Atheist Society of Nigeria

We seek a Nigeria where public policies are based on rational reasoning and critical thinking and not influenced by religious beliefs

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Sunday, 19 May 2019

Free Expression, Guaranteed Possession






By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Within the context of Nigerian society, as this remains one of the most dynamic and exciting African states in the region, the importance for the secular comes in the form of the capability to speak their minds within specific restriction to speak their mind, to write the contents of their minds into electronics or onto paper with ink, or in some other manner, the Nigerian Constitution enshrines the right in Article 39.
In examination of Article 39(1), we can see the entitlement to freedom of expression within the most important document for the operation of Nigerian society. It states, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
In this, the summation of the right to freedom of expression replicates the freedom express oneself seen in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Indeed, if we look at the next three most populace nation-states in Africa – where Nigeria is the most populated, then the constitutions of Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa reflect these sentiments too.
In Ethiopia, Article 29 of the Constitution stipulates, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference. 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 media of his choice.”
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, its Constitution in Article 23 states, “All persons have the right to freedom of expression. This right implies the freedom to express their opinions and convictions, in particular by speech, in print and through pictures, subject to respect for the law, public order and morality.”
In South Africa, the Constitution in Article 16 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes— (a) freedom of the press and other media; (b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; (c) freedom of artistic creativity; and (d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.” There are some restrictions stated, too.
However, if we look into the general context of the right to freedom of expression, on even a preliminary analysis of the rights to freely express one’s views or oneself, the four most populace countries states the right to freedom of expression in line with the December 10, 1948 fundamental human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This wrangles back into the formal context of the law and the sociopolitical for Nigeria. It is a nation founded on the principle of an individual citizen or group of citizens with the right to speak their minds freely and as they deem fit.
As secular people, and as a super-minority of the population, your rights become extremely important for the maintenance of community, because of the continuous attempts to limit speech through a variety of formal and informal, or institutional and interpersonal, mechanism.
Article 39 in the Constitution of Nigeria continues in much the same rhetorical flourish of an affirmation of the right of freedom of expression with subsection (2):
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions:
Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfilment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for, any purpose whatsoever.
No prejudice about the general content of the prior section. Every Nigerian citizen has the right to create a means by which to express their views. Presumably, this can include the work from the social media posting of an ordinary person to the frontpages of The Vanguard. These become the foundational rights to be oneself in public, which, as many secular Nigerians may have experienced, does not necessarily translat into practice in everyday or daily life.
Life can be difficult, fraught with individual prejudice felt, and even self-censorship, which shows a deep inculcation of the values of self-repression and, thus, repression seen in the restriction of one’s own right to free expression through one’s own self-limited will. The Nigerian Constitution is a nuanced documents. In many respects, it provides a highly progressive and expansive and vision of the possibilities for individual Nigerians to express themselves in a free manner in public and to one another, directly or indirectly.
If we look at the final subsection, it provides some insight into the ways in which different rights and responsibilities in societies match one another, including considerations about the foundational importance of the proper and healthy functioning of a democratic society, where this becomes stipulated as nothing “in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”
In full, the final subsections state:
(3) Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society -
(a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
(b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.
In sum, the functioning of the democratic state of Nigeria should be balanced with the right to freedom of expression, as seems reasonable for the healthy functioning of the state. It does not necessarily stipulate, in any way, a pro-religion or an anti-religion stance in regards to freedom of expression, but only the limits about the reasonably justifiable balance with the health fot he democracy.

If a secular Nigerian, then know your rights; they’re important not only as an individual such as yourselves but also for the appropriate limits and functioning of a healthy democracy, which is the largest in Africa; both a point of achievement as a nation-state but also a huge responsibility.

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Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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Photo by Namnso Ukpanah on Unsplash

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