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

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Friday, 5 October 2018

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did religion influence early life?
Mr. Ben Osondu Uduka: I grew up in a strong Methodist family. So, I was indoctrinated at a very tender age.
My childhood was more like someone being groomed to become a clergyman. So. it’s all about religion. I saw life from the religious angle. I believed everything revolves around God, Jesus, Satan and the Bible. I never knew they were other religions, though I was aware of just 2 other denominations – Catholic and Apostolic, but believed them to be infidels.
Aside from school activities, church activities formed major weekly tasks. I was very active in the Sunday school, was among the prayer warriors and took part in bible recitation competitions.
There were times I wished not to grow because I wouldn’t want to be stained with the sins of adulthood. And the Bible had tipped children to be the ideal group to inherit the kingdom of God.
I developed this feeling of unconscious discrimination against those who belong to other denominations. And was meant to hate the Traditionalists – we were not even allowed to enter their compounds or play with their children.
At 11, I started living with my elder brother (in another village) who doubled as a Pastor and Prophet. That’s when I became more spiritual. I was promoted from the Sunday school to the Adult service, not because I was grown up yet, but by virtue of living with a man of God.
Living with him made me understand that my former church has not been as spiritual as supposed. They were not even close. My brother saw visions and cast out marine spirits from the congregants, mostly women. We fasted on every Sunday and every other festive day, praying for the world.
From then onward, I started judging people based on how spiritual they are… If you’re unable to hear from God or get directives from God, I wouldn’t see you as a true Christian.
So, I doubled my struggle to become holy, to be able to hear from God.
Jacobsen: What were some ways in which religion was positive in early life? What were some ways it was definitely negative in early life?
Uduka: On the positive side, I started memorizing the Bible, even before I started school, so it helped me academically.
It helped my socialization with people in the church. But this was mostly with members of our church. Sunday was usually the best day of the week for me, as I’m free to play around and dance to the musicals.
I also enjoyed the choir and their lyrics. The Bible became a moral compass for me. And I had to live according to its dictates.
On the negative, I automatically became a perfectionist due to the stories and commandments learned in the bible. My brother made it worse, as I became too critical of my actions. And I struggled all through childhood to keep all the rules.
I didn’t like the discrimination, because I had mates who used to play football together, but because their parents were pagan, I was warned not to play with them.
My life was filled with fears. Fears of darkness, fears of demonic spirits, fear of hellfire, fear of death, fear of God’s punishment, I was deprived of childhood luxuries. I never had time to celebrate festive days as we spent those days fasting and praying.
I hated the fact that my sisters fall under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I hate the pastors touching and pushing them until they fall. I also didn’t like the fact that I must spend a coin on every Sunday.
Jacobsen: What was the moment or series of moments for becoming an atheist for you?
Uduka: It began when my brother started flogging me mercilessly.
Any little mistake I made would earn me 10s of strokes. I expected the man of God to forgive, and because most of the mistakes were things I never knew or were unavoidable. He condemned almost every other pastor and claimed he’s the only one that hears from God.
When I left for college, I had the opportunity of attending a Catholic mass service and realized they were not as evil as I was made to believe. They were just worshipping God in a different way.
Then, I fell in love with their masses which were not as time-consuming as in the Methodist. But I still had at the back of my mind that they don’t hear from God, so they are not genuine.
I started avoiding churches gradually. It became a burden, a kind of work to attend any of the church services. I only attend if I visited my brother. Then, I went to study at a tertiary institution. It was a different type of Christianity. The kind I had not seen.
Nobody bothers about righteousness or hearing from God. The church was like a social gathering. They may have had great sex before proceeding to church. It didn’t matter to them. The most important thing was to be there. This was against my upbringing.
I attended for a few days and vowed never to attend. I started listening to Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Grail message. When I got a job, it was obvious that my brother or parents won’t compel me to go to church again and I had left home, so I formally stopped.

Jacobsen: Is corruption common with the religious leaders in Nigeria?
Uduka: Yes, but not all of them.
Jacobsen: What are some prominent cases? How did the public receive the corruption?
Uduka: Cases where the money generated from the church is used to live a flamboyant lifestyle abound in Nigeria. Most of the top Men of God in Nigeria do not have any other business, aside from in the vineyard.
Jacobsen: Who are some inspiring atheist figures in Nigeria?
Uduka: I was not inspired by anyone. But Leo Igwe, Mubarak Bala are prominent figures. And they’ve inspired many. I never had the guts to talk about Atheism, nor did I know the term until I started reading Rudolph Ogoo Okonkwo’s column on Sahara Reporters.
He wrote things. I thought God could have killed him, so I became encouraged to talk about being a freethinker in selected publics. When I found out that I’m an Agnostic Atheist, I went online to look for Nigerians who share similar ideas, and I got Mubarak Bala, who linked me to others.
Jacobsen: Can you recommend any books on or around atheism from a Nigerian author?
Uduka: There is one written by IMO David, I cannot remember the title. I only read part of it, and it was talking about almost everything I know or have thought about in the past on atheism.
Jacobsen: What are the social and professional consequences of being an atheist in Nigeria?
Uduka: Socially, loss of primary support system, e.g., family, then friends. Restricted social life – attending church services forms a major part of our social life.
Unable to get a marriage partner. Most Nigerians wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with an Atheist. Unemployment –  the criteria for some jobs are linked to religious status. People laugh at our misfortune and see it as God’s punishment.
Extremists in Nigeria could lynch an atheist. At work, I’ve been forced to lead in an opening prayer. People got discriminated on the basis of their lack of belief, and there are limited opportunities for training and career. Clients may keep on shoving their beliefs on atheists.
Jacobsen: For a young person who wants to leave religion in Nigeria, what are the risks? How should they do it?
Uduka: The risks are those outlined above. The best way is to start as closeted until one becomes financially independent. They could also choose not to work in institutions with strong religious attachments. They should stop abusing God or other people’s religion in public.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mr. Uduka.
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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 eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was growing up like for you? Was religion a big part of it? How was religion or faith incorporated into family and community life? What were the social consequences of taking part in non-religious activities as you grow up or later in life?
Mr. Dominic Omenai: I was a Catholic when I was growing up, I was manservant for some time before leaving that to try other religions. Yes, religion was a directing force in my life. Back then when I was growing up, immediately after returning from school the next place to spend time was at the church attending one program or the other, we prayed as a family.
Jacobsen: What were the social consequences of taking part in non-religious activities as you grow up or later in life?
Omenai: The individual that has inspired me in Nigeria who is a humanist is a man named Wole Soyinka a Nobel laureate. Religion is the worst thing that has happened to mankind that prevents a man from using reason.
Jacobsen: Who are some individuals that inspire you in Nigeria? What are some organizations people can look into to organize, strategize, and have a base of operations for activism for the atheist community? Does religion seem net negative or net positive to you?
Omenai: The individual that has inspired me in Nigeria who is a humanist is a man named Wole Soyinka a Nobel laureate. Religion is the worst thing that has happened to mankind that prevents a man from using reason.
Jacobsen: Are there any prominent books or authors as well worth mentioning?
Omenai: A prominent author worth mentioning is Dan Barker, I have read nearly all his books. I have almost all of Dan Barker’s books, except Losing Faith in Faith. David Silverman’s book Fighting GodWhat on Earth is an Atheist by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Jesus is Dead by Robert Price, Natural Atheism by David Eller, A Case Against God by George H. Smith to mention a few.
Jacobsen: What ones have had the most impact on you?
Omenai: Natural Atheism by David Eller has had an impact on me and fighting.
Jacobsen: Are there some atheist books that tend to influence the Nigerian atheist population more than others?
Omenai: I just started the library, the response is encouraging.

Jacobsen: What do outsiders, such as Canadians like myself, simply not get about the atheist and non-religious community in Nigeria?
Omenai: Atheists in Nigeria, struggle with the backlash for being an atheist if you tell someone that you are an atheist in Nigeria you will be treated cruelly.
Jacobsen: How can people donate time, professional networks, skills, educations, and people power to advance the interests of the non-religious communities in Nigeria?
Jacobsen: Any final notes? You had something to say about a Canadian friend who deserves kudos.
Omenai: Her name is Elizabeth Mathes, I have known her for some years now. She is married and lives in Canada. She was recently appointed an affiliate director of Atheist Alliance International. She has been my support and helps in the book gathering for my library.
I wish to use these opportunities to thank her and recommend her to the Canadian Atheist community as someone trustworthy with a desire to help the Atheist struggle over religion.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mr. Omenai.
Omenai: Thank you for interviewing me.
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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 Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Saturday, 29 September 2018

His self-description: I am Ebenezer Odubule. I will turn 50 years of age on 14th September 2018. I am a legal practitioner engaging in private legal practice in Lagos Nigeria. I was born into Christianity and was indoctrinated along Christian dogma until 2007. So, I have been an atheist since 2007.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was religion a part of real life? If so, how did religion influence personal early life?
Ebenezer Odubule: In Nigeria, unfortunately, religion is a major part of daily life. We breathe religion; we exhale religion, when you wake up in the morning you are treated to the loud public address system from the mosques calling out on adherents in the daily call to prayers.
Same goes for the churches, undertaking weekly prayer meetings, night vigils and playing loud worship songs to the public space with no consideration given to nonmembers of their faith in the society. You are made to bear with noises associated with religious worship day and night and sometimes throughout the week
The story is not so different in the various levels of the educational institution both public and private, the religious faith of those at the helms of affairs is usually imposed on staffs and students with impunity.
In the workplace also, the impact of religion is everywhere, it is a well-known fact that Nigeria is the most religious country in the world but we are yet to see any significant gains from this religiousity.
On certain days of the week, public many employees of government institutions and agencies will abandon their work from 1.00pm in the name of going for prayers and many will not return back for duty on that day as it marks the beginning of the weekend – so much talk about productivity.
In some private businesses and professional organizations, the religious practice of the head is imposed on the rest of the workforce. Religion is part of work, school, family life, social and political life – it is exasperating.
In the political space also, religion is a key factor. Leadership is not sourced on the basis of an individual’s level of competence and fidelity to humanism.
This allows for manipulation and patronage of religious leaders and polarization along religious lines. Corrupt settlement of political cronies via pilgrimage programmes at the pleasure of the President, the governors and local government chairmen across the country
So, it is visible to all, that religion is a substitute for good governance in Nigeria. The people do not have any faith in the political leadership and since god is dogmatically assumed and regarded as a problem solving all-powerful spiritual entity, the majority will cast their burden unto God rather than seeking practical or rational ways to solve problems.
This is not surprising though as strict religious indoctrination encourages segregation. Muslims do business purely with fellow Muslims whilst Christians do business mainly with Christians in many instances.
So from these premises being religious have its obvious social advantages in providing the social and economic pool for followers to leverage for business or even professional advantages and Nigerians knew this and that is why they are jumping on that very bandwagon as survival strategy rather than as an expression of religious faith per se.
Consequently, early personal lives are enmeshed in these dynamics be it social, educational, economic, or political – you are willy-nilly coerced into one form of acceptance of religion one way or another. It is a huge challenge to sound personal development and one that has placed Nigeria in the state of stagnation and misery as it is today.
Jacobsen: What were some early moments of questioning faith for you?
Odubule: started my elementary education at age 6, but I can recall before then, that I often as a child question the veracity of the existence of God as the foundation of the human faith. But religion is crafted in ways which did not allow for disagreement with its dogma.
So you either shape in or you wash out. But then again, we are told that if we rebel, we will burn in hellfire and if we obey God we would go and enjoy in heaven. So for me, the real essence of serving God was borne out of fear and not love. The primordial fear factor – to save our own necks from the scorching flames of hell – very funny.
So, the early moments of questioning faith for me started in primary school. I was seeking answers to the legitimacy of god but not openly because the majority frowns at such inquiries and I had to endure life going to churches because when your parents get ready for churches they compel their children to come along for lots of reasons unconnected with religion too.
I never saw an overwhelming righteousness or fidelity from my fellow Christians when I was religious except for a few devoted individuals.
In my adult life I came to the conclusion that there is a different almighty god for the Chinese people that Nigerians do not yet know, given the firm commitment and socio-economic results witnessed in China, and the gods worshipped in the U.S or Canada is certainly not the same god worshipped massively in Nigeria because the world knew we aren’t making the landmark progress that we are potentially poised to achieve in the first place.
When you look around the country you will see overwhelming misery and poverty facilitated by advocates of religion in public life.
Jacobsen: Who are some prominent Nigerians that people should know more about, who are atheist in Nigeria?
Odubule: Apart from my colleagues in organized irreligious communities such as Leo Igwe, it is hard to say one prominent Nigerian is an atheist or not. I have heard people saying that the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, is an atheist but I am not able to confirm this neither have I seen the professor associating with any organized atheist groups in Nigeria. I can only say someone is an atheist by association for now.
Jacobsen: What are the professional and family consequences of coming out as an atheist in Nigeria?
Odubule: There is still a good measure of culture shock in Nigeria when people get to hear you say you are an atheist. They exhibit shock and surprise. Hence, with the daily influence of religion earlier portrayed.
Some family members will keep their distance, they believe that you are a bad influence on the religious development of other family members. Professionally you are at a disadvantage too, especially when you are in a profession where advertisement if precluded and you would rely on references from a wide variety of sources.
But this is okay by me because the sanity of my conscience weighs more importantly than any professional accomplishment – all my life, I have never enjoyed the degree of inner peace I now enjoyed when I was religious. No more nightmares and surely no more praying, casting, binding and battling any unseen and perpetual enemies.
Jacobsen: What were some of the pivotal moments of becoming an atheist for you?
Odubule: That was during the Atheist Society of Nigeria national convention in 2017 at the University of Lagos. I was impressed at the large turnout and the fact that the crowd are mostly young Nigerians men and women from major parts of Nigeria including the north.
There is a future for secularism in Nigeria. Before my membership of ASN, I had initially thought I was alone in my atheism but now I know better.
Jacobsen: Do the religious have any formal arguments, rather than social reprimands against atheism? What are they?
Odubule: I am not aware of the existence of any rational formal arguments deployed by religious bodies in defense of their faith.
Jacobsen: For a young person who wants to leave religion in Nigeria, how can they do it? What are their risks?
Odubule: This will depend on the family or social background of the young person. We have had challenges with some young adults declaring openly to his Jehovah’s Witness parent on the practice of atheism and the result led to ex-communication by friends and expulsion from the family home.
I have also experienced another young male adult who’s atheism activities on social media has led his family to declare him insane and he was promptly taken to a mental hospital as a measure to persecute and he was effectively coerced to abandon his conscience and went back into the closet.
My advice to any young person is to wait until they are independent of all parental influences before coming out with their atheism but I am also aware that some families may be liberal in their reaction to such issues hence, a balancing approach is required otherwise the risk of social reprimand is always hovering around such declaration of atheism at early stages and family members often applied punitive measures withdrawing financial and emotional support to the subject.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mr. Odubule.
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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 Ali Inay on Unsplash

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Did you start questioning religion early on?
Vahyala Kwaga: Well, I have been a skeptic for quite some time and this may have been due to a level of intellectual honesty I noticed growing up as a child, in my home. I had the usual questions, as a child, like ‘who created god?’ But none of them were answered from an honest standpoint and I later just abandoned questioning. Much later in my early twenties, I began to think about how a lot of the ‘threats’ issued by the religious seemed not to affect a good number of others that did not subscribe to Christianity. I thought that was weird and began to carry out ‘Thought Experiments’ that addressed those inconsistencies. Those experiments in my late twenties were the beginning of my journey!
Jacobsen: You come from a highly educated household. Did this influence critical thinking and science education early on for you?
Kwaga: Yes, it did. Though I didn’t study any pure or applied science course (I have two degrees in Law), but my parents did take the time to engage us intellectually on current affairs, theology and rudimentary logic. Looking back, they were quite intellectually honest for religious Nigerian parents!

Jacobsen: How are religion and politics mixed in Nigeria? Is it more negative or more positive in general? Please explain.
Kwaga: The average Nigerian is ‘religious’ (by religious, I mean shows ‘piety’ more than kindness and compassion, etc). So, in a country of 190-200 million, the common denominator would be a sense of religion and its vocalisation in public discourse. The mix between religion and politics, I can say, is negative, to a large extent. For example, it is on record that the rejection of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill by the 8th National Assembly was in part due to religious reasons. Again, the Federal Government still subsidizes religious pilgrimage. And a few State governors have blamed disease outbreak on “Sin” and not research or any empirical study. But this may also be in part due to our anti-intellectual public life.
Jacobsen: In terms of the demographics of Nigeria, how many atheists?
Kwaga: I assume you mean ‘openly Atheist’? If yes, I don’t have the data but going by the number of registered members of the ASN, I would say that Atheists could be about 100. But there are likely far more, yet the numbers would likely not be more than 500-600 nationwide.

Jacobsen: If a young person in Nigeria wanted to leave religion, how would you recommend that they do it? What are the potential consequences and personal, family, and community life for them?
Kwaga: If the person was still dependent on her family for shelter and food, I would advise them to just ‘lay low’ till they get their own source of income. It is not uncommon for parents in Nigeria to deny their children of care upon hearing they are no longer religious. This is not to talk of the emotional abuse and anguish that would follow.
Their families would likely ostracise them and their communities, too. Though I have not heard of any case of recorded violence against the irreligious, but resources are usually denied to them.
Jacobsen: What tends to be the main reason people report for leaving religion in Nigeria?
Kwaga: From my very casual observation, it seems like the argument for the existence of deities does not “add up”. A lot of Atheists on average, read a lot, so they begin to see the loopholes in arguments pandered by their religions. Most come to the realisation that there is no evidence or basis for religious claims.
Jacobsen: Who are some inspiring non-religious figures in Nigeria?
Kwaga: Mr. Tai Solarin was a famous Nigerian irreligious public intellectual. Also, it was “rumoured” that late former President Umar Yar’adua was irreligious, but this information came long after his death. He was a President that a number of Nigerians remember fondly.
Jacobsen: Can you recommend any books on atheism by a Nigerian?
Kwaga: I don’t know of any!
Jacobsen: What seems to be the general trend in the religious demographics of Nigeria? Are there more atheists? Are there are the same number of religious people, but the levels of religiosity are declining?
Kwaga: I think that the number of Atheists is on the rise, if the debates and interactions on Social Media are anything to go by. A lot of people are now unashamed to discuss how exploitative the religious institutions are, and a lot of people are more comfortable confronting the logical inconsistencies in religious ‘arguments’. I suppose again, that this may be an indication of declining religiosity, but I don’t know if the interactions I see on Social Media are an accurate representation.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Vahyala.
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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 26everything Films & Photos on Unsplash