The Implications of absolute power being fixed or deposited in a single individual or entity, is in direct contradiction with the notion of free will and of what division of power represents and likewise the rule of law. Where power is absolute, the most appalling things happen without any means of challenging them, humankind will definitely be driven to its annihilation with no contest and all we will ever be able to say is that ‘obedience is better than insurgency’.
In the context of the foregoing, knowing the connotation of power being fixed in a single entity, we will come to appreciate the importance of our Federal system of government, the weight which division of power carries, the magnitude of the rule of law and the checks and balances which the system brings to every aspect of governance and more so the day to day life of the inhabitants of the state.
This vast impact of the rule of law is greatly evidenced in what rights a man has, and where to seek for redress when there are infringements on such rights. While there may be few variations in opinions on how acceptable some of these rights are in some areas of the world, most of these rights are fundamental and acceptable in every part of the world irrespective of diverse cultures.
In the case of Nigeria, these rights are provided for in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, particularly contained in Chapter Four, as the ‘Fundamental Human Right’. At this point we have come to the stage where we have to wonder what fundamental Human right connotes, even though majority of us are going to assume that we know and understand the nitty-gritty of this term, it is going to be an unwelcome oversight and a great injustice if we do not give a reasonable space to discuss this subject matter.
What does human right mean? Can we be so positive about the fact that the definition of ‘human right’ given by a person in Nigeria will be the same with that given by another person in Syria? What do we think that our human rights are? I searched inside of me; beneath the deepest part of me, to find an answer to these questions like a reasonable and logically thinking human being, setting aside my training and exposure on what these answers are supposed to be, but most of the answers I found may not be totally in line with what the law has explicitly and strategically laid out for us to accept.
In as much as the answers I found are not irrational and not far from what can be incorporated in, or be deduced from the Constitution, the untampered fact remains that we can only restrict ourselves to what is already outlined in our various laws and chatters in every attempt to define ‘Fundamental Human Rights’. This is because what we are doing here is no attempt at law reform, so personal feelings are just what they are at the moment, ‘strictly feelings’ that are personal which do not have a place in the law. Given our restriction, let us bring it back home and explain what ‘Human rights’ mean from the generally accepted purview.
Fundamental rights are those inalienable rights of a human which inure in them simply because they are human beings. This description is as straight forward as saying that the human race was born with its fundamental right and this view does not even need the legal elements and backup for it to be valid and for it to be enjoyed, but luckily and more deservingly the various legal elements backing it up, makes it more intriguing and more so, shows how important these set of rights are to the human race. The fundamental human rights are as fundamental and natural as it can be and even if some of these rights have been legislated upon from time immemorial, its utmost validity still resides in natural law, as simple as “thou shall not kill” knowing that this gives the right to life to every single human. But as natural as these rights are, the human race itself has devised other means in moderating its pure natural effects which if left to its basics, easily twisted and vulnerable interpretations can also be a chaotic device in the wrong quarters. Thus there are various legislations that have moderated what the fundamental human rights are and how they should operate, where they can be enforced, situations in which they can be enforced, and against whom, also when it’s effects can be overlooked. All these and much more have formed the better part of the legislations that guide the daily activities of the human race in current time.
The focus here shall be on Nigeria, and its 1999 Constitution (with its various amendments), but it has to be pointed out that this is not an instance of a case study, there may be digressions at any time if need be to lay emphasis on salient facts.
One of the most important fundamental human right that has been established from time immemorial is the “Right to Life”. What is right to life? Let it be simply put, that from what we deduce from Natural Law, the Right to life is simply saying, no human shall die unless the cause of such death is natural. This interpretation may be referred to as stagnant, amateur, or a naïve way of giving meaning to what this right means but the fact remains that as a reasonable human being, our first reasonable duty is to take things as they are especially when it comes to natural law, but as long as our modified minds remain, this is of course largely impossible.
The right to life is sacrosanct, it cannot be tampered with or else our society will turn into shambles, but at the same time, the right cannot be completely definite, thus there are situations in which one can take somebody’s life without breaking the law or being seen to have deprived such person his right to life.
How can a person’s life be taken from such person without the person being deprived of her right to life? In Section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, the most exclusive instance was introduced. “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”. Then subsection (2) of the same section crowned up the exclusive exception to the human right to life by giving instances in which this right can be trampled upon. The subsection stated, “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 or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or
(c) For the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.”
The question here is not about the things outlined but whether the language used has diminished the effect and the importance of the right. From the highlighted part of the subsection, the phrase “of such force as is reasonably necessary” is an ambiguous expression when how fragile the human life is and how importance of life is put into consideration. What force is reasonably necessary is now going to be judged based on what constitutes the facts of the situation, which means every time when issues in this part of the constitution come up, almost new techniques and considerations have to be considered in reaching a conclusion, which considering our fallible nature as humans might not be accurate.
This being the case, it cannot be said that this Human right is totally enjoyed the way it should be. Deducing from the earlier stated facts, the only clear and sacrosanct implication of the restriction is that, the most important Human right does not carry the desired totality, it should carry. The restriction indicative of modifications to what ought to be Natural and God given.
But it is however also important to see why these restrictions might be necessary. The human nature likes adventure and given the development and evolution that mankind has been through, safeguarding the life of Humans, most of the time, includes taking the life of other Human.
These advents have giving a reasonable backup to what the restrictions in the subsections under section 33 stated above. Thus we cannot come to fault these restrictions based on the purity that was given to this right naturally but we must come to appreciate the fact that the institutions that are charged with modifying these laws have done appropriately what should be done to ensure that what was given to us naturally has not misplaced its importance. We should hope and always pray that the arms that have the responsibilities to execute this right should not abuse the power given to them and exercise the needed discretion in carrying out their duty.
We can no longer rely on what the Bible and what the Quran say about the right to life as they are the basic and the most important natural records of what these rights are, and also because of the vulnerability which comes with what different people believe as what is upright due to culture and religion and the values and norms that are acceptable in a particular entity. Thus, the Human modifications which are entrenched in chatters, Articles, Codes and Constitutions are a welcome development in preserving what nature has given to mankind, and also they seek to protect these rights by taking away part of the same rights technically for the good of mankind. Whether we prefer the natural law and the rights as being set out from the beginning or the modified version by the people charged with that responsibilities to modify it, it is inevitable for us to abide and enjoy the ones that we can because without these rights our society will be in decay and if we must be above the fray of these decays, we must recognize that the right to life as being entrenched in the various instruments that carry them is as important as having air to breath, food to eat and water to drink.
By Gideon Tolulope Ebute-Iwa
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