By Pat Anyadubalu
The topic of this paper “Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities: Problems & Solutions” is very apt in our present democratic dispensation.
As the topic suggests, this paper will examine the following issues:
(i) Citizens legal rights
(ii) Citizens responsibilities/obligations
(iii) The problems and solutions in pursuit of these rights and obligations
I will try to be less legalistic, verbose or grandiloquent in use of legal terminologies because of the various categories of the audience.
It is important to mention at this juncture that legal rights and responsibilities or duties are on many occasions intertwined.
John Chipman Gray in his book The Nature and sources of the Law stated as follows:
Right is a correlative to duty; where there is no duty there can be no right.
But the converse is not necessarily true. There may be duties without rights.
In order for a duty to create a right, it must be a duty to act or forbear.
Thus, among those duties which have rights corresponding to them do not come the duties, if such there be, which call for an inward state of mind, as distinquished from external acts or forbearances. It is only to acts and forbearances that others have a right. It may be our duty to love our neighbor, but he has no right to our love.
John Chipman Gray, The Nature and sources of the Law 8-9(2d ed.1921).
This is instructive (though not an alibi for the government’s failure to guarantee our rights) that while we agitate for our rights we should with corresponding vigor perform our duties.
The question then is what are our legal rights?
The Black’s Law Dictionary 8th Edition defines the word “right” among others as something that is due to a person by just claim, legal guarantee or moral principle.
There are many categories of rights namely:
(i) Absolute right – A right that belongs to every human being
(ii) Accessory right – A supplementary right that has been added to the main right that is vested in the owner.
(iii) Accrued right – A matured right, a right that is ripe for enforcement.
(iv) Acquired right – A right that a person does not naturally enjoy but that is instead procured, such as the right to own property.
(v) Conjugal right – Obtainable between husband and wife.
(vi) Civil right – right provided by the constitution of the country.
(vii) Fundamental right – right enshrined in the constitution of the country.
The list of the categories of right is in-exhaustive; however, this paper will treat only the fundamental and civil rights of the citizens.
The Fundament Rights are enshrined in Chapter 1V of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended (hereinafter referred as “the constitution”). The interpretation section of the constitution did not define Fundamental Rights under the said constitution however, legal pundits usually use the word “enshrine” to refer to the provisions of the Fundamental Rights in our constitution to emphasize its importance.
Again, section 9(3) of the constitution also provides a stiffer requirement for the alteration of the provisions of fundamental Rights to the effect that four-fifths majority of all the members of Legislative House at both federal and state are required for proper and effective alteration unlike some other provisions that require only two-thirds majority of the said Legislative Houses.
Nigeria has also through the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 adopted the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights as part of our existing legislation. This African Charter contains most of the provisions on our Fundamental Human Rights.
Sections 33-46 of the constitution enumerate the Fundamental Rights of the citizens, some of them as follows:
(i) Right to life.
(ii) Right to respect for dignity of his person.
(iii) Right to personal liberty.
(iv) Right to fair hearing.
(v) Right to privacy of citizens, homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications.
(vi) Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
(vii) Right to freedom of expressions including freedom to hold opinions, receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
(viii) Right to freedom of assembly and association.
(ix) Right to freedom of movement.
(x) Right to freedom from discrimination as a result of sex, place of origin, religion or political opinion.
(xi) Right to acquire and own immoveable property anywhere in Nigeria.
These rights that are mostly observed in breach are the rights relating to liberty and criminal trials of the citizens. See sections 35 – 36 of the constitution.
Few examples will suffice as follows:
1. Section 35(2) of the constitution which provides that a person who is arrested and detained has a right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his choice.