Opinion: Right to Life
By Sandra Ojobo
This is actually more difficult than I thought it’d be. The question that has been ringing in my head for over a week now has been, “How best can I convey, or rather, pass, my message across in such a way that a layman would boldly beat his chest and feel proud that he now knows the law? (Not that it’d, or should, prompt him to carry on the duties of a legal practitioner because that would earn him some jail time for impersonating a lawyer, and he’d definitely swear for me).
Let us begin by informing him of his rights as a human being as contained in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). He has the right to life as the most basic of all rights on the basis of his being a human. From the Bible, to the Natural Theory of law, to the United Nations Charter, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, they all preach one message: that human life is sacred and should be treated as such.
By virtue of section 33(1) of the Constitution, this right ought to not be taken away or violated except in execution of a court order in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria. The implication of this section is that the life of a human being should be held in utmost regard as being sacred and as such, should not be taken away except by an order of court. If this is the case, why, then are there series of killings and deaths unaccounted for? Why are there several reports of killings and it seems like nothing is being done to seek justice for the dead? We hear on several news outlets how a truck would fall on a vehicle, how tankers explode in busy areas of the road. We hear how the wickedness of a woman led to the eventual death of her househelp or stepchild. We hear how humans use their fellow humans for ritual purposes after kidnapping them or luring them to their lairs with fake job offers. We hear, too, how bosses use their secretaries or apprentices to level up. All of these are usual occurrences, but how then am I supposed to explain the fact that parents use their children for rituals, and even friends?
Do the deaths of these victims have remedies under the law? How are their families supposed to have any sort of consolation? Section 33(2) of the Constitution provides the exceptions under which a person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life. The circumstances include, a) the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property; b) to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
The simple meaning of the above provision is that a person can be said to not have willfully killed another if he did so in self defence- for example, Mr. A’s house was broken into in the middle of the night by some hoodlums. If in the course of the struggle, Mr. A kills any of them, he would not be guilty of murder. (Now, this does not mean, in any way, that we should always try our best to kill people who break into our homes. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to get blood on your hands for whatsoever reason, it is really not a pleasant memory). On the question of the remedies available to the victims, their families, and the society at large, section 319(1) of the Criminal Code provides that any person guilty of murder shall be sentenced to death. This means that the victim, through his family or dependents, can institute an action against the perpetrator. This was not the case before though, because the dependents of the victim or deceased could not institute any action in court for the enforcement of the deceased’s right. The coming into force of the 2009 Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules changed the narrative and made it possible that the enforcement of a victim’s right could be done when the right has been violated, when it is being violated, and when it is likely to be violated. Such action can also be instituted at the instance of the Attorney-General of the State or Federation.
I really hope I did not sound glum at any point though, because that was not a part of the plan. The plan was to let people become aware of their right to life and how protected it is under the law, because, as the saying goes, “Justice for one, is justice for all”. I would end here, for now with the paraphrased words of a renowned Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, that “justice is not a one-way traffic neither is it a two-way traffic. Justice is a three-way traffic; justice for the victim whose blood cries for vengeance, justice for the family of the victim who would have to live without him, and lastly, justice for the society.”
It is a part of the Nigerian dream that lives would always be accounted for and protected under the Nigerian legal system such that our faith in our laws would be restored.
Contents provided and/or opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine or any employee thereof.
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