The President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, used the freedom of expression enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution in addition to the freedom of religion and belief, as represented in the same constitution and, in fact, in the United Nations foundational rights document.
On April 27, a complaint was filed against some Facebook or social media posts by Bala. It was filed by S.S. Umar & Co. The claim was that Mubarak was making provocative and annoying statements to Muslims. In short, the firm and barristers made the explicit and, rather blasphemous mind us, statement that they can speak for both God and all Muslims on the matter of what is and is not blasphemous or offensive to the creator and sustainer of the universe (if seeing things within the framework of the believers).
Rather rapidly, Bala was hauled off to jail to make an example of him, as so many others have been made examples of before with the death penalty applied to them or the social reprisal murders by a public mob. Following some of the reactions to the protests online about the statements of Bala, as claiming a deceased religious figure was a “terrorist,” there was an online petition by Halima Sa’adiya Umar. I am uncertain if a relation to “S.S. Umar…”
In the online campaign through Change.Org, H. Umar’s campaign of protest stated:
Mubarak is blaspheming against the religion of Islam. He should practice his atheism and let Muslims be! “For you is your religion and for me is my religion”
His utterances are capable of causing unrest which could cause religious and social upheaval in the country.
Facebook is meant to promote & encourage relationships, allowing his kind to be on the platform is catastrophic. Freedom of expression is not synonymous to hate speech that can cause mayhem in Nigeria.
I find these assumptions and statements dehumanizing of the ordinary Muslim believers all over Nigeria because the use of the freedom of expression becomes the basis to argue Muslims en masse in Nigeria can’t but help themselves in ‘causing mayhem in Nigeria” or “causing unrest” and even the simple “allowing his kind to be on the platform is catastrophic.” The statements are both overblown to the point of comical and declaring a want for unequal access to the use of platforms and the freedom of expression. Shall we begin to unequally apply this to the practicing of religion, as he has struggled to attain equal status in practicing Humanism and non-religion in life, i.e., simply not partaking of the religious contexts and practices?
Mubarak Bala’s context or location is still unknown. He may be alive and imprisoned with human rights violate, including the inability to see a lawyer. Or he could be dead. We truly don’t know the exact whereabouts or condition of Bala. This is both a human rights travesty and a fundamental crime. No matter the framing, the religious fundamentalist groups in Kaduna, Kano, and often in Northern Nigeria have messed this one up big time. It will be a PR nightmare no matter the path moving forward.
With some international complaints from a variety of humanist organizations, the petition, which aimed for 25,000 signatures against Bala and had rapidly garnered almost 20,000, was taken down from the Change.Org website. There has continued to be international pressure on Nigerian authorities to do something about this. On the rights front, freethinkers are losing, as Bala is in unknown condition without any justice; on the media, national and international, the Freethought community is winning. Keep up the pressure.
Free Mubarak Bala.
Image Credit: Mubarak Bala.