Mubarak Bala is the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. We will be conducting this educational series to learn more about humanism and secularism within Nigeria. Here we talk about humanism in Nigeria.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Looking into the humanist community compared to the traditional fundamentalist religious community within Nigeria, what remain the greatest risks to them?
Mubarak Bala: The greatest threat to one’s existence as (a closeted) Atheist/Humanist/Secularist, is exposure, without their contingency plan.
Many are still closeted, given they have jobs, homes, families and children whose bills and responsibilities lies on their shoulders, so all could collapse like a house of cards, should anyone suffer a leak, either by mistake or betrayal, sometimes by trusted persons once intimated about one’s belief or unbelief.
There was one, whose girlfriend knew was, and showed acceptance to, (probably out of the desperation to get married and the hope he may revert back), but betrayed him, to his family after marriage and pregnancy.
He died in 2017 in what the family just said was a motorcycle accident. And as it is, we could not ascertain if it was really an accident as he was hurriedly buried according to Islamic rites, and hardly does any authority care to investigate accidents in this part of the world.
Our resources also, would not have allowed for us to further the investigation on our suspicions. As he was far, very far from the states in which we have better reach and connections.
It was sad.
Jacobsen: In addition, what was the central difficulty for individuals such as Dr. Leo Igwe, and yourself, in the maintenance of the humanist community in Nigeria, especially as the antipathy to the non-religious was, already, very high?
Bala: Firstly, we have scarce funding, from between ourselves, since we only muster from our earnings, and most of our members are still students, with no jobs nor financial independence. So organizing events, sponsorships and logistics are hard, but we still thrive, thanks to our well to do members who share more than the average fees we tax ourselves.
Secondly, there’s that sense of suspicion, as members fear newcomers fearing their sincerity, finding comfort in the small community of friends we have scouted or risked to have received their contact, who mostly are genuine rationalists and thinkers looking for a community. The fear by members, who in all honesty is genuine, drags our, (already out) efforts to longer and slower cohesion.
There’s also this nagging question between Humanists as to what or what should a humanist do or not do. Many think just by being atheist, they have ‘conquered’ and so, chose to be assholes to others, bullying the religious (their person, and not the religions we normally bash), and also, bring rancor and disharmony within the community. Although it is expected in a pack of cats, where no one lords it over others, there still need to be sanity of attitude towards the fellow human, be it a theist or non-theist.
Jacobsen: For those facing less difficult circumstances in the foundation and maintenance, and growth, of a humanist community, any encouraging words for them?
Bala: We always advise that people be safe in their closets, until they could finish school and secure the already scarce jobs in the tight economy as ours, not just in Nigeria but throughout the region (West Africa), and the continent as well. The developed countries have better soft landings for atheists and the minority, not here.
I have gone through both thick and thin, and have first hand experience in how things could go from spark to boom. Mostly, shouting out loud is only a last resort if one’s life is clearly in danger, that’s when we have to come together and save who so ever has emergency, and we do this, more efficiently now, with our experience, locally and with good contacts with others beyond our borders.
The hope is that in future, we could be able with resources and better organization, be able to lobby and educate, or pressure the authorities to help or establish protection agencies or centers for vulnerable people from at risk situations, especially since it is their loved ones in these situations that harm or try to kill them, and bury any evidence or suspicion.
The safest place to be an atheist is no longer just in the mind only, it is on the internet, with an account that keeps your identity safe, while you keep good contact with like mind, in future when it is safer, one could then come out.
Already, we have marriages between members and issues therefrom, so there is hope, we no longer have to fear that no one would marry us. Many would, even as theists as they are, especially if their parents are not a hindrance. Some, are lucky to even meet their match online or within our safe spaces across the country and the country. There is hope and always good news these past years especially.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mubarak.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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