Mubarak Bala is the Executive Director of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. Here we talk about his life, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?
Mubarak Bala: I grew up in the mid ’80s, (born July, 1984) life was liberal, and our society in northern Nigeria, multi-tribal, then the Saudi program kicked in, to counter the Iranian exportation of their Islamic Revolution. Clerics were sponsored to study Islam in Arabia, and disseminate core Islamic values (Sunni).
By the 1990s, the society started changing, more provocative sermons, women were then secluded, and the colorful Somali-type hijab, replaced the colorful light veils seen with Hausa-Fulani women.
I only spoke Hausa and understood Arabic by age 10, almost zero English, although savvy with Mathematics and Science skills. This is because I was enrolled in a Saudi-Funded ‘Islamic Foundation’ school named as such, with semi-fanatics and a Muslim-only staffing.
It was only for Muslims. By 1995, we were taught, as part of the Extra-curricular activities, how to shoot bows and arrows at an arranged Evening class, only once. Maybe it was sneaked in as a curriculum, since the Military government frowns at Fanaticism.
Families were mostly liberal, I missed most of the early childhood plays as my curricula were tight, 7am-1pm, the supposedly Western Education at Islamic Foundation, then 4-6pm another called Sabilur-Rashad Madrassah, Quran-only school, and between 8-10pm another Islam and jurisdiction lesson, mostly Islamic History and how to behave as a Muslim.
Even on weekends when we were supposed to be free, we had extra-Islamic lessons at another Madrassa, morning and Evening.
Now you understand how suffocating that would be for a kid.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Bala: By Secondary School age, 1995-2001, I was first at a day-science-school called Islama Community Secondary School, an all-Muslim school in Kano, 1995 to 1997, then on to its sister school as a boarding school, it was a Science school with Strict Islamic discipline as well as Qur’an memorization.
I was good at both, and always read translated versions of the Quran when the things bore me, I have been warned to stop by my clerics, as no one was supposed to read and understand them by themselves, my curiosity never waned though.
I had a habit of comparing what Allah said on an issue, and what science really said, friends would jeer me if I narrate my observations, especially, as always, when Science seemed to get it right, and quiet opposite of what Islam says.
But all the self-education, also gave me the courage as to as too much, getting answers in some, or beat up/flogged on others. I hoped to modernise Islam and make it more acceptable to reasonable minds. I thought this would help humans escape that punishment of hell-fire Allah created just for them.
Now I know better, lol.
Jacobsen: What is your current role in the Humanist Association of Nigeria? What tasks and responsibilities come with this position?
Bala: The just concluded National Convention in Abuja, January 12-15th, ended with an interim executive body, with me as President, a board of Trustees, as well as tasks and charts as how to steer the Association further into success and activities, funding and further expansion of the ever growing membership in the country, from both religions.
Our Agenda has been set, we are registered, and have been more vocal and present both online and in person, to national activities and events, political and social, our website would soon take up, and the bulk of our work would be out there for all to see and follow.
As part of organising ourselves, we also are partnering with other socio-cultural/secular NGOs on a few activities of interest, such as child prevention from witchcraft accusations by the Christian clergy, and the Almajiri (google a few links) enslavement of male kids by Islamic clerics.
Jacobsen: As you consider the struggles since the foundation of the Nigerian humanist movement by Dr. Leo Igwe, what have been the real victories and honest failures of the Humanist Association of Nigeria?
Bala: Failures are the delays we faced in getting registered, it took two decades just to register the secular association, in a much debated legal tussle, this hindered our growth, organisation and funding which would have been the means by which we could support members at risk, educate society to understand our stand and why the society need reason and rationalism.
Had we succeeded in getting most of the basic structures in place from the 1990s that the founding members started, we may have countered the narrative that led to the agitation for Boko Haram and sharia insurgency.
Our successes are numerous now, we have atleast been recognised by the government, which is a very important step, and a strategic stepping stone, to achieve all other goals.
Jacobsen: What have been the hardest struggles in the fight for secularism, human rights, and humanistic policies and initiatives at the national level?
Bala: Mostly in this part of the world, it is mis-information and mis-representation. many think morality only comes from millennia old books and that whoever counters such archaic canonical orthodoxy, is up to something sinister and dangerous.
I personally was misunderstood by my immediate family, the moment I expressed doubts about religion, they called me names and sought to silence and deter me from ever coming public with it, honor to them, is ultimate, and any price could be paid to preserve it.
Same it is, at the national level, the government, having emerged from the clueless age of the military era, is handed over to semi-educated illiterates, greedy but oblivious to facts of life, which in effect, allows individuals to abuse office and sneak-in tribal and religious agenda, from both Islam and Christianity, as rivalry grow, to hoist them on the populace. Secularists and liberals suffer most from both angles.
Jacobsen: Who tend to be the ones who push back the hardest against equality of the humanist community in Nigeria?
Bala: The masses. Nigeria has the largest number of un-schooled populace, mostly in the north off the country, which is why, many are also subconsciously, just terrorists without the balls to carry arms. Democracy dictates they have a vote, which means they could influence politics and policies, and yes they do.
Second is the clergy, from either of the major religions here. They have access to the leadership, and so, exert pressure as to which direction they wish the government and country is steered, mostly to ill-ends,
Jacobsen: Why are international solidarity movements important, in spite of the inevitable times when things will become incredibly difficult, painfully so, emotionally and then hard in terms of financials as well?
Bala: Before I knew of any such secular movements in Nigeria, I thought there may never be life after atheism in Northern Nigeria, then many made contact, and I realised, all we needed is organisation and a safe space.
We now no longer need International Organisations with trivial (mostly financial) assistance, we simply raise money within ourselves, and get a few support financing when the bills are bulky.
What we most need and require these days, is the voice from other International Associations, especially when we have legal or threats to counter, within Nigeria.
Such organizations have bigger voices and could influence policy-makers within and outside our shores, with good media contacts, especially the on-air ones, as well as the online flood of individual efforts. It does save lives.
Jacobsen: Who are the biggest charlatans in Nigeria? How do they exemplify the fraudulence, bilking, and manipulation through demagoguery, fear mongering, and lying seen in other mass religious movements in other regions’ histories?
Bala: We have two major religions here, Islam in the north, Christianity in the south. Both religions and their clergy, have been the bane of our national development.
They scare people with imagined monsters and social exclusion, such that reason is feared, shunned and ridiculed.
Sadly, the system favors those with the votes, and so, although on paper, the country is secular, we are nowhere near that now, with governments and politicians boasting of contributing to erection of the largest Jesus statue in Africa, (google it, its funny), to the largest church auditorium in the world.
Nigeria now has more worship and miracle centres, than hospitals, schools, and industries. It is appalling.
Most appalling is that the effort to educate the people that these are not what they need, were mostly met with violence. Imagine trying to save a victim of a snake-bite, only to be attacked by the victim, mistaking you as a bigger venom carrier. Sad!
Jacobsen: How can people become involved with the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, and so on?
Bala: We hope to have formal websites and organiZation’s accounts, we mostly raise funding from ourselves, we also plan to register members, so as to see how we could spread the responsibility around, to ease the burden on the main circle.
We hope to also get assistance from other well-to-do sister organizations outside our shores, especially how to counter fanaticism and put up ads that open up the society from the general delusion that breeds terrorism and misery on and off our lands.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Bala: It has been a great hour, the questions were apt, and takes one down memory lane… sweet memories, and scary paths one could have veered into.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mubarak.
Bala: It is my pleasure. Would be glad these encounters happen more often. Thank you.
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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