Section 17(1) of the 1979 and 1999 Constitution state that the state social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice. The key words here are Freedom, Equality and Justice. Freedom is a constitutional right contained in chapter IV of the constitution. The provision in this chapter re-emphasises it. The idea of equality is of great constitutional importance. It is the bedrock of the rule of law. Justice is an expression that is contained in many sections of the constitution. Section 6 of the constitution deals with it. The idea of justice is also contained in section 33 which deals with fair hearing and chapter VII of the Constitution which deals with the Judicature.
Section 17(2) (a) – (d) has provisions relating to equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law, respect for the human person and dignity, exploitation of human resources for the good of the community, independence of the judiciary and fair hearing. These provisions are also contained in chapter IV of the Constitution dealing with fundamental human rights.
Section 17(3) provides that “the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that
(a) all citizens without discrimination on any ground whatsoever have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunities to secure suitable employment;
(b) conditions of work are just and humane, and that there are adequate facilities for leisure and for social, religious and cultural life;
(c) the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused;
(d) there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons; (e) there is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account sex, or on any other ground whatsoever;
(f) children, young persons and the aged are protected against any exploitation whatsoever, and against moral and material neglect; and (g) provision is made for public assistance in deserving cases or other conditions of need”.
The policy directives contained in section 17(3) are policy directives. By and large they relate to social security. They are well framed but they are not justiciable. This fact must have led Prof. de Smith to observe thus:
“To fail to guarantee the right to work or to enjoy social security may be bad politics, but it is not
thought to be bad law; for a constitution is primarily a legal document; rights ought not to be guaranteed in it unless they can be judicially enforced, and a right to social security manifestly cannot.”32
The usefulness of a social benefit depends on the ability of one to get the benefit and the opportunity or right to ask for its enforcement where the right has been trampled upon. As stated above, the social security provisions are not justiciable. For example the government cannot be sued for its inability to provide adequate medical and health facilities for all persons. Indeed, there are many towns without portable water, electricity and health centre not to mention a standard hospital.
Education is of vital importance to the nation. The strength of a nation depends on its human resources. Education is the best means of developing a nation and on a personal level, it is the best way to developing an individual. In line with the above, section 18 of chapter II of the 1979 Constitution (1979 and 1999) provide that government shall direct is policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. In line with the need of the nation, there is also the provision that government shall promote science and technology. In its strive to eradicate illiteracy, government shall as and when practicable provide:
- free, compulsory and universal primary education;
- free secondary education;
- free university education; and
- free adult literacy programme.
The efficacy of the desire to eradicate illiteracy is weakened by the provision that the methods of eradicating illiteracy shall be adopted only when it is practicable. The question then is, when shall it be practicable? That there are no equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels find practical expression in the various unity schools in existence in the various states in Nigeria and special primary schools. Indeed, the emptiness of this provision was clearly brought out in the decision in Archbishop Anthony Olubunmi Okogie (Trustee of Roman Catholic School) & Ors. V. Attorney-General of Lagos State. For a clear manifestation of right to education and assertion of right in this regard, the better provision to consider is section 35 of the constitution which deals with right to freedom of thought.
Foreign Policy Objectives
Section 19 states that the state shall promote African Unity as well as total political, economic, social and cultural liberation of Africa and all other forms of international cooperation conducive to the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect and friendship among all peoples and states, and shall combat social discrimination in all its ramifications. Nigeria is a member of comity of nations. On continental level, she is a member of the African Unity (formerly Organisation of African Unity), on sub-regional level, she is a member of the Economic Community of West African States. Nigeria is also a member of International bodies like the United Nations. It is not unusual for these organisations or bodies to enter into Treaties and Conventions. Section 19 recognises this fact and indeed gives credence to the assertion that there is need for international co-existence. Having regard to the non-justiciability of this section, it is no more than a reminder of the need to belong to a number of international bodies or organisations. Solace can however be found in section 12 of the Constitution which enjoins the country to enter into treaties and makes it possible to make such treaties part of our law.