Liberty is defined as the ability or willingness to do something and the power of doing what has been conceived without interference or influence from any other source. However, liberty, as defined above, could be an impossibility for all citizens at the same time. The state cannot ensure this. Naturally, every man likes to have his own way and at the same time possesses an instinct for sociability.
According to the declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), the maximum freedom an individual has is the power to do everything that does not injure another. Therefore, modern concept of liberty involves two main ideas:
- The individual: The individual wants to express his personality in thought, word and action. He demands freedom i.e. absence of restrictions on his freedom of thought, speech, etc, from the government or associations.
- Freedom: Freedom implies the opportunity individual has to develop himself of his potentials with some limitations.
- Private liberty: This is the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice in certain areas of life, e.g. freedom of religion and personal security. This is mainly personal to oneself.
- Political liberty: (Constitutional liberty). This is the right of an individual to take part in the affairs of the state through the right to vote, the right to stand as candidate for election, freedom of speech and freedom of the press etc.
- Economic liberty: This implies the right to work and the security to find reasonable significance earning one’s daily living, reasonable hours of labour, adequate wage, etc.
CIVIL LIBERTY: RIGHTS OF CITIZENSHIP
It consists of the rights and privileges which the state creates and protects for its subjects. The most important of these rights are:
- The right to life: This is the foremost of all the rights. The state imposes maximum penalty of capital punishment on those who attempt to kill others and also attempts suicide.
- The right to work: In some countries, the legal right to work is recognised. The right to work however cannot mean the right to a particular work.
- Personal safety and freedom: Blackstone, in his writing, describes this right as a person’s legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life. Thus, a person may not be wounded, assaulted, or imprisoned, except by the process of law.
- Religious freedom: The right of following one’s own religious faith and worship has however come to be gradually recognised by modern states.
- Education: The extent of this vary from state to state. For example in Britain, parents have the right to demand free education for their children in a public elementary school. In some countries, education is not a legal right.
- The right of association: In most countries, one can readily find different voluntary groups or associations and they are mainly out to promote the interest of their members – socially, religiously and economically.
- Property: The right to private property is fundamental in most countries. It is argued that the right to own property is derived from nature not from man and the state has no right to abolish it, but only to control its use.
- Freedom of speech, public meeting and publication: This is the right to say or write what one feels provided it is not seditious, blasphemous or defamatory.
This is the right of an individual to share in the government of his country. The state recognises political right, especially as most of these rights are entrenched in the constitution.
Political Liberty Involves the Following
- The right to vote: Where political liberty is operational, all adults have the right to vote.
- The right to stand as a candidate in an election: Age limit differs in different countries, e.g. in Nigeria 18 years for a voter, U.S.A, 25 years for a member of House of Representatives.
- Periodic elections: Powers are not given to elected bodies permanently. Elections are done periodically, namely, every four or five years.
- Equal eligibility for government office: Eligibility applies to only the citizens that have the necessary qualification.
- The right to criticize the government: This is based on the right of the individual speech, publication and membership of associations. In a democratic setting, individuals are encouraged to criticize the government constructively, contributing in the decision-making of the country.
Factors that can Safeguard the Liberty of Individuals
- Law: This is an important condition to the liberty of an individual: .
- Independence of the Judiciary: The essential of this to freedom of the individual cannot be underestimated. The Judiciary and Judges should be free from the interference of the executive and the legislature.
- Democracy: Under democracy, political power is with the masses and so freedom is guaranteed.
- Power distribution: When powers are decentralised, more likely, men will be zealous for freedom.
- Fundamental human rights: It is usually entrenched in a written constitution, embodying the civil and political rights of the citizens and placing some limitations on the powers of those in government.
- Vigilance: This is a sure safeguard to freedom. This means that citizens are alert and ready to fight any unreasonable interferences with their rights.