There are several laws protecting human rights in Nigeria and they include the 1999 Constitution, International Bills of Rights like UDHR, ICCPR and regional laws like African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria
The 1999 Constitution just like its predecessors has in its fourth Chapter enlisted the basic fundamental human rights that every citizen is entitled to by the very virtue that they are human beings.
These human rights are explicitly provided for and thus made enforceable against the government as well as any other individual. We shall now take a cursory look at the human rights which are guaranteed to all citizens by virtue of the constitution.
Section 33 guarantees every citizen the right to life: The section holds that every person is entitled to life and cannot be intentionally deprived of this right. However, it limits this right by providing exceptions to when a person may be intentionally deprived of his life.
For example, in an attempt to execute a sentence given by a court of law such as the death sentence, there will be no violation of the right to life. In Nigeria, some of the criminal offences which attract the death penalty include murder, treason, armed robbery, etc. as highlighted in Bello v A.G Oyo State.
Section 34 guarantees the right to dignity: This right seeks to ensure that every person is treated with the utmost respect to his person and is free from being subjected to degrading or inhumane acts such as torture, slavery, etc. this right is specifically important as it is quite common for the police or members of the armed forces to torture suspects in order to get confessions. This provision also prohibits forced or compulsory labour.
Section 35 guarantees the right to personal liberty: In this context, personal liberty refers to freedom from wrongful imprisonment or any physical restraint which has no legal justification. Except in the execution of a sentence of imprisonment for a criminal offence, for the purpose of treating persons with contagious diseases or drug addicts or persons of unsound mind56 amongst others.
Section 38 Guarantees the Right to Freedom of Thought and Religion: This right confers on all citizens the ability to choose his religion, change it, teach, practice and spread its teachings either in private or in public.
Section 40 Guarantees the Right to Freedom of Assembly and Association: By virtue of this section, every citizen has the right to associate and peacefully assemble with others in order to protect and pursue lawful interests. This means that any person may form or belong to “political parties, trade unions, professional groups and other associations”.
Section 41 Guarantees the Right to Freedom of Movement: This right holds that every citizen has the ability to move freely throughout the country as held in Williams v Majekodunmi. So this means that a person cannot be unlawfully prevented from accessing a part of the country or even leaving the country. In Director of State Security Service v Olisa Agbakoba, it was held that the act of seizing a passport was a denial of the right to freedom of movement.
However, there may be lawful restrictions on this right placed on “a person who has committed a crime or is reasonably suspected to have committed a crime, in order to prevent him from escaping or leaving Nigeria, in order to remove any person from Nigeria to any other country to be tried in execution of a sentence of court of law in respect of a criminal offence of which he was found guilty.
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The International Bill of Rights
In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was one of the first human rights bill that adopted by the UN General Assembly. The UDHR provided for first generation rights as well as second generation rights. Every other human rights bill subsequently originated from the UDHR. The U DHR gave birth to the International Bill of Rights.
The International Bill of rights consists of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which was adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 1966 and came into force in 1976.
The covenants recognize the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings. The ICCPR recognizes the civil and political rights contained in the UDHR and goes a step further by recognizing not only individual rights but also the rights of states.
The ICESCR on the other hand provides on a broader plane for the economic, social and cultural rights as enshrined in the UDHR and also adds new rights such as the right to strike, right to social insurance, and the right to mental health amongst others. The Covenants were ratified by Nigeria in 1993 although they have not yet been domesticated into Nigerian Law according to section 12 of the 1999 Constitution.
It is pertinent to note that many of the rights in the ICESCR appear in Chapter two of the Constitution as Fundamental Objectives and directive Principles of State Policy although they are not enforceable in Nigerian courts.
African Charter on Human and People’s Rights
Following the adoption of the UDHR, there were attempts by the different regions to promote and protect human rights in those regions. In 1953, there was the European convention for the protection of Human rights and Fundamental Freedoms and in 1979 came the lnter-American Convention on Human Rights. Meanwhile, in 1981, the African Charter also known as the Benjul Charter was established.
This Charter recognizes and protects both the first and second generation rights. The charter unlike others provides for the right to development and this is due to the fact that most African-states not yet developed or are developing and as such, citizens cannot fully appreciate the inclusion of the second generation rights. Additionally, the Charter provides for some individual duties to the family, the society and the state. This is because the traditional African society is built on kinship and family obligations.
In 1990, Nigeria domesticated this Charter through the establishment of African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Application and Enforcement). This is especially important as international treaties must not only be ratified but domesticated into the laws of the country before they can be enforceable.