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Understanding Human Rights Law in Nigeria(3)


Another ray of hope is the right which citizens have to approach the High Courts when any of these provisions has been, is being, or is likely to be contravened in relation to them under Section 46. But one may ask, how soon does a litigant obtain judgment? Have all citizens the muscle (financially and otherwise) to follow up such rights to its enforcement?

All these questions are to be attended to in the course of this essay.

Right To Life

Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, provides: (1)“Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived 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.

(2)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 for the  defence of property; (b) In order to effect a lawful arrest to or to prevent the escape of a  person lawfully detained; or

(c) For the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.”

The Supreme Court of Nigeria has held in the case of KALU V. STATE (1998) 13 NWLR, Part 583, 531 that the right to life in Nigeria law is not absolute but qualified. In the same vein, some eminent legal scholars while commenting on this constitutional provision opined that life is sacrosanct as deliberate killing is abhorred in all societies the world over.

Police officers or soldiers may not resort to lethal force such as firing live ammunition at people unless their own lives or the lives of others are in immediate danger, and less extreme measures are not available to avert the danger. The constitution however recognizes some exceptions to the rule relating to preservation of life… the blanket derogation from the right in matters relating to defence of property and killing of a suspect who resists arrest may need to be reviewed if life is to have any real meaning. See: M.A. Ajomo, Perspectives on Human Rights; Page 80-81.

It is germane at this point to raise a question whether the provision permitting killing in defence of property reflects our cultural value. In our cultural value preferences, does property come before life? The answer to this question is obviously in the negative. In the entire Africa, including Nigeria, life is valued over and above every other thing.

Consequently, any permissible qualification of the right to life must undoubtably be absolutely necessary for the defence of another life, or for the security of the entire society. Killing in defence of property is not permitted in most civilized societies. For example, Article 2(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is similar to our Section 33(2) of the 1999 Constitution does not permit killing in defence of property.

In line with the European Convention, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights did not provide for permissible limitations on right to life. Article 4 of the Charter provides:

“Human beings are inviolable. Every person shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right”.

The import of this provision that ‘no one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right’ is that the right could be subject to restrictions in certain circumstances. The municipal law will be left with the option to determine those circumstances. Be that as it may, any municipal law that authorizes arbitrary killing will be inconsistent with the Charter.

Inasmuchas the use of force may sometimes be necessary, conduct resulting in death whether intentional, negligent or accidental should always have to be justified. The force applied must be proportional to that force being repelled leading to death. In the case of Okonkwo V.

The State (1998) 4 NWLR 143, the deceased lived in the same compound with the Appellant and the 1st Accused. The deceased forced himself into the premises of the 1st Accused with a dagger alone at about 12 midnight. As the deceased challenged the 1st accused and drew his dagger at him, the 1st Accused raised alarm shouting “thief, thief” and grabbed the deceased arm, engaged him in a physical combat in order to disarm him.

The 1st Accused thought the deceased to be a member of an armed robbery gang who have come to attack him. As the deceased and the 1st Accused were struggling, other neighbours rushed in and joined the 1st Accused in the beating and they over-powered the deceased. The deceased was dead before the Police arrived along with the 1st Accused who went to call the Police when they had tied down the deceased and kept.


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