Can Nigeria Achieve Human Rights Through Legislation?


This topic involves the examination of many components and meanings of fundamental human rights, adequacy and inadequacies of the enforcements.

Meaning, Components and Enforcement of Fundamental Human Rights

Fundamental Human Rights essentially entail freedom or liberty to conduct ones affairs without undue restraints. They are fundamental because they are vital and indispensable to human existence and without them life generally would be meaningless. Under 1999 Nigerian constitution twelve components are recognised:

1. S. 33 guarantees right to life

2. S.34 right to dignity of human person

3. S.35 right to personal liberty

4. S.36 right to fair hearing

5. S. 37 right to privacy and family life

6. S.38 right to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion

7. S.39 right to freedom of expression and the press

8. S.40 right to peaceful assembly and association

9. S.41 right to freedom of movement

10. S.42 right to freedom from discrimination

11. S.43 right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere

12. S.44 right to prompt of compensation upon compulsory acquisition of property.

It is necessary we analyse these rights one by one using case laws and other presidents, Firstly, the right of life is guarantee by S. 33 1999 Nigeria Constitution and it involves the non-deprivation of the right intentionally expect in execution of death sentence imposed by court of competent jurisdiction in respect of criminal offence whose guilt has been established. In Bello V. Attorney General Oyo State (1986) 5 NWLR 820, the Supreme Court held that the execution of an armed robbery convict whose appeal was still pending was an infringement of the right to life and awarded  damages to the dependant as reparation for this deprivation.

Secondly, the right to dignity of human person is guaranteed under S.34 1999 Nigerian Constitution. Strictly torture, inhuman degrading treatment, slavery, servitude force labour are forbidden. In the case of Uzoukwu V. Ezeonu (1991) 6 NWLR (PT.200) 708 at 763 it was held that mental harassment, physical brutalisation, lack of human feeling. Lowering of societal status, character, vale and position of a person are covered within the ambit of this section. The proper illustration of the enforcement of this right was in the case of Amachree V. Military Governor Rivers State, (1974 unreported) where the military Governor of Rivers State ordered his DC to shave D’s hair and gave him strokes of the cane as humiliation for soliciting for unwanted publication information. The court held that this constituted inhuman and degrading treatment.

Thirdly, S.35 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantee personal liberty and prohibit non-derogation. In the case of Adegbenro V. Attorney General of Federation (1962) WNLR 169 the restriction order which sought to limit applicant travel not beyond 24 miles radius was held invalid, unreasonable and unconstitutional because there was no state of emergency or public interest to justify the encroachment.

Fourthly, S.35 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to fair hearing within a reasonable time at unbiased court in both civil and criminal proceedings. By virtue of this right a suspect of indictable and bailable offence shall be entitle to bail within 24 hours after arrest.

Fifthly, S.37 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantees the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications. This is clearly illustrated in the English case of Malone V. Metropolitan Police Commissioners (1979) 2 NLR 700 where it was held that telephone tapping  constitutes infringement of the domestic privacy. Here there was no remedy as the tappings were done to keep the criminals under surveillance in the interest of public safety. In the same vein, the supreme court of USA in Olmstead V. United States (1928) 277 US 488 it was held that evidence procured by wire telephone tapping was admissible for the purpose of public security. Of course this is necessary to curb the excesses of criminals planning coup de ta, armed robbers, hard drugs peddlers etc.

Sixthly, S.38 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantees freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion. Change of religion or citizens standing aloof etc. are convered under this section. In conjunction with this provision S.10 199 Nigerian Constitution also provides that Nigeria is a secular state and therefore their adoption of any state religion is a violation of this rights. Apart from the three main religion of Christianity, Islam, Traditional religion, others like Eckanker, Buddhist etc.are recognized. It is on this basis that their adoption of Sharia as a legal code in some Northern parts of Nigeria is generating much controversy.

Seventhly, S.40 1999 Nigerian Constitution guaantees peaceful assembly and association. This right is optional and no one can be compelled to join any association. In the case of Agbai V. Okagbue (1991) 7 NWLR (Pt.204) 391 the supreme court held that membership of age grade system under native law and custom is not unconstitutional and also not compulsory but strictly when once a person has voluntarily joined, he must comply with the laws of the association. There is one qualification, the association must not be secret so as to escape the prohibition visited on cultism forbidden by S. 35 (4) and code of conduct for public officers. Under this right formation of social clubs, political parties etc. are permissible and therefore the prohibition of independent candidacy for elections ultra vires the constitution. Participations in political parties activities by civil servants are not permissible by civil interest with that of party politicians. In the case of USA V. Letter Carriers Ltd (1973) 413 US 548 even though these regulations forbidden civil servant from taking active part  in political management of parties thereby interfering with fundamental human rights of freedom of association, the court nevertheless held that the restraints were reasonable to free civil servants from unwarranted political pressures and likelihood of the parts in power mobilizing them for selfish political gains.

Eighthly, S.41 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantees freedom of movement and resident anywhere in Nigeria. It prohibits the expulsion of any person from Nigeria without lawful justification. In the case of Darman V. Minister of Internal Affairs (1981) I NCIR 25 the court held that the deportation of a Nigerian citizen, majority leader in Borno State to the Chad Republic of FGN was unlawful and also the seizure of his passport. Similarly, in the case of Agbakoba V. Director of State Security Service (1996) the seizure of the passport of a citizen of Nigeria held illegal and infringement of the freedom of exit.

Ninethly, S. 42 1999 Nigerian Constitution prohibit discrimination on the ground of sex, religion, ethnic origin, circumstances of birth etc. under this section, there is no more illegitimate child in Nigeria irrespective of whether or not he was born under a lawful wedlock provided his father has acknowledged him.

This is in recognition of our social culture and polygramous nature of Nigerian society. Widows, unmarried or single ladies etc. are protected.

The tenth and eleventh are the rights acquire property anywhere and be compensated if it is compulsorily acquired pursuant to SS43 and 44 1999 Nigerian Constitution.

Finally, there is freedom of expression and press: to hold opinions, receive and impact ideas and information as guaranteed by S.39 1999 constitution. In the case OKOGIE V. ATTORNEY GENERAL LAGOS STATE (1981) I NCLR 105 the court held the followings are part and parcel of the freedom of expression and press:

(i)         The right to own, establish and operate any medium, television. wireless broadcasting station for the dissemination of such opinions and ideas.

(ii)        The word medium includes not only the orthodox mass communication media or gadgets but also the right to reasonably operate private schools.

Similarly, in UKAEGBU V.ATTTORNEY GENERAL OF IMO STATE. (1981) IMSLR 149 (1983) 1 SCNLR 212 (1983) 12 SC 481 the supreme court held that this right is robust and therefore includes the establishment of private universities by FGN states, local government councils, individuals and organizations. In exercise of this right, private universities have been springing up. Strictly, any denial of this rights in action.