Is freedom of expression a human right?
Yes. Freedom of expression is a human right. This means that it is a right that every individual possesses for the only reason of being a human being. Everyone regardless of ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, language, social or marital status has the right to express his or her opinions. This means that the law protects the right of all Nigerians and those living in Nigeria to freedom of expression.
This right is protected in Nigerian law and internationally.
What does the Nigerian Constitution say about Freedom of Expression?
It is important to know what the Nigerian constitution says about the right to freedom of expression because the Constitution is the highest law in Nigeria. As the highest law in Nigeria;
Internationally, there are a few definitions of the right to freedom of expression, but the globally accepted definition is that contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The definition is as follows:
Article 19 of ICCPR: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print in, in the form of art, or through other any media of his choice.
Also, there are regional agreements between various countries in Africa and West Africa that provide for the right to freedom of expression include:
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which is the regional law in Africa protecting the various human rights protects the right to freedom of expression.
Article 9 of the Charter states that: “Every individual shall have the right to receive information. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.”
The African Charter has been domesticated in Nigeria as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ratification and enforcement) Act. This means that the Nigerian Courts must respect the African Charter in Nigeria.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of a Child: protects the rights of children’s freedom of expression in Africa and has also been enacted as the Child’s Rights Act in Nigeria, giving it legal effect in Nigerian Courts.
The Revised Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Treaty: The ECOWAS Treaty does not make provision specifically on freedom of expression but it has provisions on information, radio and television (Article 65) and the press (Article 66), which are relevant to aspects of freedom of expression.
Persons whose right to freedom of expression has been abused or violated the government can use the regional laws to seek justice by going to the ECOWAS Community Court or the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right.
So what does these definitions mean for you? The following section explains that above definition.
The government has the responsibility to protect freedom of expression, which includes the following instances:
Freedom of expression covers:
The right to hold opinions.
For example, a person has the right to support one football club or political party over another. The freedom to prefer something to another is a part of freedom of expression. The government or other people should not compel or force others to change or silence their opinions or thoughts except in the situations where the law permits such limitations.
The right to seek, receive and share information.
As part of the right to freedom of expression, every person has the right to request certain classes of information in the custody of the government and to share such information with others without any form of intimidation.
Freedom of information laws all over the world, including in Nigeria, describe how this right operates. In Nigeria the Freedom of Information Act (2011) ensures that public information can be accessed by anyone.
The right to free speech.
This includes expressing ideas to others by various ways, including speeches at protests that criticize the government, speech, art, music and other forms of creative communication, personal speech such as discussing a football match with a friend on the street or talking about the economy of Nigeria in school, in the market or at work. The government has the responsibility to protect free speech.
The right to express opinion in all form and through all platforms including speech, art, music and other forms of creative communication.
People express themselves in different ways (speech, music, arts etc.) and on different platforms, (social media, newspapers, billboards etc.). The right to freedom of expression covers all forms of expressions and platforms.
The right to freedom of the press.
The term “press” refers to television stations such as the African Independent Television, newspapers companies such as Punch Newspaper and online news outlets including blogs, news websites and vlogs. To ensure that people have the right information, the press should be free to publish information on events happening in the country without fear of harassment by the government. This means, for example, that the government unlawfully attacks freedom of expression when they punish the press for publishing information about corruption or crimes committed by government officials.
For example, the Nigerian government fine against Arise News for sharing information on the #ENDSARS protest is a breach of freedom of expression.
The right to online expression.
Online expression refers to sharing information, opinions or ideas through the internet. This includes using social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.
The government has a duty to respect, promote, protect and fulfil human rights. This includes:
This is the responsibility of the Nigerian state and all the public bodies that form part of it. This is because Nigeria has signed international agreements which must be followed.
For Example: Nigeria has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter and other international treaties and has a duty of making laws in Nigeria be in line with those standards.
Yes, these duties come in the form of limitations to the right to freedom of expression. Whilst exercising the right to freedom of expression, the rights and dignity of others must be respected.
For example, ensure that you do not share a false opinion about another person which destroys their reputation, that you do not share information which will be harmful to national security, such as sharing sensitive information about the plans of the army to fight boko haram or to incite violence or discrimination.
These duties are related to those limitations to the right to freedom of expression which are explored in the next section.