It is a month today since the police arrested Nigerian atheist, Mubarak Bala. It is still difficult to comprehend how the police had in the past four weeks connived with the petitioners to deny Mr. Bala his basic human rights. The petitioners and their sponsors have been in a triumphant mood, celebrating the arrest and illegal detention of a person who committed no crime. What was his alleged offense? He made a post on Facebook that was critical of the prophet of Islam. And nothing more!
Since the arrest of Mr. Bala, efforts have been made to get the police to ensure that he is fairly treated, that his human and constitutional rights are respected. Unfortunately, these initiatives have not yielded any significant results. Efforts have been made to get the police to move Mr. Bala to a neutral place while the investigation goes on. But the police have refused to honor the request. Instead the police have held him incommunicado. They have refused to grant him access to a lawyer. The police have yet to charge him in court. There has not been any independent confirmation that Bala is alive. Some people are saying that the police could be keeping him in protective custody. They claim that the police are concerned about the safety of Mr. Bala; that if they made public where he was detained, Muslim fanatics could invade the place and murder him.
Of course that is a valid concern. There have been cases of such religious bloodletting in Kano in the past years. And with the many death threats against Mr. Bala, the police need to protect him from violent extremists. Now the question is: How long are the police going to keep Mr. Bala in protective custody? Four months? One year? Four years? What is the constitutional and legal value in putting him in protective custody in a place such as Kano where he is most at risk of being maltreated, tortured, or killed? In fact, how protective is this protective custody when it is an arrangement on the terms of the petitioners, not according to the state law? Does keeping Mr. Bala in protective custody preclude giving him access to a lawyer? So why are the police more interested in ‘protecting’ Mr. Bala than in granting him access to an attorney?
Does Bala not have the right to a defense lawyer? Why are the police going about this case like this? Why are they making it so clear that they are carrying out a sham investigation? Why are they making it obvious to the world that Bala will not receive a fair trial if he is eventually charged? Are these four weeks not enough for the police to retrace their steps and tow the path of law, equity, and justice?
The petitioners have a strong Islamist base in Kano. This is well known. And the police want to appease them by handling Bala’s case this way. But four weeks are enough. Yes four weeks of flagrant illegality and unconstitutionality should be enough. Four weeks of being held incommunicado. Four weeks of not granting him access to a lawyer. Four weeks of not charging him in a court. Four weeks of not giving him access to family members. Four weeks of no confirmation if he is dead or alive. Four weeks of no confirmation of what he is eating, where and how he is sleeping? Four weeks of mental and psychological torture. Four weeks of treating as guilty a person who has not been tried and convicted in a court of law. Look, the Nigerian police, four weeks are enough. The way that the case of Mr. Bala has been handled does not speak well of the police system. It does not speak well of the justice system. It does not speak well of the petitioners who are in connivance in the maltreatment of Mr. Bala.
Now the police should rise to their constitutional role and handle the case of Mubarak Bala as required by the law of Nigeria, not the religion of the petitioners. The police should begin to investigate this case in a way that ensures that justice is served. Justice is not served when the police hold Mr. Bala incommunicado. Justice is not served when they keep him in a ‘protective custody’ sine die. Justice is not served when the police are using every means to detain him without trial. The police should grant Mubarak Bala access to his lawyers and then charge him in a court. Or they should unconditionally release him. Four weeks are enough. The world is watching.