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Nonbelievers And Freedom Of Religion Or Belief In Nigeria



Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State

By Leo Igwe

If Nigerian parliamentarians were to organize an event on freedom of religion or belief, religious nonbelievers would not be invited or consulted. This is not because the nonreligious community does not exist. In Nigeria, nonbelievers are treated as social outcasts. In some parts of the country, they consider nonbelievers criminals who should be locked up, jailed, or executed for their nonbelief in god. People of no faith would not participate in the deliberation and exploration of this fundamental right because persons with no religion are considered undeserving of equal humanity and human rights.

Persons from no faith traditions are deemed inconsequential in the political scheme of things. Those who govern Nigeria, especially in the northern part of the country consider their religion, their sharia law, superior to the constitution. Humanists and atheists are treated as undesirables, as second-class citizens who, unlike their Christian and Muslim counterparts should be seen and not heard. Put simply, the lives, rights, interests, voices, and perspectives of humanists, atheists, and other nonbelievers do not matter to state actors and managers.

This situation applies because religious believers are socialized in their churches, mosques and other places of worship to detest unbelief and nonbelievers, and to treat nonbelievers with indignity and disrespect. Freedom of religion or belief is grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted as demonstrated in a recent Supreme Court declaration recognizing only the rights of Muslim females to wear a religious veil as part of the official and school uniform. Freedom of religion or belief is understood as warranting profession of faith, the privilege of religion, in this case, Islam in northern Nigeria and Christianity in southern Nigeria. Every other thing in between, religious or irreligious is suppressed, demonized, discounted, and subordinated to the dictates of these imperialistic religions.

Belief, not disbelief or nonbelief in the prophetic icons of Christianity and Islam are cast and bounded by red lines, which no one dares cross, lines heavily policed by blood-thirsty clerics, state and nonstate Boko Haramic, and Hisbah-styled Mujahideens.

It is pertinent to note that those who derided, and denounced African traditional religious beliefs and nonbelief formations and prophetic icons as fetish and idolatrous introduced Christianity and Islam to Nigeria. Having gained prominence and dominance after centuries of symbolic, structural, and physical assault on other religious and nonreligious canons, these faith groups have made a violation of their sensibilities a transgression, and in some cases a capital offense. They have stealthily legitimized and sanctified hatred, attack, and murder with impunity, political exclusion, oppression, subjugation and persecution of real or imagined nonbelievers.

Political Islamists and their Christian counterparts have institutionalized tyranny and contempt for constitutional and human liberties in places where these religious adherents are in the majority. They have weaponized blasphemy law and apostasy to gag, silent and neutralize criticism of religion, denying humanists, atheists and skeptics their humanity, freedom of thought, and expression, and other liberties that religious believers enjoy. It can rightly be said that the tree of religion in Nigeria is watered by the stifle and suffocation of nontheism, irreligion and freethought.

If you are in doubt about the precarious picture of humanism and atheism in Nigeria that I have painted, take a look at the case of Mubarak Bala. Look at Bala who renounced Islam in 2014, and in response, the family took him to a state mental hospital. Look at Mubarak Bala, who was sedated and given medications to cure him of apostasy and unbelief. Is apostasy a disease? Is apostasy not an exercise in freedom of religion or belief? Is it not in a country that officially disdains freedom of conscience that people who renounce their faith in a god could be treated this way?

Bala managed to escape from his captors and abusers but it was for a short time. Jihadists were unpleased and unappeased when he regained his freedom. They censored and policed him online and offline, looking for any infraction or a violation of their religious sensibilities that they could use to indict or silence him.

READ ALSO: The Killing Of Nigerian Christian Student Has Everything To Do With Religion

On April 28, 2020, freedom of religion or belief suffered a heavy blow in Nigeria. The police arrested Mubarak Bala in Kaduna. Later, they whisked him to Kano, where he was held incommunicado for several months. What was his alleged offense? Some Islamist lawyers complained that Bala made some posts on Facebook that insulted the prophet of Islam, that he called their prophet a terrorist, and described the religion of Islam in disparaging terms. Since Bala’s arrest, humanists and atheists in Northern Nigeria have been in hiding and living in fear of their lives. Muslim militants have been harassing them online and offline, threatening to arrest, attack, or kill anyone who makes any comment or post that is critical of Islam or its prophet.

Blasphemy is a right not a crime because all religious claims are blasphemous to other religions. No government can claim to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief without protecting the rights of individuals to blaspheme. No society can claim to be free if its members cannot say what they think about any religion or philosophy without fear of being arrested, prosecuted or killed. Freedom of religion or belief makes no sense if the right to change one’s belief, or to dissent from religious ideas is not guaranteed.

Human rights are grounded on the principle of equality of all human beings, equality of believers and nonbelievers. If Muslim believers have the right to say what they think about their religion, other religions and philosophies, about their prophet, other prophets and philosophers, nonbelievers including atheists and humanists have the right to express their thoughts and ideas about Islam and its prophet. Anything short of this is tyranny and is incompatible with freedom of religion or belief for all. So humanists are not asking for a special right. Humanists are demanding their equal human rights.

READ  ALSO: Muslim-Muslim Ticket And Politics Beyond Religion In Nigeria

In the case of Mubarak Bala, the systemic contempt for religious and irreligious liberties in Nigeria had its way. Bala’s innocuous posts were adjudged blasphemous and an offence against the state. And in total disregard for his human and constitutional rights, Bala was convicted and sentenced to 24 years in jail. That was after almost two years of arbitrary detention, torment and abuse.

The violation of freedom of religion or belief of one Nigerian is a violation of all. Freedom of religion or belief is not a right that a person enjoys because he or she belongs to a majority religious or belief group but a right that all individuals are entitled to whether they belong to the majority or to the minority. Like Mubarak Bala, freedom of religion or belief is in prison, and serving a long jail sentence in Nigeria. The human rights of humanists and other nonbelievers are behind bars heavily guarded by fanatics who despise liberty and civility. Let us work together to free the rights of humanists from religious hostage, and from the grip of theocratic jailers and their allies. Let us work together to realize freedom of religion or belief for every, and all Nigerians.

Igwe, PhD, is a board member of Humanists International, UK.


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With Us, Not For US



Barrister Ijeoma Fynecountry

By Ijeoma Fynecountry

The 21st of March of every year is international day for the celebration of persons living with down syndrome. The advocacy and push for communal and political recognition of the basic fundamental rights for persons living with various types of disabilities, particularly intellectual disability, just as enjoyed by their peers who do not have any form of challenge – physical or intellectual has recorded a substantial success around the globe, especially in more developed climes. 

While the same cannot be said of the situation in Africa and Nigeria in particular, scanty breakthroughs have also been seen over the years, with the consistent and dogged efforts by some specialized organizations such as Down syndrome Foundation, Nigeria (DSFN).

The theme for this year’s celebration is “With us, Not for us”. This theme is apt particularly in the current era where the push for inclusion has taken a center stage in the campaign worldwide. While it is comforting to know that people, government and communities alike are now becoming more empathetic to the plight of persons living with disability, it is also necessary and most important that their rights as human beings deserving of not just empathy but actual concrete benefits accruable to other citizens without disability, is massively taken into consideration and actually provided for.

Therefore, it is not enough for the government to map out and create as in Lagos state and few other states, sections in the public schools to admit children or persons with intellectual disability, it is necessary to adequately equip these special schools with the needed “specialized” manpower, infrastructural and educational aids to attain the targeted educational goals for these persons. Likewise in the provision of better healthcare, economic, social needs of persons with disability etc.

Persons with intellectual disability do not just need to be specifically educated in accordance with his or her type of disability, but MUST also necessarily be able to aspire to or expect to be employed according to his or her learned ability. That way, a full right, befitting of a person, be him a person with disability or not, is assured. For what is the need of going through a learning process, acquiring a specialized knowledge about a craft or handiwork and eventually still not being given the opportunity of gaining employment as supposed, not due to lack of knowledge but for having a disability? No human being should be subjected to such. Our government should do better. The society at large should do better.

The theme for this year is enjoining all stakeholders – the government, communities, corporate organizations, religious bodies/organizations, individuals to open up their hearts, and recognize the very urgent and important need to help in the actualization of these basic human needs, rights of persons living with intellectual disability as we are all human. No human rights or needs should be prioritized over the other no matter the state of their health, mental and physical capacity. Stand with us by taking actual intentional steps towards uplifting and elevating the humanness of persons living with disability. It is not enough to say that you are for persons living with disability, your specific, intentional, targeted actions toward ensuring the practical applicability of these rights matters.

Fynecontryis a Lagos-based legal practitioner and the legal resource person for the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria.


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The 2023  Elections And The Newness Of Nigeria



The Futility Of A Marital Chase
Dr. Hope Nwawolo

By Hope Nwawolo   

Despite the hues and cries that greeted the results of the 2023 elections, what if the court’s pendulum stays or swings otherwise in the expected litigations?

What will it teach our inquisitive young children?

What will it do to the hopes and dreams of the youths?

What will it do to the mind set of those in diaspora, waiting and hoping to return?

How will it affect our heroes still alive and yearning for the good old times?

One basic fact is that no matter where the pendulum swings, something new has started in the political sphere of Nigeria. And because it was unexpected, it has become almost impossible to strangulate it.  

In every competition, there is an expectation that the best man will win. That may not always be in politics, particularly, in Nigeria…where the winner may not be the best man or even the better man. And when it is said that politics is a game of numbers, sometimes, the actual numbers may not be visible to determine the end result. It becomes a case of the more you look the less you see; until interpreted by respected learned men with high integrity.

Politics, they say is a dirty game, where money speaks and promises made are broken without an iota of guilt. Where the gullible minds of the masses are deceived, with as little as a box of indomie. Where some vibrant but jobless youths are brainwashed to risk their lives to snatch ballot boxes for the politicians who do not know them beyond giving them stipends through some third parties. Where market women are forced to come out for rallies and campaigns because they cannot afford the fine that will be imposed on them if they failed to participate. They also do not want the harassment of the market leaders. 

In politics, fear is palpable in the air, before, during and after elections. The 2023 elections recently carried out, depicted these more than expected in both the politicians and electorate. What started like the usual political pattern took a drastic turn about nine months to the first elections and though it was said to be only a social media affair, it got everyone sitting upright and tightening his seat belt, particularly after the first elections.

Now, there is a generational shift, a new awakening, a new dawn and a new political birth, waiting to happen. To wherever the pendulum turns; where the court stands, it will make a turnaround in Nigeria. It may be turbulent at the beginning, it may be emotionally draining and psychologically traumatizing, but it will point to light at the end of the tunnel.

There is a new hope backed by a high spirit of determination. An unexplainable faith in many people for that newness of existence and purpose. An unprecedented emotional and psychological strength in the youths not to give up on their dreams. An unquenchable desire to keep praying. Soon a newness will break forth to calm all nerves and dry all tears.

A newness that will permeate conflicts and hatred,

A newness that will dissipate unnecessary anger,

A newness that will usher in unquestionable and transparent political systems in future elections,

A newness of freedom to choose a candidate without coercion or molestation

A newness of jubilation after the announcement of election results.

This is the new Nigeria that is awaiting delivery…

Nwawolo, PhD, writes from Lagos.




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Overcoming Policy Execution Trap As Nigeria’s Development Challenge



Prof. Tunji Olaopa

By Tunji Olaopa

If I am asked to give a succinct and apt summary of the entire challenge faced by the Nigerian state in terms of her policy architecture and development management, in spite of contestation in the development literature, I will not hesitate in stating clearly and unambiguously that it is the challenge of policy implementation; the whole dynamics of getting things done. By elimination, the implication is that the challenge cannot be located as that of the dearth of development ideas, insights, models and paradigms. Right from her independence, Nigeria has been inundated with several ideas, both local and global, about development policy and frameworks. And yet, policy outcomes keep getting bogged down in the murky waters of political shenanigans. This means that the new administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu has its challenge mapped out, in red, for it.

There is no shying away from this postcolonial predicament that has limited and kept limiting Nigeria’s capacity to honour the terms of her social contract with Nigerians. Hence, the Tinubu government will soon be inundated with the impatient agitations of Nigerians for a quick and tangible fix that will address their sufferings. And they are justified since they have not been given any real deal for the past sixty-three years of sovereign independence. And the new administration is obligated because that is the reason for seeking office in the first place.

Prof. Olaopa’s new book on public policy and development challenges

How then can we begin to understand this policy execution challenge? It is simple: how can an administration in Nigeria transition from governance vision and policy intention to policy outcomes that elevate and transform the quality of life of its citizens? Failure to understand and give critical and political attention to this question lies at the heart of the governance failures of successive Nigerian administrations. The new Tinubu administration cannot afford such a glaring mistake. And so, a fundamental case must be made out of the question of how policy intentions get circumscribed in the dynamics of policy execution that occasions policy failures in past administrations.

Modern states all across the world are distinguished by the traditional four functions they discharge as part of their administrative responsibilities—security i.e. securing the sovereign territory against lawlessness, policy formulation and implementation, governance regulation and service delivery.The capacity to perform each and all of these functions very well within an integrated framework in the governance context is what delivers the dividends of democratic governance to the citizens, and it enhances the state’s competitive and human development rating in global reckoning. With these functions, we have the metrics to differentiate between high-performing states like China, India, the United States,Botswana, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirate, Germany, Rwanda and the Asian Tigers (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea), and low- or even under-performing countries like Nigeria that is still cluelessly stuck within a dysfunctional vicious cycle within her arrested development.

From the perspective of governance, there must be something these states are getting right in the connection between leadership, politics, and policy articulation. For instance, there is a trajectory of relationship that links elite bargains to development bargains. In other words, development is a
function of elite nationalism and the extent to which the political class of a state can commit elite suicide and gamble on development on behalf of the people they are leading. In Nigeria, low
manifestation of elite nationalism has made it really difficult for the political class to set aside their personal and egoistic class interests in ways that enable them to clearly and ideologically discern and navigate the deadly developmental landmines strewn all over our governance landscape by the
neoliberal implication of ideological apparatuses and frameworks to which Nigeria is beholden. And here, the factor of development gamble of the Asian Tigers’ elites comes into bold relief. From within the ideological ambit of the developmental state, the leadership of the Asian Tigers were able to define a policy space that consciously and critically weighed the benefits and shortfalls of external influences, especially the type that came from the World Bank, IMF and the other cohorts of the neoliberal policy dynamics. Their developmental circumspection paid off!

Since we cannot argue that Nigeria has been stumped by the lack of vision documents, development plans and blueprints, or even policy expertise, the locus of the new administration’s focus  must be directed at the possibility of mustering the political will to undermine the mystified Nigerian Factor, and face the global neoliberal consensus in order to begin the crafting of an enabling policy architecture to drive development. And to achieve this translates to creating the delicate balance between ‘doing the right things’ (a function of decision making quotient) and ‘doing it right’(project and change management effectiveness), and overcoming the various political, cultural, structural and systemic constraints that trapped past well-meaning policies and intentions of Nigerian leaders in the dynamics of implementation.

There is first the conspiracy of elitist interest that ensures there is a poor resource allocation that focuses on elite bargain than development calculations and taking care of the national interest. Other constraints follow: (a) the disconnect between policy design and implementation due to  weak  implementation planning, risk assessment and incompetent change management strategies; (b) unstable and poorly managed macroeconomic policies; (c) policy and project discontinuity; (d) public service low capability readiness; (e) political interference; and finally (f) deep-seated political and bureaucratic corruption. In essence, development has failed not because Nigeria lacks the blueprint or paradigms to make it happen, but due to the dynamics of the politics that the political elite plays with Nigeria’s development potential.

Let me outline what we can regard as the “politics of policy implementation” that Nigeria has played for many years, a politics the new administration must take into serious consideration if it
does not want to fall into the category of failed administration right before it commences. This politics throws Nigeria’s development and policy non-performance right into the frame of the 2005 World Bank review findings about policy and development projects in Africa. According to the finding, 29% of development projects ever get completed, 45% of on-going projects are rated as satisfactory, while 26% of such projects invariably get cancelled. Such a review can never backstop a solid development project of a developmental state.

The politics of policy implementation in
Nigeria is founded on the following assumptions and practices. One: there is that dangerous presumption, that the new administration must resist, that once policies and development plan are designed, they are automatically implemented by the public service. And such a presumption is against the background of a scant investment in implementation analysis and planning, as well as the failure to facilitate the capability review, determine public
administration system’s capability readiness, and strengthening of the MDAs as the powerhouse of government administrative functionality. The MDAs, that is, are not working according to any
specific theories or praxis of change that can guide the functional integration of blueprints or paradigms. This kind of policy inattention draws attention to the policy contradiction: launching a
national development plan and strategy that are not implementation- ready in terms of adequate capability review of the MDAs integral to ensuring implementation success. Two: this
presumption is compounded by the uncritical reliance of past governments on policy experts and consulting firms who are tasked with designing high-end policies that are then dumped on MDAs whose capability reviews and implementation readiness have been neglected in the first place. The
extroversion of the policy design is then compromised by poor functional integration. The truth is that most of these consulting firms lack the appropriate deep content and solution frameworks that are in tandem with the context of policy dysfunction they are supposed to work with. Three: governance policy or project are hardly subjected to feasibility test determined in terms of scope and expectation that are captured by their framework of time, cost and risk assessments before
they are pushed into implementation. This makes it very difficult to benchmark funding projections for these policies and projects against revenue estimations, as well as facilitating in-built flexibilities that enable the policies and projects to adjust to volatilities and contingencies.

All the issues raised above constitute binding constraint that will undermine any governance possibilities the new administration requires to make a success of democratic governance. Undermining the binding constraints demands returning to the fundamentals. The first and most significant is that the new administration needs to interrogate the framework of how government business is currently being conducted. Governance successes are necessarily a function of how government business engages the complexities of the policy design and execution processes within a results-oriented frame. And that entails undermining the structural gaps between policy objectives, development strategies and policy outcomes. This demands second, setting the public service on a performance curve with the institution of a performance management system. This means that the public service must, for example, unfailingly now deploy KPI-based metrics to replace the cumbersome annual performance evaluation report (APER). And at the backend, it becomes imperative to have a monitoring and evaluation system supported by databases that enable staff and program continuous assessment, human resource development rooted in iterativep performance gap identification, supervisors-staff dialogue and multisource feedback mechanismsf for overall national development policy tracking and reporting.

The governance mantra must be on getting the balance between doing the right things and doing it right. And this cannot be achieved through the wanton multiplication or even duplication of
governance plans, programs and blueprints. What is needed is sequencing the blueprints into a coherent and feasible implementation programme, with the right amount of political will behind it. This gives the success of democratic governance a 95% chance of succeeding. The new administration  needs that fighting chance!

. Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration .

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