This article highlights 5 important constitutional rights every Nigerian should know. Constitutional rights are privileges which are enjoyed by citizens of different countries. In Nigeria, these rights are contained in the constitution1 and the constitution is the highest source of law in Nigeria. Only those who are aware of these rights can benefit from the constitution. This article focuses on fundamental rights that are guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution.
Fundamental rights are constitutional rights in Nigeria
It is important to know that fundamental rights are privileges recognized in the constitution as essential for every citizen. These fundamental rights are also known as constitutional rights and the court provides redress for people whose fundamental rights have been violated.4
Below are 5 important constitutional rights that every Nigerian should know
- Right to Life5: Everyone has a right to live and society frowns when the life of a person is taken unlawfully. However, if a person is found guilty of a criminal offence by the court, his life can be lawfully taken.6
There are certain instances where the right to life would not be said to have been violated if death occurred.
Such instances are where a person defends himself or his property in any violent attack (often known as self-defence). Also, where death occurs while carrying out a lawful arrest or to prevent a person who is lawfully detained from escaping. Lastly, where death occurs in the process of controlling a riot7
The death penalty, which is a legal punishment for a criminal offence8 does not violate the right to life.9
- Right to Personal Liberty10: Every Nigerian has a right to freedom, and no one is allowed to interfere with the freedom of another. This right majorly aims to protect Nigerians from unlawful confinement, arrest and detention.
However, a person’s freedom can be lawfully interfered with:
- By a court order on a person found guilty of a criminal offence.
- Where a person refuses to carry out a court order instructing him to perform a lawful obligation.
- When the court orders that such a person be brought to court.
- When he is suspected to have committed a criminal offence or to prevent him from committing a criminal offence.
- If the person is below 18 years for the sake of his education or welfare.
- To protect the community from infectious or contagious diseases.
- To prevent a person from unlawfully entering Nigeria or to lawfully remove a person from Nigeria.
People in lawful police custody have a right to remain silent. They can choose not to answer any question until they have spoken to a lawyer. A person unlawfully arrested has the right to compensation and a public apology from the authority specified by the law.
- Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion:11Nigerians can choose any religion of their choice to practice. They can practice their religion alone, with a community of the same religion, in public or in private.
No one is to be forced to belong to any religion. People in educational institutions are not forced to attend or participate in any religious activity contrary to their own. There is also the freedom to teach those belonging to the same religion in an educational institution.
This right does not extend to those who belong to a secret society. Neither does it encourage anyone to form or take part in the activities of a secret society.
- Right to Freedom of Movement:12Nigerians can move in and out of the country freely. They can also decide to live in any part of the country they choose. There are situations where the freedom of movement can be restricted.
Firstly, the movement of a person who has committed or is suspected to have committed an offence can be restricted. Secondly, a person to be tried outside Nigeria for a criminal offence can be forcefully removed. Lastly, where a person is to carry out a prison sentence outside Nigeria.
However, there must be an agreement between the two countries before a person can be tried and imprisoned abroad.
- Right to Freedom from Discrimination:13Everyone in Nigeria has a right to equal treatment. This is irrespective of the community he belongs to, his ethnic group, place of origin, religion, sex or political opinion. This freedom frowns at bias treatment of one Nigerian over the other.
It is important to know that Nigerians who have any form of disability as a result of their birth are protected from being discriminated against.
Which Court has jurisdiction for the enforcement of fundamental rights in Nigeria?
In the case of Insp. Gabriel of the C.O.P. Monitoring Unit Lagos v Ukpabio & Ors (2022) LPELR-57032(SC), the Nigerian Supreme Court had to determine whether the Federal High Court has jurisdiction to entertain, hear and determine actions on fundamental human rights like State High Courts.
Section 46 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides as follows: ‘Any person who alleges that any of the provisions of this Chapter has been, is being or likely to be contravened in any State in relation to him may apply to a High Court in that State for redress’.
The Nigerian Supreme Court interpreted ‘High Court’ as meaning both the Federal High Court and the State High Court.
Thus, the Federal High Court and State High Court have concurrent jurisdiction to entertain, hear and determine fundamental rights enforcement cases in Nigeria.
You might also be interested in what constitutes a breach of the right to a fair hearing.
1 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
2 Ekpenyong, EE, Gimba, J & Odey, OC, 2016, ‘Implementing Fundamental Human Rights Through The instrumentality Of Social Studies Education In Nigeria’, p. 63.
3 Chukwuemeka ES 2019, Human Rights In Nigerian Constitution: Constitutional Provisions/Cases, Human Rights In Nigerian Constitution: Constitutional Provisions/Cases (bscholarly.com)
4 Surbhi S 2017, Difference Between Fundamental Rights and Human Rights, https://keydifferences.com/difference-between-fundamental-rights-and-human-rights.html#:~:text=Fundamental%20Rights%20means%20the%20primary,and%20how%20they%20behave%2C%20etc.&text=It%20is%20country%20specific.
5 Section 33 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
6 S 33(1) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
7 Section 33(2) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
8 S 319(1) of the Criminal Criminal Codes Act Cap38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004
9 Kalu v State (1998) LPELR-1655(SC)
10 S 35 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
11 S 38 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
12 S 41 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
13 S 42 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended