When you hear someone say, ‘Security is more important than Human Rights’, it always sounds like commonsense. Because the idea that anything can be more important than Life seems counter-intuitive. Ndubuisi, is that not what my people say? Surely, once life is threatened, everything else must take a backseat to protecting it? Surely?
Surely. If we both agree – protector and protected – that today is, indeed, the Apocalypse. For consider this. If a woman goes into sudden labor and you pull down her dress, it is life-saving. But if she says she has a headache, and you pull down her dress, it is an invasion of privacy. Like this, life is lived in the shadow of death, is it not? From a sudden stroke to a passenger plane falling from the skies and onto your head, everywhere is danger. But it is not for each one that we stay home.
For – and this is a paradox – Life in itself, without the freedom to come and go, is its own sort of Death. I tell you. This is not Poetry. If you have ever seen chemotherapy rob a writer of the clarity of mind, the steadiness of hands, she needs to write till, one day, she looks up with eyes simmering with the frustration of a spirit whose body has failed, and whispers: ‘I would rather die that live on like this’, you will know that this is not Poetry.
It is the foundation on which the concept of Fundamental Human Rights is built. For what sort of Life is it if we cannot sing the songs in our hearts, or speak the Poetry on our tongues? What sort of Life is it if we must be silent, colorless and cultureless, if we must retain it only by staying hidden? You see? It is easy to read these Rights – to Dignity, to Liberty, to a Fair Hearing – and forget that the Law is not always the product of intellectual exercise. It is not always written in sterile codes, by theoreticians and philosophers, deep in contemplative solitude, far removed from the madness of the streets. Not every Law is like this. No. There are laws that were born of struggle, written in chaos, enacted in the face of hurricanes to bring Peace – a delicately balanced Peace – to competing and powerful social forces.
Not flights of a lawmaker’s fantasy. I tell you. These freedoms – of Expression, from Discrimination, of Thought, Conscience and Religion – they are not flights of a lawmaker’s fantasy. No. Each one is the title page of a voluminous book, centuries deep in stories. Like that of Galileo convicted in 1633 of suspected heresy for expressing the belief that it is the Earth that circles the Sun, and not vice-versa. Like that of General Maceo who, responding to pressure mounted on him to separate blacks from whites during the Cuban struggle for Independence from Spain in 1868, roared: “The revolution has no color!” Like that of Malala Yousafzai shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for believing things they did not, that people should be free to learn all sides to an argument so that when they, eventually, choose their own paths it would be from informed positions.
Time and again – over years, over decades, over centuries – different people in different places at different times facing different challenges have had course to re-assert this one truth. That Life is precious, yes, but there are things that are more so. So precious, like a held breath, they cannot stay suspended without causing something curious to happen in people who would ordinarily cower at the sight of guns. It is not bravery, this. It is not defiance. It is not even revolution. It is simply human. And that is why it can never be exterminated, no matter how forceful the boot that crashes down on it. This resilience – sprouting each time the attempt is made to uproot key aspects of our humanity – is the reason for this second paradox. That those security measures of any State that go beyond what is absolutely necessary to securing life will always, themselves, become causes of insecurity. No doubt.