Fundamental Human Rights

Fundamental human rights are those rights that human person possesses in a country. The rights of individuals are natural rights which are not created by the constitution or the government. They are fundamental human rights endowed by God. The right of citizens could be natural, social, civil, political, economic and religious. The rights of citizens are the civil rights that are non-political, that is natural rights of citizens.

The Second World War led to the dissolution of the League of Nations and the establishment of United Nations Organization by the victories powers. The United Nations in 1948 drew a list of approved human rights, which must be protected by all nations. These rights are as a result of the experience witnessed in the Second World War.

In the words of Rousseau, one of the advocates of right of man said “men are born equal but everywhere they are in chains”.  The African Union has a long list of fundamental human rights to be protected by member state. Nigeria also has a list of fundamental human rights of the Nigerian citizens. The Nigerian citizens after independence needed their fundamental human right to be secured and protected than they were during the colonial era.

Thomas Paine said “man did not enter the society to become worse than he was before, but to have those rights better secured”. The rights of individuals are aimed at securing comfort and happiness that are not injurious to the natural rights of others.

The 1999 constitution of Nigeria enumerates the fundamental rights of the Nigerian citizens, such rights includes, right to life, right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to fair hearing, right to private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression, right to peaceful assembly and association, right to freedom of movement, right to freedom from discrimination, right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in the federation and compulsory acquisition of property.

Right to life:

The constitution of Nigeria says everyone has a right to life and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life. A person is not deprived of his right to life if he dies under the circumstances that are permitted by law. A person can be deprived of his right to life in the interest of public safety, public morality, public order, and public health or for the protection of the rights and freedom of other persons.

There are limitations to right to life; a person can be deprived of his life for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.  A right to life can be deprived in order to affect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained.

Right to dignity of human person:

Section 34 of the 1999 constitution provides that every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person. Under this right, no person shall be subjected to any form of torture or to inhuman treatment. No person shall be held in slavery or servitude. In accordance with this section, no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Anny person who is tortured or subjected to inhuman treatment while in police custody is entitled to seek redress in court by suing the police and its personnel that inflicted the inhuman treatment. There are limitations to this right, any labour required in consequences of the sentence or order of a court cannot be seen as an infringement on the rights to dignity of human person.

Right to fair hearing:

The right to fair hearing has to be observed in the court and in the administration of justice at any levels of government. For the right to fair hearing to be fully observed, an opportunity should be provided for the person whose right have been affected to make representations to the appropriate authority before decision affecting him is taken.

Proceedings in any court for an offence shall be entitled to fair hearing in public unless such charge is withdrawn. Every person charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.

Again, any person charged with criminal offence shall be informed promptly in the language he understands and in details of the nature of the offence. He shall be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense. He shall also defend himself in person or by his legal practitioner. The accused shall examine in person or by his legal practitioner the witness called by the prosecution before the court.

An accused shall have the assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand the language of the court. Copies of judgement in criminal and civil cases shall be made available to the accused, the defense or any authorized person.

No person can be convicted of a criminal offense unless the offense is defined and the penalty prescribed in a written law. It is important to note that fair hearing means hearing from both the accused and the prosecution witnesses in criminal cases or the defendant and the plaintiff in civil cases.

Right to private and family life:
The constitution protects the rights to private and family life. The 1999 Nigerian constitution states that the privacy of citizens, their homes, phone conversations and telegraphic communications are guaranteed and protected.  The correspondence in letters, text messages, telephone conversation of a citizen should not be interfered with by anybody.

However, if a citizen commits a criminal offence, the police or state security men issued with a search warrant could search his home. The security agents could also interfere with his phone conversations and telegraphic conversations – where such could lead to proper investigation.

Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion:

Religious intolerance has been a thorn in the flesh of many nations. As a result the Nigerian constitution of 1999 states that every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Every citizen shall have freedom to change his religion or belief. He shall have freedom to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

No person attending any education shall be required to receive religious instruction other than his own or the one approved by his parents or guardian. Any religious community shall have the right to propagate instruction for pupils in that community or denomination.

The limitation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion include the interference of the state in the preaching of religious groups which are detrimental to the existence of the state. Religious rights are prevented in a periods of emergency.