When the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) sat over the extant constitution of Nigeria over 20 years ago, they sure had a clear idea of what the future of Nigeria should look like, particularly as it relates to the dignity of the human person.
This right, as it is even otiose to state, is available to all irrespective of status, creed and position in life. Infact, even a licencee (as law school students are often called with reference to the hostel they reside) are entitled to this right. To say the least, even criminals are entitled to the right.
It would be recalled, for the purpose of history, that a Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) was appointed in 1975 under the chairmanship of a leading lawyer, Rotimi Williams, and two years later, in 1977, a Constituent Assembly (CA) composed of both elected and appointed officials examined and ratified the draft constitution. After final ratification by the Supreme Military Council, the Constitution was promulgated in 1979. This constitution had provisions in it that safeguarded the dignity of the Nigerian citizens. In essence, the provisions of that constitution would frown at a situation where citizens would be thrown out of living apartments after a misleading representation from their landlords.
The 1979 constitution was produced by Justice Egbert Udo Udoma (1917-1998) with input from the constitution drafting committee headed by Chief Rotimi Williams. Justice Udo Udoma was the Chairman of the 1978 constituent assembly.
The extant 1999 constitution was produced by Justice Niki Tobi who was Chairman of the 1998 constitution debate committee. The 1999 constitution which we still operate is Decree 24 and was promulgated into law by General Abdusalam Abubakar, on May 5, 1999 and has become operative from May 29, 1999 till date.
Section 34 of that constitution, that is, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 provides thus:
- (1) Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly –
(a) no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment;
(b) no person shall he held in slavery or servitude; and
(c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
The operating word there is ‘degrading treatment’. My lord, Justice Tur, in AG &Commissioner of Justice, Kebbi State V. Jokolo & Ors (2013) LPELR-22349(CA)on degrading treatment, held thus;
“The learned authors of Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th edition, page 854 also define “Inhuman treatment” as “Physical or mental cruelty so severe that it endangers life or health.” A degrading treatment is to do unpleasant things to someone and to make him lose self-respect. Thus “degradation” is “1. A reduction in rank, degree, or dignity… a lessening of a person’s or thing’s character or quality… A wearing down of something, as by erosion.” See Black’s Law Dictionary (supra), page 488.” Per TUR, J.C.A. (Pp. 68-69, paras. F-A).
In view of the above, if the management of a school hostel informs the students that they are entitled to stay in the hostel upon the payment of certain fees, and based on that representation, the students, many of whom reside far away from the school premises, decide to stay back in the school hostel; it will be unjust to decide over night that they can no longer stay in the hostel contrary to earlier representations, thereby leaving them, especially the poor, less privileged and impoverished students stranded. This is respectfully submitted as against the spirit of fairness and justice. The students may be licensees, but not animals!
The notice given to the students, who will in few months become our colleagues after been called to the bar, will operate to destabilize and dehumanize them. Many of them have been posted to courts and law firms in Lagos for their externship and their only hope has been that they would have shelter over their head in the law school hostel. This hope has now been dashed with the recent decision of the management to evict them almost immediately on the pretext that funds will not be enough to cater for infrastructural facilities during the externship period. What happens to the poor students who have nowhere to stay in Lagos, the impoverished who knows no one in Lagos, the student managing to even feed and whose family residence is in far away north? Will they sleep under the bridge? Will they sleep in the court’s lobby? Will they hover around the streets as homeless destitutes? They must not be allowed to be treated in such inhumane manner!
In conclusion, the management must device a means to accommodate these Nigerians whose law school fee at the inception of the program covered accommodation fee for the entire law school period. All they need is a place to stay, a place where they can prepare for the fast approaching bar finals, a place where they can sleep after returning from their court and chambers placement, a roof over their heads! The law school management of the Lagos Campus must not deny them these!
Ehiwe O. Samuel is a commercial lawyer in Lagos.