Fundamental rights at ‘the crossroads’
It is disheartening that even though an array of fundamental human rights is enshrined in the Nigerian constitution aimed at providing some basic freedom for the people as well as safeguard against infringement of any type by anyone, abuse of these inalienable rights has nonetheless continued unabated and as it were, considering the preponderance of various and varying form of abuses that pervade the entire landscape, it is better for the government to either set up machineries that will guarantee convincing enforcement of these individual rights, or institute an action at striking out the sections having to do with fundamental human rights from the constitution if their existence is to remain continually inconsequential.
By their very conduct, it’s very easy to see that most Nigerians not only enjoy trampling on the rights of others but they also feel it’s normal to do so maybe because most times the victims are never known to take issues up legally with a view to seeking redress.
Indeed the cost of issuing litigation might constitute a major constraint considering the usual very pathetic financial status of most abused Nigerians, coupled with the long delays typical of the nation’s legal processes leading to so much disenchantment. The fact however still remains that most Nigerians are never ready to stand up for their rights.
Perhaps the most abused right in Nigeria is the freedom of speech. It’s hardly possible for anyone to express a candid opinion on any issue without being called names especially if such opinion is distasteful or at variance with popular sentiment. People get verbal assaults almost on daily basis just for saying things the way they view them , and since such unprovoked attacks are very common, those affected most times take neither notice nor offence more so since even worse violations of individual rights and even physical assaults are never deemed as deserving any serious attention or sanctions by the society.
Yet article 39 section 1 of the 1999 constitution states clearly that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference” However since such lofty ideal it seems is not achievable in Nigeria, everyone has therefore learnt to be economical with the truth whenever they are required to comment on issues. Playing to the gallery or engaging in the sycophancy game then becomes the preferred option.
Again the constitution guarantees every citizen the freedom of religion. Article 38 states that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief”. But in spite of this provision, the only officially recognized religions in Nigeria are Christianity and Islam while other forms of faith are secretly frown at and systematically disallowed. And because of the official recognition given to the two faiths mentioned above, members are in the habit of taking their fellow citizens for granted.
It’s highly impossible to enjoy any breathing space either in the day or at night without being bogged down by the activities of zealous worshippers who carry on without any form of consideration for those outside their faith. No peaceful rest at night as everywhere is taken over by loud microphone of those keeping vigils who continually infringe on the right of non-members to their peace of mind while at day time, random loud blaring of public address system signifies calls to prayers and a general display of lack of consideration for those who may not be well disposed towards such random noise pollution.
Right to life as enshrined in Chapter 4, article 33 of Nigeria’s constitution is almost unattainable. For while people’s lives continue to be cut short by purely avoidable occurrences such as fatal road accidents arising out of poor state of the roads due to neglect by relevant agencies, armed banditry, serial killings, suicide bombings, accidental discharges and activities of hoodlums generally all make life expectancy highly unpredictable.
Sadly, while nefarious activities of insurgents continue to ravage the entire polity leading to loss of many innocent lives, the state itself indirectly allows the citizens’ right to life to be infringed upon each time traditional curfew is imposed when those caught by the traps set by occult groups disappear without any trace. It is unthinkable that at this modern age and time when nations of the world are making much progress and breaking new grounds scientifically, utterly backward and barbaric cultures that add no value whatsoever to human existence can be allowed to continue without any form of check in Nigeria. And it is doubly sad that whenever people die through such extra judicial and non-conventional process through the activities of so-called traditionalists, there’s virtually nobody to take up their cases, and perpetrators of such dastardly and murderous acts continue in such practice since the government which ought to protect every citizen continually fails in its duties.
From the foregoing therefore, it’s an established fact that whichever aspect of the so-called human rights enshrined in the nation’s constitution is critically examined, such rights only exist on paper but are utterly difficult to access or enjoy by Nigerian citizens. Sadly the government itself does not fare any better as it continues to disobey the pronouncements of its own law courts something akin to leading a crusade of disrespect to one’s own laid-down procedure thereby promoting avoidable chaos and mayhem.
Oyewusi, an educationist, wrote from Lagos.