What Are the Rights of the Citizens?

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Rights of Nigerian Citizens

Rights of Nigerian Citizens

The rights of citizens accrue to them simply for being human as well as citizens of the state, and the essence of the state is to protect and preserve these rights. Many centuries ago, the radicals and the levelers, challenging the absolute authority of rulers, identified the basis for the enjoyment of human rights as equality in the nature of men.

Thomas Edwards, writing as early as 1646, states that:

Seeing all men are by nature sons of Adam, and from him have legitimately derived a natural propriety, right, and freedom, therefore England and all other nations, and all particular persons in every nation, not withstanding the difference of laws and government, ranks, and degrees, ought to be alike free and estated in their natural liberties and to enjoy the just rights and prerogative of mankind, whereupon they are heirs apparent; and thus the commoners by right are equal with the lords. For by natural birth, all men are equally and alike born to like propriety, liberty, and freedom.

These rights belong to the man, the individual, and never to society or the government, for, according to John Locke, rights are lodged only in the hands of individuals until they resign them to the public. Yet the surrender of individual rights is conditional against both society and government, for individual power is resigned only with the intention that everyone will preserve himself, his liberty, and his property.

Even a conqueror in a just war can never establish a right that contravenes the right of the conquered to their liberty and property.

The rights of citizens are, accordingly, called fundamental human rights. These rights are listed in Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as: right to life; right to dignity of the human person; right to fair hearing; right to private and family life; right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; right to freedom of expression and of the press; right to peaceful assembly; right to freedom of movement; right to freedom from discrimination; right to the acquisition of private property, etc.

Well, I have developed a broader classification scheme, categorizing the rights of man into three broad classes. These include political rights, civil rights, and social rights.

1. Political Rights

These are rights that entitle the adult citizen to participation in the national political life of the state. They include the right to franchise, that is, the right to vote and be voted for in national elections. Political rights, therefore, ensure equal participation in elections, thus limiting the influence of privileges such as those that, in the past, enabled only those with property to exercise the franchise.

The constitution of most modern democracies provides for these rights without regard to gender, religion, socio-economic status, race, or level of literacy.

But although this is the case and is usually taken for granted today, it must not be forgotten that universal suffrage is a recent development, as, even in England with its long history of individual liberty, it was only in 1946 that the principle of "one man, one vote" was accomplished, and this did not come without a long period of struggle for the equal rights of men.

As fluid as it may seem, political rights are so strategic in the lives of men and nations because, according to Voltaire, civil liberties are unattainable unless political liberty comes with them.

2. Civil Rights

These include the right to life and those that add value to the life of the individual by providing certain privileges that protect his privacy and ensure that he carries on his daily life without asking the leave of any person or authority. The civil rights of the individual citizen include the following:

a. Right to Life

This is the most fundamental right of man, and the state exists primarily to protect the lives of its members. No one can deliberately take the life of another. The life of the individual is so sacred that he is not even allowed to take his own life. Hence, capital punishments are often imposed on those who commit murder or attempt suicide.

It is, perhaps, to underscore this same purpose that many states in modern times have discontinued the use of the death sentence to punish capital offenses such as murder. because the finality of death does not permit for appeal, so a convicted person may prove his innocence just in case there had been a miscarriage of justice in the first instance.

b. Right to Dignity of the Human Person

Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and, accordingly, the constitution of most states prohibits the subjection of citizens to torture or any form of inhuman treatment, slavery, servitude, or forced labor except such labor as forms part of the normal communal or other civic obligations for the well-being of the community, such as the NYSC in Nigeria.

C. Freedom of Religion

Because individuals express their deepest feelings and strongest convictions in their religion, most modern states have the right to freedom of religion. This right permits individuals to pursue matters of spirituality as they think best without undue interference from any person or authority. One can, therefore, belong to any religion of his choice and pursue the expansion of such religion, as in winning new converts and regulating membership lawfully without hindrance.

Where freedom of religion exists, individuals are not discriminated against on the basis of their religious affiliation. Religious freedom is considered so important, especially in multi-religious societies such as Nigeria, where the experience is that disagreements on the basis of religion can lead to so much intolerance and bad blood, crises, or even wars.

The constitution deliberately declares the circularity of such states, and the political authority has no hand in religious matters. In other words, there is no state religion. However, in some religiously homogenous states, such as the Islamic states of the Arab world, there is usually a state religion, and in such cases, the legal system is often adapted from the state religion.

d. Freedom of Expression and of the Press

This is the right of citizens to speak up and state their opinions and positions on any issue. It is based on the assumption that human beings are equally endowed with rationality and good judgment, and since no man is infallible, people should feel free to criticize the speeches and actions of others. Every rational man should modify his positions on issues on the basis of superior arguments and in the face of reasons and facts contained in the expressions of other men.

As no government or official is infallible, the existence of this right serves to call the attention of such governments and officials who make serious mistakes to such mistakes and thereby keeps them in good shape and form through open and constructive criticism.

The gains of constructive criticism could reasonably be said to underscore Voltaire's admiration for England, directed not towards its representative government but towards the freedom of discussion and publication that was permitted there. Upon his return to France in 1729, therefore, he undertook the project of popularizing the English way of life in France.

Certain limitations are, however, imposed on the exercise of this right, as people are usually expected to avoid blasphemous, obscene, seditious, or defamatory acts that tarnish other people's reputations. Hence, the libel law in most democratic states permits anyone to sue for damages if they have reasons to believe that another person or group of persons has deliberately disseminated falsehoods to tarnish their reputation.

e. Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association

In the free world, individuals have the right to form or join any lawful association of their choice and to meet in furtherance of the lawful goals and objectives of such associations.

Such associations may be religious, economic, social, or political, and as individuals peacefully and lawfully purse their self-fulfillment in such associations, they are expected to observe certain conditions, including refraining from conducting themselves in such a manner as to cause a breach of public peace and order or to encroach on the rights of others.

f. Freedom of Movement

Law-abiding citizens are often protected by the constitution to move freely within the territorial jurisdictions of their states, to reside in any part thereof, and to conduct themselves and their lawful businesses freely without molestation.

3. Social Rights

The social rights of man while, like his civil rights, enhancing the status of his life also serve to make him reasonably important in the human community, especially with regard to his relationship and interaction with other men. They include the right to education, to employment, and to private property.

a. Right to Education

Education frees the man. It enhances the quality of the man. It also enhances the equality of men. An educated person is more aware of his other rights and obligations. Through education, he also acquires the skills that enable him to earn a reasonable livelihood. It raises the morality of man and makes him more rational.

Good education is also an indispensable aspect of the process of socialization by the regime to mobilize the citizenry for social and political action. Because of the strategic place of education in the life of man, most modern states aspire to be able to educate all their citizens to the extent of their possibilities.

The right to education is, therefore, contained in the constitutions of most states. However, not all states are capable of extending this to their citizens significantly. Hence, more developed countries in the world, such as the USA, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia, are capable of providing the right to education up to the university level, whereas the less developed countries in Africa have to stretch themselves to provide universal education up to the elementary school level.

b. Right to Employment

A corollary to the right to education is the right to employment, which one who has acquired the necessary skills must find within the economy so as to be able to grow and develop and also to contribute to the growth and development of the economy.

Note that unemployment creates an army of unhappy, unproductive, and dependent citizens who nurse grievances against society. It also raises the crime rate in society and, thereby, makes law enforcement more difficult. As a result, all states in the world pursue employment policies aimed at enlarging the scope of the economy to absorb the resources of citizens in productive activities.

C. Right to Private Property

In the conduct of his lawful business, the citizen has the right to acquire private property without limit and to enjoy the same. Consequently, it is the duty of the state to protect the private property of individual citizens from unlawful seizure, theft, or malicious damage. The criminal law of most states is replete with sanctions against trespass, theft, seizure, or destruction of other people's property.

Hence, no individual should be deprived of his property without his consent or due process of law. It is only by protecting private property that enterprising endeavors that enhance the status of the individual and the nation are encouraged and assured by the state. This, according to the social contract theories, is one of the major foundation stones of the compact between the state and its citizens.

Hence, John Locke conceived of society as composed of persons actuated by selfish motives, looking to the law and government for security against their equally selfish fellows, and seeking the largest amount of private good consistent with keeping the peace... Man has a natural right to that with which he mixed with the labor of his body, and society exists essentially to protect such property and other private rights that society does not create.


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