A timely discourse on fundamental rights

In our society today, many things are taken for granted. It becomes a problem when people are ignorant of the law. They are not only cheated, violators walk freely, and the law is disrespected. What happens is that chaos, indiscipline, jungle justice, and lawlessness become the order of the day. To ensure that sanity, peace, and orderliness prevail in our country, the need to bring to the front burner, a platform to talk about fundamental rights, beckons.

Before we go into doing that, it is useful to look at the definitions of law from the perspective of either jurisprudence or schools of thought, they can be categorised into the Natural School that believes that a court of justice decides all the laws. The Positivistic definition of law such as John Austin’s law states that law is the aggregate set of rules set by a man as politically superior or sovereign to men as political subjects. The Historical law definition, like that of Friedrich Karl von Savigny, states that law is a matter of unconscious and organic growth. The Sociological definition of law views the law as a means of social control in a society that is coercive while the Realist definition of law describes the law in terms of judicial processes.

Over the year, the awareness of human rights has grown. In 1948, the United Nations released the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has become the most important document of what should be considered as the standard for basic equality and dignity. Human Rights Career (HRC) points out 10 reasons why human rights knowledge is key. These include ensuring that people have their basic needs of life met such as access to medicine, food and water, clothes, and shelter, just as the Nigerian constitution provides for fundamental rights. Similarly, with reference to Chapter 11 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended), the responsibilities of the citizens cover respect for the ideals of the constitution; respect for National Flag; National Pledge and Legitimate Authority; among others.

Some legal practitioners spoke to me on why it is imperative for people to know their rights under the law. Zainab Omope, an associate at TPO Odudu and Co, said that “It is incumbent on every citizen to know their rights.  Knowing your rights help you to avoid some situations and also helps you to know what to do when you are caught up in a situation that has to do with the law or when your rights are being infringed upon”. For Charles Alli of Omaflec Law Firm, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, discussing on a platform such as this is indeed an avenue to open the minds of the people to the importance of what the law generally is; what their place in law is as regards their rights and to their duties under the law. In a society that is democratic in nature such as Nigeria, is a presumption that the law should be the supreme”. Tope Adeleke of Adeleke and Co, an Ibadan, Oyo State-based legal practitioner describes law as an instrument of peace, direction, and correction.

George Illah is a private legal practitioner from Nasarawa State, who practices in the law firm of SK Shelter and Co admits that “Currently, the Nigerian society is faced with what I will call a legal awareness deficit because a lot of people are so ignorant of their legal rights such as how to go about vending their rights when they are violated. They do not know how to enforce their rights when they need to; they do not know the elementary things on how and when their rights are being violated in the first place. I think the law is meant for the people and not the people for the law, hence legal knowledge such not be restricted to legal professionals”. 

Furthermore, Taiwo Alabi, a counsel at Abegunde and Abegunde and Co agrees that “Law programmes are very important because they are part of ways in which people can learn about their rights and learn what to do, what not to do knowing the difference between what is morally right, and legal right”. Adefisayo Ajayi, is a Lagos State-based attorney, observes that human rights are the foundation of society and the legal system. Human rights are there to protect the citizens; even non-citizens are allowed to enjoy the protection that fundamental human rights provide. The knowledge of substantive rights helps you to protect people”.

In the final analysis, the knowledge of the law is important for everyone. It not only makes everyone good citizens, but it also creates the enabling environment for peace to thrive. It is hoped that from the above reflections and timely interaction on human rights, issues of awareness, and enforcement would have become clearer and to many people, the award-winning song by Robert Sylvester Kelly (R-Kelly), an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and philanthropist would come in handy that, ‘The Storm Is Over Now’, as far as this basic knowledge of the law is concerned.

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