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Blasphemy in Northern Nigeria


Author: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 1.B, Idea: African Freethinking

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: African Freethinker

Web Domain:

Individual Publication Date: July 18, 2020

Issue Publication Date: TBD

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 1,324

Keywords: Bala, Mubarak Bala, Nigeria, Scott Douglas Jacobsen.

Blasphemy in Northern Nigeria[1],[2]

Plato considered the ideal society reflective of the ideal individual. Maybe, this is true; perhaps, it’s not. However, the principle behind the idea seems correct. In that, the accurate image of the society probably reflects, in macro, the correct image of the average citizen. A more generalized principle of reasoning about societies than the narrow principle hypothesized by Plato about the ideal or perfected state of human organization.

The norms, the customs, the values, the perceptions, the colours, the sounds, the artistic and ideational productions, the attitudes, the abilities, the governance structures, and the areas of excellence, restraint, and exalted ethics, and the areas of decadence, decay, and moral depravity of the society reflect the abstract mean person. As I opened in Like Manna from Heaven, Even God Bleeds from the Pen: or, words for The Word, A Gift to and from the Godless, “Some of the most brutal, insane, and unjust systems of ethics and jurisprudence can be found in the fundamentalist or selective literalist interpretations of the religious, often as commanded and perceived by men, if you haven’t noticed, or in the pseudoscientific justifications for supernaturalistic perspectives on the world deemed holy and grounded in purported transcendent texts and a supposedly Divine Holy Father in the Highest.”

These textual embedments in the minds of most of the citizenry, and externalization in the male authority structures, the systems of jurisprudence, and the inculcatory socialization tendencies of hate and bias towards nonbelievers, can follow from theocratic nation-states or theocratic portions of a society. In northern Nigeria, one such case exists. Northern Nigeria remains Muslim-majority as a portion of Nigeria. Within this area, Mubarak Bala, the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, went through two cases based on the values of northern Nigerian culture within Nigerian society. As a Muslim-majority area, many imposed a form or interpretation of Sharia Law into the legal context binding on Muslims and non-Muslims.

The first case for Bala happened in 2014, when he publicly renounced faith in Islam. He, more or less, was forced to enter into a psychiatric ward. He was drugged. He was put into a coma. Many hoped Bala would come back to Allah and belief in Muhammad as the final messenger of Allah. However, when Bala awoke, he was pissed. It became a widely known case within northern Nigeria and some of the humanist international community. It took many more years for the second case. Although, Abubakur Shekau – no less – purportedly spoke out about and against Bala. Abubakur Shekau is the leader of Boko Haram who displaced more than 2,000,000, murdered 1,000s, and raped 100s, while costing the Nigerian economy untold amounts in the midst of the mayhem of the terrorism enacted by him. Shekau speaking out says a lot. The problem, probably, doesn’t come from the atheism, because most remain in hiding in private or in silence in public. Rather, it comes from the public and confident status as an atheist and a humanist. That’s the crime.

The second case, and more to the theme of blasphemy for this issue, comes from the recent instance with the complaint filed from Kano, Nigeria through S.S. Umar & Co. about Bala’s Facebook and social media posts. The one referenced: a claim of Muhammad as a terrorist by Bala. S.S. Umar & Co. reported this was provocative and annoying to Muslims. Bala and I were working on some interviews on April 27 for publication about this issue. On April 28, Bala was apprehended by two non-uniformed officers in Kaduna, Nigeria, and placed in a Nigerian jail. Subsequently, he was moved to Kano, Nigeria, where the legal context differs from Kaduna and conflicts with the Nigerian Constitution. Also, Section 210 of the Penal Code of Kano State and Section 26(1)(c) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibitions, Prevention, Etc.) Act of 2015, and Section 4 of the Police Act 1967, were invoked against Bala; whereas, the Nigerian Constitution stipulates entirely different items.

Cybercrimes (Prohibitions, Prevention, Etc.) Act of 2015 Section 26(1)(c) states:

    1. (1) Any person who with intent –

(c) insults publicly through a computer system or network–

(i) persons for the reason that they belong to a group distinguished by race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion, if used as a pretext for any of these factors; or

(ii) a group of persons which is distinguished by any of these characteristics;

Section 210 of the (Shari’a) Penal Code of Kano State states:

Whoever by any means publicly insults or seeks to incite contempt of any religion in such a manner as to be likely to lead to a breach of the peace, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.

Section 4 of the Police Act 1967 states:

  1. General duties of the police The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act. [1979 №23.]

Article 38 and Article 39, in their respective first parts, of the Nigerian Constitution, state:

  1. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
  2. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

Article 45 of the Constitution can invalidate rights enshrined in Article 38 and Article 39. However, S.S. Umar & Co. make amorphous and generalized reference to Article 45. No explicit reference provided about it. Article 45(1)(a) to (b) states:

  1. (1) Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society

(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or

(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons

With these litany of documentations, the core context comes from an individual prominent humanist use of the “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (Article 38, Nigerian Constitution) and “freedom of expression… freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference” (Article 39, Nigerian Constitution). A complaint by S.S. Umar & Co. attempting to undermine this utilizing Article 45 of the Nigerian Constitution, Section 210 of the (Shari’a) Penal Code of Kano State, Section 4 of the Police Act 1967, Cybercrimes (Prohibitions, Prevention, Etc.) Act of 2015 Section 26(1)(c), where this becomes (a bad) attempt to justify non-uniformed apprehension in an unlawful speed and illegitimate manner, and pseudo-blasphemy complaint bordering on a formal charge for dealing with a former Muslim, atheist, and humanist in a religious court.

The second case remains open.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, In-Sight Publishing.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 18, 2020:

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