Is the Right to Life Absolute Under the Nigerian Law?

Is the Right to Life Absolute Under the Nigerian Law? by Takim Etta

Right to Life Under the Nigerian Law

 By Takim Etta



The right to life is the most significant of all human rights, but one might wonder if it has any limitations. This article explores the basics of the right to life as a fundamental human right under Nigerian law and explores its limitations, which are based on domestic, and regional international legal instruments. The purpose of this article is to inform readers about the restrictions on a person’s right to life. This study will employ a doctrine-based methodology and a comparative analysis of the right-to-life idea in other jurisdictions. The research article would feature the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Regional and International Instruments, cases, and other legislation.


From Time immemorial, even before God gave the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, Life has been considered as the most important gift from God. This is seen when Cain Killed Abel. Rights are claims, liberty a person Asserts as an entitlement. The Concept of Rights is universal but varies according to the evolving laws and way of life of the people. What may be a right in a particular jurisdiction may not be a right in another. However, it is internationally settled that Fundamental Rights Such as the right to life are Universal, and governments around the World recognize and protect these rights. In Ransoms Kuti v AG Federation (1985)NWLR (pt.6)211, the Right to Life has been considered the most important right by Justice Kayode Esso. The state does not create Fundamental Rights but has been considered eternal, universal, and common to mankind founded upon Natural laws. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other Legal instruments have enshrined the right to life.

 Until the abolishment of Customary criminal adjudication, Traditional Rulers and Chiefs have always been adjudicating on matters relating to rights to life. With the banishment of an accused as punishment. But today only the Nigerian Courts reserve such rights.

Where one’s right ends the other begins the Right to Life like every other right is not absolute under Nigerian Law, but this right may be absolute in other jurisdictions that have abolished the death penalty.  A person who commits a Mutiny in the Army faces the death sentence, a person who Kills faces the death sentence, a person may be killed in self-defense, and the Punishment for treason is death, this and many other instances are limitations to the right to life that would be discussed in this article.

Right to Life Under the Nigerian Law

The Nigerian Legal System guarantees and protects the life of everybody in Nigeria both citizens and foreigners.  The legal frameworks for the protection of the right to life encompasses the Constitution, legislation, customs cases, and International framework. The Constitution which is the Grundnorm of the Land provides in Section 33 of the Constitution that Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life. This right is so important that punishment for taking someone’s life without legal excuse comes with the death penalty. Fundamental Human rights are important issues. More serious allegations involve alleged violations of the right to life. The right to live is the first freedom. It is the world’s most priceless gift.  Attempt to Commit murder attracts life Imprisonment mere threats to kill attracts both Criminal and Civil liability

Article 6 of the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides that The right to life is innate in every human being. The law must defend this right. No one’s life shall be taken without justification. Nigeria is a part of this Convention and this has been enshrined in chapter four of the Constitution.

Article 3, of the United Nations Declarations on Rights provides that Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of person. Nigeria is part of this Convention and its provision having being domesticated is applicable in Nigeria.

Furthermore, Article 4 of the African Chapter for Human and People‘s Rights 1979 provides that everyone has the right to life and state parties Should enact laws for the protection of such rights.

These rights have always been protected by the institutions of the states and enforced by the instrumentality of the Courts in Nigeria.

Limitations to Right to Life Under the Nigerian Law

The Right to Life is a very important right, but it is not without limits as this right can be derogated in accordance with Nigerian laws. Despite the abolition of the Death Sentence in other jurisdictions which has made the right to life absolute, the Nigerian legal system still holds sway to adhere to the doctrine of a tooth for a tooth principle. Anyone who kills must be killed.

Section 33(1) CFRN provides that A person who is sentenced by the court is not deemed deprived of his right to life. Subsection (2) of the above Section provides that a person would not be deemed to be deprived of his right to life in the following instances:

  1. Self-defense:

Section 33(2) provides that a person who is killed by another in defense of his life, or another person, or protection against violence to his property would not have been deemed to be deprived of his right to life.  Section 287 of the Criminal Code provides for self-defense as a derogatory factor to the right to life. However, in order to claim self-defense, the evidence presented must be trustworthy and in harmony with the circumstances as presented throughout the trial and naturally, accepted by the Court. Self-defence is a complete defense to murder. The Section of the Constitution provides Justiciable grounds to derogate the right to life for the protection of life and Property.

  1. Lawful Arrest:

Where a person prevents a lawful arrest his right to life can be derogated upon. A lawful arrest occurs when a person is lawfully arrested by a Constituted authority. This may be done by the police, or other security agencies depending on the nature of the offense, arrest can be made with or without a warrant. Arrest with a warrant is that which is done by filing a complaint to the court by security agencies and the court would issue a warrant for arrest. Arrest without a warrant is done when a person is in the circumstance resealable believed to attempt or commit an offense.

Your Right to life during a lawful arrest can be derogated only on special circumstances. The conduct of person to be arrested would have tried to invade arrest by attacking the security agencies with a weapon or a manner which would be so compelling to take the life of the person to save the life of the security officer. There is no hard and fast rule as to this, it is always based on the circumstances of each case. Because the court frowns at security officers who open fire arbitrarily on Citizens. Where the life of the security officer should have been so threatened that he would open fire by way of self-defense. For instance, trying to arrest an Armed rubber who Starts opening fire would not have any excuse as to why his right to life would not be violated.

  1. Prevention of Prisoner Escape:

It is illegal for a prisoner to Escape his jail term, the Punishment for such a prisoner if caught would be an elongation of his sentence. However where a prisoner tries to escape it is not clear as to whether the prison officer has the right to kill under unreasonable circumstances, it would be unreasonable for a prison officer to Kill a prisoner without first trying apprehension and a strong warning. But it would be reasonable for the officer to shoot in the leg if the prisoner refused to stop. It would be very reasonable for the prison officer to Take the life of a prisoner who attacks the officers for the purpose of Escaping. The last shade of instance mentioned here should be what was contemplated by the draughtsman when writing this Section.

  1. Suppression of Riot.

The Criminals Code Act Criminalizes Riots, This is because the fundamentals of Government are to protect lives and property. The Government uses all means necessary to ensure peace.

During this period, anyone who dies as a result of participation in the riot would not be deemed to have been Deprived of his right to life, This in fact should be distinguished from peaceful protest. Citizens have the Right to protest Under Nigerian Law and any killing done would be a violation of their right to life.

  1. Mutiny 

Mutiny is a revolt against authority, usually in the military, mutiny is an offense punishable with a life sentence under Nigerian Law. A person found guilty of Mutiny would not be deemed to be deprived of his right to life if the revolution was so obvious to endanger the life of the troops.

6. Murder

Murder is the most grievous of all homicide, punishable with death under Section 315 of the Criminal Code Nigerian Criminal Code and the Nigerian Penal Code. Those who kill shall be killed. although some jurisdiction has abolished capital punishment of the death sentence this is still fully operational in Nigeria as seen in recent cases of OKEKE V. STATE (2012) LPELR-CA/E/78/2011 . A person who has been found guilty of murder would not be deemed to have been Deprived of his right to life.

7. Treason

Treason is an offense under Nigerian Law,  Treason is the act of betraying one’s country, typically by aiding its enemies or attempting to overthrow the government, often punishable by severe legal consequences. It involves the betrayal of allegiance and the undermining of a nation’s security or integrity. Nigerian Law prescribes the punishment for treason as death. Anyone whose life is taken as a result of Conviction for treason would not be deemed to be deprived of his right to life under Nigerian law.


In conclusion, research on the right to life and its restrictions under Nigerian law demonstrates the intricate interplay between societal norms, legal systems, and individual rights. This investigation makes it clear that while the right to life is vital, it is not absolute. Like many legal systems around the world, Nigerian law accepts the need for some restrictions, frequently to strike a balance between individual rights and public interests, safety, and order. A difficult balancing act must be struck between preserving human life and guaranteeing a fair and functional society in light of the nuanced awareness of these constraints. Legislators, policymakers, and society must maintain thoughtful debates and adjustments as the legal system changes to ensure that the right to life is honored and safeguarded within the confines of the law.


  1. Exodus 20:2-17
  2. Genesis 4:1–16)
  3. Coombe, R.J., 2005. Protecting traditional environmental knowledge and new social movements in the Americas: Intellectual property, human rights, or claims to an alternative form of sustainable development. Fla. J. Int’l L., 17, p.115.
  4.  Donnelly, J., 2008. Human rights: Both universal and relative (A reply to Michael Goodhart). Human Rights Quarterly, pp.194-204.
  5. Same-Sex Prohibition Act 2014  prohibits same-sex marriages, But it is not the same in the United States of America.
  6. White, T.L. and Gonsalves, M.A., 2021. Dignity neuroscience: universal rights are rooted in human brain science. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1505(1), pp.40-54.
  7.  Section 33  1999
  8. Section 210 of the Criminal Code Act 1990.
  9. Gibney, M.J., 2020. Banishment and the pre-history of legitimate expulsion power. Citizenship Studies, 24(3), pp.277-300.
  10. NDUBUISI v. STATE (2018) LPELR-SC.488/2015
  11. section 319 of the Criminal code prescribes death penalty for the offence of murder
  12. C.O.P TARABA STATE & ANOR v. DABO & ANOR (2019) LPELR-CA/YL/215CM/2017
  13.  Section 320 of the Criminal Code Act 1990.
  14. EBULUE & ORS v. EZEBUO (2018) LPELR-CA/E/195/2014
  15.  Section 33 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  16. Section 12 CFRN Abacha v Fawehimi
  17. EZEADUKWA V. MADUKA & ANOR. (1997) LPELR-CA/E/201/95 Olabode v. State (2007) ALL FWLR,(Pt.389),
  18. SAHEED v. STATE (2018) LPELR-CA/L/808C/2015
  19.  MUHAMMAD v. STATE (2017) LPELR-SC.141/2013
  20. Section 33(2)(a) CFRN
  21. Section 35 of The Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
  22. Section 18 of The Administration  of Criminals Justice Act 2015
  23. BBC. Police officer Wey kills Kolade Johnson to spend life in prison. (23rd September 2022)
  24. Section 136 of the Criminal Code.
  25.  Section 71 of the Criminal Code
  26. Section 14 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
  27. Section 33 CFRN
  28. Section 40 CFRN
  29. Wikipedia, 2020 Lekki shooting (20th October 2020)
  30. Section 44 of the Criminal Code.
  31.  Stroud, D.A., 1920. Constructive murder and drunkenness. LQ Rev., 36, p.268.
  33.  Section 37 of the Criminal Code 
  34. Section 37 of the Criminal Code.


Other Article by the Author 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Next Post

FG Suspends N-Power Program Indefinitely Amidst Irregularities and Investigations

Sat Oct 7 , 2023
The Federal Government has taken the decision to suspend the N-Power program indefinitely. The announcement was made by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, during an exclusive interview on TVC News this Saturday. Edu revealed that this move was prompted by various irregularities detected within the […]
Better Edu- FG Suspends N-Power Program Indefinitely Amidst Irregularities and Investigations

You May Like