Legal Framework for the Protection of the Rights in Nigeria: 1999 Constitution

Legal Framework for the Protection of the Rights in Nigeria: 1999 Constitution

Human rights entrenchment in Nigeria made a debut in the independence constitution of 1960. The fundamental rights provision was introduced into the constitution not in respect of the sanctity and humanity of persons but as a matter of course.

It came at the heel of the federal elections of December 12, 1959, owing to the insistence by some political leaders that the guarantee of their uninhibited campaign exercises was fundamental for the survival of democracy. More significantly, it is to serve as a bulwark against the invasion of the rights and liberty of the minority ethnic groups by the dominating group.

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It came at the heel of the Federal Elections of December 12, 1959, owing to the insistence by some political leaders that the guarantee of their uninhibited campaign exercises was fundamental for the survival of democracy. More significantly, it was to serve as a bulwark against the invasion of the rights and liberties of the minority ethnic groups by the dominating tribes.[1]

Some l08 delegates of the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), the Action Group (AG), and the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), together with the then Secretary of State for the colonies were in attendance at the Constitutional Conference held in Lancaster House, London, in September and October 1958. Similar conference was earlier held at the same place in May and June 1957 wherein the Minority Commission headed by Sir Henry Willink was set up.

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The Commission was mandated to inquire into the fears of the minorities and means of allaying them. The report of the Commission was received and adopted in the 1958 Constitutional Conference. The Commission strongly recommended, as one way of allaying the feats of the minority, the inclusion in the 1960 Independence Constitution of a detailed human rights provision.[2] The rights are fashioned after the fundamental rights provisions in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.[3] .

Consequently, it was agreed in the 1958 Constitutional Conference that human rights should be enshrined under these heads: right to life; freedom from inhuman treatment; freedom from slavery and forced labour, right to personal liberty; rights concerning civil and criminal law; the right to private and family life; rights concerning religion; rights to freedom of expression; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; freedom of movement and residence; right to compensation for the compulsory acquisition of property; the enjoyment of political right without discrimination and freedom from discriminatory legislation; derogation from fundamental rights; and power of the federal government to safeguard the nation. There are also the provisions for the enforcement of fundamental rights.[4] These recommendations were translated into reality in the 1960 Independence Constitution.

It is imperative to note that, on inception of independence, the Nigerian government was more pragmatic than doctrinaire in its acts of governance. There were no Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of state Policy in the Independence Constitution.

Essentially, if the fundamental rights proposition was actuated by a proper motive of upholding the ideal of social justice, a system of egalitarianism would not have been illusory. But the entrenchment of human rights in the Independence Constitution, as earlier noted, was partly a product of selfish political ambition of the then political leaders to conduct their campaign without let or hindrance especially in the northern region.

Again, the historic background of the fundamental rights is, as earlier pointed out, linked with the fear of the minorities and the need to allay such fears. As a matter of course, the fundamental rights of the ordinary man were guaranteed. Little wonder the successive Nigerian governments particularly the military, could set the same fundamental human rights at defiance without scruples only to retain power.

The fundamental rights provisions have been transmitted to the successive Constitutions, the I963 Republican Constitution, the 1979 Constitution and presently, the, l999 Constitution. The rights feature in Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. A perusal of some sections in chapter IV of the Constitution in appraisal of the extent citizens enjoy their guaranteed rights have become apposite.

 

[1] T. O. Elias, The British Common Wealth: The Development of its laws and Constitutions in Nigeria,(London: Vol. 14) pp, 14-17 

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4]  T.O. Elias, op, cit. pp, 141-142

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