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Nigeria: Free Thyself By Leo Igwe

4 June 2020 - 4:37am


Leo Igwe

The arrest and incarceration of Mubarak Bala has compelled a review of the role of religion, in this case Islam, in governance, in Nigeria's nation building and development. I did not know Mubarak Bala until 2014.

Then I was studying for my doctorate in Germany. Before leaving for my studies, I knew a few ex muslims who were part of the Humanist Association. From interacting with them. I understood how dangerous it was to be an atheist or an ex muslim in Northern Nigeria. I am from southern Nigeria, in fact from a region, the south east, that could rightly be called the country's Bible belt. Coming out as an atheist was risky and challenging but not as risky as in the case of Mr. Bala.

In 2014, some friends alerted me that the family of Bala consigned him to a mental hospital following his renunciation of Islam. I was asked to help rally international support to secure his release. We campaigned and Mr Bala eventually left the hospital although that was after the staff at the hospital embarked on an industrial action. To understand how difficult and challenging being an irreligious person in Nigeria could be, an overview of Nigeria's religious landscape will be helpful. Traditional religion, christianity and islam are the main religions that Nigeria's over 200 million people profess. Christianity and Islam are foreign religions. Western missionaries brought christianity to the geographical area that make up contemporary Nigeria about 15th century and Arab and north African jihadists and scholars introduced Islam much earlier. Centuries of christian evangelization and islamic spread that included coercion and violence, demonization and fetishization of traditional religions, killing and enslavement of Africans have turned what used to be a traditional religious stronghold into christian and islamic dominated society.  Leo Igwe Carissa Snedeker-Wikimedia commons

While the Islamic religion is dominant in the northern part of the country, most people in the south profess christianity. Across the country, there is an undercurrent of religious hybridity, a mix of christianity and traditional beliefs, Islam and traditional religion and some places christian, islamic and traditional beliefs.

In muslim majority states, Islam controls education, politics, commerce, and the law. Sharia is in force in twelve out of seventeen states in Northern Nigeria. British authorities tried to limit the influence and sway of sharia and political Islam during the colonial period. Since independence Nigeria's multiple religious heritage has presented a challenge to nation-building and the forging of a peaceful and progressive nation state. The two foreign colonial religions have been pitched in a battle to define and direct statecraft. From time to time tensions boil over resulting to religious conflict and blood shed especially in states and sections with significant number of muslims and christians.

The volatile religious situation in Nigeria has negatively impacted the non religious, leaving humanists, atheists and agnostics, freethinkers in the country with very limited options. Based on existing religious demographics, the irreligious form an insignificant part of the population. They are less than one percent. The religious account for over 95 percent of the population. But as the case of Bala has clearly shown, Nigeria's religious demographics are bloated and exaggerated. Fear, intimidation, violence and threat of violence largely account for Nigeria's religiosity. Simply put, there is no freedom of religion in the country.

The percentage of the irreligious is very low not because Nigerians are notoriously religious as John Mbiti stated.To most Nigerians, religion is on the surface. it is a survivalist facility. Nigerians become religious due to social pressure and coercion; they are perforce christians and muslims And this explains the pervasiveness of religious hybridity and the immortal quest of islamic purists to islamize and re-islamize the population.

Nigeria has a statistically insignificant irreligious population because it is risky and dangerous to come out as an ex christian or ex muslim, as a godless, irreligious person. It is disabling socially, economically and politically. There is enormous hostility towards persons who openly and publicly declare to be atheists even from persons who can barely explain why they believe in God. The stigma linked to atheism and the antipathy towards individuals who declare themselves as non religious and irreligious is enormous.  Christians and muslims are indoctrinated to hate, belittle, demean, persecute, discriminate and in some cases kill non believers. 

It is important to point out that although, Nigeria is one country, the situation of atheists varies from North to south, from one religious background to another. The situation of atheists is worse in the islamic northern part of the country where Mr Bala comes from. Atheism is a matter of life and death. The risky situation of atheists has affected the growth, development and organisation of humanism and atheism because humanists and atheists in these places operate underground. They have been unable to effectively organise and hold meetings in Kano, Kastina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe, Gombe etc.

Bala lives in Kaduna but was born in Kano. These are muslim majority states with a history of religious bloodletting and blasphemy killings. Under sharia law, apostasy and blasphemy are crimes that are punishable by death or long prison sentences. Persons who are born into muslim families cannot leave the religion, and if they do, they cannot say that they have left the religion. They cannot declare why they have left because that would be interpreted as blasphemy as seen in the case of Bala. So there are two places left for atheists, exmuslims  or those who renounce Islam to be: in the prison or in the grave. Bala's experience in 2014 has revealed another place for atheists, the psychiatric hospital. So as an atheist, one is either mentally sick, a criminal or dead. 
Sadly these are despicable options that mark the everyday life of atheists in Nigeria especially those from muslim dominated areas. Atheists have become endangered species, and risk being picked up, locked up, hospitalized, hunted down and killed at the behest of extremists. These risks and dangers are responsible for the insignificant demographics of the irreligious in Nigeria. And if the case of Bala is not adequately addressed the situation is bound to fester, worsen and spread to southern Nigeria where atheists live and operate with relative ease. Atheists in southern region could be increasingly targeted. The situation could become more precarious for freethinkers and freethought in the region.

The arrest of Bala is indicative of an underlying rot and malaise. It has clearly demonstrated how religion, in this case Islam, has caused Nigeria to drift and depart from the path of civility, sanity, legality and life. Islam has occasioned the emergence of existential nihilists, death cults that unleash mayhem and wreak havoc at the slightest provocation. Muslim jihadists have perpetrated savage acts, mindless violence and destruction. Raging in Nigeria is a form of Islam that sanctifies impunity and crimes against humanity. Unfortunately acclaimed moderate and progressive muslims have remained indifferent as the country drifts and flounders. The islamic establishment in Nigeria has keep mute and refused to speak out against the persecution and threat to murder a citizen of Nigeria merely for posting a comment on Facebook that allegedly insulted the prophet of Islam. No member of the Nigerian government, or a state agency has condemned the arrest. 

In Nigeria, Islam mainly thrives on fear, compulsion, intimidation and violence. As currently practiced, Islam has a strong undercurrent of anti humanity and anti- Enlightenment. It is hardwired against reformation and progressive change. Islamic religion has a long history of intolerance and bloodshed that goes back to the precolonial times, and traced to 1804 jihad of Sheikh Usman dan Fodio and beyond. In post colonial Nigeria, the cycle of jihadist violence, oppression and bloodletting targeting mainly muslims and christians has continued. In the case of Bala, Nigeria is witnessing a new dynamic, an added target in the jihadist assault and persecution- atheists and humanists.

Nigeria has suffered enormously as a result of jihadist murderous campaigns: the Maitatsine sect in the 80s, the sectarian killings in Kano in 1991 that muslims perpetrated to protest the visit of an American evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, the beheading of Gideon Akaluka in the 90s, the riots and wastage of lives over sharia enforcement in 2000s, the lynching of a school teacher by students in Gombe, the murder of a christian woman in Kano for blasphemy and of course the vicious terrorist activities of rampaging Boko Haram militants. The list of islam-motivated atrocities is endless. Incidentally, those who were behind these instances of religious carnage in Kano or Gombe are walking about freely in the region. Religious bloodletters are not brought to justice; they are not made to answer for their crimes. Killing in the name of Islam has yet to be treated as a crime. In Kano, the government acquitted suspected blasphemy killers stating that they had no case to answer. But the state has detained a person who made a post on the prophet of Islam on Facebook for over a month. Now Kano state government that has been unable to successfully prosecute and established a case against murderous jihadists and blasphemy killers are looking for ways to indict and convict an innocent individual for making a post on the internet. Nigeria should release Mubarak Bala and guarantee the rights, safety and dignity of atheists and humanists across the country. Nigeria has the primary responsibility to protect atheists and other non muslims in the region. 

But to accomplish this important objective, Nigeria must free itself from the bondage of violent extremism and radical Islam. Nigeria must wean itself off this vicious and bloodthirsty form of piety that makes -and has made- some muslims to kill or be ready to kill other human beings at the slightest provocation. Nigeria must get rid of the anti-human, suicidal and genocidal formation of Islam that teaches muslims to value their religion, the Qu'ran and the name of the prophet more than their life, more than human life. 

Nigeria, Free Thyself. Free Mubarak Bala

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NANS Condemns Police For Stopping Planned #JusticeForTina Protest In Lagos, Vows To Carry On With March

4 June 2020 - 4:19am

The National Association of Nigerian Students, Zone D, has described as shameful attempts by the police to stop a planned protest to demand justice for a teenager killed by a policeman.

Tina Ezekwe, a 17-year-old girl, was hit and killed by a bullet from the gun of a policeman trying to enforce the curfew put in place to curb the spread of Coronavirus last week Tuesday in the Iyana Oworo area of the city. 

A protest had been slated for 11:00am Thursday to demand justice over her killing but had to be postponed after the Divisional Police Officer of Bariga Police Station refused to allow organisers to express their constitutional rights to protest. 

Video of Police DPO Arm-twist #JusticeForTina Protest Organizer To Suspend Planned Protest Police DPO Arm-twist #JusticeForTina Protest Organizer To Suspend Planned Protest LISTEN: Police DPO Arm-twist #JusticeForTina Protest Organizer To Suspend Planned Protest

NANS Zone D in a statement on Thursday by its Public Relations Officer, Kazeem Olalekan Israel, said they will not be cowed by attempts to derail justice and will mobilise young people to carry on with the protest as planned.

The statement reads, “It is so shameful that despite the fact that we are in 2020, someone that is in the position of a Divisional Police Officer does not understand that a police permit whatsoever is not needed before staging a protest. We would have overlooked it as an error on his part but as stated in a popular law maxim that "ignorantia juris (legis) neminem excusat", meaning ignorance of the law excuses nobody, we are duty-bound to educate and enlighten him in correcting his erroneous view about protest.

"This is not to appear contumacious but the truth is, with the statement uttered, the man is not fit to be a police officer not to talk of being a Divisional Police Officer because the statement credited to him clearly shows that he is obsolete, hence, he constitutes a grave disgrace and disservice to the Nigeria Police Force.

“The murder of Tina by police bullet is heart-wrenching and worth a spontaneous mass action to be taken to demand prosecution of the officers involved so as to serve as deterrence to others, but, it is shameful that a police officer would declare protest to be illegal until a permit to that effect is acquired from the Commissioner of Police.  See Also Sahara Reporters Police Stop #JusticeforTina Protest In Lagos 0 Comments 6 Days Ago

“Though, we commend the police authority for arresting the officers involved in the murder and for assuring us of proper legal actions to be instituted against them but we maintain that it is alien and unknown to the Nigerian legal system that protesters would be barred for not possessing a police permit.

"Also, the demands of the Oworo Youths and Bariga Youths are beyond just the killing of Tina; it is against all forms of violence chiefly state brutality. 

"As an association, we wish to remind the Bariga DPO and the authority of the Nigeria Police Force that based on reports, security operatives have killed more than Coronavirus so far. So, it is just normal for the people to be displeased and perfect plans to register their displeasure through an organised mass action. The demand is simple and it is that an end must be put to police brutality.”

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Coalition Calls For State Of Emergency On Sexual And Gender-based Violence In Nigeria

4 June 2020 - 3:52am


A coalition of civil society groups in Nigeria have launched a campaign to push for systemic change on Sexual and Gender-based Violence in the country.

They also called for the declaration of a state of emergency on SGBV in Nigeria.

The groups, TechHerNG, Girl Child Africa, Connected Development, Enough is Enough Nigeria, Stand To End Rape, SilverChipFox, Yiaga Africa, Dorothy Njemanze Foundation, and Education as Vaccine, said a social media and physical campaign register to force systemic action against SGBV in the country had been launched.  UNHCR

“Starting Thursday, June 4, there will be posters on social media inviting citizens to call their legislators and ask what they’re doing to protect women and girls. We are also working with some lawmakers for urgent legislative action. 

“On Friday, June 5 from 9am, we will converge at the Police Headquarters in Lagos and Abuja (these two locations are confirmed) presenting letters to the leadership of the Nigeria Police Force calling for prompt investigation and conclusion of rape and all SGBV cases. 

“We will be submitting a memo to the Nigerian Governors' Forum and the Federal Executive Council calling for an effective and sustained institutional response to SGBV in Nigeria. 

“Our key asks are as follows: Domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act and Child Rights Act in all states of the federation; establishment of Sexual Assault Referral Centres in every state backed with a coordinated, sustainably-funded support system; criminalization and prompt state-led prosecution of SGBV cases within, regardless of requests or interference by the victim's family or interested parties.

“Implementation of functional Family Support Units and Force Gender Units at the state level that are well equipped to address SGBV cases; the imposition of public disciplinary measures against officials of the NPF and state prosecutors that mishandle cases of SGBV.”

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Plot To Stop Justice Dongban-Mensem As Nigeria’s Appeal Court President Thickens

4 June 2020 - 3:01am


Monica Bolna’an Dongban-Mensem

There is a grand plan to stop Monica Bolna’an Dongban-Mensem from being appointed the substantive President of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria, a report by TheCable said.

Rather, there has been a push for Mohammed Lawal Garba, who chaired the 2019 presidential election petitions tribunal, to be appointed in her place.

Although tongues are wagging that it is because Dongban-Mensem is a minority Northern Christian and Garba is a Northern Muslim, TheCable reported that the intrigues were more political than ethnic or religious.  Monica Bolna’an Dongban-Mensem

The Federal Judicial Service Commission had recommended both Dongban-Mensem and Lawal — in that order — to the National Judicial Commission to replace Zainab Bulkachuwa, who retired in March 2020 having reached the age of 70.

Dongban-Mensem, from Plateau State, is the most senior judge in the Court of Appeal.

The NJC forwarded Dongban-Mensem’s name to President Muhammadu Buhari for onward transmission to the Senate for confirmation but he is yet to send her name for confirmation nearly three months later.

Instead, he appointed her in a protem position and recently renewed it for another three months, which could see her act as PCA till September 2020.

It was gathered that dirt-digging was now being employed by presidential advisers to get Dongban-Mensem disqualified and pave the way for Garba.

Her national youth service record is being scrutinised, but it was learnt that she did serve in 1980/81.

More so, according to government insiders, it would be “mysterious” to question the credentials of someone who has been screened by both the FJSC — of which Abubakar Malami, the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, is a member — and the NJC.

Garba, the preferred candidate, chaired the presidential election petitions tribunal which ruled in favour of Buhari in September 2019.

Garba had replaced Bulkachuwa as chairman of the tribunal following protests by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party over an alleged conflict of interest.

Bulkachuwa’s husband is a senator on the platform of the All Progressives Congress — the president’s party.

Buhari’s media team did not respond to questions from TheCable on why Dongban-Mensem’s name has not been sent to the senate for confirmation.

Umar weighs in

On Sunday, Abubakar Umar Dangiwa, a retired colonel and former military governor of Kaduna State, warned Buhari that his “lopsided appointments will ruin Nigeria”.

In the widely circulated letter, he wrote, “May I also invite the attention of Mr President to the pending matter of appointment of a Chief Judge of the Nigerian Court Appeal which appears to be generating public interest. As it is, the most senior Judge, Justice Monica Dongban Mensem, a Northern Christian, is serving out her second three-month term as acting Chief Judge without firm prospects that she will be confirmed substantive head.

“I do not know Justice Mensem but those who do attest to her competence, honesty and humility. She appears eminently qualified for appointment as the substantive Chief Judge of the Court of Appeal as she is also said to be highly recommended by the National Judicial Council. If she is not and is bypassed in favour of the next in line who happens to be another northern Muslim, that would be truly odd.

“In which case, even the largest contingent of PR gurus would struggle to rebut the charges that you, Mr President, is either unwilling or incapable of acting on your pledge to belong to everyone — and to no one. I hope you would see your way into pausing and reflecting on the very grave consequences of such failure not just to your legacy but to the future of our great country.”

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AAC National Chairman, Sowore, Submits Schedule Of Edo State Primary Election To INEC

4 June 2020 - 2:52am


The author, Omoyele Sowore

National Chairman of the African Action Congress, Mr Omoyele Sowore, has submitted the schedule of activities for the Edo State primary election to the Independent National Electoral Commission headquarters in Abuja.

In a letter dated and delivered on June 2, 2020, Sowore wrote, “The attached is the detailed schedule of activities of the AAC for the conduct of the party's primaries in respect of the Edo State gubernatorial election.  Omoyele Sowore

“The schedule is created pursuant to Schedule 3 Section 2 (i),(ii),(iii) of the AAC constitution and is hereby forwarded to you for onward actions. 

“Dr Hafiz Lawal, Chairman of the AAC, Edo State chapter, shall correspond with you further on behalf of the part in respect of the Edo State gubernatorial election.”

Initially, some overzealous INEC officers refused to accept the letter from the National Chairman, alleging that a similar letter had earlier been sent by an individual, who they mistook to be leader of the party based on a court order.

However, the authentic National Chairman of the AAC, Sowore, informed them that no court deposed him as leader of the party and that the National Executive Committee of the party had since settled the issue. 

Sowore further requested the INEC officials to produce the presupposed court order upon which they were acting if any existed but the officials were unable to do so.

Consequently, the INEC acknowledged Sowore as National Chairman of the party and the authentic person to issue the letter on behalf of the AAC. 

VIDEO: AAC National Chairman, @YeleSowore, Submits Schedule Of Edo State Primary Election To @INECnigeria

WATCH FULL VIDEO: https://t.co/1c25nziWn8 pic.twitter.com/XsjUdj5wFy

— Sahara Reporters (@SaharaReporters) June 4, 2020

The electoral umpire later received and officially acknowledged the document. 

The governorship election in Edo State has been scheduled to take place on September 19, 2020.

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Stop Intimidating #JusticeforTina Protesters, AAC Tells Lagos Police Commissioner

4 June 2020 - 2:23am


The Lagos State chapter of the African Action Congress has urged the Commissioner for Police in the state, Zubairu Muazu, to stop threatening organisers of rallies tagged #JusticeForTina, a series of planned protests against the killing of a teenager by a trigger-happy policeman.

Kunle Wizeman Ajayi, state Chairman of the AAC in Lagos, said it was wrong to unlawfully ask rally organisers to take permissions from the Police Commissioner when he and his command are copiously culpable in the case.

Ajayi said, “We have listened to the tape of threat against lawful protests by citizens especially youths against police brutality and rapes that is currently ravaging the country. This threat was sent down to the organisers in Bariga and Oworo of a rally tagged #JusticeforTina through the DPO of Bariga Police Station. 

“Without law, morality says that the police who murdered Tina should be modest enough not to meddle into a rally to honour the killed not to talk of threatening them. CP Zubairu Muazu should apologise to Lagosians for sending the DPO to threaten Bariga and Oworo Youths immediately.

“The people have the right to demand open and proper justice in the killing of the school girl. It is gibberish to unlawfully ask rally organizers to take permissions from the Commissioner of Police when he and his command are copiously culpable in the case. The DPO even have the guts to mock the Supreme Court judgment that assert that citizens have a right to assembly and protest and do not need police permissions. 

“AAC asks the #JusticeforTina mobilisers and organisers to double our efforts and make sure that the action is successful. The police cannot be a judge in their own case; ditto for the state.

“We asks our members and supporters to join popular and organised peaceful actions against police brutality, rape and all forms of oppressions. We have a whole wide world to win; what we will loose is our chains.”

Video of Police DPO Arm-twist #JusticeForTina Protest Organizer To Suspend Planned Protest Police DPO Arm-twist #JusticeForTina Protest Organizer To Suspend Planned Protest LISTEN: Police DPO Arm-twist #JusticeForTina Protest Organizer To Suspend Planned Protest

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Police Stop #JusticeforTina Protest In Lagos

4 June 2020 - 1:51am


Tina


The police in Lagos have stopped activists and other concerned individuals from protesting the killing of Tina Ezekwe in the city.

The teenager was hit by a bullet from the gun of a policeman trying to enforce the curfew put in place to curb the spread of Coronavirus last week Tuesday in the Iyana Oworo area of the city.

Though she was promptly rushed to a hospital for medical attention, the 17-year-old didn’t survive – she died.  Tina

A protest slated for 11:00am Thursday to demand justice over her killing had been forced to be postponed after the Divisional Police Officer of Bariga Police Station refused to allow organisers to express their constitutional rights to protest.

Though the officers involved in the killing, ASP Theophilus Otobo and Inspector Oguntoba Olamigoke, have been indicted by the police authorities for the murder of the girl, young people around the area the teenager was killed under the platform of Oworo Youth Forum have demanded compensation for family of the victim. 

The group said, “We at Oworo Youth Forum are not only calling for the perpetrators to be arrested, paraded and prosecuted publicly but also demanding that the family of Tina must be adequately compensated for their loss.

“We want to make it categorically clear that this will not be one of those cases that will be swept under the carpet under the disguise of orderly room trial and prosecution.

“We will engage and resist with everything we have within the ambit of the law to make sure justice is not beheaded.” 

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