Is Liberty An Utopian Concept?

The Intricacies Of Freedom In The 21st Century

by Jerry Chiemeke

Is Liberty An Utopian Concept?

It’s a concept so advanced, it finds its way into each of the various languages of the world. You hear it being referred to as Liberte in Paris, Freheit in Munich, Libertad in Madrid and Uhuru in Nairobi. Call it what you may, the fact remains that Freedom is one part of human existence which is so important, people don’t mind what they have to give in order to achieve and attain it. Certainly, nothing beats a state of affairs where one can think, act, speak, walk and eat without some form of control as to what to do and how to do same.

Taking a close and objective look at world history, it can easily be inferred that freedom is a state of mind and body which individuals tend to treasure, and would go to any length to achieve and equally protect. Over the centuries, men have struggled for it, fought for it, lied for it, killed for it and in extreme cases, even died for it. An in-depth analysis into the life and times of historic figures such as Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and even (in a loose sense) the biblical Moses would help to lend weight to the above assertion. Whether or not the people these men fought for were directly enslaved, the truth is that at some point, the people they represented were not allowed total freedom to think for themselves, speak for themselves or be exactly where they wanted to.

Che Guevara | Photo Credit: Time Magazine

Freedom goes way beyond the absence of an organised system of direct control, be it in form of Racial Segregation, Colonisation or Apartheid. Sure, the elimination of such systems make up part of what freedom is about, but it’s a lot more than that. Freedom is wide in scope and involves several facets, which can’t all be itemised or subjected to systems of classification.

When it comes to Freedom, there is so much to talk about, fuss about, debate about and brood about. This feeling, this state of affairs we all crave for, doesn’t come without its question marks. For instance, it’s freedom of expression to smoke in public, but how about the guy sitting few inches away who also thinks that fresh air is a free gift? And for those who desire to wear what they want (or wear nothing at all) in pursuance of a prevailing fashion trend, how about the man across the street who is rather sensitive, and feels that his eyes do not have to come certain modes of dressing, in a bid to “preserve his mind from corruption”? The U.S Constitution affords citizens with the right to carry arms in self-defence (thanks to the Second Amendment), but how about the serial shootings in schools, which have sparked widespread debates as to whether or not gun laws should be reviewed?

It's easy to assert that economic freedom exists all around the world, but when the dependence of certain countries on others for arms and bailout funds is brought to the fore, when certain political decisions are influenced by economic relationships, then that assertion is up for debate. For instance, how free can Australia be said to be when it bans the use of Huawei products simply because she is an ally of the United States, who have strained diplomatic relations with China? Even on the homefront, how strong is a claim to economic freedom when all the channels of trade and chains of distribution are subjected to a monopoly? Look at how Kwese TV and TSTV failed to unseat Multichoice.

Away from bank statements and bank transfers, how freely do people express themselves in society, even today? Are people really able to say what they want, go where they wish, even love who they want? A good number of Nigerian citizens revel in the nation's institutionalised homophobia as entrenched in national legislation, there have been too many cases of people getting arrested by security operatives for making statements that "did not sit well with the establishment", and social media is heavily policed lately.

Nigerians protesting against Homophobia | Photo Credit: The African Exponent

Some of the simplest descriptions of freedom involve the citing of slavery as its closest antonym, and while it's been centuries since Britain and the United States enacted laws that abolished it, the grim reality is that slavery still exists in various forms across the countries of the world. According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, 15.4 million people are living in forced marriages (usually facilitated as a way of offsetting debts), while 24.9 million people are subjected to forced labour in different corners of the globe. There are also about 4.8 million people who are being exploited sexually. 

In early 2018, the world was treated to a disturbing report on how Nigerians were enslaved in Libya. Research and data have placed the population of people living in slavery within Nigeria at 1,384,000. In essence, 7 out of 1000 Nigerians live in modern slavery. This manifests in various ways, from the employment of children as domestic workers to the procurement of persons for sexual exploitation and forced labour.

The efforts of organisations such as the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the Devatop Centre for African Development (DCAD) are worthy of commendation, but there is still a lot of work to be done in achieving freedom in all its conceivable forms. It may be difficult to admit, but the 18th century is almost upon us in terms of human conditions, and it's almost tempting to regard freedom as a merely utopian concept.