Christians and Human Rights by Kehinde Adegbite Esq

A. Who are Christians?

Christians are persons who believe in Jesus Christ and have accepted Him as their Lord and personal Saviour or in other words, they are followers of Jesus Christ – Acts 16:31; 1 Corinthians 11:1.

There are Christians all over the world including Nigeria. Nigeria has a huge of population of her citizens who are Christians and like other Nigerians, they are bound by the secular laws governing the Nigerian society and are entitled to enjoy privileges and rights that other
Nigerians enjoy.

Christians and Human Rights by Kehinde Adegbite Esq


B. What are human rights?

Human rights are entitlements that every person has on account of being a human being. They are natural gifts to human beings and so, human rights are not privileges bestowed on people by any government.

Governments only recognize and protect those rights.

Human rights are described as inalienable because they are entitlements that cannot be taken away from human beings generally. Without human rights, human beings are less than humans.

Human rights are contained in international and national legal documents such as:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948,
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Child's Rights Act, 2003,
  • African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and
  • Nigerian Constitution of 1999.

In Nigeria, the most authoritative document on human rights is the NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION!

C. Human rights and the Bible

The phrase "human rights" or the word "rights" as we know it today cannot directly be found in the Bible but if the history or origin of human rights is traced, names of some Christian figures whose thoughts and ideas inspired and shaped the development of human rights would appear.

These Christians understood that God created all human beings in His own image and that because they exist in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), they deserve to be treated with dignity and all human beings, irrespective of their race, gender, social status or religion, are equal. 

The values of human dignity and equality of man gave birth to human rights and popularisation of human rights eventually made slavery, colonialism, apartheid and such inhuman practices unacceptable.

Human rights are universal and inherent to every human being. Therefore, in the history of human rights and relationship with the Bible, such Christian figures as St. Thomas Aquinas, William Wilberforce, and Lord Shaftesbury stand out.

D. Why should Christians know their rights?

There are many reasons Christians need to know their rights and they stand to gain a lot when they do. Some of the reasons why Christians should know their rights are:

  • To be able to exercise and enjoy their rights;
  • To be able to defend their rights by seeking for legal remedies if breached or about to be breached by others;
  • To know that others also have rights as they do and that they ought to respect others' rights in order to avoid being sued by them for damages;
  • To prevent suffering human rights abuses from others due to their own ignorance.


E. Types of rights

In the Nigerian Constitution, there are two types or classes of human rights but only one class is enforceable/justiciable. This means that it is only when any right which belongs to that class is violated that Nigerians can approach law courts for redress. The two classes are –

  • Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy – Sections 13 to 23

This class of human rights can be found in Chapter II of the Nigerian Constitution and the rights here stretch from section 13 to 23. These rights include right to reasonable wages, right to medical care, right to safe environment etc. However, these rights are not enforceable in Nigerian courts because neither governments nor persons can be sued for the enjoyment of any of those rights by anybody. The same Constitution renders these rights unenforceable – section 6 (6) (c). 

  • Fundamental Rights – sections 33 to 46

Fundamental rights are found under Chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution and they are the human rights that all Nigerians and non-Nigerians residing in Nigeria can enjoy.

Christians, like other Nigerians, are entitled to these rights. These rights can be enforced against governments or individuals if a person's right is breached by such parties. However, not all rights are recognised as Fundamental Rights under Chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution. Right to food, right to medical care, right to work and the likes are among human rights regarded as unenforceable rights in Nigeria.

It must also be noted that even though fundamental human rights are enforceable if breached, there are occasions when their breach will not qualify for enforceability because rights are generally not absolute. The Constitution provides for circumstances when a person's rights may be justifiably deprived of him or her including right to life.

Enforceable rights in Nigerian courts or under the Nigerian law are those listed and explained below and all of them are contained in Chapter IV (Sections 33 to 46).

If you think that your rights are breached and you wish to approach a court in order to enforce your rights, make sure that what you have suffered fits into any of the rights below before you approach a court of law for remedies or else the court may not entertain your case/application for right enforcement. For instance, given that there is no right to vote or to be voted for among the rights provided under Chapter IV, a person who has suffered disenfranchisement will not be able to obtain remedies for breach of rights in court.

1. Right to life – section 33

Meaning – Right to life simply means that nobody, not even the government, is allowed to take another person's life, unless as allowed by the Constitution or any other law. In Bello V. AG Oyo State (1986) 12 SC 1, agents of Oyo State Government carried out a sentence of death penalty passed on Nasiru Bello who was convicted of armed robbery, while his appeal against his conviction and sentence was still pending before the Federal Court of Appeal. Pained by his unlawful and premature execution, the deceased's relations filed an action in court to seek for damages on the basis of the violation of the deceased's right to life. At the Supreme Court level, the apex Court agreed that the deceased's right to life was unlawfully violated and awarded damages in favour of his family members.

Assuming Nasiru Bello had been killed by private persons and not State agents who thought they were carrying out lawful order, they would have been charged and tried for murder and be sentenced to death, if found guilty.

Limitation - As sacrosanct as right to life is, it is not absolute. Right to life of a person can be legally taken away in any of the following circumstances:

  1. When a person commits capital offence such as murder, armed robbery, treason, kidnapping (where loss of life is involved), and terrorism, death penalty will be imposed on such person after being tried by a court of law and he or she is found guilty of the alleged offence or offences.
  2. Where an attacker's life is lost in the hands of his victim while the latter is defending his own life or property.
  3. Where a person who is trying to escape from lawful custody is killed by law enforcement agent.

2. Right to dignity of human person – section 34

Meaning – Nobody should be subjected to torture or slavery or being forced to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Anybody beaten or tortured by a law enforcement agent can sue the aggressor on the basis of this right just as excessive corporal punishment inflicted on another by a private person can lead to violation of this right or be a basis for a criminal charge (or both) depending on the extent of injury inflicted.

Limitation – It is not a breach of this right in case of persons who have to undergo one-year compulsory national service, NYSC.

3. Right to personal liberty – section 35

Meaning – Every person is entitled not to be restrained or detained. Any person arrested or detained unlawfully can approach a court for remedies. Arresting or detaining a person who has not committed any crime known to law is a violation of such person's right to personal liberty.

For this reason, it is unlawful to arrest and detain persons because they are indebted to another person or bank or because they are disrespectful to an influential personality in the society. In fact, in many cases it has been decided by courts that Police is not a debt collector and using Police officers for this purpose can land both the user (creditor) and Police officers involved in court for violation of right to personal liberty or any other right.

Limitation – A person can be arrested or detained if the person commits a crime. However, a detention that originally begins as a lawful detention may later turn to an unlawful one, if the detainee is held longer than the period allowed by law.

A person detained has to be taken to court for trial within 24 or 48 hours and if that is practically impossible, then the person may be released on bail.

4. Right to fair hearing– section 36

Meaning – This right requires that every person involved in any case – whether civil or criminal – has to be given an opportunity to be heard and to defend himself through an impartial and open trial in court. This right also precludes a person from being a judge in a case in which he has interest or he is the offended.

Any government employee sacked by government for any misconduct without first being heard can approach a court of law for violation of his right to fair hearing and set the unlawful termination of employment aside.

Many Nigerian students whose studentship was terminated in violation of right to fair hearing have been known to have got their expulsion reversed by courts (Garba & ors. v. University of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR Pt. 18, 553).

Limitation – A person may lose his right to be heard if the person refuses to attend court or the sitting of an administrative panel despite being informed of a pending case or enquiry.

5. Right to private and family life – section 37

Meaning – This means persons are entitled to enjoy their privacy or secrecy as long as no crime is being committed by them. Forcefully seizing a person's phone and looking through the owner's messages and information is a violation of this right.

Limitation – This right may be tampered with if there is reasonable ground to believe that crime is being committed.

6. Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – section 38

Meaning – This refers to people's right to have a religion or not to have or to renounce their religion if they so wish.

This is the right relied on by Christians to worship God as it pleases them in Nigeria as well as persons of other faiths. It is also the right that Muslims rely on to demand for the wearing of hijab by Muslim females attending public schools in Nigeria.

Limitation – This right does not allow a person to belong to a secret society under the guise of exercising religious right. Belonging to a secret society is a crime in Nigeria.

7. Right to freedom of expression and the press – Section 39

Meaning – This refers to people's right to hold opinions and to express their opinions. This includes right of journalists to inform members of the public in relation to happenings in the society and people's right to interact through the social media platforms.

Limitation – Nobody can operate a broadcasting outlet except in accordance with the rules laid down by the government.

8. Right to peaceful assembly and association – section 40

Meaning – This recognizes people's right to belong to any group of their choice and it also includes right not to belong to any group. Political parties, trade unions, community associations and professional associations exist on the basis of this right. This also includes right to embark on
protests or demonstrations against anything that agitates people's minds.

Limitation – INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) reserves the power not to recognize a group as a political party.

9. Right to freedom of movement – section 41

Meaning – This means that every Nigerian is entitled to move and reside anywhere in Nigeria. No Nigerian will be expelled or be refused to enter Nigeria. It is therefore contrary to this right to seize a person's traveling documents unless in the case of suspected of escaping out of the country in order to avoid prosecution having committed an offence.

Limitation – However, a Nigerian may be extradited to another country, if such Nigerian has a case to answer in that other country.

10. Right to freedom from discrimination – section 42

Meaning – This means that no Nigerian shall be deprived of any benefit or be subjected to any pain on account of the person's sex, faith, social status, ethnic group or political party affiliation. Persons living with HIV/AIDS or any form of disability can rely on this right to fight against any discrimination in employment and other areas.

Depriving a female child of inheriting property as commonly found in the South-Eastern Nigeria (Ukeje v. Ukeje (2014) 11 NWLR Pt. 1418, 384) or denying an "illegitimate" child of inheritance is a form of discrimination which the Constitution forbids.

Limitation – A person may by law be disqualified from being appointed to a public office e.g. persons below 35 years of age cannot vie for the position of Nigerian presidency.

11. Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria – Section 43

Meaning – Every Nigerian has right to own and acquire immovable property in any part of the country.

Limitation – Nil.

12. Right to compensation upon compulsory acquisition of private property – Section 44

Meaning – Every Nigerian whose property is compulsorily acquired by government must be compensated accordingly.

Limitation – Government can compulsorily take over private property without compensation, if such property endangers public health or well-being.

F. How can Christians enforce their rights?

Section 46 of the Constitution empowers Nigerians including Christians to approach a court of law and seek for remedies when their rights are about to be breached or being breached or already breached.

©️ Kehinde Adegbite Esq is the Principal Partner of Kehinde Adegbite & Co, Ibadan; +2348038556525 & [email protected] (2022)

0/Post a Comment/Comments

Please drop a comment and use the Social Media Buttons below to share to friends and family.