Tuesday, 20 November 2018

FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS IN NIGERIA

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“Human Rights” has been defined as the “inalienable rights of people”. They are the legal entitlements which every citizen should enjoy without fear of the government or other fellow citizens. They are said to be the rights which cannot be said to have been given to man by man but are earned by man for being a human because they are necessary for his continuous happy existence with himself, his fellow man and for participation in a complex society (David Kaluge, Human Rights Abuse (2013).

Some Nigerians are confused as to what rights they are entitled to as citizens and often confuse what their fundamental rights really are. For example, a while back, there was a general outcry against the increased subscription rates imposed by MultiChoice Nigeria for their DSTV viewing packages. Some aggrieved subscribers went as far as to say the increase in subscription rates was an abuse of their fundamental rights as citizens of Nigeria.

Errr….

In Nigeria, citizens enjoy many rights but the inalienable fundamental rights of citizens are statute-protected by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Chapter IV of the Constitution lists out the basic Fundamental Human Rights enjoyed by citizens of the country. The Right to Watch Satellite Television is, unfortunately, not part of that list.

The Fundamental Rights of Nigerians under Chapter IV of the Constitution are as follows:

  1. The Right to Life

Under the Constitution, every person has a right to life and no one shall be intentionally deprived of his life. The Constitution, however, provides exceptions where violation of this Right is acceptable:

  1. Where the taking of the life is in execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence in which the person has been found guilty in Nigeria.
  2. Where the loss of life is as a result of the use of such force as is reasonably necessary and in such circumstances as permitted by law:
  3. for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or defence of property;
  4. in order to make a lawful arrest or prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.

Aside from the above circumstances, any violation of a person’s right to life is an abuse of that person’s fundamental rights and is usually found in torture and extra-judicial killings. For example, the activities of the terror group, Boko Haram, involving the rootless attacks and murder of civilians.

  1. The Right to Dignity of Human Person

Every person is entitled to respect of his/her dignity. No person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman treatment, be held in slavery or servitude or be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Examples of abuse and violation of this right can be found in modern day slavery and torture and brutality by law enforcement officers. An example of an abuse of this right can be found in 2013, when one Lawal Ganiyu, 50 years old, was arrested and tortured by the Police over an alleged fraud. As a result of the brutal treatment, he was comatose in a hospital for over a week. This act was a gross violation of his right to dignity of human person under the Nigerian Constitution.

  1. Right to Personal Liberty

Under the Constitution, every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of this right except in special circumstances and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law. It is the right not to be subjected to imprisonment, arrest and other physical coercion in any manner that does not have legal justification. The right is the freedom to live as one chooses without too many restrictions or constraints from the government or its agencies. It also assures a person of the freedom to stay or move about at his own will, direction and time.

This right has also been defined as freedom from bodily restraint and the right of the person to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry to establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience and generally enjoy those privileges recognized as being essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness.

Example of violation of this right can be found in cases of unlawful arrest and detention by Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies. The National Human Rights Commission’s Prison Audit for the year 2012 released in May 2013, showed that out of 173 prisons audited in Nigeria, the number of Awaiting Trial Inmates stood at 35,889.

One of the factors that result in the large number of Awaiting Trial Inmates in Nigerian Prisons is the practice of “Holding Charge” where the police charge an accused person usually before a magistrate who does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine the charge against the accused. The Magistrate makes an order for the accused person to be detained in a prison and for the case file to be transferred to the Director of Public Prosecution for advice. The police may fail to transfer the file to the DPP. If the file is transferred, the DPP may fail to proffer advice and formally charge the accused to the court that has jurisdiction or recommend his release. There have even been cases where the case file goes missing. All the while, the accused person is sitting in prison without formally being charged for any offence.

The Nigerian Supreme Court has held that Holding Charge is unknown to Nigerian law and an accused person detained under it is entitled to be released on bail within a reasonable time before trial especially in non-capital offences. Unfortunately, despite this, the practice has persisted and there are currently people who have been in prison for months and even years for offences they have yet to be formally charged with.

A restriction to the Right of Personal Liberty supported by law can be found in the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2013, which prohibits marriage or civil unions between people of the same sex.

  1. Right to Fair Hearing

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees a person the right to fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law in determination of his/her civil rights and obligations including a question or determination by or against any government or authority. The Constitution also provides that the court or tribunal shall be constituted in a manner as to secure its independence and impartiality in determining the said civil rights and obligations.

The law goes on to provide that civil proceedings of the court or tribunal shall be held in public and where a person is charged with a criminal offence, he/she shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, also be entitled to fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by the court or tribunal and be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The Right to Fair Hearing is the cornerstone of justice.

  1. Right to Private and Family Life

This guarantees and protects the right to the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications. This right has been described as recognition of the saying that “a man’s home is his castle”.

The right guarantees that security agencies should not tap ones phone lines or subject ones house to unwarranted searches or seizure of one’s property.

However, there have been instances of violation of this right, particularly cases of police entering people’s homes in the course of arrest of a suspected criminal or investigation of criminal matters without obtaining the proper search warrants.

  1. Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

The Constitution provides for secularity in Nigeria, guaranteeing the peoples entitlement to religious freedom including freedom to change religion or belief and manifest and propagate ones religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

The law also provides:

  1. No person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in any religious ceremony relating to a religion not his own.
  2. No religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any place of education maintained wholly by that community or denomination.
  3. Nothing in the provision of the Constitution shall entitle any person to form, take part in the activity or be a member of secret society.

Despite the constitutional provision, however, there have been frequent reports of human rights abuses among cleric fundamentalists. Nigeria has witnessed many clashes between Christian and Muslim adherents over the years.

  1. Right to Freedom of Expression at the Press

Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

This right, unfortunately, has been used by some people to violate other people’s rights. It brings to mind the words of a great thinker: “Under tyranny, people seek liberty; under liberty, people seek tyranny.”

Examples are cases of libel and slander, which is rampant in social media. Soft-sell magazines are also guilty of this violation as some magazines print rumours and unvalidated gossip about celebrities.

  1. Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association

Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons and form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest.

Disruption of peaceful anti-government rallies by police is a violation of this right to peaceful assembly. The violent disruption of the Occupy Nigeria mass protests against the removal of fuel subsidy in January 2012 by the police and armed personnel is an example of the violation and infringement of the right to peaceful assembly.

It should be noted, however, that to hold a peaceful assembly, one must obtain the appropriate permit. The law on public meetings, the Public Order Act, vests the power to regulate public meetings, processions and rallies in any part of Nigeria in the governors of the respective states of the Federation. By virtue of the Act, the police cannot issue a license or permit any meeting or rally without the consent of the governor of the state. They also have no power to cancel any such public meeting or rally without the governor’s consent.

  1. Right to Freedom of Movement

Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry or exit.

The Constitution provides exceptions for the violation of this right:

  1. Any law imposing restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving the country.
  2. Any law providing for the removal of any person from Nigeria to another country to be tried outside Nigeria for any criminal offence or to undergo imprisonment outside Nigeria in execution of the sentence of a court of law in respect of a criminal offence he has been found guilty of provided that there is a reciprocal agreement between Nigeria and the other country.

Another exception to this right are the environmental sanitation laws which restricts the movement of people before a certain time during the monthly environmental sanitation exercises.

Apart from the above exceptions, any restriction on the movement of a person, such as kidnapping, is a violation of that person’s right.

  1. Right to Freedom from Discrimination

Every citizen shall not be subjected to any form of discrimination, disability or deprivation by reason of to his/her community, ethnic group, place of origin, circumstances of birth, sex, religion or political opinion.

  1. Right to Acquire and Own Immovable Property anywhere in Nigeria

Every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.

Apart from the above listed Fundamental Rights, there many other rights that citizens are entitled to. But it must be stressed that although these rights are there to protect a person’s interest, they should not be used to violate other people’s rights.

Where then does one person’s right end and another person’s right begin?

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