Human rights are those inalienable and immutable entitlements belonging to a person because he is a human being. These rights are divided into three types namely: Civil and political rights (CIPO rights), Economic and Social cultural Rights (ECOSOC rights) and Solidarity rights. This article will comprehensively explain the rights of every citizen of Nigeria in the constitution. More so, we will discuss the provisions of fundamental human rights in Nigerian constitution.
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However, before running through all the fundamental human rights in Nigerian constitution, I would like to give you a brief explanation of the different types of human right and their provisions in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria.
Types of human right
There are 3 (three) types of Human Rights In Nigerian Constitution namely:
Civil and political rights (CIPO rights):
The first type of human rights in Nigerian constitution is the CIPO rights. Civil and political rights (CIPO rights) are also called natural rights. Some people call them negative rights because they do not require the government to do anything for them to be enforceable. These right are provided for in chapter 4 (IV) of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. Examples of human right under this category are: right to life, right to fair hearing, freedom of movement. Take the right to life for instance; we do not need the government to do anything for a citizen to have his right to life because it is a natural right.
Social cultural Rights (ECOSOC rights):
The next type of human rights in Nigerian constitution is the ECOSOC rights. Social cultural Rights (ECOSOC rights) are also called positive rights because they require the government to establish some things in the country before they can be enforceable. Examples of Social cultural Rights are: the right to free education, right to health etc.
Unlike the right to life, for a person’s right to free education to be enforceable, the government must have establish schools with staff in them. Thus, many people are of the view that Social cultural Rights (ECOSOC rights) are not natural rights. These rights are provided for in chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
The last type of human rights in Nigerian constitution is the solidarity/development rights. These rights were developed in African to foster peace and development among African countries. An example of this right is the right to development. It is contented that the western world has not yet recognized Solidarity rights yet. Solidarity rights are also called group or collective rights.
Provisions of Fundamental Human Rights In Nigerian Constitution
Below are the fundamental human rights in Nigerian constitution:
- Right to life;
- Right to human dignity;
- Right to personal liberty;
- Right to fair hearing;
- Right to private and family life;
- Right to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion;
- Right to freedom of expression and the press;
- Right to peaceful assembly and association;
- Right to freedom of movement;
- Right to freedom from discrimination;
- Right to acquire and own immovable properties;
- Right to payment of compensation for private property compulsorily acquired for public purpose.
As we continue, I will discuss each of the right mentioned above; citing relevant cases and sections of the 1999 constitution that provides for them. Coupled with that, I will point out those rights that are absolute and those that are not. Thus, if you wish to know which section provides for your human rights in the constitution, I enjoin you to continue reading.
Right to life:
Your right to life is guaranteed in section 33 of the 1999 constitution which provides that “every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprive intentionally of his right, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.” Life is considered to be the most precious gift of nature on this earth that is why it is the first human right guaranteed in our constitution. However, it should be noted that the fundamental human right in section 33 of the constitution is not absolute. This means that the right can be derogated upon in certain conditions.
For example, a person who takes the life of another person can be deprived of his own life. Also, in the case of Onuoha Kalu v. the state (1998)13 NWLR (Pt 583) 531, the supreme court unanimously rejected the contention that death penalty prescribed under section 319(1) of the Lagos state criminal code is inconsistent with section 33 of the constitution.
The law also allows the use of force (even death) as is reasonably necessary for the defense of any person from unlawful violence or the defense of property provided the force used is reasonably necessary in the circumstance. See the case of Musa v. the state (1993) 2 NWLR 550.
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Right to human dignity:
Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to the right to human dignity provided in section 34 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. The above section of the constitution provides that; “Every individual is entitled to the right to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly (a) No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment (b) No person shall be held in slavery or servitude and (c) no person shall be required to perform force or compulsory.”
From this provision of the constitution, it is improper to subject an accused person under police custody to torture or any kind of inhuman treatment for any reason and particularly in a bid to induce that person to confess to the crime for which he is being detained because it is against their fundamental human right in section 34 of the constitution. See that case of Wabali v. COP
In some countries, death sentence is also considered to be a breach of the right to human dignity. For instance, in Zimbabwean it is illegal to sentence someone to death. In Zimbabwe v. Attorney general, Gubbay C.J said thus “It seems to me highly artificial and unrealistic to discount the mental agony and torment experienced on death row on the basics that by not making the maximum use of the judicial process available the condemned prisoner would have shortened and not lengthened his suffering”. This is also the position in Jamaica. It is provided in section 17 (1) of the constitution of Jamaica.
Right to personal liberty:
The Right to personal liberty was developed during the feudal era in Europe, when kings and influential lords could arrest persons without any reason, to give relief to the citizens. This right is provided for in section 35 (1) (a to f) of the 1999 constitution.
The rationale behind this section is to protect citizens against unlawful arrest and detention or confinement. Thus, in Commissioner of police v. Obolo (1989)5 NWLR 130, the court held the police liable for unlawfully arresting a man called Obolo. Also in Dele Giwa v. inspector general of police, where Dele Giwa was arrested by the police and detained for some days and released without trial. He then sued contending that his personal liberty was infringed by the alleged detention. The court upheld his contention and he was given public apology and N10,000 was awarded as damage.
Right to fair hearing:
This right is provided for in section 36 of the 1999 constitution which provides in subsection 1 that “In the determination of his civil rights and obligation, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independent and impartiality.”
The Right to fair hearing is fostered by two legal principles (1) The principle of audi alteram partem which means that a judge must not hear one party in absence of the other (2) The principle of Nemo judex in causa suan which means that no one should be the accuser, prosecutor and the judge at the same time. These are the two principles that necessitated the provision of section 36 (1) of the 1999 constitution. In Legal practitioners disciplinary committee v. Fawehimi (1985) NWLR 300, the court held that the position of the Attorney-general as the chairman of the Legal practitioners Disciplinary committee and as the complainant and the prosecutor offends the principle of natural justice.
More so, subsection 4 of section 36 provides that a person charged with criminal offence unless the charge is withdrawn is entitled to fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal.
Section 36 (6) tends to ensure fair trial in a case. Paragraph A provides that an accused is entitled to be informed promptly in a language he understands, the nature of the offence he committed in detail so as to enable him prepare for his defense. Paragraph B provides that an accused must be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense. Thus, where an accused person who asked the court for an adjournment to enable him arrange for a counsel or call his witness is refused, this will amount to an infringement of the persons fundamental human right in section 36 (6)(B) of the 1999 constitution.
Paragraph C gives the accused person the right to defend himself in person or by a legal practitioner of his own choice. A case often cited in this section is the case of Awolowo v. Federal minister of internal affairs.
Section 36 (8) provides that no person shall be held guilty of a criminal offence, if at the time he committed the act or omission, it did not constitute such criminal offence or a heavier penalty imposed for the offence. The reason for this provision of the constitution is to prevent retrospective legislation in the field of criminal law. Subsection 9 provides that prevents an accused from being charged again for the same offence, but an accused can retried where he asked for a retrial and when this is done credit is given to any sentence already served. This is known at Double jeopardy. See the case of Ashe v. Swenson.
Right to private and family life:
Every citizen of Nigeria has the Right to private and family life. This is conspicuously stated in section 37 of the 1999 constitution. It provides that “the privacy of the citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversation and telegraphic communication is hereby guaranteed and protected”
It should be noted that this right is not absolute. In some circumstances it will be derogated upon. Note that the Right to private and family life also allows a person to decide the kind of treatment he wants to receive, even when it will be detrimental to his health. This was well exemplified in the case of Medical and Dental disciplinary tribunal v. okonkwo (2001) 7 NWLR (Pt 711) 206.
Right to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion:
The Right to freedom to thoughts, conscience and religion is specifically provided for in section 38 of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. It states that everyone is entitled to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion. This fundamental human right entitles a person to choose whether to become a member of any religious group or not. Thus, it is not illegal to be a Christian, Muslim or even a traditionalist since the constitution explicitly allows for that.
A case often cited here is the case of Agbai v. Okogbue. In this case, the plaintiff commenced an action in the Magistrate court of Aba claiming N2000 from the defendant for failing to return his sewing machine which they seized because he failed to pay the levies which were supposed to be paid by the age grade (A religious organization in the community). The plaintiff contended that joining the age grade was against his religion. On appeal, the court gave judgment on the side of the plaintiff with the reason that the plaintiff’s fundamental human right in section 38 of the 1999 constitution was infringed upon.
It is pertinent to know that where the religious belief of a person is contrary to public policy, such belief will not be protected by section 38 of the constitution. Thus, it is correct to say that the Right to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion is not an absolute right. See also the case of Enoch v. Okobi.
Right to freedom of expression and the press:
Press freedom has been defined by Prof. Nwabueze as the right of every person to own a printing press to publish what information or ideas he pleases, to decide the editorial policy of the publication and to enforce it upon his staff, and to distribute or circulate it freely, without having to obtain a license from the authorities or to face suppression or opposition.
Right to freedom of expression and the press is provided in section 39 of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. This section provides thus “every person shall be entitled to right to expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” There is no doubt that the reason why citizens are allowed to startup any media organization they wish in Nigeria today is because of this right. Subsection 2 of that same section of the constitution, gives citizens the right to startup schools in the country and disseminate information all over the country.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that this right is not absolute. For instance, in the well known case of DPP v. Chike Obi, a publisher was arrested for publishing a seditious work which was capable of making the citizens turn against their government. The defendant (Chike Obi) contended that his actions were justified by the provision of section 50 and 51 of the criminal code but the Supreme Court disagreed with him.
Right to peaceful assembly and association:
The constitution in section 40 also gives citizens the legal right to assemble peacefully and to form any association they wish. The scope of this right extends only to peaceful assembly. Thus, in exercising this right, it is illegal to incite riot. Where the government finds out that the exercise of this right will disrupt public order, it will come in and stop the exercise of the right. This is seen in the case of Feiner V. New York. In this case, the United States Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the unlawful assembly of a ‘side walk’ speaker who continued to talk after being ordered to stop by two policemen present because in view of the response of the audience, the police were fearful that a riot the police could not contain might ensure.
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Right to freedom of movement:
Section 41 provides for the right to freedom of movement. Subsection 1 of that section states that “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely though out Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom.” Nonetheless, it should be noted that section 41 (1) of the constitution is subject to some limitation. By reading the provisions of subsection 2 of section 41, it is clear that the right to freedom of movement can be derogated upon in certain circumstances.
In the case of Shugaba v. Minister of internal affairs, the plaintiff had been deported to Chad by the federal government on the grounds that he was not a citizen of Nigeria. The high court held that he was a citizen of Nigeria and that his deportation was an infringement of his fundamental right to freedom of movement. In the course of his trial, his passport had been seized and on application for its release, the court held that the seizure will affect his freedom of exit from the country and therefore violated his freedom of movement.
Right to freedom from discrimination:
Do you know you have the right not to be discriminated? Not every citizen of Nigeria knows this anyway. The Right to freedom from discrimination is provided in section 42 of the 1999 constitution which states that no citizen of Nigeria should be discriminated on grounds of (a) community (b) ethnicity (c) place of origin (d) religion (e) sex (f) Political opinion. Subsection 2 says that nobody should be discriminated due to the circumstance of his birth. So whether as child is born in the normal way or through operation on the mother of that child, he (the child) will still enjoin the same rights and privileges as a normal child. More so, it is worthwhile to know that this right is enjoyed by only Nigerians. It does not extend to foreigners who are in Nigeria.
Right to acquire and own immovable properties:
Every citizen of Nigeria also has the Right to acquire and own immovable properties. This is guaranteed in section 43 of the 1999 constitution. It provides that; “Subject to the provisions of this constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.” Conversely, you can legally own any immovable property in Nigeria without any problem.
Right to payment of compensation for private property compulsorily acquired for public purpose:
The next human right in Nigerian constitution is the right to right to payment of compensation for private property compulsorily acquired for public purpose. This right is provided for in section 44 of the 1999 constitution. It provides that: “No immovable property or interest in an immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any part of Nigeria except in the manner and for the purpose prescribed by the law.”
Those are the provisions of human rights in Nigerian constitution. It is very important that you know your right as a citizen of this country because it will help you to understand how you are supposed to address certain issues.
More so, it will help you to know when public officer goes against the law and how you can bring legal actions against them. Hope this article was helpful? Make sure you drop your comments and questions on this topic below.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, ACMC, is a lawyer and a certified mediator/conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a developer with knowledge in various programming languages. Samuel is determined to leverage his skills in technology, SEO, and legal practice to revolutionize the legal profession worldwide by creating web and mobile applications that simplify legal research. Sam is also passionate about educating and providing valuable information to people.