Update 3: After having been sent many photos from MB, I am 99.9% sure this story is true. He wanted me to mention that the Facebook status his father posted is “the key to enter Islam. Whoever professes it, is now a Muslim”. MB is no longer drugged and has been moved to a private room in the hospital. He is expecting a visit from his regular doctor today whom he expects will have him released no later than Friday. It is not for sure and other people have told him he will be locked up for months. I have the number of his friend and doctor but am unsure if I should use them. I have tried reaching out to an atheist group in Nigeria to no avail. Even if MB is released, he will still be in great danger. His life could be threatened by family or other people who know he is an atheist. He still desperately needs to find a way to the South and will likely need somewhere to stay. If he is not released on Friday, he will also need assistance being discharged. I feel rather helpless here and have zero experience doing anything like this. I need people who know Nigeria better than me. If you have any way of helping, please contact me at email@example.com
Update 2: There is someone on the ground in Nigeria investigating this story, to see if it checks out.
Update 1: MB is no longer reachable, so I am guessing his phone has been taken. Also, for those of you who’ve asked if he has asked for money, he has not.
I know Mondays are usually reserved for the Every Atheist Needs series, but last night I received a disturbing email that is far more pressing.
For the time being, I’m not going to give you the name of the person who sent it to me, for two reasons. 1. I have not confirmed the factuality of this story although many things we already know point to it’s being very true and 2. Because I have no idea what sort of danger this man faces and if publicizing this will make it worse.
This email came from a man in Nigeria who has been a part of the Twitter atheism community for a long time. He’s conversed with many of us, shared memes and told his coming out story as it took place in Nigeria. He was counselled by other ex-Muslims and eventually warned not to be too open about the whole thing while still in Nigeria.
Nigeria is the second most devoutly religious country in the most devoutly religious region in the world,
Even with a global decline in religiosity, the black continent has the smallest number of self-proclaimed atheists in the world.
Nigeria reports that 93% of its population identifies as religious. This number is likely not a reflection of true believers, however, as attitudes toward atheism in the country are nothing short of barbaric, ensuring anyone with doubts or questions about religion keeps it to themselves.
Nigeria has both Sharia and secular laws, and its constitution guarantees the right to religious freedom, but that right, it seems, is rarely upheld.
In Nigeria, atheism is a taboo. It is abominable for anyone to proclaim openly that god does not exist. It is not safe and normal for people to admit being an atheist. Reactions range from sardonic incredulity, shock, anger and hatred. Atheism goes with huge costs -social and political consequences – which many people cannot afford. Generally atheists are not accorded respect. They are not treated as human beings with equal rights and dignity. In fact, in Nigeria it is better and more socially acceptable to profess a belief in any god or any religion than to profess no religion and lack of belief in god. Many people will not welcome an atheist to their homes. The general misconception is that atheists are horrible human beings, the agents of the devil who lack common moral decencies. People are made to believe that atheists can corrupt their minds or ‘souls’, and lead them to hell fire and eternal damnation. The whole idea of atheism is scary to many Nigerians, because most believe all initiatives should be founded on god, no matter how absurd or vaguely conceived such an idea is.
Ultimately, coming out as an atheist in Nigeria, whether you are in the Islamic North or the Christian South, means giving up your family, your friends, your career, your future. You can become the target of violence, harassment and threats.
In the email I received last night, the sender (let’s call him MB for now), told me that he had come out as atheist in September of last year. He comes from a Muslim family led by his prominent father who writes a popular newspaper column. He was born in Kano City, in northern Nigeria, an Islamic area under Sharia law.
After coming out, his family sent him to counselling which was aimed at reconverting him to Islam. During that time, MB sought out the atheist community online and found many supporters on Twitter. One such supporter was @Quranifyme – A podcast that focuses on leaving Islam. In the next day or so, they will be releasing a podcast with much of MB’s story in it as well. You can subscribe here.
In spite of all the counselling MB had to attend, his atheism only became stronger. His family became increasingly impatient. Several members of his extended families came from out of town to try and help him find his way back to Islam, but to no avail. As he described to me, his Aunts “arrived from different cities to wail and cry”. His family was becoming desperate.
In his final therapy session, MB engaged in a debate that finally became too much for his father to handle. Frustrated and infuriated, his father and two uncles beat MB, choking him and causing minor injuries. During this beating, his Aunts, brothers, mother and sisters were present. Finally, his brother administered a sedative, and MB lost consciousness. A day later, he awoke in the psych ward of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital at Bayero University.
MB was soon visited by his mother, who smuggled in his phone. When I asked him if she supported him, he said, “Yes, in any way she can”. He then followed up by telling me that she was likely to come and take the phone back in the morning, because she would be in danger if she was caught helping him.
#AtheistSOS – MB’s bed in the hospital
With his phone, MB was able to find out that his father had posted to Facebook using MB’s account. He posted a statement of faith with regards to Islam. It appears in great contrast to MB’s previous posts which were quotes from Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Christopher Hitchens. He was also able to get in contact with the blogging and podcasting community on Twitter to help get his story out.
I have not been able to verify the facts in this story, as I am afraid to put him in any further danger. I do know he’s been active in the Twitter atheism community for some time now, and has been speaking with many different people who say this story appears to check out. He confided in me that he is likely to try and escape the hospital today. He will have nowhere to go, no resources, no friends and no money. I’m at a loss as to how to go about helping him, but I’m putting this story out there both because he asked me to, and because maybe someone out there will know better than I what can be done to help him. Perhaps we can find him some other atheists in Nigeria to stay with.
If you want to be of some help, the best thing I can think of is to share his story like crazy and forward this info to media and politicians or other atheists in Nigeria who might care. Let’s attempt to use the hashtag #AtheistSOS to keep track of what’s going on. If you need more information, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org