022, humanist activist Mubarak Bala was sentenced to 24 years in prison on numerous charges, including blasphemy and contempt of religion. He was arrested in April 2020 for insulting the prophet Muhammad in a Facebook post. Though a judge ordered Bala released in December 2020, claiming that his arrest and continued detention violated his constitutional rights, Bala remained in pretrial detention from the time of his arrest.21

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 2.002 4.004

While users can generally communicate anonymously online and freely use encryption tools, there are some legal provisions that threaten anonymity.

The Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms, approved in September 2022, states that internet intermediaries operating in Nigeria must disclose the identity of the creator of information on their platforms when ordered to do so by a court of record.

SIM card registration requirements instituted in 2009 threaten users’ rights to anonymous communication and privacy.1 In April 2022, the federal government directed all telecommunications companies to block SIM cards that had not been linked to a resident’s National Identity Number (NIN), the key component of Nigeria’s national biometric information system. Since the directive was issued, about 73 million SIMs cards have been blocked; individuals can only unblock their SIM cards by following steps to link their NIN.2 The Nigerian government first ordered citizens to link their SIM card registration with their NIN in December 2020, threatening to disconnect the lines of those who did not register within a two-week window.3 The announcement was widely criticized, particularly because NIN registration requires users to appear for an in-person capture of biometric data, which exacerbated the risk of COVID-19 transmission.4 In January 2021, a civil society group sued the government over the directive, arguing that it violates Nigerians’ right to privacy.5

The NITDA’s 2019 Framework and Guidelines for Public Internet Access mandates that PIAPs “ensure every user goes through a registration process to acquire an access code for the purpose of public internet access after verification through the user’s mobile number which is the unique login ID.” This measure eliminates anonymity for those who utilize free internet connections and increases the collection and processing of user data. However, the framework also mandates that PIAPs use the most recent encryption standards to protect users’ data and communications.6

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 3.003 6.006

National and regional authorities have long sought out technology to facilitate surveillance, and reports of improper surveillance against journalists persist.

In March 2023, 40 percent of journalists who responded to a survey by the Premium Times, an online newspaper known for its investigative journalism, reported being under surveillance in the past.1

In July 2021, the National Assembly approved a 4.87-billion-naira ($10.96 million) budget for the National Intelligence Agency. According to the Premium Times, the government earmarked money for a WhatsApp Intercept Solution and a Thuraya Interception Solution, communications systems that would monitor calls, texts, and data traffic.2 The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a nonprofit organization, filed a lawsuit against the president in October 2021, and urged courts to find the government’s plan to track and monitor WhatsApp messages and calls illegal.3

In December 2020, an investigation by the Citizen Lab identified the Defence Intelligence Agency, Nigeria’s primary military intelligence agency, as a likely customer of the surveillance company Circles. The company—which is affiliated with the private Israeli firm NSO Group, known for its Pegasus spyware—provides services that allow customers to monitor calls, texts, and cell phone geolocation by exploiting weaknesses in mobile telecommunications infrastructure.4 Previously, a 2016 Premium Times investigation found that politicians in Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States had purchased spyware from Circles.5

In October 2019, a Nigerian law enforcement agency disclosed that Nigerian security forces use software from Cellebrite and AccessData Group, two companies that provide technology to extract and forensically search data from electronic devices, including devices protected by strong encryption. Forensic search technology was reportedly used to search over 20 computers and phones seized from the Daily Trust when the paper’s editors were arrested in January 2019 for their reporting on military operations in the northeast.6 Earlier news reports revealed the presence of a FinFisher command-and-control server located within Nigeria.7

The government’s intent to enhance its surveillance capabilities is reflected in federal budget allocations. Since 2018, tens of millions of dollars have been set aside for various surveillance projects that fall under the purview of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and Department of State Services (DSS..8 These include tools for social media monitoring, drones, and other mobile surveillance tools apparently capable of intercepting mobile phone traffic and collecting the location data of mobile phone users.9 10

In February 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on the use of cell phone data by Nigerian security forces to arrest investigative journalists (see C3 and C6). Police used phone records to identify journalists’ contacts, detained those contacts, and then pressured those individuals to gain access to journalists and arrest them.11

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 3.003 6.006

There are numerous legal mechanisms that compel service providers to assist the government in its efforts to monitor users’ communications. The Nigerian government has used those mechanisms to investigate and arrest journalists.

The NITDA Code of Practice for Internet Intermediaries obliges platforms to cooperate with authorized government agencies on data requests, content takedowns, and similar other orders.1 The code also stipulates that these platforms shall preserve information on individuals who have stopped using their platform or whose accounts have been deleted.2 The code does not state how long such information should be preserved. Civil society group Paradigm Initiative criticized the code for contravening Nigeria’s existing data protection regulation, the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation(NDPR).3 Amnesty International expressed concerns that indefinite data retention in the Code of Practice incentivizes surveillance.4

Although there is still no primary data protection law in Nigeria, in 2019 the NITDA published the NDPR.5 The Data Protection Bill 2020 would replace the NDPR if it was passed into law by the National Assembly, but currently the NDPR remains operational.6 Although the NDPR contains certain provisions that seek to protect individuals’ rights over their personal data, it has been criticized for its lack of enforceability. There are also other sector-specific laws that touch on personal data such as the National Health Act and the Childs Rights Act. However, data protection in Nigeria is plagued with a lack of uniformity in judicial and regulatory oversight, and data protection efforts are often drawn-out, exaggerated, and redundant.7 In February 2022, the president approved the creation of the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau, now called the Nigeria Data Protection Commission, to support the development of primary legislation for data protection and privacy. Its duties, and whether it will act as the data protection authority of Nigeria, remain unclear. The commission, though it does not have an enabling law, has commenced preliminary operations.8 It has been criticized for lacking the independence needed to protect the data privacy rights of citizens.9

In February 2020, the CPJ reported at least three cases since 2017 where the government used details from call records to arrest journalists. In each case, security forces used records from service providers to identify trusted contacts of the journalist, detained the contacts, and had them call the journalist to report to a police station.10 Two of the journalists who were arrested following this communications surveillance tactic were convicted in April 2023 (see C3).

In June 2019, President Buhari signed the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill 2016 into law. Drafted to target international corruption, the law establishes procedures for cooperation with other countries in criminal cases through a mutual legal assistance treaty framework.11 The act includes provisions for complying with requests from third states for telecommunications interception, stored telecommunications, or other forms of stored electronic data, subject to oversight in some circumstances from the attorney general or the courts.12

The 2015 Cybercrime Act requires service providers to retain user data and intercept electronic communications upon the request of law enforcement.13 Under Section 38 of the law, providers are required to “keep all traffic data and subscriber information… for a period of two years” and comply with requests from law enforcement agencies to access this data.14 The law implies a degree of judicial oversight for these requests, but the procedure involved is unclear.15

The Guidelines for the Provision of Internet Service, published by the NCC in 2013, also require ISPs to cooperate with law enforcement and regulatory agencies in providing “any service-related information…including information regarding particular users and the content of their communications” during investigations of cybercrime or other illegal activity.16 The guidelines do not include oversight mechanisms, creating the potential for abuse. The guidelines also stipulate that ISPs must retain user data and “the content of user messages or routing data” for at least 12 months.17

Data localization is mandated under the Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in Information and Communications Technology, issued by the NITDA in 2013 and amended in 2019.18 The guidelines require ICT companies to “host all subscriber and consumer data locally within the country.”19 The stated aim of the guidelines was to boost local content and ICT development, but the requirement risks compromising user privacy and security, given the absence of adequate data protection laws.20 The extent to which the guidelines have been enforced remain unclear as of 2023, as there have been no reports that international ICT companies have been compelled to comply.

A 2013 directive from the NCC requires cybercafés to “maintain an up-to-date database of subscribers and users, including their full names, physical addresses, passport photos, and telephone numbers.”21 Under Section 7 of the 2015 Cybercrime Act, cybercafés must make their registers “available to law enforcement personnel whenever needed,” with no clear requirement for judicial oversight.22

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 2.002 5.005

In recent years, online journalists and activists have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by local officials or powerful businesspeople who take issue with critical commentary posted about them online. In addition to using the threat of arrest as an intimidation tactic, police often raid the homes of targeted bloggers, sometimes seizing equipment.1

In March 2023, a reporter and camera operator for the online news outlet Pulse were harassed and forced out of a polling station during the gubernatorial elections. Yusuf Adeleke, a journalist and editor for the website Newsflagship, reported being chased out of a polling station by a man carrying an axe in Ogun State alongside several other journalists.2

In February 2023, Jonathan Ugbal, editor of the online news outlet CrossRiverWatch, was beaten by 20 supporters of the PDP while covering a dispute outside the party office in Cross River State.3

In January 2023, Saviour Imukudo, a journalist for the news website Premium Times, received death threats from the supervisor of a market renovation project in Akwa Ibom State after Imukudo published a critical report about the state of the newly built market stalls.4

In July 2022, two journalists from the online investigative news site WikkiTimes, Haruna Mohammed Salisu and Idris Kamal, were beaten by criminals while they were held in detention (see C3). They stated that police officers had encouraged the assault.5

In May and June 2022, an unknown person sent threats to the Federation of Investigative Journalists (FIJ), threatening to decapitate the recipient and asking them to ‘mind their business.’6 The threats came after the group published a story online alleging that a Belarus-based Nigerian travel agent was defrauding customers.7

Nigeria is home to diverse ethnic groups, and the significant level of ethnic rivalry and tensions manifests in online interactions. Following the 2023 presidential election, the reported use of ethnic slurs and inflammatory language online rose.8 In Lagos, the rise in online harassment and inflammatory narratives was accompanied by voter intimidation and suppression targeting the Igbo ethnic group.9

In October 2021, Nigerian journalist Eti-Inyene Godwin Akpan received two calls from the DSS after posting original pictures of injured protesters from the Lekki Massacre on social media and, during a live television interview, revealing that he had taken pictures at the site of the massacre. The government denies that the Lekki Massacre occurred. Akpan fled the country after receiving the calls from DSS.10

In October 2020, Onifade Emmanuel Pelumi, a journalist with online broadcaster Gboah TV, was found dead after he went to cover an attempted robbery of a government facility in Lagos State. Pelumi was seen being escorted by officers into a police van after police reportedly attacked a crowd of people at the facility; Pelumi’s body reportedly had a gunshot wound.11

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 2.002 3.003

Civil society organizations, journalists, and media websites are sometimes targeted with technical attacks, though such incidents frequently go unreported.

The online investigative journalism outlet WikkiTimes was regularly targeted with cyberattacks in 2022. In April 2022, during the previous coverage period, an attack on the website deleted articles, which took several days to restore. WikkiTimes’ publisher also reported that the outlet’s social media accounts are regularly reported and targeted with takedown requests (see B2).1

After Nigeria’s presidential elections in February 2023, the federal minister of communications and digital economy claimed that there were about 16 million attempts to hack into the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC)’s electronic voter accreditation and results-viewing portal, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), which had promised to reduce election rigging by accrediting voters and transmitting results electronically.2 3 However, there have been no official reports of a successful cyberattack on the BVAS.

In January 2022, a hacker claimed to have broken into the server of the NIMC, which stores the personal and biometric data of over 60 million citizens. The hacker claimed to have stolen over three million NINs.4 5

Government websites were breached during the #EndSARS protests. The websites of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and the Lagos States Independent National Electoral Commission were reportedly hacked in October 2020.6 Hackers also breached a database belonging to the Nigeria Police Force and posted a file reportedly containing the personal information of hundreds of police officers. The hackers, all of whom claimed affiliation with the hacker group Anonymous, said they were in solidarity with the #EndSARS protesters (see B8).7

On Nigeria

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    43 100 partly free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    60 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Partly Free
  • Networks Restricted

  • Websites Blocked

  • Pro-government Commentators

  • Users Arrested