Category Archives: Africa

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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Mubarak Bala – Nigerian Humanist Held Prisoner Since April 2020

By: Lynda Tilley

In April 2020, Humanists worldwide were shocked to learn of the arrest of Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. Mubarak is well known in Africa and was active on social media, which is where most African Humanists “meet”. It’s safer that way, as in each of our countries we are judged for turning our backs on religion and in several countries we face the death sentence for being openly Irreligious.

It was a post Mubarak made on Facebook, speaking out against Prophet Muhammed that led to his arrest. It was seen to be “blasphemous”, and “blasphemy” is considered a crime in Nigeria – punishable for up to 2 years under Customary Law (which is practiced throughout all Nigerian States) and by death under Shari’a Law (any State has the power to establish their own courts under Shari’a Law, especially if the accused is Muslim.)

Mubarak’s father’s role in his arrest

Mubarak first made news in 2014 when his father, Muhammed Bala, forcibly had him drugged and admitted to a mental ward for denouncing Islam and declaring he was an Atheist. (Atheism is viewed as a ‘mental illness’ by some.)  But thanks to the worldwide Humanist community and a hospital strike, he was discharged.

His father is a ‘respected’ Islamic scholar and his son’s Atheism supposedly brought unforgivable “shame and dishonour” on his family. It is widely accepted amongst African Humanists and those close to Mubarak personally, that his father is behind his recent arrest and prolonged imprisonment – despite him being a devout and ‘respected’ follower of the so called “Religion of Peace”. 

Nigeria’s Constitution guarantees “the rights of “freedom of thought, expression & religion” so the fact that “blasphemy” is considered a crime, violates International Human Rights terms, which are protected by all major Human Rights agreements, which Nigeria is signatory to.

Continued Human Rights abuses

For the first 5 months after his arrest, aside from being told that he’d been transferred to the Muslim State of Kano, (a State renowned for its practice of Shar’ia Law) nobody knew exactly where he was, or even if he were still alive.  

His wife, Amina Ahmed, had just given birth to their first child, a son, 6 weeks prior to his disappearance and was distraught – pleading publically in national media for “Proof of Life”. Dr Leo Igwe, personal friend of Mubarak’s and also a renowned Nigerian Human Rights Advocate and founder of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, spearheaded the campaign to raise awareness for Mubarak’s plight and Humanists around the world gave Nigeria their support.

A person must be charged within 24 hours of their arrest, or otherwise released, but (as was found out much later) Mubarak was only formally detained the following month, and without legal counsel or appearing in court was formally charged under Customary Law for 10 “public disturbances caused in relation to 5 Facebook posts” which falls under Nigeria’s ‘Cybercrimes Act’.

Mubarak’s legal team were denied any contact with him until almost 6 months after his arrest, when only 1 lawyer was allowed to briefly see him – to date this is the only meeting he’s been allowed with his lawyer in the 19 months he’s been held.

In the interim, his lawyers filed a petition to enforce his Fundamental Rights, which according to the law, is a matter of urgency and must be heard within 7 days – it was heard after 164 days and it was determined that he was being illegally detained which was a gross violation of his Human Rights.

In view of this, the Abuja Federal High Court (which is in the predominantly Christian Kaduna State, operating under Customary Law) ordered his immediate release in December 2020. To date, this order of the High Court has been ignored.

African Humanist groups unite to support Nigeria

In the interim, Humanists around the world have continued their support and African Humanists have joined together online to support Nigeria, all who had never ‘met’ before. The ironic thing is that by silencing one Humanist, so many more have spoken out and are now united in a way they were never before.

We have individual Humanists as well as groups from South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya who have now all connected and are in almost daily contact – sharing the trials we face in each of our countries, discussing things which relate to us all – like Human Rights, overhauling Africa’s outdated school education system and introducing Critical Thinking and a more Science based approach to learning and working towards a Secular Africa where religion plays no part in our schools or governments. 

We are gaining strength from each other and some countries are speaking to each other for the first time – all thanks to Mubarak Bala, yet he doesn’t even know it !

Mubarak’s lawyers filed a 2nd Fundamental Rights Petition in January this year, (to be held urgently within 7 days, by law) – 11 months have since passed. Court dates are set and then typically postponed 2 to 3 times with reasons like “the judge is in ill health” being given. 

The next court date is in December, and Mubarak has not attended any of them so far.

He has a chronic condition and since the day of his arrest, has been denied his daily chronic medication and access to a Doctor, even when he was very sick a few months ago. He was told he was “faking it to try and escape”.

This is in violation of the United Nations “Minimum Rules For Prisoners Act” but despite requests and his lawyers following the legal process to request this, nothing has yet been done.  

Despite not being allowed visitors, it was hoped that he would be allowed to see his wife and son before the end of the year, but that was refused. His son turns 2 early next year and he is growing up without even knowing his father and being raised alone by his strong yet heartbroken mother, who has been in her own personal prison almost 2 years now, too.

In September, 4 Human Rights lawyers wrote a letter to Nigeria’s President Buhari and published it in national newspapers, giving the facts of the case and asked, once again, for him to be transferred to a prison in Abuja, Kaduna State (where he stands a better chance of having a fair trial), to treat the second Fundamental Rights case as the emergency that it is and to restore his rights as guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution.

To date, there has been no response. 

Those who hold him are reportedly pleased that (especially since he is an avid reader and writer) Mubarak is denied reading and writing material and “has been silenced and can no longer poison people’s minds with evil lies from the West”. 

His supporters, upon learning this, along with his wife, decided to publish a series of quotes taken from his speeches, interviews, newspaper articles and writing when he was still a free man – so that his words and his truths are never silenced and to show that by silencing his voice, many others have lent theirs in its place.

Please help us to keep Mubarak’s case in the spotlight !

A quote is posted each day on our Facebook campaign page and is forwarded worldwide from there – some have been printed in newsletters as far away as New Zealand, as his silenced voice now reaches around the world !

It’s been 19 months since his arrest but we will never give up on him. We ask the worldwide Humanist community to please continue their support – our African governments take much more notice when there is international interest in a case like this and we need to show them that Mubarak will never be forgotten.

Our Facebook page (no membership necessary, it’s open to all) is “Free Mubarak Bala” and Humanists International website, which publishes regular updates, can be viewed here.

We’re in the process of launching a website in Mubarak’s name, to reach a wider global audience and it has the input of Humanists from across Africa. This will hopefully be live sometime in December – to be announced on our Facebook page.

Please visit, “like” and share the above, publish or re post articles about his case, put pressure on your own governments by writing to them to request his release and let fellow Humanists in your communities know of his plight – every single action, no matter how small, will help to put unwelcome pressure on Nigeria and to eventually secure his release !


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of www.musingsfromafrica.com
  2. https://www.freebalamubarak.org/
  3. https://humanists.international/case-of-concern/mubarak-bala/
  4. https://m.facebook.com/Free-Mubarak-Bala-101783545589066/
  5. http://saharareporters.com/2021/09/23/lawyers-write-buhari-over-17-month-illegal-detention-outspoken-atheist-bala-alleged
  6. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Igwe
  7. https://nigerian-constitution.com/

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.

Can Humanism Help Advance Human Rights in Africa?

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was located on Equal Times on April 28, 2021.


By Amy Fallon

It was a story that you could say caused a bit of a buzz. Bees ’arrest’ suspected burglars in Busia, screamed the headline of a March 2021 story from the Ugandan newspaper, the Daily Monitor. The article, which attracted much derision on social media, told the story of a burglar who appeared to find himself apprehended by a swarm of bees after the victim of the house he had broken into decided to seek justice via a witch doctor rather than the police.

In a country where there is a strong belief in the supernatural, such headlines are not uncommon. “Some traditional healers exploit the ignorance of the population,” says Kato Mukasa, a human rights lawyer and chair of the Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO). “[There’s] a category that pretends to have spiritual healing powers. They cause a lot of mayhem.”

While belief in witchcraft is commonplace across the continent, Africa is also considered one of the most religious parts of the world. According to 2017 research from the Pew Center, by 2060, 42 per cent of Christians and 27 per cent of Muslims will live in sub-Saharan Africa. In October, openDemocracy reported that more than 20 US Christian groups opposing LGBTI rights, safe abortion access and sex education have increased their spending to the tune of at least US$54 million in Africa over the past 13 years.

Despite this, humanism – a philosophy and way of life that stresses reason and free inquiry and opposes theism and supernatural views among other characteristics – is making headway on the continent.

“In many African countries humanist groups and individuals are working to make the wider public rediscover their own African humanist tradition, the concept of Ubuntu [a Zulu word and pan-African philosophy which roughly translates to mean “I am because we are”], a secular and humanist framework for compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony, and humanity for the purpose of building and sustaining community with justice and mutual concern,” says Giovanni Gaetani, membership engagement manager for Humanists International (HI), the global body of the humanist movement.

When HI was founded in 1952, there were just five member organisations; now, there are more than 170 from 75 countries, including 10 associations in Africa. HI holds a general assembly annually and its World Humanist Congress normally takes place every three years. At a local level, humanist organisations hold physical and (increasingly since the pandemic) virtual meetings for participants to learn and exchange ideas, to allow like-minded people to meet up, and to carry out voluntary work.

“New and emerging humanist organisations are sprouting all around the African continent, for example Humanists Liberia, Humanists Malawi and Secular Humanists Mauritius,” says Gaetani. And beyond humanism, secularism is also making its presence felt. Gaetani points to Sudan, which embraced a secular constitution in September 2020 after decades of Islam as the state religion. Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, the government has “taken strides to promote secularism despite the absence of an organised secular society,” according to Takudzwa Mazwienduna, a Zimbabwean-born humanist and author of the upcoming book A Vehicle for Progress, which looks at humanism in southern Africa, noting the government’s 2016 decision to ban prayer in schools and restrict religion to private spaces only.

Anti-atheist backlash, and advancing rights

While there has been some growth in the humanist movement in Africa, there has also been a backlash in some places, which is unsurprising given the stigma attached to atheism. “In Uganda and Africa, when a child is born, they are automatically inducted into religion,” says Dr Frank Mugisha, who despite being an LGBTI activist has been a Catholic “all my life”. “Atheism is rare and frowned upon so much in wider society,” he says. “To fit in, everyone has to belong to a religion.”

Nigeria – a secular country as set out in its constitution and where 49.3 per cent of citizens are Christian and 48.8 per cent are Muslim – has become the “epicentre of a new anti-atheist backlash,” particularly in the north of the country, according to Gaetani. The country’s most famous atheist Mubarak Bala, the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, will mark one year in jail on 28 April.

Bala was arrested at his home in the predominantly Muslim, north-western state of Kaduna before being detained in the neighbouring state of Kano over a Facebook post that authorities claim breached Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act by insulting the Prophet Muhammed and being “provocative and annoying to Muslims.” Bala is the son of a prominent Islamic scholar whose family had him forcibly sectioned when he first renounced Islam and declared himself an atheist in 2014.

Despite his current detention, he is yet to be charged with any crime. His case had been adjourned until 20 April, but the hearing did not go ahead because of an industrial strike. James Ibor, who heads Bala’s legal team, says they are “exhausting all legal avenues” but are calling on the United Nations to impose sanctions on the Kano state governor and members of his cabinet. “We are also pressuring the UK embassy, the US embassy and the EU delegation in Nigeria, to get in touch with the government and put pressure on them over this,” adds Dr Leo Igwe, chair of the board of trustees for the Humanist Association of Nigeria, and a close friend of Bala.

Rare wins for Nigeria’s non-believers – who number between 50,000 to 100,000 according to Igwe, with only a tiny fraction openly declaring their beliefs – include holding Africa’s first humanist conference in 2001, and the recent launch of the non-profit Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) which uses the philosophy of humanism as a vehicle to save the lives of those impacted by superstition.

Humanists in Africa’s most populous country hold onto their beliefs, despite the dangers. Igwe has faced death threats for his support of Bala and he even had to temporarily flee his apartment. Femi (not his real name) lives in the south-western city of Ibadan and has been a humanist for nine years but says that he still does not feel comfortable going public with his beliefs. “It’s hard. Many of us get dumped by our romantic partners for being humanists,” he says, adding that his Christian mother would be “heartbroken” if she ever found out, although “that’s still better than the north [of Nigeria] where your family member may poison you for being godless.”

Igwe says that while he fears that there may have been an increase in witchcraft accusations in the face of the global public health crisis caused by Covid-19, the pandemic has shown that humanism is needed more than ever to strengthen rights and promote science. “Covid-19 has once again made it clear that superstition, paranormal beliefs and faith-based narratives offer us nothing in terms of our growth or progress in the face of diseases,” Igwe tells Equal Times.

For Amina Ahmed – the wife of Mubarak Bala, who is herself a humanist – humanism “can help women to stand up for their rights” and advance the cause of gender equality in Nigeria as “most women are being [metaphorically] caged due to religious beliefs.” For Roslyn Mould, former president of the Humanist Association of Ghana and the first African woman to be elected to the board of HI, humanism could be a crucial tool for wider gender and sexual emancipation across the continent. “As an African, humanism teaches us to decolonise our minds from dogmatic cultural and religious ways of thought that create divisiveness among our genders and diverse sexualities and hinders our development as a people. It is important that we drive equality, taking equity into account, on our continent amongst men and women.”

Flourishing in Uganda, despite the challenges

In the continent’s east, humanists are watching the Bala case daily. Africa’s humanist roots are firmly planted in Uganda. It was the first country to register a humanist organisation (UHASSO) in the mid-1990s and it is one of the few African countries to have a humanist organisation in every region. Still, according to various sources, less than one per cent of the Ugandan population describes itself as ‘without religion’, in a Christian-majority country within a secular state.

In 2014 a notorious act was signed into law to make homosexuality illegal, driven by foreign and local evangelicals, before being struck down, but religion continues to have a grip on Uganda. Bodies like the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda are still involved in politics and before the pandemic it was not uncommon for flamboyant prophets to commandeer packed megachurches.

But an increasing number of atheists are asserting their presence in the public space. Mukasa can often be seen on TV, while Robert Bwambale is renowned for founding the Kasese Humanist School, in the west of the country, where educators teach LGBTI and women’s rights, climate change and democracy.

Despite facing backlash – Mukasa’s car was set on fire and his workplace was vandalised, while Bwambale was the victim of a community smear campaign – humanists in Uganda won’t stay silent.

About 31 of the country’s groups, led by the newly formed Ugandan non-profit African Humanist Celebrant Network (AHCN), which trains humanist celebrants (someone who officiates non-religious marriage, funeral or other ceremonies) across Africa, are petitioning the Ugandan parliament to change the country’s Marriage and Divorce Bill to allow for humanist ceremonies. Apart from South Africa, humanist ceremonies are banned across the continent but Uganda’s humanists claim that the nation’s constitution contains protections against discrimination for non-believers, and argue that the ceremonies “give us a platform to show the world that it is perfectly fine to live a life without God”.

Unsurprisingly, there has been some opposition, with Bishop Jacinto Kibuuka, who leads the Christian Ecumenical Council of Uganda, vowing in December to draft an opposition petition, although nothing has happened yet. “Those voices who claimed same sex relations were a culture war by the West against Africa and the Church will re-emerge and cast humanist marriages as market entry for same sex marriages – precisely because they are non-denominational, promote free choice and individuality,” says Ugandan analyst Angelo Izama.

But whatever happens, Mukasa says the country’s humanists are here to stay. “When we registered our first organisation, there were very few people saying ‘I’m an atheist’. But right now if you follow our page online you would be surprised at the number of people saying ‘to hell with religion,’” says the activist. “We are eating into [religion], we are weakening it, even when [their followers] are making inroads we are making inroads too.”


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of:  https://holylandmap.blogspot.com/2013/05/human-face-of-africa.html
  2. https://www.equaltimes.org/can-humanism-help-advance-human
  3. https://www.amyfallon.com/

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.