In our society today, many things are taken for granted. It becomes a problem when people are ignorant of the law for 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 meaning of law from some perspectives, jurisprudence, and schools of thought. The Natural School of Thought believes that a court of justice decides all the laws, Positivists definition of law states that law is the aggregate set of rules set by a man that must be obeyed. The Historical law definition sees law as a matter of unconscious and organic growth, the Sociological assumption of law views law as a means of social control while the Realists define law in terms of judicial processes, among other definitions.
Over the year, the awareness of human rights has grown. In 1948, the United Nations Organisation released the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which can be said to have become the most important document and yardstick for measuring basic equality and human dignity. Generally, good knowledge of the law equips us to be better citizens by obeying laws and doing the needful. Not only that, it helps us to know the right steps and decisions to take at any time amid the various options that could come our way, especially when taken into consideration the common saying that ignorance of the law is never an excuse.
Human Rights Career (HRC) equally 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. The Nigerian constitution equally provides for fundamental rights to comprise the right to life; right to dignity of human persons; right to personal liberty; right to fair hearing; right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and right to property ownership. Meanwhile, there are exceptions to these rights because the rights of citizens are correlated with functions of the state, meaning that citizens are obliged to contribute to the social order.
While hosting the maiden edition of the weekly programme, Radio Law Clinic on FUNAAB 89.5FM, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, some legal practitioners spoke on why it is imperative for the people to know their rights. 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. You will know how to redress them, but when you don’t know them, you tend to beg for things that you know you have the right to. In Nigeria, knowing your rights is very essential because the poverty rate is very high and everyone wants to extort each other anyhow, but once you have a platform that helps you to know what to do; you are better equipped”.
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 is regarding their rights, and to their duties under the law. In a society that is democratic in nature such as Nigeria, it is a presumption that the law should be the supreme idea and concepts governing activities of the people. Our rights are, in fact, clearly defined. Our rights pertain to our daily activities. Most of us moving around in society are in great danger because of ignorance, not having relevant information, not being aware of laws and how to engage the tools of law”.
Tope Adeleke of Adeleke and Co, an Ibadan, Oyo State-based legal practitioner describes law as “An instrument of peace, direction, and correction. There are certain rights in the constitution. For instance, Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (As amended) makes it abundantly clear on some certain rights of the citizenry and that programmes like this will help them know all of these and many more. Law is a physical God that human beings have made to protect, punish and discipline man since the law is a respecter of nobody”.
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 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. Through programmes like this, we are able to know that many laws in Nigeria are not functional and are like the toothless bulldog that barks without biting as the people do not know about them. Looking at laws like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act that prohibits spending money at parties, stepping on money, squeezing of money, and Naira notes in the pockets. It is wrong to do so, but the laws are just in the books without being functional”.
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 protection. The knowledge of substantive rights helps to protect people. We say in law that delay delays equity. The law also provides for limitations on certain things. As a general rule, there are also limitations to rights. People go about saying they know their rights; but do you know the limitations of these rights, as rights are not totally absolute? You have the right to personal liberty, but there some situations that your personal liberty would be limited. Certainly, human rights are fundamental, but they do not oversee all other laws in the land. Today, fundamental rights are pre-condition to having a civilised society”, he added.
In the final analysis, the discourse has shown that the knowledge of the law is crucial. It does not only make people good and patriotic citizens, it breeds orderliness, sanity, and creates the enabling an environment for peace to thrive. This is the truism that the award-winning song by Robert Sylvester Kelly (R-Kelly); the American singer, songwriter, record producer, and philanthropist resonates that, ‘The Storm Is Over Now’, as far as legal matters are concerned, only when the people are indeed empowered with the basic knowledge of the law.
Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, @AdewaleKupoluyi
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