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16 Sep Written by  Japheth Omojuwa

Our Long Road to Freedom

Nigeria is not a free society! Now that is a tough thing to say about a country that has had over 14 years of uninterrupted democracy and with one of the most vibrant press on the continent. If freedom is about what is readily seen, one would say Nigeria is a free country. But freedom is much more than sights and sounds: it is about minds and hearts.

It is easy to unlock the gates of a physical prison to free the prisoners held in, but it is a lot harder to free people who are held up by their hearts and their minds. The person who is locked in a prison with a free mind is freer than the person who is walking as a free person but with a shackled mind.

I wrote my longest article ever with all of its four thousand words. It was on the sex scandal involving Abuja-based Commonwealth of Zion Assembly’s (COZA) pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo. Because of my understanding of the mind of an average Nigerian when it comes to matters of religion, I actually spent at least three thousand of those words trying to correct the mental settings of the average Nigerian reader and at the same time defend my right to write the article.

It was an article that had a rejoinder to all its possible rejoinders. You would think I wasted three thousand words addressing the minds of my average reader before nailing the issue itself but you would think differently if you have an understanding of how the average Nigerian thinks.

People are more concerned about politicians stealing public funds and all the issues around public service but what the forces who run Nigerian have done is worse than just steal the people’s money. People’s minds have been stolen!

Today, you cannot ask a sincere question about any Nigerian issue, be it political, cultural, social, religious or whatsoever. You are bound to have some strategically placed people distract people away from the issues that prompted you to ask the question in the first place. You’d find that debates surrounding your concern eventually disappear and you’d soon be dealing with personal issues.

It does not matter how well you state or present your issues; those who don’t want unwholesome societal norms and realities questioned eventually deflect from the issues and get the masses talking about immaterial things. Why does this work all the time?

It works because many Nigerians are easily distracted and with the majority of the people battling with life’s physiological needs as can be deduced from  Abraham Maslow's pyramid of needs, it becomes overly difficult and even almost impossible for people to speak of issues they cannot touch and see when people they can touch, see, like or hate are being discussed.

Religion of course remains the potent force and it is the reason governors and even the president have strategically aligned themselves with religious leaders. These forces of political and religious dimensions work as one reality to keep the people in a state where no matter how bad the politicians run the system, the religious fathers will always be there to make sure the people continue to see anything else but what the politicians are doing.

Of course this is not true of all politicians and it is not true of all religious leaders but to deny the partnership of destruction between some politicians and some religious leaders is to be either lost in an illusion created by these same forces or to choose denial as a way of life.

If Nigerians want a better society, they must begin to ask questions of both politicians and religious leaders. Until then, we’d think we are a free society but freedom is beyond walking as free persons.

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Japheth Omojuwa, @omojuwa on Twitter, lectures at Freie Universitat, Berlin and runs this page every Monday.

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