Review by Ayoka Damilare
The Law and Practice of Human Rights in Nigeria
By Lloyd Megwara
In a country where the practice and protection of human rights is looked at as the exclusive preserve of NGOs and civil society organisations, and is at best taught only in law faculties of Nigerian universities as an elective course, Lloyd Megwara’s initiative with the book, The Law and Practice of Human Rights in Nigeria, is most timely and welcome.
The author, a Lagos-based legal practitioner with over 20 years experience, explains in the preface to the book that it is an attempt by him “to fill the yearning [sic] gap’ by offering his own modest contribution to the development of human rights jurisprudence in Nigeria and the building of a better society.
As he states further, the style and simplicity of the book clearly shows it is not intended for lawyers alone, but everyone who has an interest in the subject matter. Megwara deserves commendation for putting forth a book in this area of the law.
The text commences with a history of the evolution of human rights, informing the reader that the concept is an amplification of the inalienable rights endowed on man by God to make his existence on earth worthwhile and meaningful.
When reading The Law and Practice..., one discovers that Megwara is knowledgeable in his chosen area, and passionate about it as well. The subject matter is deeply researched, and the author makes copious references to various sources while drawing examples from real life scenarios.
It is not odd to find references to the Otokoto saga in Imo State, or the killing of the Boko Haram mastermind, Mohammed Yusuf, or the withholding of local government funds meant for Lagos State by the Federal Government.
Although the entire book is enthralling, one would not hesitate to recommend chapters 2 (The Right to Life), 3 (Dignity of Human Person), 5 (Personal Liberty), 6 (Freedom of Expression), 8 (Freedom from Discrimination), and 9 (Right to Property) for reading as the author puts forth interesting thoughts and arguments on certain legislation and their effects on the rights of persons e.g. the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Decree No. 13 of 1995 and The Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State 2007 and their attendant restrictions on an individual’s right to personal liberty; or the ignoble Land Use Act and its implications for the right to property.
Megwara also adduces intriguing posers and submissions, as one would expect from a long-standing member of the profession to which he belongs. In Chapter Four for example, under the right to a counsel of choice, he argues that courts should insist on the production of proof of payment of annual practising fees by lawyers appearing before them.
The object of this, he claims, is to stamp out fake lawyers who bring the profession into disrepute. In another chapter, speaking on the then proposed FOI Bill, now an Act of the National Assembly, he posits that the 1999 constitution cannot confer a greater right to information than the constitution as the constitution expressly guarantees both the individual and the Press the right to information via the right to freedom of expression.
Being a book on Human Rights, the author does not neglect to treat the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Rules of 2009, concluding that overall, it is an improvement on the 1979 version. He calls out members of the Judiciary, the National Human Rights Commission, the Police and Lawyers and tasks them to intensify their efforts in taking on human rights’ violations and abuses and to entrench the Rule of Law in the society.
A number of errors however place a dampener on what would have been an otherwise well-turned out work. To start off, the book’s Preface was printed in reverse manner. It began at page ix and ended at page xii, but one had to read it by turning the pages backward, from right to left, as if reading a book written in Arabic or Hebrew. One hopes this error was restricted to the one copy which fell into the hands of the reviewer.
Another obvious editorial lapse was in the arrangement of local and foreign cases. Apart from the unnecessary duplication of both, spanning pages xvii to xxvii, the cases were not listed in the proper alphabetical order.
Although listed from A through to Z, the arrangement was not diligently followed through, thus a case like “Andrew Monye v. T.F.T.M (2002) 15 NWLR (part 789) 209” is followed by “ACB v. Okonkwo (1997) 1 NWLR (part 480) 194.” In the same vein, “Gwaram v. Superintendent of Prisons (1960) NRNLR 5,” precedes “Garba v. University of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (part 18) 550.” These are just a few samples.
Contrary to the standard for texts of this nature, there is no reference to the pages in the book where the cited cases are mentioned. Might it be a gimmick to get readers to read the entire book, not just snippets of it? To compound matters, there is no list explaining the abbreviations of the law reports.
It could be argued that this is optional, but even in texts directed solely at law students and lawyers, this is always present, how much more in a book directed at the general public. Another omission is the lack of a subject matter index. An index, no matter how basic, would have been welcome and greatly eased the burden of many a researcher making use of the book.
Also, it is rather upsetting that the author puts the Statue of Liberty on the cover of a book with a Nigerian purview. Megwara attempts to explain this by saying it is done in recognition of the United States being the first country to incorporate a Bill of Rights into its constitution, but it is hard to believe that no images or graphics could be found in Nigeria to convey the message of liberty and freedom.
This exposé of the shortcomings in this book is not to ridicule the writer, but to encourage him to improve upon them in revised, or subsequent editions since it is to be hoped that the he will not stop at this first edition, but will strive to ensure updated revisions to cover developments in the area of human rights.
In validation of the author’s claims, the book is written in a simple manner, easily understood by lawyers and non-lawyers alike. One hopes that this bid to keep it simple is not the reason why many avoidable proofing errors were glaring in the book.
On the whole, apart from these editing errors and the odd typographical error, mainly misspellings and wrong use of tense, Megwara’s style is lucid and his thoughts flow logically into one another, there is little or no disconnect. He does not resort to using difficult, long-winding words or unnecessary Latin terminology.
His points are put forth convincingly but not in a brash, aggressive manner. Despite the fact that it is an academic work, the book is difficult to put down once you have begun reading it. The author has put to good use a highly developed research skill and practical knowledge of his subject to put together a work that should be recommended as a classic addition to the library of any person with even a passing interest in human rights.
• Damilare writes from Lagos