Once upon a time, I used to write lengthy notes on Facebook, mostly around the theme of the need for Nigerian unity. As a matter of fact, that was where I honed my writing skills. I was going through them this week and I saw this particular one and it still resonates with me deeply, six years after I first wrote it. So I have decided to republish it here. Enjoy.
A few months ago, I was at a public function and we all stood up to sing the National Anthem, or rather, to listen to a rendition of the National Anthem at the commencement of the event. At that point, I eased my mind into listening carefully to the words of our National Anthem for the first time in many years:
“Arise O compatriots,
Nigeria’s call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom……”
Bound in freedom? That sounds paradoxical. How can one be bound in freedom? Isn’t freedom itself supposed to release you from bondage? I pondered over this thought that night and several nights after. I kept asking myself, what does this mean?
Gradually, the answer has come to me, not like an epiphany, but rather a slow realization. The Nigerian Constitution grants us a lot of freedom rights: the freedom of association, the freedom to live wherever we choose within the country, the freedom to elect and be elected, the freedom to pursue whatever interests we so choose provided that those interests do not cause harm to others, and also the freedom of worship, in whatsoever we chose, as long as that worship is not inimical to the safety and well-being of others.
But lately, we have not allowed these freedoms in toto. Before I hear you blame the government, let us first examine ourselves. When we do not allow people settle wherever they so choose as Nigerians, using myopic terms such as indigeneship and state of origin to limit their opportunities, we are also doing it to ourselves. Whenever we do not allow people to practice their religion in peace and without being persecuted, then we have limited their freedoms. The freedom of people to pursue their interests, to create wealth for themselves and the society, that which the government has continuously refused to provide the enabling environment for, has also continued to keep us in bounds without freedom.
What more can I say? Have we been allowed to elect whoever we so choose into public offices? I know this is a rheotorical question because we all know the answer to it.
What we fail to realize is that the framers of the constitution did not just include these freedom rights in there for being sake, but because attached to it is something integral to the survival of a nation. Let us go back to the last two lines of the National Anthem:
“One nation bound in freedom,
Peace and Unity.”
Did you see that? It is a cause and effect relationship. Being bound in our freedoms is what guarantees us our peace and unity. We can never enjoy respite from ethno-religious conflicts when we create second-class citizens in our areas based on their ethnicity and religious affiliation. Whenever we restrict the opportunities of people around us to educational, career and public service opportunities because they are “sons of the soil”, we restrict the creation of more wealth in the society. We create more disgruntled members of the society who will very likely misdirect their anger on innocent ones in conflicts and provide ready material in the hands of troublemakers. And also importantly, until we are given the free hand to elect whoever we so wish, there will always be inefficiency in our government because the inefficient ones are, of course, the ones that were not elected, not to mention the fact that they lack public support.
We have to learn to allow people to live their lives as they so wish within the ambits of the law and to practice their religions and ethnic customs as long as these practices do not cause us any harm. Wherever you are, wherever you originate from, you should have the right to aspire to whatever office you so desire and make use of every opportunity that comes your way, “indigene” or “settler”. And finally, we must continue to demand for free, fair and credible elections to pick our leaders.
Unless these freedoms are given to us and we give to others, we will never be bound together in peace and unity.
God bless you, and above all, God continue to bless Nigeria.