Fundamental Human Rights of Citizens

By virtue of being a citizen, a person has certain rights which the constitution recognizes. The State is supposed to protect and advance these rights as part of the social contract.


The rights are now enshrined in all written constitutions (e.g. Chapter 4 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution) to ensure that the governmental action is limited to them. They were first enshrined into the US Constitution. 

1) Right to Life:  No-one should intentionally be deprived of his right to life except in the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty, after a fair trial, under the ordinary law, in an ordinary court or tribunal.

2) Right to dignity of Human Person:  No person shall be subjected to torture or to a degrading treatment or be held in slavery or servitude or be required to perform forced or compulsory labour (except those who subscribe to it, e.g. members of the forces).  Child labour would fall into this category under the Child Rights Act. 

3) Right to Personal Liberty:  No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty except in accordance with a procedure permitted by law in specified circumstances. However, a person can be arrested on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence. No person under arrest shall be forced to make statements and if he volunteers to do so, shall be cautioned of the effects of the statement he volunteers to make; to wit: that it may be used against him in court. Under the Administration of Justice Act, a lawyer must counter-sign the statement for it to be acceptable in court.

Business Law

4) Right to Fair Hearing:  In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, a person shall be entitled to fair hearing within a reasonable time in a court or other tribunals, in public, established by law and constituted in such a manner as to secure the independence and impartiality of such court or tribunal. Upon arrest, the person must be informed of the nature of the offence he/she is suspected to have committed.  The person must be taken to a court within 48 hours except in exceptional circumstances, e.g. if the nearest court is far or where the arrest is over a week-end or during a public holiday. 

5) Fair hearing includes access of the accused person to a lawyer of his choice as well as being given adequate time and resources to prepare his defence. He is automatically entitled to an interpreter at no cost to himself. He is also entitled to call any number of witnesses to testify for him. 

6) Right to private and family life:  This covers private communication.  Government officials or agents are not to eavesdrop or tap telephones or open any person’s mails without his consent. Additionally, no person should be kept under official surveillance without good reason.

7) Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion:  This includes freedom of any citizen to change his religion or belief at any time. It also includes his freedom to manifest and to propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

8) However, the citizen is to manifest and to propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice in such a way as not to infringe on the right of other citizens.

9) Right to freedom of expression and the press:  This includes freedom to hold opinion, to express that opinion, to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.  

10) However, this right is qualified by public policy of preventing sedition (inciting people against the government) and the tort of defamation (a lie calculated to destroy a person’s good name) and injurious falsehood. There is also the offence of criminal defamation in the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria.

11) Right to peaceful assembly and association:  Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons. In particular, any person may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other associations for the protection and advancement of his interests.  

12) It must be noted that assembly for the purpose of demonstrations, riots, and joining secret societies and cults are excluded.

13) Right to freedom of movement:  Citizens are entitled to move freely within Nigeria and to reside anywhere in Nigeria. 

14) It must be noted that exceptions exist in respect of curfews during crises and states of emergency and in respect of persons suspected of having committed offences as well as in respect of vagabonds (people with no legitimate means of livelihood).

15) Right to freedom from discrimination:  No citizen shall be discriminated against by reasons only of his community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion, political opinion or by reason of the circumstances of his birth.  

16) Under the law, there are no more slaves and bastards in Nigeria. As far back as 1955, the court decided in Alake v. Pratt that if a man acknowledges a child as his own during his life time then that child can inherit him.

17) Every Nigerian citizen has the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.

18) Properties of citizens shall not be acquired by government or its agents except according to law, and even so, compensation shall be paid.

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