n African Human Rights Law Journal - Raising legal giants : the agency of the poor in the human rights jurisprudence of the Nigerian Appellate Courts, 1990-2011

Volume 15, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



This article examines the extent to which the jurisprudence of the Nigerian appellate courts has expanded, maintained or contracted the opportunities of the poor for exercising as robustly as possible their own 'agency' to act to redress human rights abuses committed against them during the period between 1990 and 2011. In doing so, the article mostly utilises a critical socio-legal framework which situates Nigeria's human rights law relating to the agency of the poor within its historical, social, economic and political context. Specifically, it utilises - among others - the kernel ideas of Upendra Baxi's seminal trade-related market-friendly human rights theory. While it is often assumed that the weak, excluded and deprived are passive victims of their condition, the starting position of the article is that, where sufficient opportunities exist in law and policy, or are allowed by the adequate availability of resources, or are made possible through pro-poor judicial action, the poor are actually able to resist this characteristic and to struggle to transform their life conditions. The main question the article addresses is the extent to which the Nigerian appellate courts have - in the course of developing their human rights praxis - helped to provide or restrict opportunities for poor Nigerians to exercise their agency within the legal system so as to more effectively 'struggle to transform their life conditions'. With what conceptual apparatuses have these courts examined and decided the relevant cases in ways that expand or contract the agency of the poor to seek legal redress and social justice? We argue that many factors interact in this regard to produce certain outcomes, some within and others outside the control of the courts. We also believe that courts should, where necessary, ameliorate the factors within their control such that the poor can more robustly exercise their agency in this regard.

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