Freedom at independence
The commemoration of Nigeria’s independence when the Union Jack was lowered took place two Fridays ago. The only opportunity to cling glasses in this column was last week but for my attention that was drawn to the unspeakable suffering of commuters on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and that of communities abutting it. It was independence from colonial rule when Nigeria attained the freedom to preside over her own affairs. It is often said that with political freedom, economic freedom ensues. Other freedoms are regarded as given, especially in a democratic setting—such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of conscience, freedom from torture, freedom from servitude and forced labour and so on. Because the suffering on the road negates the hopes and promises of the independence I shelved writing to commemorate the occasion last week. What then were the aspirations and hopes the independence brandished before the gaze of Nigerians?
Let’s go down memory lane to have some idea of the promises of the October 01, 1960. “As the clock struck mid-night, they took their positions on the dais and watched the lowering of the Union Jack (British Flag) and hosting of the Nigerian flag…And so ended 100 years of British rule…100 years of colonial bondage…And I am happy. And I am sobbing…”
That was the classic impressionistic reporting by Alhaji Babatunde Jose, the newspaper wizard, an exceptionally gifted editor and newspaper administrator extra-ordinary, the one and unforgettable managing director/chairman of the Daily Times. He took it upon himself to personally cover the momentous and historic event. He filed his report from the Race Course years later renamed Tafawa Balewa Square. The report was appropriately bylined Babatunde Jose, Editor, Daily Times Newspaper on 01 October, 1960. For those of us privileged to have passed through his hands in our magic kingdom and empire, the largest newspaper in Africa South of the Sahara boasting of 15 flourishing publications, the report and the thoughts of Alhaji Jose cannot but stir up nostalgic memories. For the campaigners and freedom fighters, the generality of Nigerians it was a dream come true. School children marched through the streets to gather on fields designated for the great day, waving the Green-White National Flag to blow away the Empire Day and welcome the dawn of independence and freedom in their land.
On the occasion of the 62nd anniversary of the independence two Fridays ago, President Muhammadu Buhari said in his address to the nation: “When you elected me, I readily acknowledged that the tasks before me were daunting but not insurmountable because of the growing national consensus that our chosen route to national development was democracy…This democracy was to be anchored on a clear understanding, application and the principles of separation of powers supported by a reformed public service that is more effective…Mindful of the tasks before us, we took some time in settling down and we repositioned the economy by providing strategic interventions in core areas at both the federal and sub-national levels. One of the areas where we have made significant progress is in the eradication of deeply entrenched corruption that permeates all facets of our national development…As we continue to de-escalate the security challenges that confronted us at inception of this administration, newer forms alien to our country began to manifest especially in the areas of kidnappings, molestations/killings of innocent citizens, banditry, all of which are being addressed by our security forces. I share the pains Nigerians are going through and I assure you that your resilience and patience would not be in vain as this administration continues to reposition as well as strengthen the security agencies to enable them to deal with all forms of security challenges.”
How much the challenges of nation building have gone to thwart the dreams and aspirations held aloft by Nigerians at independence is not the focus of this column today, but his recognition some years back that an anniversary provides opportunity for thanksgiving, reflection and rededication. I want to believe chroniclers must be busy gathering materials for his testimonial, come May 29, 2023. As it is in the lives of all human beings, so is it in the life of a nation. It is an opportunity to look back: How has this journey fared? Then a resolution ensues for renewed striving to attain the goal. Are independence and freedom the veritable vehicles for reaching the goal? What is the meaning of independence and what is the meaning of freedom? Independence is not being dependent, whether as a nation, community, or a human being. It is a state that the nation does not receive dictation from anywhere. It is in a position even if influenced by experiences and lessons of other lands, to take its own decision thought to be in its interest, and own that decision. It is in a position to take its destiny in its own hands—after weighing and examining.
So was it that the other day, I was reading to brush up my familiarity with the International bill of Rights. How refreshing it was to find, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles such as: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”; “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”; “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms;” “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” There are 30 Articles under this declaration, and 31 under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.
Freedoms are derived from human as well as civil rights, that is, from recognition of inalienable rights inherent in every human being as an intrinsic part of his being that is by virtue of his being as a human person, and from rights conferred by society in accordance with its own light. In a majority of countries, constitutions guaranteeing these rights are modeled after the United Nations declarations to which they may have been signatories. Indeed, the Covenant is specially directed at the states Parties. Lawyers in human rights struggle are quick to remind governments of their pledge to uphold the covenant. There are also elaborate provisions that guarantee economic and political rights—rights to self-determination. “By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, according to Article 1, Part 1.
Despite all these guarantees, there are moments of a feeling of unfreedom even for the purportedly free man. There is a feeling of unfreedom in the circle of nobility, of kings, the emperors and the powerful. What then is freedom if the king and the lawmaker whose words may be law sometimes find they are in bondage? A great deal of progress has been made by many countries to secure freedom and liberties for mankind in their march through time and civilisation. Indeed, a civilised nation is that which professes its belief in freedom and liberties. At the end of World War 1, international concern for preservation of human rights heightened and materialised in the charter of the League of Nations. Despite the popularisation of the charter and voluntary and pious declaration of adherence to its provisions, our world is still enveloped in insecurity. Man feels in chain everywhere from the high to the lowly, in the society, in neighbourhoods, in the market place, in the Stock Exchange market, in colleges, in homes.
Progress in finding freedom can only be made when we come to know its meaning. What is often regarded as unfreedom is the physical manifestation of burden, a man in jail, for example. But freedom lies only in liberation from the bondage of passion, that is, conquest of passion, self-conquest whether by a governor, teacher, minister, businessman, industrialist, or a farm hand. Entanglement arises from deviation from principles of life, principles governing relationships. A man may be entangled by passion of smoking or drinking, passion for pursuit of power or influence, wealth, public acknowledgement, fame, or recognition. A man who is a triple chief quickly corrects you even if in error you address him as Mister; he takes offence. In the process many let go and lack of consideration towards fellow human beings follows. In all pursuits, everyman receives the inner warning as to the rightness or wrongness of his intended action. Thus, unfreedom results from disobedience to the principles of life.
This engenders vices which are called wrong-doing. A wrong-doer feels under pressure to rid himself of his vices. With resistance mounted against the pressure, he receives sanctions out of order that upholds life and which seeks unyieldingly to put him in line. In resistance he tears out, gets angrier. If in power he resolves to deal with the lesser man. If a lesser man, harassed by economic hardship, he decides to wreck his employer’s enterprise. The resistance consequently brings pain and horror. He feels crushed and in the circumstances he is completely helpless. The man who is free, therefore, is he who submits voluntarily to the principles of life. By so doing, he will come to the appreciation of the higher order and wider correlations of life for principles mean origin. They are the Laws of Creation and the Laws are the expression of the Will of the Almighty Father, the Creator.
When burdened, a man becomes immobile within. This leads to ponderousness, indolence, love of sleep, and love of ease. Immobility within leads to impaired vision and thought. Laws constructed from such distorted vision and thought must necessarily be defective and so the society finds itself in bondage. Because bondage is unnatural it is deviation from order and harmony swinging and upholding Creation and creatures within it, there is imbalance, which byproduct is disharmony, distrust, and lack of respect for one and another. From impaired judgment and defective law, there must arise social injustice; from social injustice instability and stagnation. Since life is all motion, there can be no standstill; hence there can be no stagnation. It is either progress or decline. Commotion results from decline. Force and coercion are called for. There are protests; there are arrests, there is imprisonment and there are outcries.
National independence, economic independence and what have you must mean the independence of each individual which also must correspond with these laws of morality and decency, eternally flowing from outside of all mankind. The free man is, thus, he who is unburdened within. Since the independence of a nation is tantamount to the independence of its people, a truly independent country is one majority of its people are independent deriving from freedom from burden within. People unburdened within are mature within and inconsequence attracts help of calm confidence and sunshine happiness that flows from On High.