Strolling down memory lane trying to recall past "Honors and Awards" to post on my LinkedIn profile recently, I was reminded of a particularly fond one: winning a Martin Luther King's Day Human Rights blogpost competition. The contest was organized in 2012 by the Youngstars Foundation and open to nationwide entrants (from Nigeria).
For those who may not know, Nigeria has a population of over 200 million people, and while I don't recall how many people entered the contest, there were several. Four winners were picked, myself included, and we were hosted to a lovely reception at the US Embassy, Abuja. (See photo; I'm in the white dress).
So, why is this particular honor dear to my heart? Because the question contestants were asked was this:
"There are 30 Human Rights; which one do you think your society needs the most, and why?"
And, were I asked to answer that very question today, the very passionate answer I poured out on paper almost a decade ago, would still be the same as follows:
LET EVERYONE THAT HAS BREATH LIVE!
A time to be born and a time to die … a first breath and a last one… these two breaths are common to all human beings. So also are all granted the time in between these two breaths: the time to live.
Everyone has a time to live and according to article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Furthermore everyone means everyone! “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion … national or social origin, property, birth or other status” – and that includes every member of our society.
This third right is the very one I believe our society needs to preserve the most; because all other rights stem from this one.
We all, without exception, have a right to life. And in the time we live, we also have a right to liberty, i.e. a right to be free; and we have a right to security of person, i.e. a right to be safe. My paraphrase of the third right is thus: everyone has a right to live, free and safe from everything that is a constraint or threat to that life.
- Mrs. Ignorant stays in an abusive marriage, where she has been kept silent by fear of her husband, and remains for fear of the stigma of divorce in an African society, all because she knows not that she has a right to a free and safe life.
- Mr. Indigent, genius-potential, yet can barely construct a sentence in proper English and may end up an ‘area-boy’ living under the bridge, all because poverty afforded him a lousy education on the streets.
- Little baby Ailing, born with the chronic sickle cell disease, because his parents had not the necessary education on genotype testing and life partnerships, may not live to see his 16th birthday, and worse, may live his brief life-span believing himself to be somehow less of human being.
On and on, thousands of sad tales fill our society, of illiteracy, disease, poverty, ignorance and the many other threats to our very lives. We desperately need to build in this society the structures required for our people to live, free and safe. Every Nigerian regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion or status should have access to a balanced diet, clothing, safe shelter, healthcare, education, employment and dare I say good governance, these are the basic things that will allow us live, freely and safely. The gross lack of these things for the average member, and the greater majority of our society is what threatens the very lives of our people and thus the very fabric of our society.
In the UNDP 2011 Human Development Report, a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide, Nigeria ranks 156 out of 187!!! Our adult literacy rate is just 70% when there are over 45 countries with a 99% adult literacy rate, our life expectancy is age 47, a whopping 30% below world average2. Based on these statistics it is painfully evident that as Nigerian’s our third right is at stake!
The masses depend daily on hand-outs from the philanthropic few in the wealthy class – they are being given fish instead of being taught how to fish! This is just not good enough. We need the Millennium Development Goals to become Millennium Development Realities – as much to the man in the state house as the man in the mud house in the most remote village in the country; otherwise we are indirectly saying that the man in the mud house is less than a human being. We need to transit from a bare existence to a bountiful life, sadly the majority have a longer way to go in that transition, and this is what adds to the greatness of the need!
If I could shout it from every Nigerian rooftop I would: “Let EVERYONE that has breath, LIVE!!!”
The farmer, the fashion model, the housewife, the student, the rich, the poor, the educated, the illiterate, the good, the bad and the ugly: all have a right to life, liberty and security of person. And it’s your right too, so fight for it!
What is life worth to you? Bearing the components of the third right in mind my estimation of the worth of life is as follows: though I speak the most polished of grammar, and dine at the table of kings, if I be wiser than professors, stronger than athletes, and smarter than geniuses, without liberty, what I have would be acutely insignificant, without safety, what I have would be painfully meaningless, and without breath in my nostrils, all of it would be less than nothing!
William Shakespeare wrote: ‘To be, or not to be: that is the question,’ I beg to differ. For when it comes to life, the question is never ‘to be, or not to be.’ Actually there is no question; because every man, woman, boy, girl and baby that breathes has the God-given, man-declared third right simply TO BE – alive, free and safe!
I believe the global pandemic has if nothing else, made humanity appreciate now more than ever the right to be alive, free, and safe! I hope you and yours stay that way, even as the 2021 sun sets, and the dawn of 2022 breaks.