Right to life: A comparative analysis between Nigerian law and south African law

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The right to life is generally recognized as a very important right in any legal system. This right is absolute in some jurisdictions; however, limitations are placed on this right in some other jurisdictions to which Nigeria is included. One of the limitations placed on the right to life in Nigeria is the death penalty. These two concepts are closely related because they involve the state’s responsibility in balancing the right to life of an individual and protecting the lives of the public by imposing the death penalty. Arguments made for and against the retention of the death penalty have gained global recognition and are still relevant in this modern age. Other contemporary issues in relation to these concepts are euthanasia, and extrajudicial killings. This paper is an appraisal of the right to life and death penalty in Nigeria.






1.1  Background to the study 

The right to life is recognized as one of the Fundamental Human Rights in Chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution. It is enshrined in Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.[1]  Although the right to life is of great importance, it is however not absolute in Nigeria as the law has placed limitations on this right. The law in Nigeria seeks to balance the interests of all and so, although it respects the right to life, it also places certain limitations on this right to protect public interest and ensure peace and order in the society. It goes to show that no individual can be deprived of his right to life, except through the legally recognized exceptions, one of which is the death penalty.

As society progressed, arguments for and against the sustenance or retention of the death penalty began and the imposition of the death penalty became a controversial issue. This has led to the abolition of the death penalty by some developed countries, nevertheless, the death penalty is legal in Nigeria. The death penalty in Nigeria serves a retributive and deterrent function amongst other functions it performs; it however has a lot to be improved on to promote an effective criminal justice system. With the development of modern society, other matters which arose and gained recognition are the concepts of euthanasia and extrajudicial killings. All these matters need to be urgently addressed by the government and looked into also by the international community.

In Nigeria, the Constitution devoted a whole chapter to Fundamental Human Rights[2] , and in that chapter, the right to life ranks first. Section 33(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999 (as amended) specifically provides for the right to life thus: ‘Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria’.


1.2  Statement of the Problem

The right to life imposes on individual and the State, the obligation not to deprive another intentionally of his right to life except within the permissible circumstances by law. In the case of Olanrewaju Oni v The State,[3]  the appellant administered acid chemical on his daughter which resulted in severe burns of the mouth and the lungs which eventually led to the girl’s death. He was charged and tried for the murder of his daughter. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to death. This principle was also illustrated in the cases of Lateef Adeniji v State[4]  , Bassey Achibong v State[5] and Pius Nweke v State.[6]

Also, the right to life imposes an obligation on the State to refrain from intentional and unlawful taking of life save in exceptional circumstances permissible by the Constitution in section 33(1)-(2) CFRN. The right to life as provided for and enshrined in section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) also covers an already convicted person who although sentenced to death, has a pending appeal or review as the case may be. The State must allow the law to run its full course, and must not resort to hasty execution of the convict whose appeal is still pending before the Court of Appeal.[7]  This position was also upheld in the case of Bello v A.G of Oyo State,[8]  where the appellant was erroneously executed while his appeal was still pending in court.

  • Purpose of the Study

This work seeks to provide answers to the under listed questions:

  1. To examine the legal framework for regulating abuse of right to life in Nigeria
  2. To examine the exceptional clause of right to life under 1999 constitution FRN
  • Research Questions

What is the legal framework for regulating abuse of right to life in Nigeria?

What is the exceptional clause of right to life under 1999 constitution FRN?

  • Significance of the Study

This work is useful to legal practitioners and commercial investors. It is equally of great importance to academia as it touches the core of Commercial Law and practices which is complex and needs a detailed understanding of its application

1.6     Research Methodology

This research will adopt the qualitative research methodology. Reliance is placed on primary and secondary sources. Primary sources include case laws and statutes, Secondary sources include journals, articles, contemporary textbooks and book chapters, and internet sources

  • Limitations of the study

       In every research work, it is likely that the researcher may encounter some limitations. The researcher encountered some challenges during the period of carrying out this research. Some of these challenges include the dearth of materials for a proper and effective research work constituted a major limitation. Again, how to get the true and required information from the students through questionnaire also constituted a constraint in the study.


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