AuthorAdewumi, Afolasade A.


Today, the world is at war with the global pandemic, COVID-19. In this war, various countries, international organisations and non-governmental organisations continue to survey the full range of impact that the outbreak has had on the world in a bid to respond effectively. One such impact is on the enjoyment of international human rights and specifically in this context, on the right to cultural life as guaranteed by Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human beings have been created to be diverse with various social interests. Individuals can act freely, communicate and engage in creative activities to fully develop their personalities and enjoy harmonious life.

The right to cultural life, as recognised by international human rights law, represents another core right that has been significantly affected by the emergence of COVID-19, as the lockdown has prevented people all over the world from moving around freely and associating physically in large groups thereby hindering the exercise of this right in this regard. How Nigerians are adapting to this sudden change is discussed in this article using legal theory, unstructured interview and a survey.


    'Doing' is akin to dancing, on stage. We live. We are seen. We breathe meaning and purpose. We are part of the ongoing creation process if we so choose. Whose lives have we touched? Whose lives have touched us? Who have we become, after the 'dance'?

    (Deborah Ruiz Wall, OAM) (1)

    Nigeria, a nation located in West Africa, (2) is the most populous African country with over 200 million people, (3) 250 ethnic groups, each with their own way of life, and various languages. The predominant tribes are the Igbos, the Hausas and the Yorubas. Nigeria's culture is both tangible and intangible. (4) The tangible are the physical things that represent or preserve cultural details such as food, money (cowries), textiles, mortars and pestles, tombs, etc. (5) The intangible include language, religious beliefs, festivals, music and dance, traditions etc. This form is abstract but possess greater impact on the lives of Nigerians. (6) For instance, we have the annual Argungu festivals in Kebbi State, the Boat Regatta in Rivers State, Fattening Festival in Cross River State, the Eyo festival of Lagos State, the Agemo festival in Ijebu Ode amongst others.

    Values play an important role in various Nigerian cultures. Value, meaning a sense of conviction a person or a group of people live by, has been found to be woven into the fabric of various Nigerian cultures with several strategies of enforcing them. (7) Generally, actions which are in line with these values are approved by the people.

    In December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed by the Chinese authorities of cases of pneumonia caused by a new strand of Coronavirus virus previously unknown in humans in Wuhan, China. (8) Today, now popularly regarded as COVID-19, a term used to indicate Coronavirus disease of 2019, the virus has attained pandemic status due to its geographical spread. (9) From direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person to touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and humans travelling across the globe, the COVID-19 infection as of late December 2020 has spread across the globe infecting around 80 million people and causing the deaths of nearly 1.8 million. (10) The COVID-19 infection was first discovered in Nigeria on 27 February 2020 when an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on the 25 February 2020. (11)

    Multiple countries, including Nigeria, in a bid to combat the spread have since embarked on lockdown, closing their borders, imposing travel restrictions, and requiring fourteen-day quarantine on all returning travellers. (12) However, while the virus--the latest of the five global health emergencies since 2005--has had a significant impact on the world's health sector, (13) it has also spiralled and raised other cogent issues.

    It is noteworthy that the COVID-19 pandemic has had human rights implications across the globe. From affecting the enjoyment of guaranteed human rights to necessitating newer measures to protecting the rights of individuals across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised core human rights issues. (14) However, while the human rights dimensions of the right to health, the right to freedom from discrimination, and the right to life have become prominent in the wake of the pandemic, it has also had severe implications on the right to cultural life.

    Similarly, the right to cultural life has been overlooked in the theory and practice of international human rights, while being regarded as more of a luxury compared to first-generation rights such as the right to life and freedom from torture; and likely to legitimise cultural practices that conflict with particular human rights. (15) Regardless of the above, the right to cultural life represents an essential right, one that has gained attention in recent years. (16) This right has developed to involve the right to take part in cultural life; the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications; and the right to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interest resulting from any scientific, artistic or literary production which one authors. (17)

    This article, which is a study on the impact of COVID-19 on the cultural life of Nigerians, employs legal theory, unstructured interview and a survey to arrive at a logical conclusion. The article is divided into four parts, the first being this introductory. The second part appraises the right to cultural life which is a subset of cultural rights. The third part discusses COVID-19 pandemic and the cultural life of Nigerians. The fourth part is the conclusion.


    The right to cultural life is a subset of cultural rights guaranteed by a plethora of international human rights instruments, including Article 27 of the UDHR, Article 15 of the ICESR, among others. (18) Similarly, this right to engage in the cultural or artistic life of the community is affirmed by various regional instruments notably Article 17(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) as well as Article 14 of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (19) Article 15(1) of the ICESCR provides thus:

  3. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone:

    (a) To take part in cultural life.

    (c) To benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or artistic production of which he is the author."

    From the preceding, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognises the right to partake in cultural life and, as an incidence, to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interest resulting from any cultural production of which he is the author.

    2.1 The Right to Take Part in Cultural Life

    The right to take part in cultural life, as established by section 15(l)(a) of the ICESCR, presupposes three components. (20) First, this right implies the right to freely choose one's identity (21) and participate in personal cultural practices as well as the expression of oneself in the language of one's choice. Second, it involves the right of access to one's culture, that is, the right to know one's own culture and that of others through education and information. This second ambit also extends to the right to follow a way of life associated with the use of cultural goods and resources such as land, water, biodiversity, language, or specific institutions, and the right to benefit from the cultural heritage and creations of others. Third, it involves the right to contribute to the creation of material, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional expressions of the community. (22) This ambit includes the right to take part in the elaboration and implementation of policies that have an impact on cultural rights. This right can be expressed both as an individual and a collective right. (23)

    Furthermore, States Parties have a tripartite obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil the components of the right to cultural life as enunciated above. (24) Similarly, this obligation includes that States must protect cultural heritage in all its forms and at all times. (25) The antecedent is in line with the responsibility of States for the preservation of cultural heritage. (26) Hence, although these instruments are drafted simply to ensure the protection of cultural heritage and do not confer rights on any individual since cultural heritage includes resources that enable one to enjoy cultural rights effectively, their preservation is thus necessary for the effectiveness of the right to partake in cultural life. (27) It is in light of this that the prohibition on deliberate destruction of cultural...

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