Atheist Society of Nigeria

We seek a Nigeria where public policies are based on rational reasoning and critical thinking and not influenced by religious beliefs

Group Picture

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was the family and personal background regarding geography, culture, religion, and language?
Jummai Mohammed: My name is Jummai Mohammed. I am a Hausa lady from the northern part of Nigeria. I was born into a Muslim home but in a predominantly Christian society. I was born and bred in the southern part of Nigeria which is mostly dominated by Christians.
Jacobsen: How did this impact early life? What was early education like for you? Was religion a part of that education?
Mohammed: I will say being born in a Muslim home in a Christian dominated society tends to shape my being an atheist to this day. As a young girl, I was practically confused by the contradictions in both religions, yet they both claim to serve the supreme God.
I never loved Islam in schools due to the fact that the ustaz in those schools always look and act mean.
The way in which children are beaten up, young boys tied into poles while being flogged mercilessly in the name of punishment made me hate going to Islamic schools; on the other hand, whenever I have the opportunity of following my Christian friends to church, I tend to enjoy the less tensed environment, the songs, the dance and everyone smiling faces and that paved my way into converting to Christianity in the later years.
So, I have practiced and experienced the two most popular Abrahamic religion. Early education for me was fun. I attended a private nursery and primary school. Yes, religion was part of the education. I later proceeded to a church-owned private high school for secondary education. I converted to Christianity while in secondary school, but a closet one.
Jacobsen: When did you first start to begin questioning religion, or were you always an atheist?
Mohammed: I have always questioned religion right from primary school, I always questioned the Bible/Quran stories right from that time, because the stories don’t add up. I ask questions like why did God create us, why place an apple tree in the garden when he doesn’t want humans eating from it.
However, joining a popular Nigeria online forum known as Nairaland influenced and hastened my decision of becoming an atheist.
Jacobsen: Are women treated differently than men and religions? How is this difference manifested in Nigeria?
Mohammed: Yes, it is a glaring fact that religion preaches subjugation of women and it is very evident in Nigerian society. Women are being treated more like a semi-human or should I say slaves in Nigeria, most especially in the northern part of the country which I come from.
Jacobsen: What has been your experience as an adult atheist in Nigeria?
Mohammed: My experience as an adult atheist is just religious fanatics unwillingness to get close, make friends, or do business with me. I don’t live in the north where most atheists are likely to face death threats, I reside in Lagos.
Jacobsen: Who are some prominent male atheists in Nigeria? Who are some prominent women atheists in Nigeria?
Mohammed: Prominent female atheist:
Jummai, Pearl, Neshama, Dorris, etc.
Mubarak Balah, Azaya, Calistus, Juwon, Dr. Leo., Etc

Jacobsen: Can you recommend any books on atheism that are popular within Nigeria? In particular, those that are written by non-Nigerians. Also, those that are written by Nigerians, or a Nigerian.
Mohammed: No.
Jacobsen: What are the main forms of discrimination against atheists, especially open ones, in Nigeria?
Mohammed: Discriminations vary, depending on the atheist environment. In the southern and eastern parts, the discriminations are; family and friends rejecting that person, people not wanting to make friends or involve in any sort of business with one, relationship/marriage breakups. etc..
In the northern part which is predominantly Muslims, atheists face death threats, lynching, and so on, together with what I listed up there faces by a southern atheist.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Jummai.
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Original Publication in Canadian Atheist.
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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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Photo by Joshua Oluwagbemiga on Unsplash

Monday, 17 September 2018


Image Credit: Leo Igwe.
Dr. Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in NigeriaOn August 16, 2017, we published an interview. Here, we talk about gender roles.
Igwe and I had an extensive conversation on the nature of gender roles in the context of modern Nigerian. The sub-text of the conversation came from modern and Indigenous spiritualities of the African continent, the colonial religions seen in Islam and Christianity, and with the pre-text of humanism rejecting these Indigenous and colonial supernaturalisms to define gender.
When we began to talk more, the emphasis of the conversation focused on the humanist masculinity. What is it? What defines it? How is it constrained, defined, and set about in practical terms?
Igwe stated, “It is the idea of maleness that emphasizes the humanity of men and males, the fact that men are human like their female counterparts. That males have emotions, entertain fear and suffer pain like their female counterparts. Simply humanistic masculinity stands for maleness as humanness.”
There comes more emphasis on the care, compassion, and the cooperation of the masculine in a humanistic framework. That, as human beings, men can act in cruel, mean, domineering, and oppressive way.
That these can be cross-gender, or occurring in any gender, traits, which tend towards the personally and socially destructive. “The whole idea of humanist masculinity is vital in clearing this mistaken impression that associates ‘masculinism’ or masculinity with the subordination of women. There are cases of male oppression of women but is that masculinism? No, not at all,” Igwe said.
The idea being that basis for the humanistic man, the masculine self grounded in the philosophy and life stance of humanism, comes from the concrete rather than the supernatural and the non-subjection of women.
In modern vernacular, this means the empowerment of women and the inculcation of the notion and actuality of equality for men and women. Of course, as seems historically and presently the case, most males act masculine in one form or other; most females act feminine in one form or other. There should be flexibility within the humanistic frame while acknowledging some connections between the biological sex differences and the associated tendencies in thoughts and behaviours in genders. However, the bigger category remains human.
“Being manly should be within the ambient of humanity not without. Women do oppress men too but is oppression of men feminism? No. Subordination of men should not be identified as feminism. It is an aberration of feminism,” Igwe explained, “Just as feminism does not imply the oppression of men, masculinity should not be equated with the oppression of females. Thus humanist masculinity is – and should be–about the expression of hu-maleness or hu-manliness and not the humiliation and subordination of females.”
The conversation concluded on the ways in which to inculcate this other modern masculinity. Igwe lamented, “Unfortunately, this goal cannot be realized in the form of education we have in Nigeria at the moment. The educational process is manipulated to preserve certain religious and traditional values and interests. The educational system is used to reinforce notions of masculinity and femininity that are incompatible with humanist and human rights values.”
It leaves questions about an overhaul to the fostering and furtherance of a humanist or humanistic oriented educational system with the best interests of the child in mind.
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Original Publication in The Good Men Project.
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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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Image Credit: Dr. Leo Igwe.

Friday, 14 September 2018


Image Credit: Leo Igwe.
Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Here we talk about masculinity and femininity in Nigeria.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I wanted to conduct a conversation series on masculinity from a humanist perspective in Nigeria with you, Leo. Why you? You founded the Nigerian Humanist Movement. So, to begin, and with this relevant justification as to your qualifications (doctorate as well), what is traditional masculinity and, by implication, femininity in Nigeria?
Dr. Leo Igwe: There is always a risk of conflation in responding to a question such as this because any answer could easily be taken to be all embracing and applicable to all. Definitely, an understanding of traditional masculinity or femininity that applies to over 170 million people in Nigeria with various cultures and beliefs presents a challenge.
Having said that, given the nature of this conversation, I offer a personal opinion. In brief, traditional masculinity or femininity is simply that idea of manliness or womanliness that is handed down from the past. This idea of what it is to be a man or a woman draws its moral and binding force from the fact that it was handed down to a generation that assumes it is expected to observe it, comply with it and pass it on without revision or alteration.
Thus as a tradition, this quality of maleness or femaleness is deemed sacrosanct. It is designated as the norm for social ordering, nurturing and cultivation. It is important to note that the idea of manliness and womanliness which people regard as the norm because they are handed down from the past differ from community to community, and sometimes from family to family, in fact from individual to individual. It is difficult to pin it down.
Generally speaking, masculinity is traditionally identified with strength, power, toughness, and leadership hence the notion of male domination in gender discourses. The male is taken as the natural head and is expected to be strong and should be capable of absorbing pain without crying. The male is nurtured to be the defender, the one who protects the family and who tackles anything dangerous or threatening. Womanliness is associated with ‘weakness’ and vulnerability. Marriage, childcare, child bearing and domestic duties are also linked to womanhood.
Persons are brought up to fit into these roles and expectations. Unfortunately, the emphasis is often, on women and their designated subordinate and subjugated roles. It is often forgotten that male persons are brought up by their parents including their mothers and sisters, nieces and aunts to fit into certain designated roles.
They are pressured sometimes against their will to be manly. These designated manly and womanly roles are well spelled out and mainly applicable in rural areas and among uneducated folks, or in religiously conservative environments. In such situations and circumstances, ruralness, lack of education and faith constrain the ability of males and females to break away from the traditions.
Jacobsen: These designated roles likely, come from Abrahamic religious traditions, as expectations?
Igwe: I prefer to say that supernatural traditions, not only the Abrahamic codifications, are at the root of these designated qualities of maleness and femaleness. In fact, traditional masculinity and femininity are embedded in indigenous religions that predate Abrahamic religious traditions in Africa. What we have in contemporary Africa is a situation where the faiths of Christianity and Islam only reinforce pre-existing religious and traditional notions of masculinity and femininity.
Jacobsen: How does the humanist perspective, in your opinion, differ from these views? How is it similar, even the same, as these views?
Igwe: A humanist perspective is the same with the traditional viewpoint in the sense that they are all human creations and constructions. They are all attempts by humans to define, designate and assign roles and duties. Humanist and non-humanist ideas of manliness and womanliness are devices to make sense of human associations and interactions. But the humanist perspective is different because it is a product of critical evaluation, not of revelation or blind faith.
The humanist view of masculinity or femininity is non-dogmatic and can be questioned and challenged. The humanist idea of male or female is informed by reason, science, and human rights. It is non-conformist and non-orthodox. Like traditional masculinity and femininity, humanist masculinity takes cognizance of the outlined duties and responsibilities. However, the humanist idea of manliness and womanliness is not cast in stone. The qualities and functions are subject to revision and rejection in the light of knowledge and individual freedom.
Jacobsen: If you were to define a humanist masculinity, how would you define it?
Igwe: It is the idea of maleness that emphasizes the humanity of men and males, the fact that men are human like their female counterparts. That males have emotions, entertain fear and suffer pain like their female counterparts. Simply humanistic masculinity stands for maleness as humanness. It stresses male care, compassion, and cooperation while acknowledging domination and oppression as a human, not as an exclusively male property.
The whole idea of humanist masculinity is vital in clearing this mistaken impression that associates ‘masculinism’ or masculinity with the subordination of women. There are cases of male oppression of women but is that masculinism? No, not at all. That should not be designated as what it is to be manly. Being manly should be within the ambient of humanity not without. Women do oppress men too but is oppression of men feminism? No.
Subordination of men should not be identified as feminism. It is an aberration of feminism. Just as feminism does not imply the oppression of men, masculinity should not be equated with the oppression of females. Thus humanist masculinity is – and should be–about the expression of hu-maleness or hu-manliness and not the humiliation and subordination of females.
Jacobsen: What is a way to inculcate a healthier, humanistic, masculinity in young men in Nigeria?
Igwe: Of course, it is through education that the inculcation of humanist masculinity can be achieved. Unfortunately, this goal cannot be realized in the form of education we have in Nigeria at the moment. The educational process is manipulated to preserve certain religious and traditional values and interests. The educational system is used to reinforce notions of masculinity and femininity that are incompatible with humanist and human rights values. So the inculcation of humanistic masculinity can only happen if the educational system is overhauled to foster and reflect humanistic ideas and values.
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Original Publication in The Good Men Project.
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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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Image Credit: Dr. Leo Igwe.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Image Credit: Leo Igwe.
Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He is among the most prominent African non-religious people from the African continent. When he speaks, many people listen in a serious way. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Here we talk about Nigerian and African humanism, the responsibilities of recognition, aims for the humanist movement, and a recent TED talk.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You are one of the most active Nigerian, and African for that matter, activists known to me. For many others, you have left a positive impression and impact, and show no signs of slowing down. What does this widespread recognition as an important voice mean to you?
Dr. Leo Igwe: The widespread recognition means more responsibility and more work. It obligates me to exert more efforts and sustain the momentum to further humanist ideals and values. It entails devising new and more potent strategies to make humanism flourish, and mainstream the rights and interests of nonreligious persons. The positive impression is a sign of a growing understanding or better, an enhanced realization of the importance of humanism; an indication that a long forgotten, long overlooked need for a positive non-religious outlook is now being fulfilled. In a country such as Nigeria, religion has an overwhelming influence. So it can be very difficult for humanist activists to make any significant impact because such an impression chips away on the rock of overbearing religions. Thus the recognition is a welcome development, a sign of hope that should propel me and other activists out there to do more and consolidate on the gains, the hard-won progress that the humanist movement has so far recorded.
Jacobsen: What does this also mean in terms of additional responsibilities from the recognition by peers and youth?
Igwe: It means striving to ensure that humanism takes its rightful place on the table of religions, philosophies or life stances, and that humanists and other non-religious people can live their lives and go about their everyday business with less and less fear. It means working to end persecution and discrimination against non-religious persons in the region. It motivates me to work for a secular Nigeria.
In Nigeria, those who identify as having no religion are in the minority; they are not reckoned with. Non-religious persons suffer systemic marginalization. For too long, persons without religion have been identified as a silent and sometimes, a non-existing minority. The maltreatment is unacceptable and I want to ensure that this situation changes and that the voice of humanism is heard when issues that affect the public are discussed.
In the coming years, I want to work to ensure that Nigerians grow up understanding that religion is an option, and knowing that they can leave religion; that they can criticize religion. I want to make sure that people in Nigeria are aware that humanism and atheism as options that they can explore and embrace.
Jacobsen: What are your current aims for the humanist movement of Nigeria, which you founded?
Igwe: I have two main objectives for the humanist movement. First is to strengthen the capacity of the movement to fulfill its role of providing a sense of community to non-religious persons. Active humanists are still few and far apart, but the challenge of organizing humanism, of growing and managing the humanist community is huge. The humanist movement needs to be positioned to meet these challenges. It needs mechanisms to robustly address the needs and interests of humanists. So I plan to identify such structures, locally and internationally, wherever they exist and put them at the disposal of the movement.
Second, I want to position the movement to meet the needs of the society. Some mistakenly think that humanism is exclusively for humanists. This is not the case. The humanist/freethought movement does not exist only for humanists but for the society as a whole. Religion and superstition negatively affect the religious and the superstitious. So the humanist movement should be enabled to support victims of religious extremism and irrational beliefs whether they are believers or nonbelievers. My goal is to capacitate the movement so that it can fulfill its obligation to humanists including defending the rights to freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression and working to end harmful religious and superstitious practices.
Jacobsen: In a recent, and popular TED talk, you posited a positive life stance with humanism. One that even in spite of the difficulties in the past into the present for many Africans poses a positive future. How did you get the opportunity to present at TED?
Igwe: TED officials contacted me. They asked me to draft a talk on humanism and I did. The talk went through several revisions and very rigorous editing processes and rehearsals before it was finally accepted.
Jacobsen: How does humanism present a better future compared to other philosophies?
Igwe: Humanism presents a better future because it has humanity as its main reference. Humanism emphasizes human abilities and potentialities; that humans can overcome its problems and difficulties in this world. Unlike philosophies, especially those with supernatural resonation, humanism’s future is not an otherworldly infrastructure. It is this-world bound. Humanism stresses a future that is attainable and realizable in time and space. The future that it presents may be ideal but not completely a form of fantasy that only the disincarnated savour. It is not a strictly imagined idea that transcends reality, bereft of any trappings of the worldly. The future is not a post-mortem heritage that people can only enjoy and behold after they are dead. It is a future that is achievable in this life, in the here and now.
Jacobsen: In terms of the outcomes and responses to the TED talk, what has been the feedback?
Igwe: The responses have been encouraging. The talk has been viewed over seven hundred thousand times. I have received a couple of messages from those who listened and were inspired by the talk. I guess that the positive feedbacks, which the talk has so far elicited was mainly because such a perspective is a rarity in African discourses. I hope this is going to change and that there will be more TED and non-TED talks that make a strong case for humanism and freethought in Africa.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Igwe.
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Original Publication in Canadian Atheist.
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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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Image Credit: Dr. Leo Igwe.

Saturday, 8 September 2018


Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was there a family background in humanism, secularism, and rationalism?
Leo Igwe: There was no family connection to my embracing humanism. I found humanism, secularism, and rationalism during my education. My grandparents were traditional religionists. My parents were born traditional religionists, but like most persons of their generation, switched religion while growing up.
They became Catholics not really by choice, but due to existential needs and necessities. My father told me that he embraced Christianity because that was the only way he could get formal education.
My father was trained as a teacher and he taught in primary schools until he retired in the late 80s. My mother dropped out when she was in Standard Two. My mother was — and still is — devoutly religious, but my father never took religious seriously.
Today, I describe my father as an agnostic. I served as an altar boy when I was in primary school and later went to the Catholic seminary where I was trained to be a priest. I left the training in 1994, and started the humanist movement in 1996.
It was while in the seminary that I came into contact with the idea of humanism. I found the humanist outlook to be more realistic than religion. Humanism related to me directly, to human beings that I saw and interacted with.
That was unlike religion that focused mainly on gods and spirits, which I could not see or really interact with. I also noticed that religion encouraged people to be dishonest, to claim to be seeing what they are not seeing or to be in communication with somebody when they are in communication with nobody.
Religion encouraged fakery. So, some of these issues led to me embracing humanism.
Jacobsen: What is the state of these world views and movements in Nigeria?
Igwe: Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the socialist movement was very popular in Nigeria but the movement has been less visible and in fact has almost disappeared since the soviet bloc disintegrated.
I also heard about the pan-Africanist movement, which was effective during the anti-colonialism and anti-apartheid struggles. I do not hear so much about it these days. Apart from these ‘worldviews and movements’, the movement prominent in the region is religion, especially the Christian and Islamic movements.
Religious worldviews overshadow other worldviews. Religious movements override other movements. The most prominent movement in the region is religion. We are only beginning to see the emergence of non-religious movements, such as the humanist/atheist movements rear their heads.
However, these worldviews are far from commanding the influence and followership like the faith movement. I hope with the advent of the internet and the spread of information. We will witness a phenomenal growth of humanist, secularist, and rationalist movement in the region.
Jacobsen: Of those prominent irreligious individuals in Nigeria, who has the most impact in changing the policies, the legislation, the culture, and the scientific literacy of the country? Also, outside of individual effort, what about associations, collectives, and organizations?
Igwe: It used to be Tai Solarin but Solarin passed away in the 90s. Now, the most eloquent irreligious individual voice in Nigeria is our first Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Soyinka is an eminent literary scholar.
He has consistently argued for tolerance and respect for the humanity of all in the face of religious intolerance and extremism. Soyinka has not minced words in condemning the unconscionable religious gladiators in the region that have often turned the country into a theatre of absurdity and holy wars.
He has been consistent in his condemnation of the jihadists and crusaders who often orchestrate religious bloodletting in their quest to implement Sharia law or to further some self-styled divine mandate.
While I cannot say for sure how impactful his rational appeals are on policies and programs, Soyinka’s statements are sources of hope and light at times of darkness and despair. I can say for certain that on occasions when religious extremists push the nation to the brink.
When religion blinds and people are unable to see or think clearly, when fear and fanaticism loom very large, Soyinka is a voice of rational sanity, thoughtful courage, and moderation.
Apart from the individual voices such as Soyinka, there are no active irreligious associations making impact except the emerging irreligious bodies such as the Nigerian Humanist Movement and its affiliates.
Jacobsen: What research points to the increasing secularization and scientific literacy of the general populace?
Igwe: Gallup polls point to increasing religion and scientific illiteracy. In fact, not too long ago, Nigeria was polled to be the most religious nation on earth. However, one can point to the emergence of active humanist and free thought groups in the country as an indicator of the rise of secularism.
For instance, the Humanist Assembly of Lagos is hosting a conference in Lagos this July. Many irreligious individuals will be in attendance. Irreligious attendees are expected from various parts of the country including Kano and Plateau states in Northern Nigeria.
Recently, such meetings have taken place in Ibadan, Abuja, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Benin and Owerri; although, these are not captured in any poll or research they surely point to a growing secular space in the country!
Jacobsen: What are some of the worst reactions to the non-believing community, from children through to the elderly, in Nigeria?
Igwe: First, it is mainly a family issue. The state gets involved in more extreme cases. But this is rare.
The reactions take covert as well as overt forms. The reactions depend on how liberal or conservative a family is. Worst reactions are expectedly from conservative families. Just to let you have a feeling of what the reactions could be.
A popular Nigerian Muslim woman who was reputed to be a liberal person told me that she would have nothing to do with any of the children who renounced Islam. Under Sharia law, apostasy is a crime punishable by death.
So, reactions to non-belief include ostracization, severance of family support, abandonment, and other forms of maltreatment. In a society where the family is virtually everything in terms of social support and sustenance, family sanction is indeed the worse form of punishment for non-belief.
Jacobsen: Of those children that are abused, what are the statistics on them? How many? What kinds of abuse? What has been one of the most bizarre and tragic cases you’ve read or witnessed of Nigerian children being abused based on superstition?
Igwe: About 15,000 children are branded witches and subsequently abandoned in Southern Nigeria and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, many of the 25,000 homeless children living on the streets of Kinshasha are victims of witchcraft accusation.
I was involved in rescuing children who were accused of witchcraft and I heard very horrific tales. There were cases of children whose family members shackled and starved for several days. Some of children were flogged with sticks and iron and had bruises all over their body.
Others had gasoline poured on them and were set ablaze in the quest to expel the spirit of witchcraft.
Jacobsen: How can religion be liberalized? In America, they had Carl Sagan and have Neil Degrasse Tyson. Is there an equivalent in Nigeria?
Igwe:. We don’t have yet the likes of Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson. It is not because there aren’t some scientists who can disseminate scientific ideas and principles.
The science is there. The scientists are there. But the popularizing scientific will is not. This is because scientists are afraid of backlash from religious establishments. Scientists do not want to disseminate scientific ideas in a way that they could be accused of blasphemy.
Religious authorities are still very influential in Nigeria and will go to any length to suppress and neutralize any one promoting science in a way that puts religious claims into question. Science is still within the cocoon and control of religious authorities.
Religion in Nigeria has yet to attain that liberalized state.
Jacobsen: What scientific discipline would have provided the greatest inoculation against the superstitions that most plague Nigeria, e.g. astronomy, biology, chemistry, or physics, and so on? Why?
Igwe: In tackling the disease of superstition, all inoculations are needed because pseudoscience and anti-science manifest in various forms and shapes. Astronomy would be helpful in addressing superstitious beliefs regarding the universe.
Nigerians strongly believe that God, the angels, ancestors and spirits are out there, somewhere in the sky. So, the notion of exploring the planets does not intrigue or command an appeal. Going to the moon or traveling to Mars seems like venturing into the territory of the gods, or embarking on a venture that could elicit the wrath of the divine.
A discipline that sees the ‘heavenly bodies’ as an object of study not of worship will be resourceful in dispelling credulous beliefs. Biology and chemistry will provide the antidote to irrational notions of life and physics will inoculate the people against supernatural beliefs. In Nigeria, belief that human beings can turn into birds, cats, and snakes is pervasive.
This belief is not innocuous because those whom people suspect to traversing these terrains are attacked and killed. A discipline that encourages Nigerians to seek evidence or to base their knowledge or claims on evidence is an asset in the anti superstition campaign.
Jacobsen: Is Creationism an issue there too, as with where I live, Canada? It is a problem here too. Moderate double-digit levels of superstition and Creationism exist — Young Earth Creationism even.
Igwe: Creationism is not just an issue; Creationism is the issue and exists in its both young and older Earth formations. That means in Nigeria people subscribe to the notion that the Earth was created whether it is a few thousand years ago or tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago.
The belief is that Earth came into being through a divine decree. People often show disdain for science because it challenges their creationist ideas.
Jacobsen: What has been a big victory for the humanist community in Nigeria?
Well, the victory is significant but not necessarily big because religions still have so much influence. Religious establishment still dominates public debate and policymaking. The humanist community is only trying to provide a counter weight and indeed there is a growing momentum of humanism and freethought.
I can only explain the growing visibility of humanism by stating as American philosopher and humanist, Corliss Lamont, once wrote that humanism is the next step. Yes, humanism is the next necessary step for Nigeria. Religion has held Nigeria hostage for too long.
Superstition has caused so much confusion, darkness, and deception. Dogma has been used to tyrannize over the lives of the people. So, this is the time for change and of some transformation based on reason, science, critical thinking, and humanity. People are yearning for freedom and emancipation. Humanism is critical in delivering that change and in the realization of social renewal.
Jacobsen: What are the differences in beliefs on important secular topics between the young, the middle aged, and elderly in Nigeria? Why these trends?
Igwe: The young tend to be more curious and critical as they seek to understand life and make sense of their experiences. But as they grow older they start questioning less and try to conform.
The young people tend to hold liberal positions on issues such as abortion or gay sex because they are not in positions of authority and not necessarily interested in the maintenance of law and order.
The youths are not interested in things or in issues as established, but in issues as they think. So, they can afford to challenge existing norms. However, as they grow older and get into positions of authority, the maintenance of law and order becomes paramount — and they become more conservative.
Jacobsen: How respected is freedom of conscience, belief, and speech in Nigeria, especially, in line with the prior questions, regarding critical questions about religion and its role in society — and the status of women?
Igwe: When it comes to critical questions of religion, freedom of conscience, belief and speech is a paper tiger in Nigeria. There is no freedom in religious matters. In fact, religion is presented as inadmissible of criticism, of opposing views and opinions whether it is the status of women, of children, gay, or of non-believers.
Religious positions are cast on stones. Views that are critical of religion easily get framed as blasphemy, which is a crime under Sharia law and is punishable by death or imprisonment.
Freedom of conscience, belief and expression is not respected because the exercise of such freedom ‘provokes’, ‘offends’ or insults the sensibilities of the religious and these are epithets to canonize and legitimize state sanction or mob action.
Jacobsen: What do you think about theological and social arguments for the respect for faith, for religion, and for traditions from faiths and religions?
Igwe: Theological arguments are supposed to provide ‘explanations’ for the existence of God. That means these arguments ought to persuade and make anyone who does not know about God to at least understand that God exists.
But unfortunately, this is not the case. Anyone who takes a critical look at the theological arguments would really wonder what those who advanced these explanations had in mind. For instance, the ontological argument explains God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
The cosmological argument states that God is the First Cause (of things). Whilst the teleological says that God exists as the designer of the universe. Now how have these arguments really provided justifications for the existence of the God of Christianity and Islam, or in fact any God at all? Given that the religions do not really agree on the notion and expression of the divine, which God have these arguments proved? The Biblical that appeared from nowhere, hovered over the void, created everything, and apparently retreated?
Or the Allah god who dictated the Quran to an illiterate in a cave, sent Muhammad, and then escaped back to paradise? Is that the being than which nothing greater can be thought? Surely, I can conceive a being greater than these Christian and Islamic constructs!
This flimsy reasoning applies to the social argument of faith which says that religion has a social value and provides a moral fiber that holds the community together. First, this idea is mistaken. Human beings are social beings with or without religion.
In fact, human beings lived in communities before the invention of religion. Religion only reinforced what has been part of human nature that is community life. In fact, the greatest tragedy is that religion hijacked the human sense of community.
This tragic role is evident in the challenges and difficulties of building communities in a religiously plural nation such as Nigeria. The role of religion in terms of community building is ambivalent.
While religion fosters a sense of family or community on one hand, it causes division and strain on the other because in a multireligious environment there are competing senses of family and community. Catholic community is different from the Protestant community.
Shia social sense is not the same as Sunni version. Faith or religion should not be respected to the extent that they peddle lies and deception, and fuel division, and hatred and intolerance.
Jacobsen: Who is the worst charlatan offender in Nigeria that abuses the positives of religion — societal community building and ordinary citizen activism?
Igwe: A key test of a community is how it treats the vulnerable members of the population. For me, the worst charlatan offenders are the witch hunters and the demon hunters because they ply their trade in ways that hurt and exploit human beings especially women, children, and the disabled.
Given my encounter with her and the church members, I would say that Helen Ukpabio of the Liberty Gospel Church is the worst charlatan and offender in Nigeria because of her vicious campaign against the rights and dignity of children using religion and witchcraft as a cover.
Jacobsen: What happens to those who speak out against religion, or who ask the simplest of critical questions?
Igwe: It depends on where in Nigeria one speaks out against religion and which religion is involved. In Muslim majority states in northern Nigeria, speaking out against Islam is blasphemy and it is punishable by death or imprisonment.
Criticizing Islam is dangerous not just because the state could prosecute, execute or jail the critic, but one could be killed by Islamic mobs.
In fact the chances are that one is more likely to die in the hands of the later than the former.
Unfortunately, killers of real or imagined critics of Islam are never brought to justice. In a high-profile case that recently happened in Kano, the court declared that suspected killers had no case to answer.
Jacobsen: Is prayer a standard and assumed ritual in meetings of political types, as in much of North America as well?
Igwe: Yes, prayer is a standard ritual in meetings and events. However, it is not all religious prayers that are said at all meetings and in all places. In Muslim majority sections, Islamic prayer is the standard.
Christian prayer is the norm in the Christian dominated areas of the country and both Christian and Islamic prayers at national gatherings especially in Abuja. These prayers take place despite the constitutional provision that prohibits the adoption of any religion as state religion.
Saying Christian and Islamic prayers at official meetings attests to the non-neutrality of the state in religious matters and official discrimination on religious grounds.
Jacobsen: How can formal education from the youngest ages to graduate training inculcate critical thinking, statistical principles of thought, scientific literacy, and heuristics of logic and formal reasoning?
Igwe: It is by making the inculcation of critical thinking more than a classroom, examination-passing affair. For now, science, logic, and critical thinking are taught as classroom subjects, as courses which students take with the aim of getting certificates and securing jobs.
Young people are not made to understand sufficiently that these are tools that they need to navigate through life. Heuristics of logic and formal reasoning should be taught as skills that are needed to everyday life.
Jacobsen: Who, in a neighbouring country, gives you hope for the humanistic future?
Igwe: The Humanist Association of Ghana gives me hope; yes, it does. I founded the Nigerian Humanist Movement and worked and campaigned to grow and develop it. For decades, I worked to grow and develop humanist groups in different African countries.
Many of the initiatives have fizzled out or have remained at individual activist or contact levels. So, it gladdens my heart that at last an effective humanist group has taken off in Ghana and is actively involved in coordinating the Humanist Service Corps project in northern Ghana.
A few years ago, such a humanist group sounded like a pipe dream but today it is a reality. I thank Roslyn Mould and her team for diligently delivering on this key humanist promise. I only hope that the humanist association in Ghana grows from strength to strength.
Jacobsen: Do many or some consider you a personal hero? If so, how does this feel, as an exemplar of the community of the irreligious with international reach?
Igwe: I do not think that some people consider me as a hero. I don’t really feel comfortable being placed in that box because I am not done yet. I want to keep doing my work in ways that would allow me to make mistakes and live my own life without being pressured to conform to anyone’s pattern or expectation.
However, I am aware that there are some who have said that they were inspired by what I did or have done. My feeling is this: How I wish I accomplished more and performed better than I did. I have always worked under constraints, with limited resources.
I have not always achieved as much as I would have loved to achieve I still feel that I did not do enough and has not done enough. We still do not have effective humanist, freethought, and skeptics groups in most African countries. That does not make me happy.
It is only when we have active humanist organisations in all African countries that I would feel fulfilled. And as you can imagine we are certainly a long way from reaching that goal.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the time, Leo.
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Original Publication in Humanist Voices.
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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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Photo by Joshua Oluwagbemiga on Unsplash