By Ugochukwu A. Anowai, HFFBY.
The preservation of life is a natural need known as “basic instinct” or “survival instinct.” It is natural because it is how the Creator has ordered it to be. For what purpose? Because life is important to Him. When Jesus was encouraging his audience, he told them how sparrows were not forgotten by God. But he asked them, “…are you not worth more than a flock of sparrows”? (Lk. 12:6-7). This inherent survival instinct together with human reason helps man to protect, preserve and develop his life. That is why those who commit suicide were not actually looking for death but life– thinking it could be found in committing suicide. Hence, life has been variously described as sacred, because of its origin. Treasure, because no one would like to lose it anyhow, and gift because it cannot be bought.
As already hinted, the main purpose of this discussion is to restate the invaluable nature of “right to life” and how this right has undergone untold violations in Nigeria political society. It is not so much a history or statistics of the political situation of the country, but a concerned reaction and response as regards the recent happenings in our nation. Moreover, a corollary purpose shall be the evaluation of the government’s effort in the implementation of the demands of Nigerian Constitution (NC), in safeguarding human values especially human life. Afterwards, it shall engage our thinking in considering some possible ways of ensuring peace in our nation. As self-evident as it may be, “it does not seem pointless to speak of them, since the most frequent pitfall for human activities is the possibility of losing sight…of the clearest truths, the most elementary principles.” (John Paul II to the United Nations, 1979).
The challenging question: “What have you done”? —was the question addressed to Cain by God after killing his brother (Gen 4:10). John Paul II made use this event in his encyclical called Evangelium Vitae (EV) of 1995. With this, he reasserted the value of human life and its inviolability in the contemporary world. As the Pontiff argues: “The Lord’s question: “What have you done?”, which Cain cannot escape, is addressed also to the people of today, to make them realize the extent and gravity of the attacks against life which continue to mark human history; to make them discover what causes these attacks and feeds them; and to make them ponder seriously the consequences which derive from these attacks for the existence of individuals and peoples.” (EV, 10). In our nation today, this reaffirmation becomes all the more timely and obliging.
Right to life is a precondition and the most important right in the hierarchy of fundamental human rights. When we deliberate on the ‘right to life’, what are we saying? Human life does not exist apart from the human person. Right is something that belongs to a person, such that injustice would mean “an injury to the rights of others.” (J. Hervada, 1989). In the issue of life, it is an injury that will take the
‘person’ out of existence, an extermination of human existence. Although, ‘right to life’ is a juridical concept, it is first the reality of a human being whose existence is caused by something beyond him. That is why such rights are said to be “universal, inviolable and inalienable” (John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 145). Universal, because it is present in all human beings without exception; inviolable, because it is inherent in human person; inalienable, because no one can legitimately deprive it of another person (Compendium of the Catholic Social Doctrine, 153). Therefore, the violation of the ‘right to life’ is not only a homicide, but also an irreparable injustice.
There is a solidarity in the International Communities in recognizing the priceless value of human life. For instance, The Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR), which is a turning point in the universal appreciation of the value of the human person says: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” (UDHR 1948, art 3). Another international mediation in this regard is International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It says that “every human being has inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” (ICCPR 1976, art 6).
The Nigeria Constitution of 1999 says, “that the primary aim of the government is security and welfare of the people” (art. 14). In addition to this, the constitution also admits that: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life…” (NC, art. 33). Evidently, the implementation of our Constitution and the realization of the above missions are far-fetched. The ugly situation of our nation is deteriorating every minute.
Among other violence in our nation, the Boko haram insurgency, nefarious and cruel activities of Fulani Herdsmen are thorn in the flesh. They kill, massacre, kidnap, and dehumanize innocent citizens with heavy ammunitions. As these killings go on, lives are destroyed; these lives that are lost are the potential and actual wisdom that would have set the political and economic integrity of the nation aflame in the path of growth and prosperity. Consequently, there are many uprisings, dissident voices, and protests because of insecurity.
At this juncture, it would be pertinent to ask: “To what extent have we respected the mandate of our Constitution in protecting human life everywhere in the country?” It is disappointing to hear some inadequate utterances from some government officials. A typical example is, “We shall publish the names of those who are sponsoring criminals.” How would this be the best response when the killing of innocent citizens of Nigeria is going on by known and fellow citizens of Nigeria? There are also series of extrajudicial killings and nobody is indicting anybody. Could that not be a portrayal of insensibility? Could that not be a sign that our right to life is no more regarded in our own country? John Locke says that “God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men.” (J. Locke, Second Treatise of Govt., 1764) Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria in 2020 also states: “We do not want any politician to politicize the killing of Nigerians. There should be one response from everyone, and that is; the killings must stop.”
To address the present issues in our country, the citizens of Nigeria should be first treated as subjects of rights. Human beings are not object and instruments without will and interest. Hon. C. Oputa of the blessed memory calls this type of neglect: “Justice without a human face.” The Constitution acknowledges the respect for the dignity of human person. (NC, art. 34). Again, it affirms that the sanctity of the human person shall be maintained and enhanced. (NC art.17b). The preamble of the Constitution also establishes that Nigeria is a “sovereign nation under God.” This dignity does not depend on the will of the government but derives from the fact that we are human beings bearing the image God. It implies a relationship with a concrete human person who has spiritual values. It is listening to the cries of people whose right to life are violated. People who are undergoing inhuman treatments and captivity because of kidnapping. You cannot say that you are solving people’s problem, and in reality, no nobody’s problem is being solved. It would be a deceit and neglect of human dignity.
Sequel to the above, the government at this moment should make a sincere and practical effort to combat insecurity and protect human life everywhere in the country. There should be an objective response to this. Part of this objectivity may also include a move to involve international communities in remedying the situation. There should be a robust and unblinking response to this.
Secondly, Nigeria is a democratic society. Democracy “refers to the idea and the procedures of participation in the steering of a social system by those concerned with it.” (F-X Kaufmann) Abraham Lincoln in his 1863 address at Gettysburg views this concept as “the government of the people by the people and for the people.” To this effect, Nigerian has been administratively divided into six geopolitical zones. This is to ensure that economy and educational resources, including government appointments are evenly distributed across the zones. The Constitution provides that national economy should be based on social justice and equality. (NC art. 16b). Unfortunately, the political structure of the nation does not bear witness to this programme. We need an inclusive and dialogue-oriented government.
Thirdly, it would be a mere waste of time spending energy and resources to cover a symptom of sickness without healing the cause. The means of maintaining life has to be guaranteed. There is no adequate plan for education and for the youths. We experience intense hunger, poverty, sickness, poor health facilities, which could eventually lead to death. These are some of the root causes of the problem. They are also signs of injustice because our country is richly blessed by God. Where then is our money being invested? It is a direct violation of the Constitution which says that human and natural resources will be for no other reason than the good of the community. (NC art. 17d) As John Paul II affirms: “Indeed, the fight…must be done in a radical way, by attacking the causes.” (John Paul II, 1979, 16) Paul VI shares the same view in his message on the Day of Peace in 1972 where he says: “If you want Peace, work for Justice.”
Finally, we must continue to pray for peace. God is faithful to us. If not so, from the indications of what happened in the past few years, who would have believed that we could be alive today writing and reading these things. Also, it is good to remind ourselves that it is not right for someone to allow himself to be used as an instrument of destruction. It would amount to working for the devil. The earlier we begin to resist the temptation of being used to accomplish the works of darkness, the better for us.
When Jesus was talking to his disciples and alerting them of persecution, he told them “to be as wise as serpents and as humble as doves.” (Mat.10:16). Be the first security of yourself. Do not see danger and fall into it. Danger is danger even when it promises heaven and earth. Danger is danger even when you think it would not affect you. God blees us all!