“Freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression” have become complex terms in recent times. From the kneeling movement in America to the Biafra protests in Nigeria, people have come up with different ways of expressing their discontent with the society. But in light of the backlash from the government in both cases, it’s fair to say that the idea of “freedom” when it comes to speech and expression might be far-fetched.
On the grand scale of things, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we all have the right to express our thoughts, opinions without interference, to seek, receive and impart information through any media, regardless of frontiers. But to what extent is this freedom granted?
Almost a year ago, Colin Kaepernick, a black American football quarterback knelt while the U.S. national anthem played ahead right before the game. Recently, other NFL players reignited the kneeling movement because of President Trump as he said during a campaign rally in Alabama, that he wished NFL players would be fired for kneeling during the national anthem.
Their silent protest is as a result of police brutality towards the black community and although their action is justified by freedom of expression, they have been criticised for disrespecting the nation. The athletes (most of which are black)’ reasons are simple; they are drawing attention to their plight by refusing to show respect to the national anthem and flag, symbols of patriotism, which should unite the different races and ethnicities in America. How can you stand for patriotism when you’re part of a minority group that continues to be treated unfairly?
Similarly here in Nigeria, we have instances where tribes rebel against the government for being excluded from the government and societal benefits. If we look at the recent issues with regards to the Niger Delta militants and the Biafran movement, there’s a common lack of patriotism, which in turn causes a backlash from the government. For the Niger Deltans who harbour the majority of the country’s oil, but yet live in dire poverty, is their lack of patriotism justified? And the Biafrans who have continually been excluded from gaining access government power, should their discontent be categorised as unlawful?
If the idea of a nation is built to create a sense of unity and a sense of belonging to a community then it is safe to say the functionality of a nation in all these cases is flawed. While we can’t choose the nation we belong to, when there’s rejection of our country’s policies and institutions, can we then choose to not to be a part of it?
As we celebrate our nation’s independence, perhaps it’s also a good time to reflect on the aims of various uprisings. For a country that is home to several tribal identities, we might ask what the aim of being part of a nation is? Patriotism comes from a place of loyalty and unquestionable integrity, but if there’s societal exclusion and in turn discontent within groups, then their freedom to express it might be justified.