On August 9, 2020, HumanistFreedoms.com published our first article about Mubarak Bala. At that time, we featured Wole Soyinka’s all-too-prophetic condemnation of the Nigerian government’s treatment of Bala:
“When I accepted the International Humanist Award at the World Humanist Congress in 2014, I spoke of the conflict between Humanists and Religionists; one of enlightenment versus the chains of enslavement. Your arbitrary incommunicado detention over the last 100 days is the cruel reality of this conflict. All too often these chains of enslavement lead directly to the gallows or a prison cell.“
On April 5, 2022 – the Kano High State Court sentence Bala to 24 years imprisonment following a guilty plea to 18 charges blasphemy and public incitement. As the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala is a prisoner of religious tyranny.
BBC Africa has recently published a documentary titled “The Cost of Being an Atheist” which carries a terrible reminder of just how correct Wole Soyinka’s words were. Too often and far too readily, tyrants curtail free speech with arbitrary actions which lead to prison cells and worse.
Mubarak Bala is a chemical process engineer. A husband. A father. He and his family deserve better than this. They don’t just deserve better – they had a fundamental right to better.
And so does every living person, regardless of the country they live in or the beliefs or non-beliefs that they may have. That’s why the freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of religion (including freedom from religion) are called FundamentalFreedoms.
Amidst a set of global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic/epidemic response, the war in Ukraine and the so-called culture wars of right wing versus left wing politics, it is predictable, if not absolutely inevitable, that attention to the ongoing travesties and tragedies of violated fundamental human rights would be reduced.
It seems equally likely that faith-based authoritarians (or for that matter any ideologues) would take advantage of the distracted times to increase their entrenched influence and control.
HumanistFreedoms.com hopes that the distractions of the early 2020’s may finally pass and that secularist organizations may again be relied-upon to focus attention and action upon promoting humanist values and undertaking serious opposition to theocracies and religious police forces.
The tragic death of Mahsa Amini seems like an excellent matter to begin with.
Humanists International (Excerpts below from HI Sept 28, 2022)
In a statement made during the General Debate segment of the 51st UN Human Rights Council, Humanists International’s Advocacy Officer, Lillie Ashworth, responded to the recent murder in custody of 22-year old Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini. Amini had been arrested by Iran’s “morality police” on 13 September for wearing her hijab “improperly”. She was accused of being in violation of Iran’s discriminatory compulsory veiling laws which require girls from the age of 9 to cover their hair completely. As several UN independent experts stated in the days following her death, there is evidence that Amini had been beaten and subjected to torture while in the custody of Iran’s theocratic regime. The Iranian police have claimed that she had suffered a stroke and a heart attack.
Ashworth’s statement reminded Iran that “compulsory veiling is a human rights violation, and that appeals to religious morality can never be used to police women’s choices, or to invalidate their equal dignity and worth.”
Since Amini’s murder, there has been widespread protests in Iran and around the world. In Iran, crackdowns by the theocratic state has resulted in further faith-based beatings and murders.
At this time, seven nations have formalized and explicitly-designated religious police: Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. These are a dirty seven which should be under international scrutiny and pressure to discontinue faith-based policing – a practice that is nothing other than state violation of fundamental human rights.
HumanistFreedoms.com looks forward to observing whether Canadian (in particular) and global humanist, atheist, secularist organizations join Humanist International in a re-focus on issues of this scope and type. We feel certain that there are still many other women, girls and families who might appreciate the kind of help from the international community that might have saved Mahsa Amini’s life.
Citations, References And Other Reading
Featured Photo Courtesy of: ttps://www.smh.com.au/world/acehs-religious-police-crack-down-on-tight-jeans-20100526-weap.html
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. This week, we found the following information (italicized below) on www.the-star.co.ke .
A case has been filed in court seeking to make atheism illegal in Kenya. The court has been asked to declare as unconstitutional the Atheists in Kenya Society.
The argument for the ban is flimsy: the Preamble to the 2010 Constitution starts by acknowledging ‘the supremacy of the Almighty God of all creation“. Therefore atheists who deny God are denying the constitution.
The petition argues that this overrules the constitutional right to freedom of belief, conscience, religion and opinion.
Firstly, if God is all-powerful, surely he has permitted those atheists to exist. Would a court ban go against his will?
Secondly, religions like Buddhism and Taoism do not believe in a God. Would they be the next belief-systems to be banned as unconstitutional?
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, do these atheists do any harm to anyone? If they break the law and injure their neighbours, let them be punished. But if they live peaceably and are productive members of society, then leave them alone.
This court petition is the first step to bringing the thought police to Kenya to tell us what we are allowed to think. The petition should be thrown out.
It should seem ridiculous or preposterous that anyone might attempt to use a legal pre-amble (don’t take our word for it, read the document) to undermine a fundamental human right. And yet, here we have it – someone is trying to make that case.
It ought to make any and all individuals or organizations perk up their ears – not just humanist or atheist organizations, either. Consider that Kenya’s constitution carries a twenty-first century date. And just where might Kenya have taken this idea of a constitutional preamble front-loaded with a deity?
Consider the fact that Kenya is a member of the Commonwealth. And please further consider the fact that the Commonwealth has a program called the Commonwealth of Learning which (per their website) “is the world’s only intergovernmental organisation solely concerned with the promotion and development of distance education and open learning. COL is hosted by the Government of Canada and headquartered in Burnaby, British Columbia Canada. Created by Commonwealth Heads of Government, COL encourages the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training.”
And finally consider that one of the Commonwealth of Learning’s programs happens to be a training program in Legislative Drafting – the writing of laws. Note that Athabasa University, based in Alberta, currently offers a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Legislative Drafting. It seems to be not unreasonable to connect a these particular dots. Two separate and equal nations in the Commonwealth happen to cooperate in educating and training the individuals whose profession is to craft the verbiage of laws. Canada in particular bears a leadership role in this area of Commonwealth operations.
How similar are these constitutional pre-ambles?
Canada’s Constitution Act (1982) has a preamble which states “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.“
Canada’s constitutional preamble is a bad precedent with readily identifiable mechanisms for distribution and influence. Whether the situation in Kenya is dismissed (as it ought to be) or otherwise fails, we can’t yet know. And is hardly the point. The point is that ideological fanatics will attempt to leverage every and any opportunity to advance their position. It is shortsighted, at best, to view things otherwise.
Canada finally rid itself of the dangerously ridiculous and anachronistic blasphemy law (the former Section 296) in 2018. We can only assume that political leaders must have been confronted by the hypocrisy of advocating against blasphemy laws around the world (via the former Office of Religious Freedom) while maintaining a blasphemy law on its own books.
Did you notice that the US Supreme Court Judges who turned against Roe v Wade are all Catholic? Well, according to Catholic News Agency, they appear to be. A coincidence, no doubt.
Suddenly, we can see the potential for harm lurking within the slightest hint of theism in secular law and decision making.
Toyin Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin. He joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 1991, and has also held short-term teaching appointments at the University of Cambridge in England, York University in Canada, Smith College of Massachusetts in the United States, The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos, Nigeria. Falola is author and editor of more than one hundred books, and he is the general editor of the Cambria African Studies Series (Cambria Press).
Excerpt of the Convocation Lecture
2021 Nigerian Academy of Letters
Many would agree that when the core principles and values inherent in humanism–rationality, reason, compassion, human dignity, fellow-feeling, freedom, love, and kindness–are in deficit in society, a vacuum is created and all manner of dogmas, doctrines, superstitions, theories, and abstractions hold sway. Human values are required to be reassembled and restored as a result of these failings and pitfalls– which include war mongering, stoked by the availability of superior and sophisticated weaponry, moral bankruptcy such as corruption and the corruptibility of power, pride, greed, rapacious avarice, religious fanaticism, ethnic irredentism. They defray from humanism and all need to be eliminated for the re-affirmation of humanity. Among these pitfalls, also is the “robotization” and “thingification” of humanity, resulting from advanced technological innovation and artificial intelligence.
By electing to deploy literature, music, and the media among the diverse tools and fields of the humanities, to mediate its ideology, humanism, the thought of the choice of three, just three, rests on the three witches at the opening of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There is tempo-spatiality (time and space–of when and where); There is so much metaphorical witchcraft in the arts–all of them, literature, theatre, film, music, and the media. When you fold or scaffold time and ages into a few hours, “hold eternity in the air,” take on persons and characters into oneself, remove costumes and make-ups, and wake up instantly from death to active life without the miracle of Christ, confer immediacy upon news and news paces, record events into soundtracks and sound bites, and make them live in the real world, you confront the witchcraft and the magic of the arts–the humanities. So, the idea of echoing the witches and their witchcraft is not too far-fetched; after all; it is not stretching the imagination too thin, as is done in our vocational engagement in the arts.
The Yoruba Nollywood talks of Idan, which is magic. Apidan, the magic-makers, the theatricians, the actors, the storytellers, and the whole process of their art of creation on stage, screen, studios, and so on. And timing (the duration) of the clap-trap of lightning–the age of cataclysm, violent eruptions in the streets, outright warfare, which is actually what the witches were referring to, plagues, epidemics and pandemics, tornadoes, massive flooding, ravaging fires, earthquakes; chaos, banditry, kidnapping, dystopia, and the likes. These do not make the echoes of witches, magic, and the cult of Iyas (mothers) too intriguing or too dissimilar to the world of the arts.
In all the ages, writers covet the news space for self-expression to say the things that must be said urgently and to test the waters of their creation as they form words from their thoughts–poetry, prose, drama sketches. In that sense, there is an intriguing love relationship between the media and literature. Throughout time, men of letters seek refuge in the media as they mold their blocks of expression that are later turned into books. The role of newspapers in the evolution of literature drew the writers into the waiting arms of the media, newspapers to be specific, in a relationship that has become permanent, as the newspapers, periodicals, and journals and their creators themselves became a new type of literature and literary artists. Therefore, from the 18th century on, the inventors of the periodical essays extended the tactic of the fictitious self into the new territory and became writers.
All over the world, including in Nigeria, overt and subtle control proved incapable of stemming the growth of the media industry. The creeping in of censorship to control the opinions and feelings expressed in rapidly popularizing media had begun to accommodate issues and topics on politics, the lives of public individuals and businesses. Its popularity generated the desire of governments to control what would come out in the newspaper the following morning. Patricians and politicians tried hard to control the press, to dictate its views, and to contain its criticisms, but in Britain (and I daresay everywhere, including in Nigeria), the media and literary realms and phenomena proved too large for such ‘arrant limitations.’
Getting too hot and pinching the skin and the nerves, the government created “licensers of the press” to hunt down heretical and seditious publications and through strict licensing laws to limit the flow and narrow the range of newsprint, but whenever these laws lapsed, innovations in newspapers abounded before new forbidding laws are created. The bid to kill freedom of speech, arising from the gradual dehumanizing capacity and strategies of the powerful, had been there and it remains with us today. We must reach out to our society where the contribution of the media in those early days of independence struggle was valiantly resisted by the colonial authority. The politicians (civilian and military) inherited that strategy to control and censor the media. The draconic decrees to muzzle and snuff out freedom of the press and literature are evidence of the descent from humanism, derived from debased and depraved corruption of power in our country and continent.
Literature stands as a bridge-head between music and the media. Just as the media and literature are inextricably linked in a Siamese-twins relationship, so do literature and music bond in close affinity such that, many times, it became difficult to draw distinct lines between the two. Poets were considered as failed musicians and musicians as failed poets, and when those whom the world considers pop culture musicians began to win the Nobel Prize for literature (Bob Dylan, for instance), the separation line between the two blurs and melts into oblivion. Music became a friend of the media as literature, a friend of music, is the original friend of the media. So much for the justification of the meeting of three subfields of the humanities for mediating humanism!
As succinctly captured above, humanism, which I consider the ideological plank of humanity, reclines on the principles of reason and rationality. To attain a better society where love, humane value, and freedom reign, away from excessive religiosity (not religion), the human agency places the power for individual action in some other forces outside of the self and has brought so much human destruction since many centuries ago. There abound myriad theories of humanism since the age of the Renaissance. For instance, humanistic psychology emerged in the mid-20th century as a rebuttal to the limiting cynicisms of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, and B. F. Skinner’s behaviourism provides “a perspective that emphasizes’’ and ‘stresses concepts such as free will and self-efficacy.” In line with my offering above, humanism has been rendered as a “philosophy that stresses the importance of human factors rather than looking at religious, divine, or spiritual matters.” It is perceived as being “rooted in the idea that people have an ethical responsibility to lead lives that are personally fulfilling while at the same breath, contributing to the greater good for all people.”
The essence of humanism is its advancement of the significance of human values and dignity. People possess the capacity to solve their problems through rational and scientific means to attain the fulfilment of individual and communal ideals and to transform the world into a better liveable place for all people. For many centuries, the tragic emotions and irrationality that dominate religious dogmas and fanaticism, leading to extreme violent movements on intra-religious bases, have had lethal and mortal outcomes on humanity. To the media, the question is, how much information have they rendered to us in recent times, and in our search for truth which ought to promote peace but have provoked wars and battlements?
I will like to write on the passionate assessment of the descent to the barbarism of the media–traditional and social–in Nigeria and elsewhere to get a perspective of the state of our and the world’s media. On February 21, a prominent Nigerian female journalist, Kadaria Ahmed, gave a very passionate, captivating, and no holds barred address titled “My Message to the Nigeria Media,” whose altruism has been challenged by other prominent journalists. Kadaria Ahmed’s address would have simply gone down as a classic on the need and essence of media practitioners to shun ethnic profiling and return to the traditional, noble profession of truth-telling and leading the nation aright in times of national crisis. Kadaria wrote thus:
It is with a heavy heart, worried of Nigeria and a sense of impending doom
That I am sending this to you, my colleagues,
Let me begin with a question;
What exactly will we gain if Nigeria descends into war?
How does it advance us if our fellow citizens turn on each other
And begin large-scale ethnic killings against each other…
How does enabling ethnic strife help to achieve this objective?
For some time now, a lot of us has thrown away the book on ethical reporting
Propelled by emotion, we have betrayed every moral consideration
That assigns our noble profession
But the critical probing to the other side of the coin happily carried out by Tayo Olu in The Whistler of February 15, 2021, titled “Attack on Nigerian Media,” has helped to put the “attack” by Kadaria in context without necessarily defraying from the value of her address.
Tayo Olu shed light on the reaction of Kadaria’s colleagues’ overt “scathing criticism of journalists’ reportage of the herdsmen crisis in the country” and for “fanning the flames of ethnic hate through their coverage of the crisis involving mainly the Fulani ethnic group.” Reactions came first from the Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) FCT Chapter, Emmanuel Ogbeche, Ibanga Isine of Next Edition, and Ekhator Ehi, among others. The rationale of these accusations and counter-accusations among media practitioners is the reality of crass partisanship in the media at a time when they should be the true watchdog of the common folks on whose behalf they ought to speak truth to power and denounce agents of violence and crime. At a time when our humanity is badly assailed on all fronts, the media should be a rallying point and not a house of raucous voices.
Social media, on its part, has nearly swamped the traditional media in this digital age. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Linked In, and the likes have become dominant tools of engagement all over the world, and our country has embraced it irreversibly. Whereas it has increased the democratic space and has been deployed by both government and the citizens, it is radically redefining the nature of engagement (especially political) between the citizens and the state all over the world. It has also generated a lot of conflict and tension because of its massive usage and has brought the two into more direct interaction, and the government can no longer monopolize free speech. Its power (the power of technology that it uses) lies in its immediacy, speed, political reach, and its uncontrollability.
It is projected that in the next few years in Nigeria, the deployment of social media will increase “by more than 80 percent with more than 44 million people accessing online forms in a demography of about 200 million.” The state worries about the potential of social media abuses to undermine the state and ‘threaten the corporate existence of the nation. Yet, apart from its capacity to widen dialogue space, its economic development/utility reality, put at about 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and used by nearly 25 million people, makes it unstoppable in Nigeria. There is the debate of the mutual advantage of communication technology (in which Twitter is critical) to both government and the citizens and, thus, the increasing local, national, and international criticism of Twitter’s censor as impeding the nation’s humanity and freedom of expression. As this debate rages, the state must tread softly in its drive to hammer social media, recognize its universal nature, its mutual advantage in a democracy, and its humanizing power.
And to music, I find the danger of the descent of humanism pointedly depicted in the music of I. K. Dairo, as far back as the early sixties, and which still rings screamingly prophetic today. His album Ise Ori Ran mi ni mo se (loosely translated as “I do the job assigned to me by destiny”) ramifies this message of the need to restore humanism in society. Every line of this album warns against the dehumanizing power of greed and self-debasement in the search for sudden and filthy wealth. The inordinate search for crass materialism demeans and dehumanizes the world and sets it on the path of descending humanism. Many of our musicians; Fela, Idreez, and so on, make this frantic call on all of us, especially the state, to pursue the path of humanizing society.
As we all know, literature is a reflection of society, in the manner of a mirror. Beyond mere reflection, it refracts society in the way that the soul breathes life into the body. Literature, therefore, as an arm of the creative industry, endows, ennobles, and enriches a nation’s humanity. It advertises and tells its story. Politics and matters of an imperatively political nature have, for instance, in the African experience, preoccupied the literary establishment. Since the colonial aegis, our writers have put their songs and stories in the service of humanizing our society, committed to the fact that “the poet speaks not for himself only but also for his fellowmen. His cry is their cry, which only he can utter.” All this is in the project of reconstructing society in the moment of declining, degenerating humanity, and the pursuit of viable nationhood and the world order.
Generally speaking, Nigeria’s literature predating the fratricidal war of 1967 to 1970 was essentially in search of a certain socio-spiritual and cultural stability. This is especially so during the cultural nationalism phase, which set the tone for political independence from the hegemonic clutch of colonialism and imperialism. But the war, with all its absurdity and catastrophic devastation of the individual writers, due to suffering and considerable loss of lives at very close and personal levels, compel the literary characterization of the decline or indeed descent of our nation’s humanism.
Even though I had described in a previous study on the Civil War, that the war wrought a serious body of national literature, its blight compelled a certain kind of dark pessimism and cynicism in the emerging visions. This may have been caused by the deep sense of loss, personal and collective, which the war generated. Okigbo died in the war, Soyinka suffered protracted solitary confinement, and Achebe and Clark, on different sides of the nation’s pole, carried huge emotional and psychological burdens. The sowing of regenerative seeds in the flesh of the country carried tragic overtones, as we found in some of the war and post-war writings. Additionally, the Nigerian Civil War is used as a background against which the human condition is examined in its perverseness. War is absurd and irrational. The regime of bestiality characterized by war–pogroms and genocides–which tend toward the deployment of technology and war weaponry can lead to ultimate human extinction. Through war, wanton killing of one’s kind is the expression of the philosophy of the absurd and the descent from humanism.
With the ravaging impact and the trauma inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts of creation and creativity, with a positive, cathartic sensibility, have moved on, as we find in Of Shadows and Rainbows: Musings in Times of Covid (2021), a COVID-19, PEN Nigerian publication of poems, short stories, playlets, and essays edited by Olu Obafemi and Folu Agoi. Leaping out of the pages of this publication are lines from the authors “gripped by emotions, paroxysms, compassion, searching for startling enlightenment, illumination and, in many cases, reconstructive tropes” as an affirmation of humanism. Other evolving creative works include the Platform, All Poets Network (APNET), created to promote poetry in English and native languages in this pestilent era and administered by Dzukogi, Khalid Imam, Ola Ifatimehin, and Ismael Baba to “give voice to young and established poets from all continents of the world,” and many more.
The Nigerian society is going through a transition of bleakness and blight, which has raged since the war and truly never ended, reaching very precipitous climaxes even under civil democracy. I have called it the descent from humanism which I have chosen to illustrate with music, the media, and literature. Unorthodox warfare through insurgency, insurrection, frightening banditry, armed herdsmen, lethal violence, dystopia, and wild social incoherence manifests our nation’s descent from humanism. The mediatory and recuperative essence and power have been explored here somewhat. Part of my recommendations is that the media, music, and literature should become more prophetic and politically more engaged in raising mass awareness to restore, rekindle, and promote humanism and humanity. Also, the essentialist principle of humanism, which deals with identity retrieval and identity marking, should be more robustly engaged by the media through investigative and development journalism in tracking the concrete character and identity of the bandits, herdsmen, and other agencies of insurrection and insurgency on our land.
Taking due cognizance of the present realities in the country as imposed by the pandemic, we must wake to the need for science, technology, and the humanities to focus conversations on humanistic issues, and human and social welfare. We must also concentrate our efforts on the centrality of the human race rather than building knowledge that will lead to its destruction and extinction. Innovations should focus on the discovery of the human inner strength and capacities through critical and constructive reasoning to sustain humanity and the security of the coming generations. To conclude, in order to establish an inclusive democratic society for everyone, the nation, the states, in particular, should work in collaboration with agencies of humanism, as extolled in this essay, rather than foster mutual distrust and resentment.
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 articles and studies were located on The Maravi Post and in several online publications.
By Leo Igwe
The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) is organizing its first seminar on witch persecution and superstitions in Benue Central Nigeria. Benue is a hotbed of witchcraft imputation and witch hunting because belief in the occult force called Tsav among the Tivs is pervasive. To properly situate this historic event, a local advocate explains the significance of the meeting. He said: “This event is very important because it would allow us to understand the different perceptions of witchcraft and the various ways that alleged witches are persecuted in.“
Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW ) is a humanist organization that campaigns to end witch persecution in Africa by 2030. As the advocate noted, “Witchcraft belief is a big issue in Benue! Everyone believes in it, and anything can be linked to it. As kids, it was normal to tag along this path, imbibe these superstitions and live in deep fear of occult forces”.
Witchcraft is popular and entrenched because people are socialized to believe, and not question witchcraft claims from childhood. And as adults, they find it difficult to abandon the superstitious mindset. People pass on these irrational beliefs to their children, perpetuating the cycle of ignorance, unreason, and misconceptions. These misconceptions are not innocuous sentiments; they drive abusive treatment of suspected witches. Incidentally, it is not everyone that is a target witchcraft accusation and witch persecution. A local advocate further states, “The most vulnerable, the people most likely to be accused of witchcraft, are the elderly. Aged people, who are perceived to have lived long while losing family members, children or grand children; those considered different/unusual, like those with autism, including atheists and members of the LGBTQ community”.
In Benue, alleged witches are believed to cause illness, death, and accidents. They are subjected to horrific abuses. A local source told AfAW that the “accused are often treated as horribly as can be imagined, but this depends on the scale of social frailty and vulnerability. A person who has people who could stand up and defend them would be less at risk than those who seem to have none like widows or orphans. When accusations originate from within the family, the accused are worse off, the support base weakens and the protection cover quickly disappears. The stigma and name soiling do much damage. They make suspected witches lose their humanity”.
Witch hunting ended in Europe centuries ago but this wild and vicious phenomenon rages in Africa. An advocate in Benue explains why this is the case: “Witch persecution persists because religions, traditional, Christian and Islamic use witchcraft claims to manipulate people and attract followership and patronage. Knowing the cultural depths of this supposed evil, there are mass healing centers and crusades where people go. In these places, people want to hear that an uncle or mother-in-law or a husband’s girlfriend is the cause of the instability in their lives and that something can be done about it. Religion feeds that want”. Witchcraft belief is used to scapegoat individuals; incite persecution and violence against an innocent family or community member.
In a recent incident, some youths attacked an elderly woman after consulting a local diviner who confirmed that the woman bewitched a young man who had cancer. Angry youths attacked and destroyed the woman’s house. Family members were able to rescue the woman and took her to a safe location. In many cases, accused persons are not lucky. They are tortured to death or lynched by an angry mob. In some parts of Benue, witch hunters strangle or stone accused persons to death. They act with impunity. These atrocities continue because perpetrators are seldom punished. Victims of witch persecution and their families often reign to their fate because of the notion that justice would not be served or that efforts to ensure justice would lead to further victimization. The police expect victims and their relatives to come and lodge complaints before they could intervene in cases of witch persecution. Even when complaints have been lodged, the police often expect the complainants to bribe or mobilize them before they could arrest the suspects or investigate the incident. In situations where the cases are charged to court, the matter suffers so many adjournments. Victims or their families are forced to abandon their case.
On what could be done to end witchcraft accusations and witch persecution in Benue, a local source said: “Education could play a great part in changing the mindset of the people. Nowadays, any sickness is presumed to be inflicted through witchcraft. Maybe, people need to understand that there are other causes of diseases and misfortune that can be verifiable through scientific testing”.
Indeed, education could loosen the grip of witchcraft and other superstitions on the minds of people in Benue. But the tragedy is that educated Nigerians, nay Africans, are part of the problem. Many educated Africans are witchcraft apologists. They defend and justify witchcraft as a codification of African science, philosophy, and logic. Like western anthropologists, educated Africans espouse an exoticized notion of African witchcraft. They propagate the stereotypic idea that, unlike westerners, witchcraft is not a form of superstition; that witchcraft is a demonstration of black power. This mistaken, prejudicial misrepresentation of African witchcraft will be keenly challenged, interrogated, and examined at this event in Benue 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:
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.
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
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 !
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.
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.”