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Forgiveness is not possible without sovereignty

Nnaemeka David
Forgiveness and its variants like pardon, amnesty etc are employed in the religious and political arena. They often signify a willingness to forget and never recall a wrong. In religious circles, this attribute is divine in its absolute sense since its stems from a supernatural being to lesser beings or humans.

The predicates for forgiveness is guilt and humility but often instead of leading to the positive, the alternative is feared; that is, whoever accepts his guilt would be afraid of submitting and being dominated by another. On the positive side, forgiveness is hinged on a criminal, possibly a human rights abuser, accepting never to return to such acts again by being bound to regulations.

As for the word sovereignty, it is used to signify independence of action and legal authority to act without an external influence. It can be conferred both on political and apolitical entities such as family, cultural and non-governmental institutions, even by persons who are anti-state. It can be absolute or relative but its existence denotes the possession of power and authority.

It is pertinent that one reflects on whether forgiveness can exist without the victim possessing sovereignty. What are the implications and what does it mean for someone who has sovereignty over another to extend the divine quality of forgiveness.

A true, normal and acceptable forgiveness is always conditional; it denotes the presence of the victim and requires something in exchange for such forgiveness to be applied. For sovereignty to really exist, philosophers amongst others have stressed the fact that the sovereignty must be absolute and indivisible. This article will dwell on the above points.

Can an offered forgiveness be done unconditionally? This adjective makes one believe that the wrong or error counts for nothing and is not taken into consideration. Would that be possible? Was the error not the raison d’etre of the forgiveness? A paradox if the victim denies seeking regret, remorse or repentance on the part of the forgiven.

The qualities sought for are what the victim requires in exchange for extending forgiveness. What impossibility for someone to say forgiveness can be unconditional. Even when God forgives, he seeks repentance which in itself is a condition.

It is notable that forgiveness implies a wrong was done, a wrong that is excusable or non-justifiable. The one being forgiven is being asked to show remorse in a way favorable to the forgiver. The reception of this claim depends on how the victim is perceived. If it is someone respected or someone having sovereignty, the target of this offer would feel hurt or guilt and offers in exchange his/her remorse, repentance, restitution and rehabilitation.

But on the contrary, if the victim is not respected or does not possess the requisite authority, the target usually responds with anger, annoyance and does not feel guilt but feels insulted. This would be termed anti-guilt or righteous anger tinged with innocence. This has wide ramifications and calls for sober reflection.

True forgiveness also requires the presence of the victim or the injured party. Where the victim has died, is absent or ill-defined, how could third-party offer forgiveness. This creates lots of questions and is itself a chimera. One of such is: Who and what conferred authority on the third party to recall the wrong?

A notable case is the recent declaration concerning the crimes of “commission of offenses associated with militant activities in Niger Delta” for which the federal government of Nigeria is pardoning the Niger Delta militants. What role is the government playing: the victim or third party? This role is ill-defined and brings into question the thought of offering forgiveness. Does the government want us to believe they have lost control of the situation, that she does not have sovereignty over that region?

You dare not instill guilt or accuse another entity without understanding your position. An observer is made to be afraid that the recent said “amnesty” is a political expediency or a provocative act. Where the victims of these “militant activities” are not involved, there is no right for another to offer amnesty; this is an impossibility and doubtful if a spirit of remorse or true rehabilitation would be produced but rather something of a reaction.
Hobbes on sovereignty states that the sovereign does not share final authority with any other entity; else no agreement can exist between the parties where the issues at stake are forgiveness and rehabilitation. The target would perceive this action as a hastily crafted survival strategy, either to avoid a political or economic disgrace, or plain carelessness.

Finally then, for forgiveness to be acceptable, sovereignty is essential otherwise this is just a figment of the imagination. If the contrary is the case, the target rather than accepting the wrong would likely resort to accusations and would be right to call to question the rightness and rationality of the forgiveness offer. The target has no right to hedge the forgiver with obligations and conditions if he has to accept the forgiveness, otherwise the idea of sovereignty and forgiveness would be a farce.


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