Every Nigerian has rights, duties, liabilities and privileges, which are provided for in the hundreds of laws that exist in Nigeria. However, there are certain rights that basically trump all other ones. They are rights that are referred to as inalienable rights, rights for which the law has made specific and special provision.
These rights are contained in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and are officially known as Fundamental Rights.
This article will explain what these key rights are, because every Nigerian really should know about these rights.
1. Right to Life
This is the most important right of every Nigerian (and in fact every human being). The right that everyone has to ‘exist’, and no one can intentionally deprive a person of this right, either an individual or the Government, unless in the execution of a sentence of the court in respect of a criminal offence.
In a nutshell, what this right says is that no one can take your life unless you have carried out a capital crime, you have been tried by a competent court, and found guilty.
However, with every right (as you will see below), there are exceptions. In regard to the right to life, the exceptions are:
- If s/he dies as a result of the use of reasonable force for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property
- If s/he dies as a result of the use of reasonable force in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or
- If s/he dies as a result of the use of reasonable force for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
2. Right to Dignity
This right basically means that every Nigerian has a right to not be subjected to torture or inhuman/degrading treatment, and no Nigerian should be held in circumstances which amount to slavery or servitude. It also provides that no one should be required to perform forced of compulsory labour.
‘Forced labour’ doesn’t include:
- any labour required in consequence of the sentence or order of a court;
- any labour required of members of the Armed Forces, Police Force, compulsory national service
- in the case of persons who have conscientious objections to service in the armed forces of the Federation, any labour required instead of such service;
- any labour required which is reasonably necessary in the event of any emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community; or
- any labour or service that forms part of normal communal or other civic obligations of the well-being of the community.
3. Right to Personal Liberty
This right guarantees that individuals have a right to their liberty. This means that no individual must be deprived of his or her right to liberty or freedom unless it’s in accordance with the law.
Where a person is detained in lawful custody he/she has the following rights:
- Right to remain silent and not answer any questions unless/until speaking to a Lawyer
- Right to be informed in writing, within 24 hours, of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention.
- To be brought before a court within a reasonable time, and if not tried within 2 months (for individuals in custody/not entitled to bail) and 3 months (for individuals released on bail), they shall be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears for trial at a later date (without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be brought against the individual)
- Not to be kept awaiting trial in detention for a period longer than the maximum period of imprisonment for the offence he/she is accused of
- Execution of a court order or sentence
- Lawful arrest for commission of an offence or to prevent commission of an offence
- Restrictions placed on an individual who us under 18 years old for the purpose of his/her education or welfare
- Restrictions placed on people suffering from infectious diseases, persons of unsound mind, and drug/alcohol addicts, which are imposed for their care and treatment and/or the protection of the community.
- Immigration/Border protection and lawful expulsion or extradition
4. Right to Fair Hearing
This right guarantees that in the determination of an individual’s civil rights and obligations 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 independence and impartiality.”
This right guarantees the following:
- Presumption of innocence
- Public trial for criminal offence (except in certain circumstances – public safety/order, welfare of child offenders etc.)
- Written charge informing the individual of the detail and nature of the offence
- Adequate time and facilities for preparation of his/her defence
- Right to a legal practitioner of his/her choice
- Right to examine witnesses and call witnesses of his/her own
- Right to interpreter if he/she cannot understand the language used at the trial
- Access to the records of the trial proceedings
- A person can’t be found guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed
- No person can be tried for a criminal offence if he/she has been previously either convicted or acquitted for that offence or for a criminal offence having the same ingredients as that offence unless upon the order of a superior court.
- No person who shows that he has been pardoned for a criminal offence shall again be tried for that offence.
- No person who is tried for a criminal offence shall be compelled to give evidence at the trial.
- No person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty is prescribed in a written law
5. Right to Privacy
The 1999 Constitution guarantees and protects “the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications..”
The constitution does not go into detail to explain exactly how this is protected and if there are any exceptions, and unfortunately there has not been much judicial review of this right.
However, from reading the provision it is obvious that there are 3 elements there:
- Privacy of the individual: this would protect an individual against unlawful invasive procedures such as drug testing, blood testing.
- Privacy of the Home: which would include protection from unlawful entry or harassment of an individual’s home
- Privacy of Correspondence, Conversations and Communications: this protects the privacy of an individual’s mail, telephones conversations, email and other forms of communication
6. Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
This right guarantees that an individual may manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. It also guarantees the right of an individual to change his religion or belief.
The constitutional right prevents forced indoctrination in any place of education, however no religious community or denomination is prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any place of education maintained wholly by that community or denomination.
The right does not entitle any person to form, take part in the activity or be a member of a secret society.
7. Right to Freedom of Expression
Every Nigerian is entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and is entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions:
- Only persons authorised by the Government upon fulfilling conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly may own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station.
- Laws validly created for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films
- Laws validly created for the purpose of imposing restrictions on Government official or members of the Armed Forces/Police or other government security agencies.
8. Right to Freedom of Assembly and Association
Every individual has a right to assembly freely and associate with other person, and he/she may form or belong to any political party, trade union or other association.
The right to form or belong to a political party is subject to the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission to recognise political parties as validly formed and meeting all the relevant criteria.
9. Right to Freedom of Movement
Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part of it, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry or exit from it.
- Restrictions on the residence or movement of persons who have committed or reasonably suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent the person from leaving Nigeria.
- Lawful extradition
10. Right to Freedom from Discrimination
No citizen of Nigeria is to be subjected to any disabilities or restrictions based solely on the fact that he/she is a member of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion, or circumstances of his/her birth.
No citizen of Nigeria is to be accorded any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions, or circumstances of his/her birth.
Restrictions with respect to the appointment of any person to any office under the State or as a member of the Armed Forces/ Police Force or to an office in the service of a body, corporate established directly by any law in force in Nigeria.
11. Right to own Property
Every citizen of Nigeria has the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.
- Compulsory acquisition by the Government in certain stated circumstances (and upon prompt payment of compensation)
- Valid laws dealing with tax, penalties for forfeiture, enemy property, temporary possession for environmental reasons etc.