Citizens’ rights under the Nigerian Law


In this maiden discussion, we shall examine the rights of the citizens as provided by the Nigerian law. We chose to start with this concept due to the unarguable importance of human rights and the prominent position they occupy in every society and under the law.  

The concept of Human Rights is a very wide one. It covers all aspects of socio-economic, cultural and legal relationships. Human rights are the inherent and inalienable rights which are naturally attached to man and fundamental to his existence such that life becomes meaningless in the absence of them. They have been described as those rights which are inherent in a person by virtue of his being a human being.

Once a child is born, he becomes entitled to the rights and privileges accorded the other members of the society. Any community or society which deprives its members, any group or individuals of these rights cannot be said to be civilized because protection of human rights is an important attribute of civilization.

It follows therefore that deprivation or non-existence of human rights is an injustice and repugnant to the essence of human existence. Human rights are universal, naturally meant for and should be made available to everybody without discrimination of whatever sort.

Ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights has been the preoccupation of the international community. The global consciousness and effort towards this crusade can be traced to the events and circumstances that led to the first and second world wars. The atrocities committed during and the devastating effect of the wars prompted the world to seek ways of protecting human rights worldwide, believing that the atrocities and senseless destructions might have been averted if the world had been more vigilant.

Therefore, with the formation of the United Nations Organization (UNO) in 1945, a number of human rights provisions were incorporated into its Charter. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations. This was however not meant to be binding on member-states but meant to influence the domestic laws of members on human rights. In 1966 the UNO again adopted two Covenants on human rights meant to be binding on member-states. These are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

At the regional level, the continents also establish conventions for the promotion and protection of human rights. Thus, in Africa we have the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), containing a list of human rights, which came into effect in 1986 and has been incorporated into the Nigerian domestic laws.

Human rights recognition in Nigeria came into prominence with the Willink Commission of 1957. The Commission was setup to examine, among others, the agitation of the minority groups for creation of more states to take care of their interests. The Committee recommended the incorporation of a long list of Fundamental Human Rights in the Constitution in order to protect the interest of the minority instead of creation of states as the minority groups agitated for. Thus, from 1960 to date, Nigerian Constitutions have contained a list of human rights. In addition, the African Charter has been adopted as a part of Nigerian law by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act in line with section 12 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. (See Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004). The effect is that the rights and obligations covered under the Charter are fully and legally enforceable in Nigeria as any other municipal law of the country.

There is a distinction between human rights and fundamental human rights. Human rights are wider in scope than fundamental human rights. Fundamental human rights are integral part of human rights. Fundamental rights are so called because they are provided for by the Constitution and made justiciable (enforceable). Therefore, before a human right is made enforceable by the law, it remains a mere right which the courts cannot enforce even if it is stated in the law.  

Like the previous Nigerian Constitutions, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides for human rights contained in chapters II and IV. The rights provided for under Chapter II (captioned Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy) are not enforceable. They are made unenforceable by Section 6 (6) (c) of the Constitution. On the other hand, the rights contained in Chapter IV of the Constitution, known as Fundamental Rights, are enforceable by the courts. In other words, a Nigerian citizen cannot go to court to enforce any of the rights stated in Chapter II, while he can enforce the rights in Chapter IV. The fundamental rights as contained under Chapter IV are as follows:

  1. Right to Life
  2. Right to Dignity of Human Person
  3. Right to Personal Liberty   
  4. Right to Fair Hearing
  5. Right to Private and Family Life
  6. Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
  7. Right to Freedom of Expression or the Press
  8. Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association
  9. Right to Freedom of Movement
  10. Right to Freedom from Discrimination
  11. Right to acquire and own Immovable Property anywhere in Nigeria  
  12. (Prohibition of) Compulsory Acquisition of Property


The law also makes provisions for the enforcement of these fundamental rights. This shall be discussed in our next text.