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Thursday, June 20, 2024

The citizen and the law

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By Dr Cherno Omar Barry

Every citizen has rights and duties in the State of which he is a member. He has a right to protection from enemies and from bad men, and he has a right to receive help from various government departments. It is his duty to assist the police, to help the law courts to give justice, and above all, to obey the laws himself (including the rules and regulations which are provided by such institutions as your college) for the fulfilment of both its objectives as well as for the purpose of living together in peace and harmony, one with another.

The good citizen is he who is a good house-holder, a good villager, a good townsman, a good city dweller and a good subject of the State. A bad citizen is he who thinks too much of his rights and nothing at all of the rights of his fellows or of his duties to his neighbours or to his fellow countrymen and women.

As a further illustration of the virtues of good citizenship, I will now tell you a few stories I learnt very early in primary school, some 30 years ago. I will start with the story of The Duke of Wellington and the Ploughboy which I still consider it to be one of the finest stories of loyalty and courage.

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The Duke of Wellington lived between 1769 and 1852. He was a brave soldier and the leader of the British Army which defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Napoleon Bonaparte was the cleverest soldier of all times who rose from poverty to become Emperor of France. We all have read about the Battle of Waterloo. After the war was returned to England, and to his estate in the English countryside over, i.e. the Battle of Waterloo, the victorious Duke of Wellington where he passed a great deal of his time hunting and riding with his friends.

In those days, people who hunted were not as careful as they should have been, for they often rode through the farmers’ fields, ruining their crops. One may say that they were bad citizens; in the pursuit of their pleasures they paid little or no attention either to their duties towards others or to the rights of others against them. In the p story, a farmer, working in his field one day, saw a hunting party riding towards his farm. As he did not wish his crop to be ruined, he told a young ploughboy to go at once and shut the gate, and to allow no one to pass through.

When the first huntsman rode up and found the gate shut, he ordered the boy to open it at once. But the boy refused saying that his master’s orders were that he was not to allow anyone to pass through the gate. Other riders came up and ordered the boy to open the gate. One even threatened to beat the boy with his whip if he did not. Again the boy answered that he had orders from his master and those were the only orders he would obey.

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A kind man among the riders pulled out a piece of gold and offered it to the boy if he would open the gate. Although the piece of gold was more money than the ploughboy could earn in a month, he still refused.

At last, an elderly gentleman rode up and said, “My boy, I am the Duke of Wellington, and I am not used to being disobeyed. I command you to open the gate so that we may cross this field”.

The boy looked up at the great soldier, whose name was famous all over the world. He made a bow and said, “The Duke of Wellington would not ask me to disobey orders. I have my orders to keep this gate shut and those orders I am determined to obey!”

The Duke was surprised and pleased at the boy’s answer, and said, “If I had an army of soldiers who, like that boy, could neither be frightened nor paid into disobeying orders, I could conquer the world.”

As he turned his horse’s head from the gate and began to ride away with his friends, he was very amused to hear the boy call to the farmer, “Master, master, I have done what Napoleon could not do. I have turned back the Duke of Wellington!”

I consider the young ploughboy’s loyalty and courage to be the earmarks of a good citizen, who appreciates the law and ensures its observance and respect by everybody however high his office, however strong and however rich he may be. How many of us would do what this young ploughboy did years ago?

Another example of one of the attributes of good citizenship is dedication. And this reminds me of the story of Isaac Newton (1642 -1727), the great scientist who was often so deep in his own thoughts that he would forget to eat his dinner unless he was reminded to do so.

One day, a friend came to dine with him. Dinner was put on the table but Newton did not come out of his study. His friend who was used to Newton’s peculiar ways, sat down and waited for him. At last, he decided that Newton was so deep in some new theory that he had forgotten the time. He therefore helped himself to the chicken which was on the table.

When he had finished, he thought he would play a trick on his friend. He carefully put all the chicken bones back on the dish and covered them with a silver cover. Then he left Newton’s house and went about his business.

Several hours later, Newton came out of his study, feeling very hungry. He saw the table set ready for dinner and sat down to his place. When he lifted the cover and saw the bones and remains of the chicken, he was quite surprised. He turned, looked at the clock, and observed that it was long past his usual time for dinner. “Well, well,” he said to himself, “I thought I had not yet dined, but I see I am mistaken.”

Getting up from the table, he went back to his study and began work again, quite satisfied that he had eaten his dinner at the usual hour and that he had forgotten all about it.

I would be interested to know, at the end of this lecture, the number of Newtons you have in this College where, unlike him, students are educated free, housed free, and fed free by the State and at the expense of the public of whom they owe a duty to go back to and serve them with the dedication of Isaac Newton and the loyalty and courage of the young ploughboy.

We are all familiar also with the story of Oliver Goldsmith and the sick man. Oliver Goldsmith (1730 – 1774) the great writer of delightful essays and stories had studied in his youth to be a doctor. He was a very kind and generous man, always ready to help his poorer neighbours. He shared with them all that he had and kept himself poor by doing so.

One day, a woman came to his house and asked if he would come to see her husband, who was ill and unable to work. Goldsmith picked up his hat and followed the poor woman to her home. When he entered, he noticed that the family was very poor indeed. The man had no work for a long time. There was neither food nor fuel in the house.

After talking to them and seeing their great need, Goldsmith turned to the woman and said “Come to my house this afternoon and I will give you some medicine which will do your husband a great deal of good.” That afternoon, the woman went to the house and Goldsmith handed her a small box, which was very heavy. “Here is your husband’s medicine,” he said. “Use it carefully and I think you husband will soon be well again.” “What are the directions for taking it?” she asked. “You will find the directions inside the box.” When the woman arrived at her home, she sat down beside her husband’s bed and opened the box. It was full of money, and written on a piece of paper were these directions: “To be taken as often as necessity requires.” The money was all the money Goldsmith had in his house. How many of us, citizens of this country in this hall, are as kind and as generous as Oliver Goldsmith?

And this also reminds me of yet another story of wonderful courage, bravery, discovery, commitment, determination, and of supreme sacrifice. It is about Captain Scott and his journey into the Arctic and Antarctic Wastes. Let us turn to the north. In that direction, many thousands of miles away, are the cold waste lands of the Arctic region. Imagine great plains, hills and mountains all white with ice and snow. There are no trees in those lands, no bushes, no flowing rivers, for everywhere is frozen. The ground is covered with a sheet of ice which is many feet thick, and the earth is so cold that fresh water is not a liquid there, but a solid. Even the salt water of the sea is frozen where it touches the land.

The Arctic region is a desert where there is nothing but ice, snow and cold grey sea. For nearly half the year, both by day and by night, the only light is the cold light of the moon and stars.

There are very few living things in that frozen country, and in the months of darkness even they leave the place and go southward to the sunlight.

There are no natives there. The extreme cold makes it impossible for human beings to live for long under such severe conditions. A few Eskimos hunt and fish along the coasts of Greenland and the far north of Canada where they can get food from the sea, but beyond to the northward, there are no people.

As the earth moves round the sun, for half the year the North Pole is pointed towards the sun and it is light, both by day and by night, in the Arctic region. For the other half of the year the North Pole is turned away from the sun, and there is no sunrise and no daylight in the far north. That is one of the reasons why it is so extremely cold. During the long Arctic night, the earth is receiving no heat, for the moon and stars can give none. On the other hand, it is giving up the heat which it received during the months of day-light. Thus in the long darkness of winter, the Arctic wastes get colder and colder.

The second reason for the extreme cold there is that in the far north the sun has very little power. It never rises very high in the sky and its light and warmth fall on the ground at an angle.

Hence, even in the Arctic summer, the earth receives very little heat from the sun, which is unable to melt anything more than the surface of the ice.

There is no rain in the Arctic region for it is far too cold. Instead of rain, snow falls. If there is a storm of wind as well as a snowstorm, it is called a blizzard, and in a blizzard nothing can live that is not sheltered form the biting wind and freezing snow.

A few animals manage to live in the frozen north during the season of daylight. In the dark days, they move southward. The largest of the land animals is the polar bear. Sea birds and land birds of different kinds visit these northern regions in the seas when it is light and less cold. Nearly all of them are white, or at least they are white in colour while they remain in this snow-covered land. Their colour is their protection against enemies. It makes them less easily seen when they stand motionless on the snow.

Beneath the surface of the ice, the seas are full of life. Great whales, seals and many different kinds of fish are plentiful in the cold water. The darkness of winter makes little difference to them and, because of this, the Eskimos are able to obtain food for themselves and for their dogs even when the winter is darkest and coldest.

From the earliest times, men have always desired to find out more about the world in which they live. Some of our bravest discoverers have gone to the frozen lands around the Poles to see what is there. In 1912, an Englishman, named Captain Scott, led a party of explorers to the South Pole. They reached it, but they met misfortune on the return journey. It is a story of wonderful courage. When Captain Scott and his friends could go no further towards the Pole in their ship, they took a large quantity of food from it and started off on foot across the ice. After many days, they arrived at a point from which they thought they could get to the South Pole and then return. At that place, they made a little camp on the frozen snow and put into it all their food supply except just that quantity which would enable them to make the journey.

When they were fifty-five miles away from the camp on their return journey, a blizzard struck them. They were forced to stop. That day they had covered only six miles and they had only seven days’ food left. They must reach the camp within a week or starve. Day after day the blizzard continued. The food began to run short and very soon only a little remained.

One of the party, Captain Oates, was very ill. The extreme cold had frozen his hands, his face and his feet. He could scarcely move. He understood quite well that his friends would not be able to reach the food-camp in time if they had to carry him. Captain Oates was determined to help his companions to save their own lives. One morning, he said to them, “I am just going outside, and may be some time.” He went out from the tent into the severe blizzard, and they never saw him again. But, all the same, the end came on March 29th. The little band of men had reached a place which was only eleven miles from their food-camp but the blizzard blew stronger than ever. It was quite impossible for the three men who remained alive to go outside their tiny tent.

They had no food, and all of them were weak and ill. One by one those remaining three died. Seven months later, their tent was found by their companions who had been left on the ship. Inside the tent were the bodies of Captain Scott, Dr. Wilson and Lieutenant Bowers. Captain Scott’s note-book was lying near his head. He had carefully written down everything that had happened, and just before he died, he wrote this:

We shall stick it out to the end,

but we are getting weaker, of course,

and the end cannot be far.

 It seems a pity,

but I do not think I can write more.

R. Scott

How many of us are as selfless as Captain Oates or as courageous and determined as Captain Scott and his brave companions?

In the history of Africa, and especially of Senegambia, I am sure we all have come across such good citizens of the State as the ones I have just mentioned – the men and women who have shaped and influenced the self-image of Africa and her people – people like Sundiatta Keita of Manding, Amari Sonko of Niumi, El Hajj Shehu Umar of Futa Toro; Lat Diorr Ngone Latri, Damel of Cayor; Foday Kaaba Dumbuya of Fogny; Tomani Bojang and Foday Silla of Kombo; Mamud Mdary Bah and Maba Jahu Bah of Baddibu; Alfa Mollo and Musa Mollo of Fulladu; Bocar Saada of Bundu, Albouri Njie of Waalo; Braimah Njie of Kafuta; and more recently, Dr. Edward Blyden, George Padmore, Albert Luthili, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ousman Dan Fodio, Ahmed Ben Bella, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Seku Touray to name only a few of the torch bearers in the great march for Africa liberanda est.

The good citizen, the responsible and conscientious citizen well aware of his rights and conscious of his duties – whilst remaining attached to the community, loyal to is values and integrated in its social system should always be able to say and feel with Cecil Spring-Rice, the poet:

I vow to thee, my country,

All earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect,

The service of my love.

The love that asks no questions;

The love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar

The dearest and the best.

The love that never falters;

The love that pays the price,

The love that makes undaunted,

The final sacrifice.


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