Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions – Section 39, 1999 constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria. I will like to tell you what the term freedom of speech means to me but before i share with you my personal i deologies on the subject, allow me to give you a little bit of background. I am sure you must have heard of the term “freedom of speech” at one time or the other. Democracies have long grappled with the issue of the limits, if any, to place on the expression of ideas and beliefs. The dilemma dates back at least to ancient Greece, when the Athenians, who cherished individual freedom, nevertheless prosecuted Socrates for his teachings
, claiming that he had corrupted young people and insulted the gods.
The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas using one’s body and property to anyone who is willing to receive them. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, as with libel, slander, obscenity, sedition (including, for example inciting ethnic hatred), copyright violation, revelation of information that is classified or otherwise. It’s due to a percieved breach of classified information that the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are on the run today, hunted through various cities of the world for their freedom of expression.
To novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan: “Put in architectural terms, the triumphal arch of an open society has as its coping stone on free expression”. Internet activist Wael Ghonim, a leader in Eqypt’s revolution borrows a friend’s simple definition, “freedom of expression is the belief in the right of others to say things that you don’t want to hear”. Award-winning Turkish novelist Elif Shafak suggests that “freedom of expression is the one freedom that works like a powerful glue, holding together all other freedoms and rights”. Whatever your personal definition, the right to speak out, to access information and to uphold truth is one that we must continue to fight for whatever the challenges.
My first introduction to the concept of freedom of speech came when i was just a little boy while traveling with my father to visit my grandmother and relatives, i guess i was about 7yrs old, my Dad and i had only ourselves for company for the whole 3 hour drive from Lagos to Osun state, where Grandma lived and our home-town is situated. Suddenly, i felt the immense need to pee but here we were in the middle of nowhere and miles away from a toilet which i was used to. My very ovservant dad noticed my constant knee jerking for a few minutes before he asks me “what is wrong”?. Finally i reveal to him that i really need to use the toilet. Right before he pulls over to the side of the road so i could do my business, he looks me in the eye, calls my name and says ” you must always speak your mind when you want or need something and when you have an opinion no matter what it is, that’s your right”. That statement has stayed with me over the years and has played a major role in what “fredom of speech” has now come to mean to me.
Freedom of expression is not just my right to say whatever i may well please. It is my political right to speak against bad government policies and the irresponsibility of public officers, freedom of expression is my social right to speak against vices, freedom of expression is my moral right to champion the course of good and castigate evil. It is my human right to share my knowledge and ideas with everyone in other contribute to making society a better place. It is the right that allows me stand before you this moment and say my piece. It is the tool by which the great men and women who shared their ideas and opinions such as Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Fela Kuti, Obafemi Awolowo, Robert Einstein and Margaret Thatcher have shaped the history of the world. It is the compass that guides the millions of Nigerian youths who today are constantly calling for a systemic revolution in the corporate governance of Nigeria’s mineral and human capital wealth. It is our right to inquire from our public officers what they are doing or what they have done with our resources. Freedom of expression for me is the tool by which I am going to change my Country and then the world.
I do not however hold this right alone, so do you. Within you is the right to say “this writer is just talking bullocks” and discard this post as you will a piece of rubbish or to realise that as an humanbeing, your contributions to humanity must be positive and proactive. You must also raise your voice and share your ideas on how humanity can move forward and how our nation can excel. I look forward to hearing your voice and reading your thought provoking, earth changing and nation building ideas.
Adedunmade Onibokun Esq.