Our attention has been drawn to a story titled “Police detain atheist 40 days for insulting Prophet Mohammed”, which was carried in the 7 June 2020 edition of the Punch Newspaper. Specifically, we refer to the misrepresentations by Barrister S. S. Umar regarding the arrest and detention of Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. As the report rightly pointed out, the police arrested Mr Bala in Kaduna on 28 April 2020 and transferred him to Kano the following day where he has since been held incommunicado. In that report, there was no comment from the offices of the police and the attorney general in Kano. However, S. S. Umar who lodged the petition that led to the arrest and detention Mr. Bala stated that Mr. Bala had been in police custody because courts in Kano were closed due to COVID-19 pandemic and the police could not grant him bail due to security reasons.
These are all fabricated lies by this lawyer to misinform and mislead the public about his mischievous petition and connivance with the police to continue to deny Mr Bala his human and constitutional rights. Indeed, Mr Bala has not been formally charged to court, but this is not because courts in Kano had not been sitting due to COVID-19 pandemic. Courts have been sitting and in the case of Mr Bala several pre-hearings have been held and the police have refused to produce him in court. Instead the police have tendered one excuse or the other for failing to produce him in court.
The claim that police have refused to grant Bala bail due to security reasons was another treacherous proposition. Petitions have been sent to the police urging them to take Bala's case out of Kano to a neutral place, but the police ignored all the petitions. In addition, the police have continued to deny Mubarak Bala access to a lawyer. It is unfortunate that Barrister S. S. Umar did not highlight this illegality in his interview and comment on the case.
We wish to have it on record that the Nigeria Police have clearly demonstrated bias in this case, appealing to religious sentiments in utter disregard to Mr. Bala’s fundamental human rights. They have blocked all attempts by the lawyer to visit and meet with Mr. Bala and have systematically frustrated every attempt by Mr. Bala’s wife to see or hear from her husband.
Meanwhile the police have approached a court and apparently want to prosecute Mr. Bala without a legal representation. Nobody is saying that the police should not carry out their duties and responsibilities; but they should do so in accordance and not in spite of the laws and constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Mr. Bala’s forced disappearance by the Nigeria Police is emblematic of the decline in the respect of individual human rights under President Muhammadu Buhari. The impunity being exhibited by the Nigeria Police on the matter of Mr. Bala indicates a tacit approval by the Nigerian government and should be strongly condemned by all lovers of human rights and justice.
We once again call on the Nigerian government to release Mr. Bala and allow him to reunite with his family. The Nigeria Police must be held to account for the illegal arrest and detention of Mubarak Bala.
Leo Igwe Ph.D. (Religious Studies, Bayreuth)
Chair, Humanist Association of Nigeria