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Who Can Be Lawfully Killed In Nigeria?

Who Can Be Lawfully Killed In Nigeria? Daily Law Tips (Tip 683) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)


Every person in Nigeria has a right to life. People cannot be killed except in four (4) extreme circumstances provided by the constitution of Nigeria. Hence, under the constitution of Nigeria, there are circumstances where the right to life of any person may be restricted and deprived. Where this is done in line with the constitution of Nigeria, it is a lawful restriction and deprivation. However, where any person is killed outside the approved provisions of the constitution of Nigeria, it is an unlawful violation of human right and the violator must be prosecuted. This work reveals the four (4) circumstances when any person in Nigeria may be lawfully killed.

The Right to Life:

Fundamental human rights are the natural entitlements of persons, they are legally provided by law and cannot be ordinarily denied by any person or government. Fundamental human rights are basic, elementary, mandatory, compulsory and unshakable entitlements of persons. Fundamental human rights are never purchased rather acquired by being a person (human being or corporate being).

All persons in Nigeria have a right to life. No person in Nigeria can be ordinarily killed by any other person. So, ordinarily, no law enforcement agency, military or para-military can kill any person in Nigeria. The Right to Life of all persons in Nigeria are among the fundamental human rights contained in the constitution of Nigeria ad must be respected.

Persons that Can Be Lawfully Killed in Nigeria?

The Right to life is fundamental human right that must be respected by all persons (including, government, the military and paramilitary). However, the constitution of Nigeria allows fundamental human rights to be restricted in certain rare circumstances with strict adherence to certain constitutional procedures.

In the constitution of Nigeria, there are special circumstances when the Right to Life of any person in Nigeria can be lawfully restricted/suspended. In other words, there are special conditions where a person in Nigeria can be lawfully killed. The only circumstances where the constitution of Nigeria allows the right to life of a person to be deprived are;

  1. Where there is a valid order of court in respect of a criminal case, ordering that a Convict be executed (killed). It is only a court of competent jurisdiction in Nigeria, after hearing a criminal case, that can convict a defendant and sentence the defendant to death. Example is where a person has been found guilty of murder by a State High Court after hearing a criminal case, the court have sentenced the murder to death, to be killed by hanging.
  2. Where a person is killed by another person in self defence or in defence of another person or in defence of a property from unlawful violence. A person can be lawfully killed, where the person killed in applying unlawful violence to another person and the killer acted in a reasonable defence. The killer must prove that the killed person was applying unlawful violence (like, shooting at the killer) and that the killer had no other reasonable option apart from applying similar violence. For example, an armed robber that shot several times at a victim and somehow the victim retaliates by throwing a knife that killed the armed robber. It is important to note that where a man is slapped and in retaliation, he used an axe on the slapper, the action of the man is not reasonable and equal. This is the exception that permits the law enforcement agents to shot and kill armed criminals during exchange of bullets/fire, where there are no reasonable means of arresting such armed criminals.
  3. Where a person is killed during a lawful arrest or in a process to prevent the escape of a lawfully detained person, so far as a necessary reasonable force is applied. The circumstances of each case matters and more importantly, the concerned law enforcement agent must be highly professional and must have exhausted every other reasonable option. For example, a law enforcement agent should not shoot a handcuffed suspect merely because the suspect was kicking the law enforcement agent with his legs, when the law enforcement agent could have tied the legs. Hence, only very reasonable minimal force is acceptable.
  4. Where a person is killed from a reasonable and necessary force applied by law enforcement agents to suppress riot, insurrection or mutiny, it may be a lawful killing. During riot, insurrection or mutiny the law enforcement agents can apply reasonable force as may be necessary to end such act, and any death resulting from such is not a violation of the right to life.

Recommendation and Conclusion:

Apart from the above four (4) circumstances, there is no room, excuse or permission for any person whatsoever to shot or kill any person in Nigeria. Any killing outside the above 4 circumstances is an extra-judicial killing and should be prosecuted in court. Also, claims that any killing was done under any of the 4 circumstances should always be thoroughly investigated to avoid abuse and to promote justice.

Where there is a violation of fundamental human rights or an unlawful restriction of fundamental human rights, the victim or the supporters of the victim should approach a State High Court or the Federal High Court for adequate remedies/compensation. It is easy and fast to get judgment in such cases, because they are urgently treated.


  1. Section 1, 2, 3, 33, 318 and 319 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  2. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (on meaning and nature of fundamental human rights) in the case of RANSOME-KUTI & ORS v. AG FEDERATION & ORS (1985) LPELR-2940(SC)
  3. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (on meaning and nature of fundamental human rights) in the case of AGBAI & ORS v. OKOGBUE (1991) LPELR-225(SC).
  4. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (on when and why fundamental human rights can be restricted/suspended) in the case of DOKUBO-ASARI v. FRN (2007) LPELR-958(SC).
  5. Onyekachi Umah, “Human Rights That Can Never Be Restricted Even In War, Pandemic or State of Emergency (Daily Law Tips [Tip 539]) <> accessed 18 October 2020.
  6. Onyekachi Umah, “Any Security Agency’s Manual/Protocol That Allows Torture Even For National Security Cases Is Unlawful And Its Officers Are Liable”, (Daily Law Tip [Tip 412] <> accessed 5 October 2020. 
  7. Onyekachi Umah, “Does The President/Governors Have Powers To Lockdown Any Part Of Nigeria Or Restrict Human Rights?” (Daily Law Tips [Tip 537]) <> accessed 18 October 2020.
  8. Onyekachi Umah, “When and How Can Government Prohibit Protest In Nigeria” (com, 19 October 2020) <> accessed 21 October 2020.
  9. Onyekachi Umah, “What Is The Punishment For Any Person Including Police Officers That Tortures Another Person”, (Daily Law Tip [251]) <> accessed 5 October 2020.










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