By the provisions of Section 35 (1) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) every Nigerian, including the appellant, has his right to personal liberty recognized and guaranteed. Therefore, the Court will not allow a party’s right to personal liberty to be breached or violated, except as it is permitted by the Constitution, through the exceptions specified therein. It should be noted that since there are exceptions stipulated in the Constitution itself, the right to personal liberty is not absolute, to the extent that it cannot be impaired, as a person’s liberty can be temporarily restrained, for example, upon reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a criminal offence or even to prevent him from committing a criminal offence. See Section 35(1) (c) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). See also the case of Emeka Ekwunugo v. Federal Republic of Nigeria and Anor. (2001) 6 NWLR (Pt. 708) 171 at 185, per Fabiyi, JCA (as he then was) where this Court stated as follows: “If there is a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed an offence, his liberty may be impaired temporarily. In the same vein, a person’s liberty may be tampered with so as to prevent him from committing an offence. In short, it is clear that no citizens freedom or liberty is absolute. The freedom or liberty of a citizen ends where that of the other man starts.” In the case of Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1048) 320 at 360, per Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, JSC, the Supreme Court also stated as follows: “The above provisions of Section 35 of the Constitution leave no one in doubt that the section is not absolute. Personal liberty of an individual within the contemplation of Section 35(1) of the Constitution is a qualified right in the context of this particulars case and any virtue of Subsection (1) (c) thereof which permits restriction on individual liberty in the course of judicial inquiry or where, rightly as in this case, the appellant was arrested and put under detention upon reasonable suspicion of having committed a felony. A person’s liberty, as in this case, can also be curtailed in order to prevent him from committing further offence(s). It is my belief as well that if every person accused of a felony can hide under the canopy of Section 35 of the Constitution to escape lawful detention then an escape route to freedom is easily and richly made available to persons suspected to have committed serious crimes and that will not augur well for the peace, progress, prosperity and tranquillity of the society. I find support in so saying from Irikefe JSC (as he then was) earlier pronounced in the case of Echeazu v. Commissioner of Police (1974) NMLR 308 at page 314.”

— M.A.A. Adumein JCA. Anibor V. EFCC (CA/B/305/2012, 11 DEC 2017)

Was this dictum helpful?