Wole Soyinka: The Concept of Blasphemy Should Not Even Exist in a Secular State

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published in other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was published on April 19, 2021 on:

The Punch


By: Solomon Odeniyi

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has lambasted Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State for his hypocrisy and promotion of religious intolerance in the state which allegedly contributed to the 24-year jail term handed down to atheist, Mubarak Bala.

In a telephone interview with The PUNCH, Soyinka said the sentence handed down to Bala must be appealed at once even as he argued that it was hypocritical of the Ganduje government and the Sharia authorities to be chasing blasphemers while the governor himself saw nothing wrong in stuffing his babariga outfit with dollars.

Ganduje was in 2018 caught on video stuffing his outfit with wads of dollars presumed to be kickbacks, a development which attracted criticisms from several pro-transparency groups.

The governor however denied receiving kickbacks.

Soyinka said he was shocked by Ganduje’s statement wherein he promised to sign the death warrant of musician, Yahaya Shariff, who was convicted for blasphemy in 2020.

“You can imagine a governor saying he would sign the death warrant of a musician for blasphemy! For me, it is nothing short of a crime against humanity. It reeks of hypocrisy. This was the same governor that was stuffing his outfit with dollars.

“I have deliberately not called for his arrest because he enjoys immunity. But these are the people who arrest blasphemers,” said the Nobel Laureate.

When asked if he would be seeking Ganduje’s prosecution after he leaves office, Soyinka responded, “Of course, the authorities know what to do once he leaves office.”

He added that it was hypocritical of the northern leaders to hound blasphemers while turning a blind eye to corruption.

The Nobel Laureate called on civil society groups to launch a campaign against the 24-year imprisonment of Bala even as he insisted that the moves should be made to immediately appeal the sentence.

“I am glad that the conviction will be appealed but I think it is imperative for rights groups to launch a campaign against these atrocities. Nigeria is a secular nation and has no state religion. The conviction is one of the fallouts of the so-called Sharia that was adopted by some of these states years ago.

“We are not in the dark ages or cavemen. No one should be imprisoned for their religious views. The concept of blasphemy should not even exist in a secular state,” he said.

Also in an interview with The PUNCH, Bala’s lawyer, James Ibor, said the matter would be appealed soon.

The lawyer said the 24-year sentence handed to his client was outrageous, adding that the court even lacked the jurisdiction to hear the matter in the first place.

Ibor lamented that despite a Federal High Court in Abuja ordering the release of his client, the authorities refused to obey the order.

“We will appeal the matter very soon. This is a travesty of justice. My client only pleaded guilty because he and his family had been receiving threats and just decided to end it all. And even after pleading guilty, the sentence should not have exceeded five years based on Kano sentencing guidelines and he has already been in detention for two years which means he shouldn’t have been given more than three years,” Ibor said.

Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), also condemned the sentence, adding that he was sure the matter would be overturned once it is challenged at the Court of Appeal.

“The conviction will not stand the test of an appeal. He should also apply for bail. No doubt, the Court of Appeal will uphold his fundamental rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression,” Falana said.


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Image Courtesy:
  2. https://www.msn.com/en-xl/africa/other/soyinka-accuses-ganduje-of-hypocrisy-over-atheist-s-imprisonment/ar-AAWneX2?ocid=BingNewsSearch
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/28/un-condemns-one-year-detention-of-nigerian-humanist-mubarak-bala?msclkid=6998673bc5b911ec882193d39ff8250c

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Faith Under Fire -BBC Africa Eye Documentary

For hundreds of millions of Africans, Christianity is the cornerstone of their existence. But an explosion of rogue pastors exploiting the trust and belief of their followers for profit and power has led to a fight for the soul of Christianity in Africa.

Africa Eye reporter Peter Macjob travels to Uganda to meet the new religious movements rejecting Christian conventions, the traditional pastors working hard to maintain their flocks, the families who have suffered tragic losses at the hands of rogue pastors, and those who have abandoned religion altogether.

Over 80% of the population in Uganda are Christian. Churches offer blessings, life changing miracles and exorcisms’ of evil spirits.

In 2000 a cult in Kanungu, Western Uganda called the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God – believed the new millennium signalled the end of the world. Over 500 members of its members were put in a church. The doors and windows were nailed shut and the church was set alight. Everyone in the church died.

In Kagadi, Western Uganda thousands of followers belong to a religious sect known as ‘Faith of Unity’.  Their leader Omukama Bisaka perceived himself as God with supernatural powers. Despite passing away 1 year ago many of his followers believe that he will return. Faith of Unity is so popular that it has support from the government, including the President. Their teachings reject the bible as they are of the view that it has been introduced to distort the minds of Africans.  Instead, they use a version that was written by their former leader Bisaka. In theirs, Jesus does not exist and their leader is portrayed as a Deity.

Asiimwe George William was a senior leader in the Faith of Unity for over 20 years.  He tells Africa Eye: “When I read the characteristics of a cult I discovered that we actually belonged to a cult.” He admits things were made up; “Things we used to concoct, but they did not harm directly anyone. We wanted to sustain our faith. That’s why we concocted them.”

BBC Africa Eye put these claims to Faith of Unity but they declined to comment.

Pastor Rodgers Atwebembeire has spent years looking at new religious movements across East Africa. He breaks down how these leaders act. “Their word is as authoritative as the Bible. When they speak, God has spoken. Their followers are expected to obey them without question.”

Despite there being over 40,000 evangelical churches in Uganda. Many are struggling to maintain their memberships.

Peter met a family who opened up their home to a pastor and his wife. Their 4-year-old daughter was allegedly murdered by the couple for a human sacrifice. The mother says: “When you looked at him you would think he was a man of God. He used to praise, worship, and clap his hands. He would pretend to be spiritual, but it was all a lie.”

Due to the rise of rogue pastors many Ugandans are turning to other secular forms such as Humanism. Its core principles are based on accepting everyone regardless of religion, culture or sexual orientation. Pastor Rodgers Atwebembeire says: “I really do think that in the coming 10 years or 15 years we are going to see a very huge shift. We will see a lot of Humanism, not only taking over our institutions of education, but also even what used to be Christian churches and congregations.

With charlatans and conmen preying on the faith of millions, what is the future for believers in Uganda and across Africa?

Africa Eye brings you original, investigative journalism revealing secrets and rooting out injustice in the world’s most complex and exciting continent. Nothing stays hidden forever.

You can check out all #BBCAfricaEye investigations here: https://bit.ly/bbcafricaeye Credits: Reporter – Peter Macjob Filmed, Produced and Directed by Chris Alcock Archive – AP, NEXT MEDIA, IrabTV Composer – Yasmin Latkowski Film Editor – David Preston Online Editor – Chris Stott Dubbing Mixer – Jez Spencer Colour Grader – Boyd Nagle Reversioning Producer- Izzy Fleming Digital Producer – Ameer Ahmed Impact Producer – Courtney Bembridge Social Media Producer – Anusha Kumar Production Coordinator – Sarah Clarke, Charlotte Fraser Production Manager – Simon Frost Africa Eye Editor – Tom Watson


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Image Courtesy:
  2. https://www.bukedde.co.ug/news/131061/bbc-africa-eye-investigation—faith-under-fi

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

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Read: Ontario’s Funding of Catholic School Systems – A Story of Systemic Faithism

The concept of systemic faithism may not be familiar to HumanistFreedoms.com readers, so as a kind of preamble to the focus of this article, consider this definition of systemic faithism as presented by the Government of Ontario’s own Ontario Human Rights Commission presented in its 2013 Human Rights and Creed Research and Consultation Report.:

Systemic faithism refers to the ways that cultural and societal norms, systems, structures and institutions directly or indirectly, consciously or unwittingly, promote, sustain or entrench differential (dis)advantage for individuals and groups based on their faith (understood broadly to include religious and non-religious belief systems). Systemic faithism can adversely affect both religious and non-religious persons, depending on the context, as discussed in the examples below. Some forms of systemic faithism can be actionable under the Code (e.g. those amounting to “systemic discrimination”), while others may not be (e.g. those taking broader cultural or societal forms). This section looks more closely at two dominant forms of systemic faithism in the current era, flowing from the “residually Christian” structuring of public culture and institutions, and from “closed secular” ideology and practice...Among the most obvious examples of residual Christianity in Ontario…public funding in Ontario of Roman Catholic separate schools, but not other religion-based schools.

How is it that a provincial government is able to simultaneously identify, define and detail a form of systemic discrimination and continuously defend and perpetuate the abuse? It’s a puzzler.

The authors of upsetting.ca have decided to do their best to explore and communicate the lengthy and, well as the website says – upsetting history of ongoing privileging of a particular community within the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan (a bit of rough math reveals that roughly half of all Canadians live in a jurisdiction that continues to ensconce and fund a major form of systemic discrimination).

Upsetting’s authors make their position clear: On the practical side, the Ontario public has never sanctioned the public funding of separate school systems for Roman Catholic citizens, just politicians.  The RC school systems (French & English) were foisted upon Ontario through two dictatorial moves by politicians.  Skullduggery (trickery, dishonesty) in the highest places has maintained them.  Each post in this series will tell a different story in order to reveal all the events and the characters associated with them.  Posts will be every Sunday evening, Tuesday evening, and Thursday evening for several weeks.

You can subscribe to the series of fifteen articles/posts at: https://civilrightsinpubliceducationinc.forwardtomyfriend.com/r-hkftrjdkk-3AC2157C-tyyusdl-l-j.

A Second Thought…

Perhaps you’re interested to investigate systemic faithism from a distinctly different angle? Have a listen to a podcast from York University’s Critical Spirituality in Leadership who say that they recognize that “neutral” or “secular” views often privilege agnostic or atheist traditions and worldviews (Ontario Human Rights Commission, n.d.) and are “residually and normatively Christian” (Seljak et. al, 2008). This leads to systemic faithism.. we consider Seljak et. al’s (2008) analysis of the close connections between religion, ethnicity and race in the Ontario context and caution that Christian privilege can result in anti-religious sentiment, ethno-religious alienation, polarization, and alienation, rooted in the belief that religious practices and identities are incompatible with Canadian identity and citizenship (OHRC, n.d.). This encourages the creation of religious “ghettoes” that may lead to religious radicalization and disengagement from Canadian public life (OHRC, n.d.). We heed Butler’s (2000) warning that spirituality may be commodified in modern schooling, reducing it to individual approaches instead of situating it in larger contexts of social struggle. 

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/human-rights-and-creed-research-and-consultation-report
  2. https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/iii-background-and-context/4-systemic-faithism
  3. https://www.upsetting.ca/
  4. https://www.yorku.ca/edu/unleading/podcast-episodes/critical-spirituality/#:~:text=This%20leads%20to%20systemic%20faithism%2C%20which%20the%20Ontario,broadly%20to%20include%20religious%20and%20non-religious%20belief%20systems%29.

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.