July 4th: What Nigeria can learn from America

Posted by Emeka Ugwuonye | 5 July 2013 | 3,756 times

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As a person that claims residency and allegiance to both America and Nigeria, there are two dates that I must have to deal with each year – July 4 and October 1. They mean the same thing to each of the respective countries. It is the day each nation was born and the citizens of each nation look at the day as the beginning of what they have got and the essence of their existence. For the people of a great nation, independence anniversary is celebrated as the beginning of their greatness or whatever virtue their country holds for them. For citizens of a failed or oppressive country, the date of independence is the beginning of their collective failure or oppression or suffering.

America began its existence as a country conceived and founded on the notion of liberty, freedom and democracy. In the American Declaration of Independence, the words of liberty and the duty of government to the people remain engraved in granite for posterity. And on a day like this, the words ring with much meaning to me:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The message of these words is inescapable –

(a) That all humans are created equal;

(b) That their creator endowed them with certain basic rights that could not be taken away from them;

(c) That such rights are right to Life, right to Liberty, and right to the Pursuit of Happiness;

(d) That to achieve these rights the citizens form a government, which must derive its powers from the consent of the people;

(e) That whenever the government becomes destructive of these rights, the people have another right—the right to change and remove that government and replace it with one that would pursue these ideals.

The above numbered principles are the kernel of the American independence philosophy. It is the foundation of their government and the key expression of the rights of the people. On July 4 each year, the Americans celebrate these ideals.

As a Nigerian, I have constantly faced the fact that the American ideals have not been reflected in the Nigerian experience. In Nigeria, the government is still oppressive and repressive of the rights of the people. Rights that should be deemed inalienable are in the Nigerian experience totally alienated from the people. The Nigerian government has constantly undervalued life. An up-and-coming young woman was beaten and paralyzed by a military officer who was charged with her safety. Young and old Nigerians are routinely rounded up and beaten and killed by the Nigerian government officials. In one instance alone, the Nigerian police summarily killed over 30 young men and dumped their bodies in a local river. Those were lives that meant very little to Nigerian government, as seen from the fact that nobody in the government has paid serious attention to such an egregious deprivation of life.

In the terrain of liberty, Nigeria remains a giant prison. Most of the attributes of liberty are lacking. Indeed, our prisons are filled by men and women who have not been convicted of any crimes. And those who managed to stay out of the prison walls do not have the liberty and freedom to live to their full potential. In place of the right to the pursuit of happiness, Nigerians have to endure misery, suffering and all manner of hardship. Above all, they never had the right to change or remove their government, which since turned its back to the inalienable rights of the people.

Today, as we celebrate freedom and the ideals of democracy in America on the anniversary of its independence, the members of DPA shall rededicate themselves to the quest for liberty, rule of law and justice in Nigeria and other remaining places in the world where the ideals of liberty are under persecution. This generation cannot say that history did not provide it an example to follow or the philosophy to guide them. The American experience, despite any imperfections, does provide us the example to follow and the philosophy to guide us.

I wish you all liberty and justice on the anniversary of American Independence.

Emeka Ugwuonye is a US-based lawyer and public affairs analyst. Photo shows Presidents Barack Obama of America and Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria shaking hands during the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

Source: News Express

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