Human Rights, Social Contract & The Citizens: Three Pillars Of Civil Governance & Social Conducts In Nigeria
(Civil Governance & Citizens’ Rights, Onitsha Nigeria, 5th July 2015)-Following the theme for2014 World Human Rights Declaration (66th Anniversary), adopted by the United Nations, to the effect that “Every Day Is World Human Rights Day”, the leadership of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety) has resolved to remind the people of Nigeria, classified by Section 13 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended in 2011; as “all authorities and persons exercising executive, judicial and legislative powers (as well as the citizens)” on the need to be mindful at all times of their sacred obligations to the society and the people contained in the Social Contract.
This is as a result of the fact that social woes bedeviling Nigeria in contemporary times are attributed to non adherence to and ignorant of the Social Contract and its obligations. Our sole objective is to expose Nigerians, again, to how Social Contract gave birth to limited democratic government and human rights just as philosophy gave birth to natural and social sciences. The overall goal is to see publicly moderated civil governance and constitutionally moderated social conducts in Nigeria for the purpose of ensuring maximum happiness for maximum number of Nigerian people democratically, socially, culturally, politically, economically and safety-wise.
Human Rights Defined: They are inalienable, indissoluble and indivisible rights to which all human beings are equally entitled, irrespective of creed, nationality, race, political opinions, color, social affinity, age, ethnicity, religion or sex . The enjoyment of these rights is not absolute, and is subject to respecting the rights and freedoms of others and community rights and responsibilities put in place in a democratic setting to ensure public security, safety, order, morality, cohesion and peaceful coexistence. Above all, the foundations of the United Nations, the African Union and the Federal Republic of Nigeria are all laid upon Freedom, Equality and Justice. This is in accordance with theCharters of the UN and the AU as well as the Preamble of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
Types of Human Rights: There are Right to Life, Right to Personal Liberty, Right to Dignity of Human Person, Right to Freedom of Movement, Right to Freedom of Conscience, Thought & Religion (popularized in 304 AD by an Emperor Pope), Right to Peaceful Assembly & Association, Right to Education, Right to Work, Right to Freedom of Expression & Press, Right to Privacy & Family, Right to Freedom from Discrimination, Right to Own Immovable Property, Right to Fair Hearing, Right to Rest & Leisure, Right to Social Life & Social Amenities, Right to Vote or be Voted for at Elections, Right to Participate in the Public Affairs of one’s country & Serve in Public Office, Right to Equal Pay for Equal Work done, Right to Good Working Environment, Right to Health, Right to Shelter, Right to Clothing, Right to Citizenship, Right to Independent Opinion, Right to Parental Care, Right to Asylum & Refugee, Right to Live within and across Borders, Right to Equality before the Law, Right to Compensation in the event of Rights Abuse, Right to Development, Right to Self Determination and Right to Live in Healthy Environment.
Human Rights Categorized: Human Rights are majorly categorized into Three Generations of Human Rights. First generation rights are called Civil & Political Rights, i.e. right to life and right to freedom of expression. The second generation rights are called Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, i.e. right to education, right to work and right to rest and leisure. The third generation rights are called Collective or Solidarity Rights, i.e. rights to citizens’ welfare, security and peaceful coexistence. There is also another popularly called Fourth Generation Rights or Environmental Rights, i.e. rights to healthy environment and development.
That is to say that there are (1) individual rights or civil liberties, (2) collective or community rights, (3) social emancipation and cohesive rights and (4) environmental rights and protection duties. There are also citizens’ civic responsibilities; likewise government duties to the citizens. In the right to life, for instance, no government has a right to take away life of any citizen arbitrarily. This means that government can take away the life of any citizen provided it is in accordance with the law such as executing the sentence of a court of competent jurisdiction in matters involving capital punishment or in defense of rights of others like during violent disturbances or in armed conflicts (civilians exempted).
On the other hand, no citizen has a right to take away the life of another, except in extreme circumstances like in self defense, in the event of a murderous attack. No citizen has a right to take away his or her life no matter the circumstances. Also no corporate body, i.e. business and social enterprises or civil society bodies, has a right to take away the life of any citizen. In the event of violation of such right, the criminal law will pounce heavily on them individually or collectively. In the event of individual criminal responsibility, the perpetrators caught will be charged and prosecuted for murder and in the event of collective criminal responsibility; members of the incorporated trustees or leadership of such body will be charged for manslaughter (lesser degree of murder charge and punishment).
Origins Of Human Rights: God or Divinity-The first origin of Human Rights is commonly believed to have come from God as thus: (a) He created human beings in dignity and equality, (b) human beings so created were endowed with conscience, reason and self control above other animals and living things, (c) human beings so created were asked to love their neighbors and live in peace at all times. On the other hand, human beings, uncontrollably, are inherently beastly, wicked, domineering and selfish (Thomas Hobbes); not usually against themselves, but against their fellow human beings, which they have extended to other living things and environment leading to gross rights and environmental abuses.
To earthly and humanly tame or control the above beastly manifestations in human beings, the Social Contract was put in place by philosophical thinkers of the old. The Social Contract was inspired by the Holy Book’s instruction- do to others what you will want them do to you and refrain from doing to them what you will not do to them. The historical Social Contract is dated back to several centuries and became globally popular and recognized in 17th, 18th, 19th and 20thcentury ADs. It was particularly popularized by the great philosophical works of the trio of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).
To Jean Jacques Rousseau, man was indeed born free, but everywhere in chains. For Thomas Hobbes, the happiness of man in a society has been gripped by fear of violent death in the hands of another. The two great philosophers favored a society in which the society and its people were sovereign and free leading to a community where a group of free individuals agree for the sake of their common (social contract) good and protection to form institutions to govern themselves. John Locke added more popularity to the greatness of Social Contract.
In his 1690 famous book called the Second Treatise of Civil Government, John Locke saw and called for a situation where a free, equal and independent people agreed to be governed in return for certain secure enjoyment for their individual rights, which the courts and police powers of a government can enforce leading to every free individual having a moral right to be protected from arbitrary interference by government or other individuals, of his or her sacred rights. These reinforce the legal philosophy of man’s equality in dignity and rights and inevitable justifications for their protection by a limited government.
Therefore, the first universality of Human Rights in modern time came from the great philosophical work of John Locke, from where the first President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson took his country’s independence declaration’s great speech of July 6, 1776. The most popular part of the speech is as follows: “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men (and women) are created equal and endowed with certain natural and inalienable rights, and most important being of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And to protect these rights, men set up government whose authority rests on their consent. And whenever a government ceases to do what it has been set up for, its citizens have a right to change it or its order and put in place a new government or a new order that will provide for their safety and happiness”.
From the foregoing, therefore, Human Rights originated from three main sources (God or divinity, legal and political philosophies and US Independence Declaration/United Nations). In other words,Human Rights were created by God and earthly promoted and expanded by great thinkable philosophers like Jean Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in the form of Social Contract;and popularized and codified by the American Independence Declaration/Constitution of 1776 and the United Nations. Also modern day democratic and limited government originated simultaneously with human rights from the Social Contract, just the same way social vices gave birth to crimeleading to formation of its control entities like courts and policing bodies. In this respect, limited and democratic government is a caretaker body put in place by the Social Contract for defense, promotion and protection of Human Rights and good governance.
International, Regional & Local Human Rights Instruments: The mother-general of the global Human Rights instruments is called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was proclaimed by the United Nations on 10th December 1948. The UDHR contained 30 Articles covering the Four Generations of Human Rights highlighted above. The UDHR is morally binding on all 193 member-States of the UN and other authorities and persons around the world.
Other important human rights instruments of international background are International Covenants on Civil & Political Rights and Economic, Social & Cultural Rights; enacted in 1966 and opened for ratification in 1976. Nigeria ratified them in 1993. They are legally binding on all authorities and persons around the world. There are hundreds of other internationally, regionally and locally recognized human rights instruments owing to the fact that all human rights are indivisible, indissoluble and inter-related, i.e. no human rights can be enjoyed fully in the absence of the other (i.e. right to life cannot do without rights to food, rest and leisure). Regionally, there is an important regional human rights declaration called “the African Charter on Human & Peoples Rights”;enacted by the African Heads of States and Government in Nairobi, Kenya in 1981. Nigeria ratified and domesticated it in 1983. There are also the UN Conventions against Torture and Gender (Women) Discrimination as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, to mention but few.
Locally, there is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended last in 2011. The Constitution has various provisions for human rights including Fundamental Human Rights in its Chapter Four (sections 33-46 including judicial safeguards or remedies). It also contains provisions for Social Contract called Fundamental Objectives & Directive Principles of State policy as well as non-justiciable Human Rights provisions. These can be found in Sections 13-23 of the Constitution. The duties of the citizens or civic responsibilities are also contained in Section 24 (a-f) of the Constitution. It is also important to mention that not all the rights highlighted above are contained in the Chapter Four or Fundamental Human Rights provisions (sections 33-46) in the 1999 Constitution.
Of 32 rights highlighted above, only twelve of them are provided for in the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, under Fundamental Human Rights Chapter. They are Right to Life, Right to Dignity of Human Person, Right to Personal Liberty, Right to Fair Hearing, Right to Family Life, Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience & Religion, Right to Freedom of Expression & Press, Right to Peaceful Assembly & Association, Right to Freedom of Movement, Right to Freedom from Discrimination and Right to Acquire & Own Immovable Property Anywhere in Nigeria. Some, if not many of these rights are also provided with ouster clauses (practically and judicially inoperable) particularly subsections 2 and 4 of Sections 33 and 35 on rights to life and personal liberty as well as non-justiciable Human Rights provisions in the Chapter Two, i.e. rights to free education and free medical treatment.
The ouster clause in the said Chapter Two, which can be found in paragraph c of subsection 6 of Section 6 of the Constitution, clearly states as follows: “the judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section, shall not , except as otherwise provided by the Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act or omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives & Directive Principles of State Policy, set out in Chapter Two of this Constitution”. By this, no judicial action can successfully be brought against any authority or person holding executive, judicial or legislative office in Nigeria with respect to any act or omission associated with the country’s version of the Social Contract contained in the Chapter Two of the Constitution under the Fundamental Objectives & Directive Principles of State Policy.
There are other Social Contract/Human Rights associated provisions in the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended. For instance, by the Preamble of the Constitution, “the constitution of Nigeria is created for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of Freedom, Equality and Justice, and for the purpose of Consolidating the unity of the our people”. By Section 1 (1) of the same Constitution, “this Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. By its subsection 2, “the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall person or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”. By its subsection 3, “if any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of its inconsistency be void”.
By Section 13 of the Constitution under the Fundamental Objectives & Directive Principles of State Policy, “it shall be the duty of all organs of government, and all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers in Nigeria, to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this chapter of the Constitution (Chapter Two)”. By Section 14 (2) (a), “it is hereby, accordingly, declared that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority”. By its subsection 2 (b), “the security and welfare of the people of Nigeria shall be the primary purpose of government”; and by its subsection 2 (c), “the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured, in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”.
Finally, we call upon all authorities and persons, exercising executive, judicial and legislative powers at Nigeria’s three tiers of Federal, State and Local Government levels to ensure fulfillment at all times of sacred obligations demanded of them by the hallowed Social Contract and the Constitution. On the other hand, the citizens, particularly the attentive segment (i.e. mass media and rights based CSOs), must at all times hold the government to account, in accordance with Sections 22 (governance oversight roles of the mass media) and 39 (right to freedom of expression & press) of the Constitution, and relentlessly educate other members of the public particularly the un-attentive segment, on the importance of public moderation at all times of civil governance as well as strict adherent to the Constitution in general societal conducts.
We totally subscribe to the recommendation of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, who recommended that every citizen of reasoning age in Nigeria must have a copy of the 1999 Constitution (“Nigerian Bible”), kept in his or her hand and family at all times. We wish to add that every citizen of reasoning age in Nigeria must have a hard or soft copy of the 1999 Constitution. The soft copy may be stored in his or her mobile phone or desk and laptop computers. Both hard and soft copies must be read or consulted from time to time so as to understand the fundamental provisions of the Constitution including human rights as well as the duties of the government and the citizens.
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Emeka Umeagbalasi, B.Sc. (Hons) Criminology & Security Studies
Board Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety)
Chiugo Onwuatuegwu, Esq., (LLB, BL), Head, Democracy & Good Governance Program