Human Rights and Environment: Whither Nigeria?



The view is held that the emergence of human rights law in the international sphere is one of the most significant developments to have taken place since the World War II came to an end.1 Human rights refer to those rights that for one reason or another are regarded as fundamental or basic to the individual, or group of individuals, who assert them.2 It was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 that created these rights.  Thus, the legal system of a state, and international treaties, will attempt to protect rights such as the right to life, the right to property, the right to fair trial and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.3 Fundamental rights have a common quality:  they are regarded as basic to human worth and dignity or individual liberty and are protected as such.  There is a growing link between human rights and global environmental change.4 First, many of the human rights contentions and principles are relevant issues of environmental change.  Rights of participation5, access to information, freedom of speech, among others, are important for the effective management of global environmental change.  Secondly, problems created by global environmental change raise new issues for those rights already articulated, such as by the creation of environmental refugees and by the potential loss of a way of life by indigenous people such as the Niger Delta.  Thirdly, there has been considerable discussion of a right to environment, either implicitly found in existing human rights instruments6 or as part of a new articulation of rights.  Furthermore, there is discussion of rights of future generations in the global environment7.  It is doubtful to link inter-organisational right explicitly to human rights law; nevertheless, it may not be mistaken to view it as an extension of it as it may carry important implications for what may be termed group rights8. This paper discusses the Nigerian perspective to environmental rights bearing in mind the developmental strides made by the Indian legal system. The paper takes the view that the Constitutional provision of Section 6(6)(c) suggests that environmental protection as enshrined in the Constitution suffers so seriously from in-built loopholes as it is virtually unenforceable or implemented inadequately. It reveals that a person’s right to life is breached when as a result of a polluted and degraded environment his life is cut short.  This is because environment has a direct bearing upon life.  As such it suggests that environmental right should be treated as a fundamental right to life. The idea of protecting environmental right is essential to maintaining the dignity of human beings.  The paper concludes that bearing in mind cases already decided in other jurisdictions of the world the Nigerian court should blaze the trail of judicial revolution in terms of environmental right. In that light, it opines that the first step to take by the Nigerian Supreme Court is to tow the Indian Supreme Court decision in Minerva Mills Ltd v. Union of India9 when it held that the directive principles in Part IV of the Indian Constitution are not mere show-pieces in the window-dressing but they are “fundamental in the governance of the country”.  Therefore, when the court is called upon to give effect to the directive principles and fundamental objectives it should not shrug its shoulder and say that priorities are matter of policy and it is a matter for policy making authorities to decide and not the court10.  This is because directive principles have now been elevated to inalienable fundamental human rights and hence they are justiciable by themselves11.

1 Rehman J. International Human Rights Law (Pearson Education Limited, 2010) p.3.

2 Foster S. Human Rights and Civil Liberties (Pearson Publishing, 2008) 5-7

3 Ibid

4 Weiss, E.B., Global Environmental Change and Interactional Law:  The Introductory Framework in Weiss  E. B. (ed), Environmental Change And International Law:  New Challenges and Dimensions (United Nations University) 1992, 19.

5 At Segbua L., Akpotaire V., and Dimowo F.,  Environmental Law in Nigeria:  Theory and Practice (Ambik Press 2010) 172.

6 UN Sub-Commission, First Progress Report, UN Doc E/CN.4/sub.2/1992/7,428

7 The over utilization of our limited natural resources poses a great threat of their becoming unavailable to our future generations, only few would challenge the need for protecting the environment so that future generations can enjoy productive and fulfilled lives.

8 Ibid

9 AIR 1980 SC 1789

10 Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal AIR 1987 SC 1109

11 Air India Corporation v. United India Labour Union (1997) 7 SCC 377 (416), See also Dr Vinay N. Parajape, Environmental Law (Central law Agency 2013) 27.

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