Which options are there available to people in Nigeria?
There are two main option for those available to people in Nigeria who seek to enforce their right to political participation, judicial enforcement and non-judicial enforcement.
Judicial enforcement refers to the process of using the courts to ensure that the government or others respect the provisions of the law on political participation. Non-judicial enforcement refers to other non-court-based steps to ensure respect for political participation.
There are non-judicial enforcement options available. Some of these options include:
Petitions: which can be written to the National Human Rights Commission, The African Union or United Nations, requesting for intervention.
Letters: can be written to authorities within a country or a State to bring to their knowledge the occurrence of a violation going on within their territory. For example, a letter could be written to the National or State Assembly, the governor or president, or the Attorney General of the State, informing them about a violation, especially by a public officer.
A letter can also be written to embassies or human right organizations seeking for help and protection especially when a person’s life is under threat or when there is systemic violations of the right to political participation.
Social Media Advocacy/Campaigns:It is recommended to seek support from a human rights organisation that could help you with these strategies. Social media has served as a means of advocating for good governance and respect of human rights.Social media can indeed help in the enforcement of process by:
Complaints to the appropriate authority
In the event of breach of the right to political participation, an official report in the form of a notice of breach of right and the damage done, if any, should be made to the appropriate authority, such as INEC.
- Contact a lawyer, human right organization or NHRC for assistance.
- Notify the appropriate authority in charge, attaching evidence of the breach.
Complaints to the National Human Rights Commission
This institution was established for the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria. If you feel your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint to the Commission.
Functions of the Human Rights Commission:
What is required to complete a human rights complaint form
To know more about the format of a formal complaint, visit https://nhrc.gov.ng/index.php/complaint-form. You can also visit the State branches of the National Human Rights Commission to lodge the complaint.
The Commission has quasi-judicial powers. This means to help with your complaint it can:
The decisions of the commission are enforced by taking that decision to the High Court and asking for it to be enforced.
This is a special procedure to protect fundamental or human rights, including the right to political participation.
At what point can I start a process to ensure enforcement of my rights?
You do not have to wait until after an actual violation of your rights. If there is a threat to violate or likelihood of violating the right is enough reason to go to court. It is advisable to begin enforcement processes as soon as possible.
Is there a time limit to seek justice at the courts on human rights violations?
No. However, it is advisable you bring a lawsuit as early as possible, to preserve the necessary evidence that may support a decision in your favour (such as death of witnesses, missing records, loss of memory to remember crucial events, etc).
Who can start a Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure claim?
Based on the provisions in the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Rules, Section 3(e), the followings persons or organizations can take legal action:
Who can I take legal action against?
It is important to identify who you can take legal action against because suing the wrong party (person) could make you lose your case.
It is only the government and its agents that can be taken to court on human rights violations. Individuals and private companies cannot be taken to court under this procedure.
If your rights are violated by private individuals and companies, you report these violations to the relevant government authorities. Where the government fails to do its work, they have failed in their duty to enforce human rights protection and you can take legal action against these authorities for their failure.
TIP: when you think the right to political participation is being breached or will be breached, try to identify which public body is responsible. This can be, for example, the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Where can I take legal action?
The Federal High Court and the High Court of a State are the courts that have the legal power to accept fundamental rights cases. However, in a matter in which the Federal Government or any of its agencies is involved, the Federal High Court will be the right court at which to start your action.Every State has a High Court with divisions at different parts of the State. The list and location of the Federal High Court in Nigeria can be found here.
How do I take legal action?
1. Get a lawyer first.
2. Your lawyer will file an application. The application shall be supported by a statement setting out the:
3. The application must be supported by an affidavit or statement setting out the facts upon which the application is made. This means explaining what the facts were that lead to your human rights being violated.
4. The application should be accompanied by a written address which shall contain a brief argument in support of the grounds, or reasons as to how the facts amount to the violation of your rights and which rights. You must be able to show to the satisfaction of the court that your political rights and obligations have been or are about to be violated and the claim must disclose reasonable cause of action.
5. The other party will be served with your application, which means the other party will be made aware of the application. They will be given 5 days from receiving your application to oppose and submit a written address and a counter affidavit stating his facts and grounds to oppose your application.
6. You will then be served or informed by the court about the other party’s response and will be given 5 days to respond to their arguments by submitting another written address and affidavit.
What happens if my legal action is not successful in court?
You can appeal to the Court of Appeal against the decision of the High Court. Bear in mind that appeals are complex and subject to specific rules. This will require you to discuss this with a lawyer to determine together if to appeal or not.For more information, please see the Access to justice in Nigeria: The Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure and other means of defending human rights guide.
If you are challenging the outcome of elections, there is Electoral Alternative Dispute Resolution (EADR) which serves as an alternative to litigation whereby a Directorate in INEC will look into the complaint and settle the misunderstanding. This is usually done mostly after the declaration of the winner in an Election matter. It should be noted that approaching this Panel depends on the choice of both parties. You will be required to do the followings:
If you or your party wants to go to court, you are required start an election petition.
What is an election petition and how does it operate?
This simply refers to a written application which sets out the claims of an aggrieved person challenging the outcome and conduct of an election and other related matters. It is usually the way of commencing an action in a Court or Tribunal.
Who can present election petition?
The person who brings the claims to Court or Tribunal after the conduct of an election is mostly referred to as “Petitioner”.
Who can I bring an election petition against?
The two parties above are called “Respondents” when there is a formal election petition against them in Court or Tribunal.
What must an election petition contain?
Here is the format a proper election petition should follow:
What are the grounds or reasons on which my claims can rest?
In which court do I present an electoral petition?
It depends on the election you are challenging, as follows:
The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice: In 2005, a new protocol was introduced giving the ECOWAS Court of Justice powers to entertain suits relating to human rights violations.
TIP: It is worthy to note that cases need not be pursued in national courts before they can be brought to ECOWAS court. In fact, a human right violation case still pending at a national court can be presented before the ECOWAS Community Court.
However, Article 10 (d) of the 2005 protocol on the court as amended states that:“Individuals on application for relief for violation of their human rights; the submission of application for which shall:
In summary, the ECOWAS Court is a viable option for any person who wants to complain of any violation of their rights because:
Whichever legal avenue you are taking, when preparing for judicial enforcement, here are some steps that you as an individual who is not a lawyer could still take to assist your lawyer in your case:
Do I need a Lawyer?
Yes. It is advisable to get the assistance of a lawyer. It is true that the law allows you to represent yourself in court but it is important to have a lawyer to guide you through the complex court processes.Some organizations such as the Nigerian Bar Association and the Legal Aid Council assist people who cannot afford lawyers to get legal assistance for human rights cases.
In preparation for judicial enforcement, here are a few pieces of evidence you could gather as soon as the infringement occurs:
What steps can I take to make sure I gather helpful evidence?
Such necessary evidence can be gathered by:
Where one’s right to political participation has been violated or infringed upon, the individual has the right to seek remedy through the court.
It is within the powers of the court to determine if there has been any violation and also to issue necessary orders and award appropriate compensations.
Monetary Compensation: This refers to material compensation given to a party once the court has found that the fundamental rights of an applicant have been violated by the conduct of the respondent, and if the person has suffered injury, depending on the circumstances.
For instance, in the case of Ms. Warmate V. Senator Elisha Abbo Suit No. FHC: CV/2393/2019 the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) held that Senator Elisha Abbo was wrong to have assaulted Ms. Osimibibra Warmate. Therefore, the court ordered him to pay the sum of N50 million to Ms. Osimibibra Warmate as compensation for doing such to her.
Injunctions: An injunction is a court order requiring a party to do or cease from doing a specific action.
For example, in the case of People’s Democratic Party (Pdp) And 2 Others V Biobarakuma Degi- Eremienyo (Apc Governorship Deputy Candidate For Bayelsa State And 3 Others.
In this case, the People Democratic Party and others challenged the outcome of the Governorship election on the ground that Mr. ‘Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo who emerged as Deputy Governor – elect presented false information and that he was disqualified from contesting in the same manner thus affecting the Governorship Candidate. The Supreme Court agreed with the petitioner’s arguments and thus cancelled the emergence of APC’s candidates and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to declare as winner the candidate with the highest number of lawful votes.
Declaratory reliefs: This is a declaration by the court stating out the rights of the individual/group. They serve to state the existence of certain rights when these rights have been infringed by the government or other state actors.
Apologies: In certain situations, the court may order an erring party (usually the government) to make a public apology to the victim in conjunction with other remedies.