Just recently, a 37-year old atheist and the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala was sentenced to jail at the Kano State High Court for 24 years after he plead guilty of the 18-count charges levelled against him, which include blasphemy against the religion of Islam and incitements.
When I came across a news report on Mubarak Bala’s case, i first asked myself, is Nigeria a secular state? Yes, the Nigerian Constitution states that Nigeria is a secular state. It allows for the freedom of religion or belief. But then i asked myself another question, does the nigerian constitution promote such act as Bala’s? And the answer was ‘No’. In 12 states in the core North, they have a Sharia constitution, with islamic laws that guide the adherents of the religion. Despite the existence of these two totally distinct constitutions and laws that brings about a clash between Western and Islamic ideologies, none of them supports the act of Mubarak Bala.
However, Mubarak Bala wasn’t sentenced to jail by the Sharia Court but by the Kano State High Court. He was sentenced to jail not because he was an atheist but because he failed to respect the beliefs of others by giving out his provocative statements and unguarded utterances.
Some sections of our constitution do not allow for such act as Mubarak Bala’s. If you go by Section 204 of the Nigerian Criminal Code with the title “Insult to Religion”, you would get to know and understand that nobody is allowed to insult any religious belief or symbol, and also no one is allowed to commit blasphemy. Anyone culpable of this act is guilty of misdemeanor and is liable to serve a prison term as provided the judiciary. So, in as much as there is the freedom to practice or abide by whatever you wish to, disparaging the beliefs of others isn’t provided for. Courtesy demands respect, and so there must be respect for religious principles.
I actually felt pity for Mubarak Bala, taking into consideration the long prison term he was served, but he had a problem and that was delving into the beliefs of others which revealed his intolerance. No individual stopped him for his beliefs and nobody threatened him over what he choosed to practice. Encroaching into the beliefs of others is very wrong and should be avoided.
Every Nigerian, whether Christian, Muslim, Traditionalist, Atheist, Agnostic, Jew or Buddhist needs to embrace the spirit of tolerance. I have seen situations Muslims create groups to disparage Christianity. I have seen situations where Christians spread propaganda against the Islamic religion. I have seen Christians and Muslims castigate adherents of the different African Traditional Religion we have.
Atheists are not left out of this tussle. They are criticised for their belief that there is no God or the existence of spirits. The atheists also criticise the beliefs of Christians and Muslims, and regard to their beliefs as superstitions.
We cannot deny all these things because we are guilty of them. We believe that our religion, beliefs or ideas are the best and the only true one recognised by God or fit for humanity. We cannot co-exist peacefully if we continually walk on this path. Selah.
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