By Ingye Dooyum

Of course, to a large extent, an individual is greatly influenced by the prevailing ideologies in the society in which they are born. Mubarak Bala was no exception, and this explains the fervency he once displayed in professing Islam, as the only true religion. He was taught that Islam is a perfect religion, and as one who wanted to see his society progress, he felt Islamic activism would see his goal realized.


In a sense, Mubarak’s activism predates the time he turned to disbelief. Born in a highly conservative society and from a family of Islamic clerics whose lineage is linked to the disciples of Usman Dan Fodio, Mubarak grew up, not only strictly practicing the tenets of Islam, but spreading its message. He used to be an active Muslim, a pseudo–Islamist. In the early 2000s, he led the call for the renaming of the road to Kano state government house as Ahmed Deetat road. Later in life, he would establish the 14E also known as Islam for Earth, to preach Islam to students of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.


It took the teachings of the prophet, and the contents of Islam, for Mubarak to question his faith, and its practice. It took a whiff of science for him to jettison the so called Islamic activism he had pursued earlier. The final good of any education would be self-evaluation: to discover oneself, in order to answer and fulfill the ‘whys’ of ones existence. When an individual is able to do these, he/she expresses their discovered self with conviction and bravery.


Self-doubts and questioning led Mubarak to liberalism, secularism, humanism, and atheism, and once he uncovered the lies told by his Islamic teachers, and the poison that Islam is, he didn’t only quickly denounce Islam, but sought to expose it to the Nigerian public. Most people in society however are afraid of change; of new concepts, ideas, etc in life; and most religious people are afraid of entertaining ideas which threaten the basis of their faith. In a region like Northern Nigeria where an intellectual attack on matters of faith is strongly discouraged, it is suicidal for one to be vocal about being irreligious.


The barbaric practice of Islam in Northern Nigeria has been a major of cause of disbelief in Northern Nigeria. According to Mubarak, the beheading of a Christian girl in 2013 was the final straw for him. At this point, he came out publicly as an Atheist. As expected of conservative families, his family reacted quite negatively. As a deeply religious country that Nigeria is, where the concept of disbelief is viewed as strange, demonic, and an offshoot of mental challenge; the family of Mubarak Bala forcefully confined him to a psychiatric hospital where they had connived with a senior doctor to declare him mentally unstable after a previous doctor had given him a clean bill of health. The doctor had told Mubarak; ‘My dear, you need a God. Even in Japan, they have a God. No one should live without God; those that do are all psychologically ill. Denying the biblical account of Adam and Eve is delusion, denial of history.’


Mubarak was drugged, by force, with drugs meant for psychotic and schizophrenic patients. He was also given drugs meant for epileptic patients, and Mubarak has never been epileptic. The reason for this inhuman treatment by his family and the supposed doctor, who is supposed to protect human life, was meant as both punishment for his renouncing Islam and a desperate attempt at changing his mindset.


Fortunately, the International Humanist and Ethical Union took up his case, and by July 2014, the BBC announced that Mubarak Bala was released from the hospital. As a free man, he chose to stay in Northern Nigeria to promote secularism, liberalism and humanistic values; given the reality that Northern Nigeria is mess-riddled with a myriad of challenges that was only rational of a genuinely concerned advocate for the adoption of scientific reasoning, tolerance, and the eradication of religious dogma.


The existing Almajiria system is a sore which renders the future of Northern Nigeria bleak; a bulk of the youths radicalized by Boko Haram are drafted from the streets, and this would come to form the basis of Mubarak Bala’s activism. It must be noted that Mubarak Bala seeks to transform the Northern society, from its religious frenzy and wretched state, to a progressive, stable and rational society, from a humanistic standpoint. One cannot achieve these goals without opening a dialogue on the religion of Islam.


Through the instrumentality of the social media, Mubarak has launched series of attacks on the religion, groups, and persons which have held Northern Nigeria in bondage. Of course, those who referred to the ills of the North as the region’s heritage replied back in vituperative language. At some point, Mubarak Bala was hated more than the elites who have raped the North of its juice, more than Even Abubakar Shekau who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Northerners.


Mubarak Bala is vilified in the most unimaginable manner because he is regarded as a ‘sell-out’. Muslims, especially Northern Muslims, have an ugly reputation in replying constructive criticism with violence. It is within this context that in April 2020, Bala was arrested in Kaduna for blasphemy due to a Facebook post he made, and has been held without charge or access to his family and medical care (it’s important to mention here that Mubarak Bala is hypertensive).


Due to the fact that the Nigerian police transferred him from Kaduna to Kano, where Shariah law is practiced and in the face of several credible death threats, fears are mounting for his safety. Currently, no one has heard from him, and it is difficult to rule out fears that he might have been killed in police custody. This feeling is strengthened by the refusal of the Kano state Police to produce him in court, and their bias position on the case.


Leo Igwe, a founding father of Humanist Association of Nigeria, has been working hard with several humanists in Nigeria as well as atheist and humanist organisations, such as the International Association of Atheists (IAA) to raise awareness as well as funds to fight for Bala’s rights and help pay his legal costs. There is need to state that international and domestic media has been mostly silent on this case.


Last month, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) took up Mubarak’s case and is mounting pressure on the Nigerian government to free Mubarak Bala. These calls are increasing, especially among African humanists, irrespective of the government’s indifference. By and large, the silent lip maintained by the government brings to fore the unhealthy role of religion in politics.


Islamic clerics in Nigeria maintain that Islam is central to the political life of the country. This is an indirect way of saying, the Quran and the sharia must take precedence over the Nigeria constitution. The inclusion of religion in policy making, and state administration has proven to be disastrous for the unity and development of Nigeria. Religion does not recognize the diversity of Nigeria, it places emphasis on ‘we’ and ‘them’.


Our leaders, having been influenced by various absurd doctrines, take value-laden and biased decisions. This explains why the Kano state Police commissioner, Habu Sani, has found it impossible to divorce his bias from the case. Shortly after Mubarak was transferred to Kano, from the Commissioner’s utterances, one could rightly assert that he considered Mubarak Bala guilty. He was unwilling to give audience to Leo Igwe, and has proven to be uncooperative.


This hardly comes as a surprise as recruitment into security agencies is largely determined by religious affiliation. In Nigeria, a Muslim from the North stands a better chance of being employed by the government than people of other, or no faith. Religion and ethnicity determines who gets what, when and how, and there is little emphasis placed on merit. This explains why, Police Commissioner Habu Sani, is more willing to carry out the wishes of muslims than objectively investigate this case.


As far as the law is concerned, Mubarak has committed no crime. The continued incarceration of Mubarak Bala is a violation of his rights; however, this is not taken into consideration as the government views the case from an Islamic standpoint. The official body language of the government finds Bala guilty of blasphemy.


(c) Ingye Dooyum 2020