In his inaugural address the 44th president of the United States Barack H. Obama echoed "ÔÇŽwe reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." Though being a veiled attack on his predecessor foreign policies and war on terror, is no less apt to our own context. Barack Obama was in our own context paying homage to those Nigerians and Africans in general who have stood firm and said no to a false bifurcation of safety and ideals - as expressed in truth, honesty and justice. Barack understands that safety and ideals cannot be separated in the life of the human person. This does not mean that safety and ideals - expressed in truth, justice, freedom and equality - are one and the same thing. The life of the human person is one that is intertwined with a sense of dignity and it is always from this truth, as expressed in the values of honesty, justice and freedom that the safety of man derives. The life of the human person as such is that which must be lived according to that dignity which is proper to him. Human life is then safe when it maintains those truths which are worthy of humans. Bodily safety is not enough rather a bodily safety that encompasses the safety of that dignity, hence the falsehood of the bifurcation.
This falsehood has been noted by many - both philosophers and religious men. The utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill once said that "a man who has nothing which he cares about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature.." ("The contest in America" in Dissertation and Discussions, Boston: William V.Spencer, 1867, p.208) while Benedict the XVI, the Roman Pontiff writing in Spe et Salvi said "ÔÇŽif my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reigns supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie." (Spe et Salvi no 38) Our own Soyinka in the BBC Reith Lectures of 2004-Climate of Fear, on Lecture 4 holds that the Yoruba have a common saying: Iku ya j'esin lo which literally translates as "sooner death, than indignity." In the end, to suffer and risk bodily safety for the sake of truth and justice, upholding the dignity of man is to say no to that falsehood which many seek to perpetuate as a choice.
In this new dawn of history which Barack reminds us that that falsehood must be jettisoned in its entirety , I wish to use this opportunity to sing the praise of all those who have been making all necessary effort to resist that falsehood when and wherever the Nigerian government presents it to them. They must be reminded that a government that thrives in mendacity will always present mendacious choices and they should never be weary of pointing out and rejecting the false choices. This is not an opportunity to name names but I wish to loud the untiring Gani, ever ebullient Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Femi Falana, Oronto Douglas,Jonathan Elendu, Ben Nwabueze, Odimegwu Ojukwu, Omoyele Sowore and all up coming activists both at home and abroad, those who have engaged in activisms through cyber space and other avenues. You continue to remind us that resisting false choices can and should be done.
In the face of the increasing and audacious presentation of that false choice by the Nigerian government - the arrest of internet warriors, the closure of media post, etc - there is the danger of retrieving to our comfort zones for the sake of safety. However, we continue to remind ourselves that retrieving to that comfort zone will only allow untruth to reign supreme and destroy our country and its inhabitants. We must continue to champion ideals even in the face of hostilities from the government and her lapdogs. And if the government fails to realize, as President Barack said, that they are on the wrong side of history, they will cave in since the ground beneath them has shifted.
Barack in addressing Americans addressed us. There must be constant vigilance for our society to develop. Barack reminds us that greatness is not a given, it must be earned. Earning greatness in our context is working against all enemies of democracy and dignity. In other words there must not be a compromise between justice and expediencey, between truth and falsehood, democracy and dictatorship. We also wish to remind, in all stridency, all those who, while given that false choice between safety and ideals went for the former, all the umezoke's of Nigerian politics, the Maurice Iwu's, the four dishonourable judges of the supreme court and their ilk, and all Nigerians who thrive in false choices that their time is up. They either move with history and unclench the fists of mendacity or snap at the heels of truth.
For our government and leaders, they must realize that visions alone (2020, 2000, 2010) does not progress any society. Those visions must be matched with values. As Barack succinctly puts it "ÔÇŽ hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths." If we do not place ideals and values beside all agenda - seven or eight points, progress will not happen like a miracle and Nigeria may remain hopeless after the year 2020.
Anosike Wilson writes from Singapore