The Right to freedom from discrimination is one of the Fundamental Human Rights enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended.
This is a very important right. Civilized nations all over the world as well as international organizations are seriously advocating against any policy spearheaded by any person or group of persons that is likely to, or does discriminate against any person or group of persons on the ground of sex, ethnic group, race or even religion. This is because every human being is considered important and equal to the other as no one is placed above another for any reason whatsoever.
Over the years, the Nigerian Judiciary has severally frowned at actions by some communal folks against women on the ground of sex, most especially, with regard to the sharing of the properties of a deceased parent. See Mojekwu v. Mojekwu  7 N.W.L.R. 283 CA.
Not only so, the court has also discouraged through Case Laws, any action that discriminates another on the ground of ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion to deprive same of anything he or she is entitled to. This is because apart from the background of a judge which could influence his or her decision as a judge, the constitution has expressly provided for the said right and the provisions of the constitution are supreme and binding on Nigerians. The provision states as follows:
“(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.
(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth”
But what really is this right to freedom from discrimination? Can a man be said to have violated this right if he or she makes an advertisement stating that he needs only an Igbo Medical Doctor for employment in his hospital? What if a man advertises that he needs an Ijaw sales girl in his hotel? Will it amount to a violation of the said provision? Will the reasoning be different if the employer places on a sign post that he wants to employ an Ijaw sales boy? Is there discrimination simply because the owner of the hotel mentions a particular sex? Say, MALE or FEMALE which is gender based or because he mentions an ethnic group as a ground for his employment?
A similar scenario was seen when a certain law firm made an advertisement as follows:
YORUBA MALE LAWYER URGENTLY NEEEDED
- At a dynamic Law Firm based at Palm-grove, Ikorodu Road Lagos.
- 1-2 years legal/litigation experience
- Not more than 27 years old.
- Minimum 2.2 at both LL.B or BL
- LL.B obtained from a Federal University.
- Diligent, hardworking and with Ability to work without supervision.
- Attractive Salary.
The advertisement has caused a lot of controversy in the legal community as many have argued that it violates section 42 of the Constitution cited above. First to raise the alarm is Sylvester Udemezue, the co-coordinator of THE “YES” MOVEMENT OF NIGERIA. (Positive Preachment for Peace, Probity and Prosperity) In a press statement released on the 21st day of July, 2018 under the designation of the coordinator, Mr. Sylvester Udemezue, it was argued that the advert is discriminatory and constitutes a gross violation of section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended
Protesting against advert, the movement stated without ambiguity that they do not care whether the proprietors of the affected law firm are of the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, etc extraction, that Unity in diversity is a creed every Nigerian should imbibe and observe. They stated categorically that they say *Yes* to unity and oneness and *No* to discrimination and segregation.
Others who commented on the advert addressed the issue from different perspective, asking questions that expand the topic better for digestion. Below are some of the comments:
- Please note that we do not know who owns the law firm in question. But it’s wrong for a law firm in this age to advertise that they need only MALE. And then who must be YORUBA, IGBO, HAUSA, etc. It is fine if you openly advertise generally and thereafter after receiving applications, take a male or female or a Yoruba, Igbo, etc. Fine.
- ”I once posted an advert here seeking a qualified lawyer with the words “preferably male”. I was castigated for it. I think this advert is worse than that. By this advert you lose your credibility as a detribalized person, again you lose the chance to get a very competent hand. I know many igbo lawyers who speak fluent Yoruba and will do any job well even better than a Yoruba counterpart. I’m not Yoruba myself but you can’t cheat me with the language and I’ve always worked for Yoruba principals. They have never complained about my work ethic or performance.”
- In as much as discrimination is bad, I believe that advertising generally when you know beforehand the kind of person you want is hypocritical. It amounts to just raising people’s hope unnecessarily. Why can’t we look at this issue at the angle of sincerity? The firms knows why and the purpose the person from the tribe is coming to serve. The firm might have been loaded with a particular tribe and might think now that to better serve the Yoruba Clients, a Yoruba Lawyer is urgently needed. My take though.
- NBA should sue this Lawyer for this kind of Advertisement. Are we promoting regional Lawyer ? l think there is more to it than meet the eye.
- In a project specific area or a class action, where a law firm relates with 1000 yorubas or ijaws and in need of a Lawyer to relate with them, it has the prerogative of limiting his adverts to a yoruba or ijaw lawyer.
In all, one thing is certain: The issue is arguable. Unless made clearer through judicial interpretation, it could be argued as well that on no ground should a job specify gender as a criterion irrespective of the fact that the job can be better handled by a male or female. More so, it can be argued that discrimination only results if there is no basis for the specifying. Perhaps one can be excused if there is a good reason for specifying a particular gender or tribe. But until such a justification is given, there lies before us an advertisement considered to be offensive and open to legal debate.