The Yoruba Oro Festival and Section 41(1) & 42 (1&2) of the 1999 Constitution as Amended by Fortune C. Okorie, an Ogun State Base Legal Practitioner with Pegasus Legal & Associates.

PEGASUS LEGAL

Orò Festival is a patriarchal festival celebrated by some towns and settlements of Yoruba origin. It is usually done once a year. It is only celebrated by male descendants. The event/celebration ‘worships the god/orisha, Orò, the Yoruba deity of bullroarers and justice. The festival is accompanied with high-pitched swishing sounds believed to be made by the wife called Majowu for the entrance of Orò. During the festival, females and are not allowed to come outside but made to stay indoors for the full day while they move in at certain specified time throughout the week activities making the Oro Festival as oral history has it that Orò must not be seen by women.

A pertinent question to ask at this point in time is does a festival which requires women (females in general) to stay indoors for the full day against their wish in conformity with the Nigerian law? In other words, can an anti-woman festival stand the test of Nigerian law?

Section 41 of the 1999 constitution provides that:

(1) Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom. (underlining, mine for emphasis)

(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society-

(a) imposing restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed or is reasonably suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria; or

(b) providing for the removal of any person from Nigeria to any other country to:-

(i) be tried outside Nigeria for any criminal offence, or

(ii) undergo imprisonment outside Nigeria in execution of the sentence of a court of law in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty:

Provided that there is reciprocal agreement between Nigeria and such other country in relation to such matter.

A careful examination of the above provisions of the Constitution reveals that festivals in whatever form does not fall under the exemptions provided by the law. Section 1(1) and (3) of the same Constitution provides that:

(1) This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

(3) If any other law (including festivals or ceremonies) is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void. (emphasis mine)

Without mimicking words, it is very conspicuous standing by the above provision of the law that any practice in any form be it tradition, festival or ceremony which impedes the movement of any citizen of Nigeria is not in accordance with the law is null and void. Flowing from this, any citizen (female) who resides in any of the places where Orò Festival is observed or celebrated can successfully take out originating application for the enforcement of her fundamental human rights. Such individual can succeed in an action for false imprisonment.

In Okechukwu & Anor v. Nwosu & Anor (2018) LPELR-44893(CA) the Court gave a definition of false imprisonment as:

‘False imprisonment occurs when a person’s movement is restricted within an area against his will and without any lawful justification. The law is settled that in an action for false imprisonment, the claimant must show that the defendant was actively instrumental in setting the law in motion against him.’ – Per MISITURA OMODERE BOLAJI-YUSUFF, JCA.

It is not necessary to prove damages. In Onuchukkwu v. Fidelity Bank (2017) LPELR-50015(CA), the Court held that:

‘The law is also that in an action for false imprisonment, it is not necessary for a plaintiff to give evidence of damages in order to establish his cause of action or to be entitled to the award of damages. Once he proves that his right to free movement was unlawfully, wrongfully and unjustifiably breached and violated, he is generally entitled to the award of damages for the tort. Mandilas & K. vs. Apena (1969) 1 NWLR, 199. Okonkwo vs. Ogbogu (1996) 5 NWLR (449) 420. Afribank Nigeria Plc vs Onyima (2004) 2 NWLR (858) 654.’ – Per MOHAMMED LAWAL GARBA, JCA.

Some situational examples of false imprisonment include but not limited to the following:

  1. The defendant locking the plaintiff in a room without his permission.
  2. A security guard or a police officer detaining an individual due to their appearances or use of some religious symbols for an unreasonable amount of time.
  3. An armed robber in a bank restraining the right of the employees and customers to move freely.
  4. Restraining a patient from meeting their relatives in the hospital.
  5. It also includes deliberately giving medication to a patient without their consent under physical or emotional threat.

The case of Aigoro v. Anuebunwa is an illustration.

Apart from Section 41 Constitution giving every citizen the right to move freely, Section 42 (1)(a) of the same Constitution provides that ‘A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not by reason only that he is such a person be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject.’

It is high time we started doing-away with some traditional practices which offend the law as such practices do us more harm than good.

Fortune C. Okorie, Esq., An Associates with Pegasus Legal & Associates @ Pegasuslegalassociates@gmail.Com

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