The rights of Nigerians (in Nigeria as citizens) have been codified and guaranteed under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution. It is important for Nigerian citizens to be aware of their constitutional rights (which are rights different from statutory rights) and which have their unique ways of enforcement (different from the ways or modes of enforcing statutory rights under the law), hence, this topic.
First and foremost, it is important for me to state here that the scope of the Nigerian constitutional supremacy has made the rights guaranteed under Chapter IV of the Constitution unique and supreme as that of the Constitution itself. Constitutional supremacy is said to be similar to constitutional sovereignty according to Ese Malemi (of blessed memory) in his book ‘Ese Malemi, The Nigerian Constitutional Law, Princeton Publication Co., Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria, First Edition, 2006, pages: 48-49 as he defined ‘constitutional supremacy’ thus ‘Constitutional sovereignty or supremacy means the supremacy and bindingness of the Constitution, which is the will of the people, on all authorities and persons in the country’. A.G. Bendel State v A.G. Fed. & 22 Ors. (1982) All NLR 85 SC. The author further posited that ‘the people make and own the constitution. The constitution recognizes the people as the sovereign and the will of the people as expressed in the constitution is supreme and sovereign’.
The below are those rights of a Nigerian citizen guaranteed under the Chapter IV of the Constitution. To this extent, as a Nigerian citizen:
- You shall have right to your life and no one shall deprive you of your life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which you have been found guilty in Nigeria.
- You shall not be regarded as having been deprived your right to life if you die as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as it reasonably necessary: for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property; in order to affect a lawful arrest or to prevent your escape when lawfully detained; or for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
- You shall be entitled to respect of the dignity of your person and you shall not be subjected to: torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; slavery or servitude; and you shall not be required to perform a forced or compulsory labour.
- You shall be entitled to your personal liberty and you shall not be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law: in execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which you have been found guilty; by reason of your failure to comply with the order of a court or in order to secure the fulfillment of any obligation imposed upon you by law; fort the purpose of bringing you before a court in execution of the order of a court or upon reasonable suspicion of your having committed a criminal offence, or to such extent as may be reasonably necessary to prevent your committing a criminal offence; in the case you have not attained the age of 18 years, for the purpose of your education or welfare; in case you are suffering from infectious or contagious disease, be of unsound mind, addicted to drugs or alcohol or be a vagrant, for the purpose of your care or treatment or the protection of the community or for the purpose of preventing the unlawful entry of any person into Nigeria or of effecting the expulsion, extradition or other lawful removal from Nigeria of any person or the taking of proceedings relating thereto provided that you are not kept on detention for a period longer than the maximum period of imprisonment prescribed for the offence.
- In case you have been unlawfully arrested or detained, you shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person.
- You have right to fair hearing in both civil and criminal suits under the Nigerian Constitution and you shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a criminal charge.
- When you are charged with a criminal offence, you are entitled to: be informed promptly in the language that you understand and in detail of the nature of the offence; be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence; defend himself in person or by, legal practitioners of his own choice; examine, in person or by your legal practitioners, the witnesses called by the prosecution before any court or tribunal and obtain the attendance and carry out the examination of witnesses to testify on your behalf before the court or tribunal on the same conditions as those applying to the witnesses called by the prosecution; have, without payment, the assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand the language used at the trial of the offence.
- You shall not be held guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or commission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed.
- You shall not be tried for an offence for which you have been convicted or acquitted by any court of law or tribunal.
- You shall not be tried again for an offence for which you have been pardoned.
- You shall not be compelled to give evidence at the trial.
- Your privacy, home, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is guaranteed and protected under the Nigerian Constitution.
Furthermore, it is important for me to state here that the Constitution has laid down the Rules for enforcing the above rights respectively and or jointly (as the case might be) and the Rules laid down are codified and named Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, which is made pursuant to the Constitution. In the case of Abia State University, Uturu v Anyaibe (1996) 3 NWLR (pt. 439) 646 at 661, per Katsina-Alu, JCA (as he then was) held that the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules made pursuant to the Constitution, have the force of law as the Constitution itself; and overrides the provisions of any other enactment to the contrary. In which case, such a provision has equal force of law as the Constitution itself.
Furthermore, I humbly submit that fundamental rights suits are sui generis (i.e. of their own Rules and Procedures) known as the ‘Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009’. The following cases are noteworthy: in the case of Enukeme v Mazi (2015)17 NWLR (1488)411 C.A. at page 434 paras. A-C, Mbaba, J.C.A. (delivering the leading judgment), held thus ‘I must start by stating the obvious, that Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure is sui generis, being specially and specifically designed with its own unique rules by the Constitution, to address issues of fundamental rights of persons protected under the Constitution. Of course, consideration of issues founded on breaches of fundamental rights in this case must be handled within the exclusive confines of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, which actually came to correct some perceived wrongs and hardship which the 1979 Rules (fashioned on the 1979 Constitution) caused to applicants seeking enforcement of their fundamental rights, especially in the areas of adherence to undue technicalities and delays in determining applications’. The case of Loveday v Comptroller, Fed. Prisons Aba (2013) 18 NWLR (pt. 1386) 379 C.A. is humble referred to. Also, Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Odogwu v A.G. of the Federation (1999) 6 NWLR (PT. 455) P. 508 Ratio 6, also defined fundamental human rights thus ‘A fundamental human right is a right guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution and it is a right which every person is entitled to, when he is not subject to the disabilities enumerated in the constitution to be enjoyed by virtue of being a human being. They are so basic and fundamental that they are entrenched in a particular chapter of the constitution’.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has held in the case of Jim-Jaja v C.O.P. Rivers State (2013)6 NWLR (Pt. 1350) 225 SC. (page 254 paragraphs E-F and F-G) on the objectives of the procedure of fundamental human right thus ‘The procedure for the enforcement of the Fundamental Human Right was specifically promulgated to protect the Nigerian’s fundamental rights from abuse and violation by authorities and persons. When a breach of the right is proved, the victim is entitled to compensation even if no specific amount is claimed’.
Also, it is my understanding and submission that it is not the intendment of the Constitution that the provisions of any statute would render its (i.e. the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules made pursuant to the Constitution) provisions nugatory and unrealistic. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has held in A.C.B. V Losada (Nig.) Ltd. (1995) 7 NWLR (pt.405) 26 thus: ‘It has never been the case in our laws that the provisions of any ordinary statute would render nugatory the relevant provisions of the constitution. Therefore, if any law of the State including a subsidiary legislation… is inconsistent with the provision of the constitution, the provision of the constitution prevails and that State law is to the extent of inconsistency void’. It was also held in Achu v C.S.C. Cross Rivers State (2009) 3 NWLR (pt. 1129) 475, where the court held thus: ‘The provisions of an ordinary statute would not render nugatory the relevant provisions of the constitution’.
The Constitution thus provides in section 46(1) thus ‘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’. In Okereke V. Yar’Adua (2008) 34 NSCQR (Pt.11) 1370; Per Onnoghen, JSC; emphasized the need for strict compliance with statutory provisions when he held at page 1403 that: “It is settled that where legislation lays down a procedure for doing a thing there should be no other method of doing it.” See further MV Arabella V. NAIC (2008) 34 NSCQR (Pt.11) 1091 at 1116 Per Ogbuagu, JSC who held that the cardinal principle of law in the interpretation of Statutes is that where the words of the Statute are clear, the Court should give them their ordinary meaning without resort to any internal or external aid. Ojokolobo & Ors. V. Alamu & Anor (1987) 7 S.C.N.J. 98; Obomhense V. Erhahon (1993) 7 SCNJ 479; Fawehinmi V. I.G.P. & 2 Ors. (2002) 5 SCNJ 103, Ibrahim V. Ojoimo & 3 Ors. (2004) 4 NWLR (Pt 862) 89; all referred.
Furthermore, I humbly submit that the Rules of Court cannot even be used to supersede or override the clear provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009. In the case of ‘Nigeria Customs Service Board v. Mohammed (2015) LPELR-25938(CA) at Page 12-15, Para. D-B’, Abiru JCA said as follows: ‘It is, however, trite law that where the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009 make provision for a situation, the provisions of the High Court of Kaduna State Civil procedure Rules cannot be imported to supplant that provision – Ezeadukwa vs Maduka (1997) 8 NWLR (Pt.518) 635, Chukwuogor vs Chukwuogor (2006) NWLR (Pt.979) 302.’.
Finally, therefore, I most respectfully, encourage every Nigerian citizen who alleges that any of the rights contained in the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution (i.e. as itemized above), has been, is being or likely to be contravened in any State in relation to him, to take appropriate step to apply to a High Court in that State for redress.