Human rights are “rights and freedom to which all humans are entitled”. Such entitlement can exist as shared norms of actual human moralities, as justified moral norms or natural rights supported by strong reason, or as legal rights at a national level; or within international law.

The concept of fundamental human rights stems from John Locke’s “Natural Rights”. By this, Locke meant that every individual is endowed at birth with certain rights, by virtue of his status and dignity as a human being which cannot properly be denied him by any state under which he happens to live.

In 1948, the United Nations Organization (U.N.O.) adopted the declaration of Human Rights. These rights were regarded as basic to human existence. They are what a human being is entitled to as a person. To deny a person of his natural rights is to deny the existence of his humanity.

Most modern constitution incorporates human rights and to violate them amount to the breach of the constitution. However, it should be noted that there are no absolute rights. All rights are subject to the law. According to the Nigeria constitution, the following constitute fundamental human rights:

  1. Right to life: No one shall be deprived intentionally of his life except in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria. In a nutshell, every person has a right to life.
  2. Right to peaceful assembly: Every person has the right to hold public rallies and meetings. However, due to threat to national security, permission of security personnel must be sought before any rally or public protest could take place.
  3. Right to personal liberty: Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty except in execution of the sentence on order of a court in respect of a criminal offence in which such an individual is found guilty.
  4. Right to dignity of human person: Every person is entitled to respect for dignity of his persons and nobody should be subjected to torture or inhuman treatment.
  5. Right to fair hearing: The voice of every individual must be heard in a matter that concerns each and every one. Even, a suspected criminal must be listened to through his counsel. There must not be jungle justice.
  6. Right to private and family life: Every person has liberty to privacy of correspondence, telephone conversations, telegraphic communications e.t.c.
  7. Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion: Every person has the right to worship according to his belief. No religion is supreme or inferior to another.
  8. Right to freedom of expression and association: Every citizen has the right to express and join any association of his/ her choice. Nobody should be coerced to join any party.


Limitations to fundamental human rights

Fundamental human rights can be suspended or deprived in the interest of defence, public health and safety, for the purpose of protecting the rights of others, especially the less privileged. The following happenings can lead to limitation of fundamental human rights:

  1. Freedom of association and assembly can be deprived if such assembly and association is unlawful e.g secret cult, gangs, cartels or criminal organizations etc.
  2. During military rule, constitution would be suspended and decree becomes the instrument of office. Therefore, military rule does not have respect for fundamental human rights. It is a rule by force and coercion.
  3. In times of crisis, government may declare a state of emergency and restrict the movement of the people (i.e. curfew) from certain hours of the day.
  4. Special tribunals which are established for special matters may restrict or deprive the citizens of their fundamental human rights.


Characteristics of Human Rights

  1. Universality of Human Rights: This means that human rights goes along with the progress of human society and has always been a global concern of human beings at various times. Human rights is an objective existence, regardless of anyone’s will.
  2. Particularity: Different countries and regions face different human rights issues. Besides, because of different cultures and religious customs in different countries and regions, as well as imbalanced social and economic development, people’s views are also different.
  3. Relativity: This means human rights concerns with relations between people and people. Relativity of human rights is in-fact the limitness of human rights. That is, rights of individual cannot expand so boundlessly that damages may be brought to others. The relativity of human rights means relationship between rights and responsibility, and human rights and law. Infringing other’s rights when realizing one’s own right is illegal.
  4. Inalienability: Human rights cannot be taken away; no one has the rights to deprive another person of them for any reason. People still have human rights even when the laws of their countries do not recognise them, or even when they violate them – for example, when slavery is practised, slaves still have rights even though these rights are being violated. Human rights are inalienable.
  5. Indivisible: All human beings are entitled to freedom, security and decent standards of living concurrently.


Categories of Rights

  1. Civil and Political Rights (also called generation rights): These are “liberty oriented” and include the rights to life, liberty and security of the individuals; freedom from torture and slavery, political participation; freedom of opinion, expression, thought, conscience and religion; freedom of association and assembly.
  2. Economic and Social Rights (also called second generation rights): These are “security oriented” rights. For example, the rights to work, education, a reasonable standard of living, food, shelter and healthcare.
  3. Environmental, Cultural and Developmental Rights(also called Third Generation Right): These include the rights to live in an environment that is clean and protected from destruction, and rights to cultural, political and economic development.


In summary, the rights are stated below:

  1. Right to Property Acquisition: Every Nigerian or citizen has the right to acquire property anywhere in the country. So far such property does not constitute threat.
  2. Right to Education: Every Nigerian citizen has the right to be educated at least to Junior Secondary School 3 as stated in UBEC policy.
  3. Right to Publication: Citizens are free to publish books, journals, magazines, newspapers etc and express their views and opinion in the mass media as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others or make inciteful statements against the government.
  4. Right to Reputation: Every person has the right to protect and preserve his / her name. if feels blackmailed, he/ she can seek redress against any defamatory statement made against him/ her.
  5. Right to Work: Every person has the right to a gainful employment. No individual must be deprived of the opportunity of providing for his/her livelihood so far it is not in a criminal manner.
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