Overview of Contemporary Violations of Fundamental Human Rights in Nigeria and its Remedies

Overview of Contemporary Violations of Fundamental Human Rights in Nigeria and its Remedies

The concept of human right has gained tremendous concern and significance in our world of pluralism, diversity, and inter-dependence because human rights are inalienable rights. The formation of the United Nations Organisation[1] and the conclusion and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[2] have provided a firm foundation for further development and globalisation of human rights while remarkable attempts have continually been made by the United Nations in formulating and strengthening human rights standards.[3]

Recognition of human rights and fundamental freedoms is now part of international legal obligations and fundamental purpose of the United Nations. Contemporary human rights can be summarised as claims made on the society by individuals and group, which claims have found expression in objective law, either at national or international levels and serve as a standard for measuring the conditions of human existence, below which no human being should enjoy.[4].

At the regional level, there has been evident commitment to guaranteeing and promoting universal respect for and observance of human rights and freedoms. The Council of Europe,[5] the Organisation of American states,[6] the African Union[7] and lately the Arab League[8] have all formulated and adopted human rights instruments granting universal respect for human rights. As a result of the need for respect for human rights that virtually all institutions across the globe make provisions for human rights in their preambles or in the substance provisions.

In Nigeria for instance, comprehensive human rights clauses have been enshrined in all the post- independence Constitutions.[9] In the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which is the extant constitution, one chapter[10]and spanning 11 sections is devoted to the subject of human rights.[11]

Notwithstanding the impressive records of codification of human rights at the global, regional and domestic levels, it cannot be assumed or asserted that human rights violations are a matter of by-gone era.

On the contrary, they are still violations with alarming regularity and gravity across the globe. The explanation for this evident contradiction is that there is a wide gap between mere subscription to global human rights standards and state practice. Succinctly express in another way, mere declaration and ratification of these rights and its actual observance are not synonymous.

The above position was clearly put by Justice Haleem[12] who was constrained to lament that;

‘‘Nation states have not been able to match their impressive record of codification and prescription with equally vigorous attempts at the application and enforcement of human rights norm’’

Rather, they have been contented with mere codification because, generally, governments across the globe find it expedient to vote for what is deemed to be good and what makes good political sense since human rights issues now form part of the equation of international relation.

Since human rights violation cannot be eliminated through mere standards setting, the global human rights system provides remedies in the event of violations. Indeed, the importance of remedies for human rights violations cannot be overemphasised. As noted by the court jurist;[13]

The sacred pledges and sublime commitment to the ideals of fundamental rights contained in the constitution will be hollow unless the fundamental right which they bestow upon every citizen is buttressed by an efficient legal remedy. In echoing the above view, a court also noted that:

All citizens of our country have a right to have their substantive legal constitutional rights recognized and transformed into actual judicial remedies without which their theoretical constitutional fundamental rights would be seriously diminished or else disrobed of any real value’’[14].

Accordingly, for the global commitment to human rights to be of real value, the rights must be buttressed by efficient legal remedies to compensate or redress their violations. Thus, the concept or remedies is closely and inextricably interwoven with that of right.

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This is the philosophy behind the Latin maxim, ubi jus ibi remedium meaning, where there is a right, there is a remedy. These remedies may be judicial or extrajudicial, but the former are more effective, beneficial and preferable, as will be shown presently.

It is for the above reason that the Nigerian constitution provides a wide range of judicial remedies for the benefit of victims of human right violations. These remedies are granted by the courts; it consists of remedies historically available in the court of law as well as in equity.[15] It is therefore the international obligation of Nigeria which she has assumed as a signatory to the major international human rights instruments.[16]

The availability of domestic judicial remedies for human right violations is significant in two respects. First, human rights violations occur with a state principally in relations between a government and its own citizens. [17] Second, it is essential and axiomatic that states remain primarily responsible in international law for enforcing the protection of human rights within their jurisdictions.

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However, the adequacy of the judicial remedies provided by the constitution deserves critical examination, since it is one thing to provide for remedies and quite another thing for the remedies to be effective considering the peculiar problems of law enforcement in Nigeria and the under-development of the country. For instance the invocation of these remedies may be hamstrung by procedural clogs such as ouster clauses and locus standi.

In assessing the effectiveness of judicial remedies in human rights litigations in Nigeria, a cursory investigation of the interpretative approach of the court becomes absolutely imperative. It has long been advocated that the interpretative approach of the court in all human rights cases should be generous and purposive.

More than three decade ago, Lord Wilberforce advocated that adoption of a generous interpretation avoiding what has been called the austerity of tabulated legalism suitable to give individuals the full measure of the fundamental rights and freedoms.[18]

This advocacy is a call for exhibition of judicial activism by judges in human rights litigations. Without discounting the attempts by some judges to embrace this commendable approach as exemplified in a number of cases, [19] often times, inexplicable judicial timidity is demonstrated by judges in human rights litigations in Nigeria.


[1] United Nations Organization Charter, 1945

[2] Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly Resolution 217A (III) of10th December 1948.

[3] In 1996, the UN adopted the international convention on civil and political rights and international convention on economic and social and cultural rights and fundamental freedoms.

[4] M.O.U Gasiokwu, Human Rights: History, Ideology and Law (Jos, Educational Book, 2003) p. 4.

[5]  Established on Nov; 4th 1900 drafted and adopted the European convention on Human Rights which came into force on Sept. 3, 1953.

[6]   This Regional Inter-governmental organization adopted in 1969, the American convention of Human Rights which came into force on July, 18 1978.

[7]   The Organization adopted African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights at Nairobi on June, 26, 1981 which came into force on 21st October, 1986 in accordance with Article 63 of the Charter.

[8]   Arab Charter on Human Rights, adopted by the league of Arab states on May 22, 2004 and entered into force on 15th March, 2008.

[9]  The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. Sections 33 -44.

[10]  That is, Chapters II and IV of the 1999 constitution of the Federation of Nigeria.

[11]  It may also be noted that while the provisions or chapter iv dealing with civil and political rights are enforceable, those of chapter 11 dealing economic social and cultural rights are not justiciable.

[12] M. Haleem, The Domestic Application or International Human Rights Norms in developing Human Rights

(London, Common wealth secretariat 1988) p.146

[13]  L.J. Diplock in Jaundoo v. Attorney General of Guyana [1971] A.C (P.C) 972.

[14] C.A.Oputa.,Human Rights in the Political and Legal Culture of Nigeria, (Lagos: Nigerian Law Publications, 1989). Page 73.

[15] B.A. Garner, The Black’s Law Dictionary 10th ed. (West Group, 2014)   p. 1485

[16] For instance, see Article 2 African Charter on Human and People’s Rights 1981.

[17]Steiner & Alston. op. cit at 709; Journal of Law, Policy and Globalization www.iiste.org united 2012/2016.

[18]Minister of Home Affairs v Fishers [1980] AC 319, see also Attorney General of Gambi v  Mohammed Jibe [1984] IAC 689.

[19]See Adigun v. A.G Oyo State (1987) (pt.53), 678; Garba v. University of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR        (pt.18) 550.

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