Qualifying fundamental rights with 'inalienable' implies that the rights contained in Chapter Four cannot be taken from citizens.


6/6/20226 min read


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Inalienable, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Ninth Edition, 2015), is something “that cannot be taken away from you”. Chapter Four (Sections 33- 46) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides for the Fundamental Rights of citizens in Nigeria. Qualifying fundamental rights with 'inalienable' implies that the rights contained in Chapter Four cannot be taken from citizens. Chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution which incorporates the fundamental rights of the Nigerian citizens even provides for what cases in which those rights can be alienated. This makes the use of inalienability to qualify fundamental rights to a reasonable extent a mistake in word choice. The rights and some media of inalienability will be laconically broached in the following paragraphs:

Right to life:

Section 33(1) provides for right to life of every person and states clearly that no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life. However, the same section states various means in which the right can be alienable even though still claimed to be guaranteed. The chief is the long-standing human right question of death penalty which violates the right to life as proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It provides “...every person has a right to life, and no one shall intentionally be deprived of his life, save in execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria” Subsection 2 provides for three other exceptions: a person can be denied his right to life in order to; defend person from unlawful violence or in defence of property, effect a lawful arrest or prevent the escape of a lawfully detained person and thirdly, to suppress a riot, insurrection and mutiny.

Right to dignity of human person:

Section 34(1) grants that “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly-

(a)no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment;

(b) no person shall be held slavery or servitude;

(c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”

Subsection 2 of the section excludes certain conditions from “forced or compulsory labour”. Labour resulting from the sentence or order of a court, labour required of members of the Armed Forces of the Federation or the Police Force in line with their duties, labour reasonable required in event of any emergency or calamities threatening the life or well-being of the community are exempted. Likewise, any labour or service that forms the normal communal or civic obligation, compulsory national service in the Armed Forces as prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly or such compulsory national service which forms part of the education and training of citizens of Nigeria as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly are also not included.

Right to personal liberty:

Section 35 states the limitations immediately after declaring the right. It states “Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law -

(a) in execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty;

(b) by reason of his failure to comply with the order of a court or in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligation imposed upon him by law;

(c) for the purpose of bringing him before a court in execution of the order of a court or upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed a criminal offence, or to such extent as may be reasonably necessary to prevent his committing a criminal offence;

(d) in the case of a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years, for the purpose of his education or welfare;

(e) in the case of persons suffering from infectious or contagious disease, persons of unsound mind, persons addicted to drugs or alcohol or vagrants, for the purpose of their care or treatment or the protection of the community ; or

(f) for the purpose of preventing the unlawful entry of any person into Nigeria or of effecting the expulsion, extradition or other lawful removal from Nigeria of any person or the taking of proceedings relating thereto.”

Right to fair hearing:

Right to fair-hearing is a fundamental element in securing justice. As hackneyed as the right is, it still has a mild scent of alienable clause. Flowing from Section 36 (1), subsection 36 (4) provides that any person charged with a criminal offence shall unless the charge is withdrawn be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal. The same subsection (Part a and b) provides that the entitlement may be dispensed with if in the interest of defence, public interest, public defence, public order, public morality, the welfare of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the protection of the private lives of the parties or to such extent as it may consider necessary by reason of special circumstances in which publicity would be contrary to the interest of justice.

Right to private and family life: Section 45 (1 (a) (b)) contains a taint of exception for the right as contained in Section 37, also alongside rights contained in 38, 39, 40 and 41 of the Constitution. It states that nothing in those listed sections shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society-

(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or

(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons. This implies that for those sakes listed in Part a and b, the rights provided in Sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 can be done away with. The explanation comprehensively applies to right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Section 38).

Right to freedom of expression and the press:

Section 39 entitles everyone to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. However, as provided in Section 39(3), the right can be denied to prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts, regulate the media and restrict persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or state, members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.

Right to peaceful assembly and association:

Even though Section 40 grants citizens right to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests. Even the Section provides for the citizens’ right to form or belong to any political party, yet it explicitly states that it is left at the power of the Independent National Electoral Commission to accord recognition or not in respect of the political parties formed.

Right to freedom of movement:

Section 41 provides citizens with the right to move freely throughout the country and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen shall be expelled from the country or reused entry hereto or exit therefrom. Subsection 2 stipulates the means of alienability: restriction can be imposed on any person who has committed or is reasonably suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria. It also provides for the removal of any person from Nigeria to any other country to be tried for any criminal offence; or undergo imprisonment outside Nigeria in execution of the sentence of a court of law in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty provided there is reciprocal agreement between Nigeria and such other country in relation to such matter.

Right to freedom from discrimination:

Section 42 provides for this right explicitly. In subsection 3 of the section, it provides the limitation that, it approves the validity of any law which imposes restrictions with relation to the appointment of any person to any office under the State or as a member of the armed forces of the Federation or a member of the Nigeria police Force or to an office in the service of a body corporate established directly by any law in force in Nigeria.

Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria:

Even though Section 43 provides for the right of every citizen to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria, yet subjecting it to other provisions of the constitution which prove the alienability of the right. Media of alienability are contained in Section 44 (2) and Section 44 (3). Section 44 (3) provides that (even if the immovable has been acquired by someone) “…the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in, under and upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of a Nigeria shall be vested in the Government of the Federation and shall be managed in such a manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.

In conclusion, this article is not in any way to criticise the limitations posing the alienability status of the fundamental human rights of the Nigeria citizens as provided in Chapter Four but to state the length in which the fundamental human rights of Nigeria citizens are alienable using only the provisions of the Constitution.

NB: This article is not a legal advice, and under no circumstance should you take it as such. All information provided are for general purpose only. For information, please contact



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