The word “citizen” is defined as a native or naturalised person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it.
By this definition, you’ll see that citizens and the government they pledge allegiance to are locked in a social contract. One part of this contract is the citizen’s loyalty to the country to abide by its laws, while the other is an obligation by the government to grant certain rights to said citizen.
[Nigerian passport / Nigerian Scholars]
The Nigerian Constitution protects the rights of a Nigerian citizen. In particular, Section IV of the Constitution lists Nigerian citizens’ fundamental rights. What are these rights, and what do they mean to you?
Right to life
As Nigerians, the government has a duty not to kill you and to ensure your life is protected and not interfered with. But there is an exception:
“Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
This section also provides some leeway which may excuse extrajudicial abuse.
“A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary –
(a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or the defence of property:
(b) to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or
(c) to suppress a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
Right to human dignity
This right says that all Nigerian citizens must be afforded human dignity. Nigerian citizens hold a unique value and must be respected regardless of birth, class, race, gender, religion, or abilities. To this end;
(a) no person shall be subject to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment;
(b) no person shall be held in slavery or servitude; and
(c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”
Like before, there’s a caveat.
Forced or compulsory labour does not include:
(a) any labour served as a court order or sentence;
(b) any labour required of members of the armed forces of the Federation or the Nigeria Police Force;
© for conscientious objectors to service in the armed forces of the Federation, any labour required instead of such service;
(d) any labour required which is reasonably necessary in the event of any emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community; or
(e) communal service or NYSC.
Right to personal liberty
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, former US Supreme Court associate justice, once said: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” The import of this saying is that while you’re allowed a certain degree of freedom, it must not intrude into that of others. Nigeria’s constitution borrowed a leaf from this.
The Constitution says no one should be deprived of personal liberty unless under a set of unique circumstances, like when being presented following a court order or for educational purposes — for persons who haven’t reached 18 years — among other circumstances.
This section also states that a person arrested must be issued a warrant and brought to court within 48 hours. If a person is detained unlawfully, they’re entitled to compensation and a public apology from the appropriate authority. Know your rights, folks!
Right to fair hearing
This is founded on the legal principle of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. As a Nigerian citizen, you’re entitled to a fair hearing by a competent court, regardless of the crime — which we hope you won’t commit.
Right to privacy
All Nigerian citizens are entitled to their privacy. The government has no business bugging your home or your phone.
Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
You’re constitutionally allowed to hold contrarian thoughts or conspiracy theories. You’re also free to change your religion as you see fit. But you’re forbidden from belonging to a secret society.
Right of freedom of expression and the press
Thankfully, Nigeria is a democracy, and its constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press. That’s not to say you can make slanderous or libellous statements and walk away freely, though. There are laws against those.
Right of peaceful assembly and association
You can associate freely with whoever you want and belong to a political party. That doesn’t mean you should, in the words of Falz, join a bad gang.
Right to freedom of movement
The Constitution grants citizens the right to move freely anywhere in Nigeria.
Right to freedom from discrimination
No Nigerian citizen should be discriminated against because of their ethnicity, religion, disability, political opinion, place of origin, the circumstance of birth, sex and so on. In case we left anything out, the point is, don’t discriminate.
Right to own property
Nigerian citizens have the right to acquire and own immovable property. If the government forcefully acquires your property, you can claim compensation. You can also rightfully sue them in court.
Other rights like access to education, healthcare and shelter can be claimed depending on the resources in a state. It’s important to note that while these rights exist, you may need to follow up on them if they’re infringed upon. Know your rights, but just as importantly, know a lawyer.