06/23/2014 06:04 EDT | Updated 08/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Nigeria Must Remain Neutral When It Comes To Religion

Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are rights that are so fundamental to the maintenance of democratic principles of state that it calls for a fervent protection of the rights of atheists and religious persons, alike. The rights of atheists and the rights of religious persons ought not to entail persecution of said persons.

Section ten of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states, "The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion". The implications of this section of the constitution and its immense importance within the political sphere in Nigeria cannot be overstated, especially given the current political and social climate in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country currently stratified into its largely Islamic North and Christian South, and it is continually seeking a significant yet unattainable balance between these two religious extremities. The drafters of the Nigerian constitution anticipated the perilous situation that would arise if religion and the Nigerian state were not separated, and thus fought hard to institutionalize this separation within the constitution.

The inevitability of the ultimate danger that would arise if the lines of the separation were blurred loomed large, and in recognition of this urgency, the drafters inserted section ten within the constitution. But, the drafters were very smart and they understood that individual protection of thought and conscience did not necessarily follow from religious neutrality within the political and public sphere, and so they also inserted section thirty-eight, subsection one into the Nigerian constitution. This section states, "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".

Thus, the drafters not only asserted that the state most remain neutral when it comes to religion, but they further asserted that the state must allow everyone the freedom of religion and conscience, such that they could observe any religion they wanted to, to change their religion, or to denounce religion altogether, if and when they saw fit. However, the drafters warning has long been lost on the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, where over 12 states in the Nigerian North are governed by Sharia Law, and where the Christian south and the Federal government are governed by religion. The social, political, and legal fabric of Nigeria have been infiltrated, infected and intertwined by policies that constantly test the balance between religion and politics, waiting to see how far they could push before this struggling balance leads to an eventual collapse.

In recent years Boko Haram, the insurgent group, that is constantly terrorizing Nigeria has put a spotlight on the dangers of religious extremity. But, this dangers exist, not simply on a level as large as the insurgent group, but on very micro, communal and familial level, where persons are ostracized from their community and families because they covert from previous religious beliefs or denounce their religion all together, and become atheists. According to a report on the Sahara Reporters, 93 per cent of Nigerians are religious, and this religion defines person's social and communal lives. Thus, atheism is, in their words, a taboo in Nigeria, and atheists are in danger of attacks and, economic, social, political, legal, communal, and familial exclusion. An example of the heightened and radicalized extremity of this religious lunacy in Nigeria can be explored in the story of Mubarak Bala.

Mubarak is an atheist that lives in Kano State in Nigeria, and it is one of the states that are governed by Sharia Law. According to a series of correspondences, via email, that Mubarak sent to the owner of the blog, 'Godless Mom', Mubarak has been sent to a psychiatric ward in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital by his family, for denouncing the religion of Islam and becoming atheist. According to the email that he sent out, he had "been sedated (tranquilized) with an injection administered on those who are mentally unstable". His family admitted him to the hospital after striving for a long time to make him change his mind about atheism and re-uptake the Islamic faith. "After being beaten to pulp, and choked by the neck until I passed out, (asphyxia), by my Dad and 3 of his male brothers", he woke up to find himself in a psychiatric ward at the hospital.

He has been able to make contact with the outside world because his mother was able to sneak his phone into the psychiatric ward so that he can contact as many people as possible before he is discovered with his phone. He also realized that his father had made a post in his name, on his Facebook page. His father posted the Shahada, which is apparently a declaration of faith in Islam. It was at this point that he realized that as misguided as his father's beliefs were, "it was never about my health, but family honour". Now, Mubarak fears for his life in the psychiatric ward, and is afraid that his family might kill him in order to preserve his family's honor. I reached out to his father and doctor for comment, and I have been unable to get a comment from them. It should also be noted that I have been unable to independently confirm this story, but I would be following the events of the story very closely. I should note, however, that Human Rights organizations have confirmed that Mubarak is being held in the psychiatric hospital against his will.

The religious fringe that the Nigerian community continues to thread is recreating a tighter boundary that pushes people into the realm of personal dangers, solely because of their religious beliefs, or a lack thereof. His story seeks to profess a powerful message to its readers. His story is a literal-figurative symbolization of the growing plight of the atheist community within Nigerian and the urgency that section ten and section thirty-eight of the Nigerian constitution continues to demand of us.

Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are rights that are so fundamental to the maintenance of democratic principles of state that it calls for a fervent protection of the rights of atheists and religious persons, alike. The rights of atheists and the rights of religious persons ought not to entail persecution of said persons, since these are fundamental human rights that we must seek to protect at all costs, because the potential and actual dangers that arise when we ignore section ten and section thirty-eight of the constitution are immeasurably and despicably horrific.


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