On the 28th of April 2020, Mubarak Bala, a Nigerian humanist activist was arrested by the police for a post on social media. According to the government representatives, he was arrested for having an opinion that was critical and satirical of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. He was earlier threatened with death by Nigerian Muslim Tweeps before his arrest happened. Since that date about one year ago Mr. Mubarak has not tasted his freedom, just for criticizing an Islamic prophet in a country that claims to be secular – respecting the freedom of and from religion.
The interesting question to then pose is if Nigeria is a Secular nation or a Sharia State. But No! We need to first ask ourselves if we want a secular Nation or a country ruled by sharia first. Do we want a country ruled by freedom of thought or we want one where everyone defers to their priests or politicians to think for them? Do we want a country ruled by irrational and inhumane religious doctrines or we want one where we can make and change laws democratically? Do we want a country where different major religions are at constant political war or one where the political conversation is about the real welfare interests of the people? Do we even know what we want? Do we want to advance our world ethically or we want to collectively live by books that proclaim that our world will burn and there is no point in the ambition to one day advance towards our own heaven on earth? Do we want a world where all crimes are excused as devices of some unseen Devil or one where people take responsibility for their actions and get rehabilitated? Do we even believe in humanity and the fact that we humans are good enough to be our own gods and the masters of our own future? Do we want a society built around the feelings of an unseen god or one where the physical and mental welfare of the people is central to all decision making? Finally and most importantly, would you want to see your religion rule the world someday?
That last question is what differentiates between a religious person and a religious fanatic. While being a critical person is better than both, being a religious fanatic is the more dangerous of the two. If you would like to see your religion rule your family one day, you are a fanatic. How much more wanting to see your religion rule your country or the whole world? It is not surprising that most religious persons are fanatics starting with the indoctrination of their little children into their religions, to giving employments, promotions and appointments based on religious loyalties.
This charge of religious nepotism has been leveled against the Nigerian government many times in appointing Muslims into almost all key positions. One could have ignored this if the appointees demonstrated some political competence, but events have shown the regime and its appointees to be the direct opposite of the word COMPETENT. Therefore the only reason left to have that much Muslims in major political appointments is Religious Nepotism. This is an important criticism of the appointments system of politics, which has a viable alternative of making all political positions elective posts whose representatives are subject to democratic recall from their constituents anytime.
Let’s try to figure out whether our elected leaders in Nigeria and their appointees are religious fanatics or just religious persons, for example. Twenty years ago, precisely on the 27th of August 2001, it was reported that Muhammadu Buhari called for the introduction of total Islamic law across the country. News reports quoted him to have said “God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country”, and that was after twelve states in the Northern part of Nigeria had started practicing Sharia Law. Today, Muhammadu Buhari is the President of Nigeria. In 2015, Bashir Ahmaad (who is presently the personal assistant to this same president on New Media) on the issue of nine Nigerians that were about to executed for Blasphemy in Kano tweeted that “I can’t pretend or keep silent. I support the death penalty for BLASPHEMY. That’s my belief and I do not and will never support #SaveKanoNine”. These are religious fanatics.
The present Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami was recently exposed for making sermons sympathetic of Boko Haram, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda in the past, but recently got the support of the Presidency who said he was young when he committed those crimes of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. This is despite the fact that this man’s preaching had been linked to the death of a student leader in ATBU, and more recently Governor Yakowa. He got the support of the presidency with the explanation that he was young when he committed these crimes, even when they were committed in his twenties and thirties. With religious fanatics in power, can we call Nigeria a secular country. Boko Haram exists because of Religious fanaticism. It will be a joke to expect Religious fanatics to fight religious fanaticism, and the terrorist insecurity stemming from it.
With the coexistence of Sharia and Secular laws in the Nigerian constitution, we have been told that Sharia laws are State laws and Federal Secular laws take precedence over them, but the Hisbah Police in the North enforces sharia on Muslims and Non-muslims, recently arresting some Nigerians for eating during the Islamic Ramadan fast, and they are reputed for closing down bars, bulldozing hotels and breaking bottles of beer to deprive both Muslims and non-Muslims from access to secular entertainment. Mubarak Bala is being held in this same tyrannical manner despite the fact that they claim he is being tried with the Federal Secular law.
We know sharia law by its practice in some other parts of the world, no matter how reformed. In Islamic countries across the world, freedom of speech is replaced by Blasphemy laws and all oppositions to the state are crushed. Public executions and other corporal forms of punishment like public beating and cutting off a part of the body, has replaced rehabilitation and correction. Women are subjugated, and people’s valid sexualities are regulated. The interesting thing is that the secular part of the Federal Nigerian law has even been used to justify these same ignoble things in the past, not to talk of the Sharia Law in the North. So is sharia law breathing its tyranny into our secular laws? Can a democratic positive and a tyrannical negative coexist? When positives and negatives coexist, what is the scientific result? The question is left unanswered whether Nigeria is a Secular Nation or ruled by Sharia, and that confusion is as tragic as the confusion and dogma of all organized religions.
Omole Ibukun writes from Abuja, Nigeria, and can be contacted on 09060277591