The ability to risk all for conscience and truth is the life-blood of democracy. The shedding of all fear and the ability to speak truth to power no matter the risks that are involved to life, safety or liberty is the second greatest virtue whilst courage remains the first… That is where I am today and that is where we are in Nigeria. In our country many have been locked up, are being demonised and humiliated and are facing trial today, not because they have done anything wrong but because they dare to speak the truth and stand up against the government.
Apart from the fact that he was a passionate Puritan, a man of prayer and a devout and practicing Christian, the thing that I admire the most about Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), the British Member of Parliament and nobleman, the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland and the father of parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom, is the fact that he was a man of immense courage.
He entertained no fear when he was faced with tyranny and when threatened with torture, incarceration and death by his adversary, King Charles 1st of England.
Everything came to a head in the House of Commons when the King stormed Parliament with his soldiers to effect the arrest of five people, including Cromwell. On hearing about the King’s approach, four of those to be arrested fled the House of Commons but Cromwell refused to do so.
He chose to wait for the King and to face him down once and for all. He took his seat in Parliament and told the House that it was time that “the King and his Majesty be told the bitter truth”. He said, “I shall not take flight like a coward, a scallywag, a pickpocket or a petty thief but I shall take my seat here and tell his Royal Majesty the King precisely how I feel”.
As the King entered Parliament and ordered the arrest of the five M.P’s, he noticed that all had fled except the defiant Cromwell. As he ordered his arrest, Cromwell got up and proclaimed that by that single order and act the King was risking civil war. He then proceeded to lecture the King about the power of Parliament and moved a motion that it was rather the King that ought to be arrested for treason against Parliament and the good people of England.
The House erupted in applause. They shouted in a great uproar and supported Cromwell’s motion for the arrest of the King.
The King was shocked beyond belief. He left Parliament badly humiliated: for the first time in his life and in the life of the English monarchy, he had been challenged, faced down and humiliated by one of his own subjects in the open glare of Parliament.
Thereafter came civil war and the defeat and ultimate beheading of Charles 1st, the first King to be executed in the history of England.
What died with him was the concept and philosophy of the “divine right of Kings” and from that point Parliament became supreme and England became a democracy. Cromwell headed the Round-head Army during the civil war and after the war he was appointed Lord Protector of England and ruled for many years.
He rededicated the nation to God and in his years the fortunes of England became manifold. Cromwell transformed England into one of the greatest powers on earth and he established the foundation of what was to later become the British Empire, one of the greatest empires ever known to humanity.
Yet to achieve all these, all it took was for one man to say “enough is enough” and defy the tyranny of the King. All it took was for one man to say “I fear not death or arrest or indefinite detention or jail”.
All it took was for one man to say “I do not fear what the tyrant can do to me: it is time to say enough is enough”. Cromwell did that and the history of England changed forever.
Another great man in history was Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), who was a lawyer, a statesman and the Lord High Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. He was the greatest prisoner of conscience in the history of England, which is why he was elevated to Sainthood by the Catholic Church after his martydom. It was he who refused to violate his moral and religious convictions by supporting the King’s divorce from his first wife, the Spanish Queen Katherine of Aragon.
He was arrested and detained in the Tower of London for his refusal to bow to the King’s whims and caprices. Eventually he was subjected to a show trial in the King’s court and was betrayed and falsely implicated by one of his own protegees who was on the payroll of the King.
Predictably, he was unfairly convicted without just cause after which he was beheaded. Yet he stood firm to the end and refused to recant or change his position. His last words to the London mob that had gathered to witness his execution just before his head was chopped off were, “I die the King’s faithful servant, but God’s first”. Needless to say, he died a true hero, remaining true to his convictions.
Consequently he became one of the greatest martyrs in the history of England and one of the most revered leaders in world history up until today. He was prepared to pay the supreme price for defending and standing on the truth and he refused to give in to fear or to bow to the tyranny of the King and state. His reward was glory and honour from generation to generation and a place at God’s table in heaven.
Sadly the man who ordered his execution, King Henry VIII, did not end so well. He died in his bath whilst in the throes of terrible pain from syphilis.
Worse still, for the five years before he passed on, he suffered immeasurable pain from a terrible wound that simply refused to heal.
It was so bad that it was difficult for members of his family, his Royal Court, visiting dignitaries or indeed anyone else to remain in the same room as him for long because of the terrible stench that emanated from an old wound in his gangrene-infected and rotting right leg.
This was truly shameful and a sad way for a King to spend the last years of his life. This was a man that had beheaded no less than six of his wives, one after the other, simply because they could not bear him a son.
Henry VIII paid the price for his wickedness both on earth and, I daresay, in hell. The Holy Bible says “there shall be no peace for the wicked”. King Henry’s story and his latter days, more than in any other case, proves the efficacy and veracity of that scripture.
In the end Sir Thomas More, the righteous prisoner of conscience who stood on truth and who had his head chopped off for it, prevailed over his tormentor, the wicked King.
He died with his dignity intact and his name clothed with honour and glory, whilst King Henry VIII died like an accursed stray and a rabid old mongrel who had been rejected and abandoned by the Living God.
The courage of men like Oliver Cromwell and Thomas More is not only deeply inspiring but also utterly earth-shaking. Such courage forges the destiny of nations and the future of humanity: it builds and resurrects the glory of nations and it establishes empires.
The ability to risk all for conscience and truth is the life-blood of democracy. The shedding of all fear and the ability to speak truth to power no matter the risks that are involved to life, safety or liberty is the second greatest virtue whilst courage remains the first.
That is where I am today and that is where we are in Nigeria. In our country many have been locked up, are being demonised and humiliated and are facing trial today, not because they have done anything wrong but because they dare to speak the truth and stand up against the government. The response of the state is to criminalise them before the people with all manners of absurd and baseless allegations, to intimidate and attempt to control the judiciary, to condemn them even though they have not been proved guilty by any court of law and to attempt to jail them.
Yet they are prepared for this and they harbour no fear. This is what real men are made of. I am referring to the numerous so-called “enemies of the state” who have been badly misrepresented and maligned, thrown in the darkest dungeons, neglected by the human rights groups, abandoned by the media and subjected to unspeakable horrors.
Today I salute their courage and I prepare to join their noble ranks. I refuse to cower in silence as the state prepares to move against me. My innocence will speak for me and my God will fight for me as I have done no wrong.
Whatever the situation and whatever the case, as long as there is life in me and as long as I am at liberty, I shall continue to speak against the evil in the land that seeks to destroy our people and to break the spirit of our nation.
President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and even President Muhammadu Buhari paid a heavy price before getting to the top. It is by the grace of God, and not by any power of their own, that they did not perish whilst going through their respective ordeals. They were all persecuted, detained or jailed at some point or other in their lives.
Yet they all came out of their dungeons to either lead the entire country or their respective regions. The Holy Bible says “God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform”. The Lord Himself said “Esau I hate and Jacob I love”. There is always hope for those who are favoured and loved by God. There is always vindication for them. There is always victory for those who have done no wrong and are being persecuted by the state for standing up for the truth. There is always deliverance for those who have wrongly and unjustly been thrown behind bars.
I urge those who have suffered and who will suffer such indignities and ordeals to stand firm and be strong. At the end of the day, the prisoner of conscience, whether he lives or dies, will always prevail. At the end of the day tyrants and bullies are always defeated and put to shame. At the end of the day men and women of courage and conviction always stand tall and proud. At the end of the day the Ancient of Days always shows Himself mighty and strong. (TO BE CONTINUED).