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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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Calistus Igwilo on the Atheist Society of Nigeria and Its Relevance

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Calistus Igwilo is the President of the Atheist Society of Nigeria, who was kind enough to give an extensive, exclusive interview with me. Here we talk about religious faith, atheism, and religion in Nigeria.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was there a family grounding in religious faith?

Calistus IgwiloI was baptized a Catholic, couple of months after my birth, and was raised a Catholic until about age 13 when I joined my mum to attend a prayer ministry (Where they purport to see the vision and predict the future). And I eventually became a “visioner” at about age 15. Then about age 20, I became a “born again” Christian and was supposed to live above sin, to be holy even as Christ was holy, so I sincerely and honestly struggled to live above sin, I didn’t watch television at the time because I could see a sensual advert that will make me lust in my heart thereby committing sin. Prior to being born again, I masturbated a lot, but as a born again I tried very hard to resist masturbation and struggled for about 1 year until I lost it. So it dawned on me that I was a “sinner” and numerous attempt to repent proved abortive as those desires were real, therefore, I stopped going to church in other not to be a hypocrite. And when I accepted life the way it really was, I started to have doubts about religion but I was alone on that thought, there was no like minded person to share my doubts with.

Later, when I became independent and started living by myself, I asked myself some crucial questions: “all the things I know so far, who taught me?” My answer was mainly my parents, then I asked, “Who taught my parents” the answer was my grandparents. Then I asked the crucial question “What do these grand and great grandparents know? Am I not supposed to know more than them, since they did not have the level of education I have?” And that was how my journey into skepticism started, I resolved to re-evaluate everything that I have been thought by my parents and choose for myself only things that made sense and conform to the knowledge I had gained thus far. I began to think for myself, I became responsible for my life and my actions, then I realized that the whole religious stuff lacks logical merit.
About that period, I met my first business partner Leonard F. Runyon Jr. who we formed a computer company together. He lived life the way life was without any recourse to a supernatural being or superstitions. We never discussed religion or talked about atheism, I do not know about atheism at the time, but for the first time in my life, I associated with people that live their lives very plainly without invoking God or religion for any task, they depend on their brain to make decisions. At that point, religion became irrelevant in my life and any thought of returning to it someday vanished. After few more years, I started looking for Nigerians like me, I couldn’t see any around me, so I took to the internet to search for Nigerian Atheists. Leo Igwe’s name was the prominent name that pops up each time I searched so I did him an email which he replied and informed me about an upcoming humanist convention in 2011 at Abuja. I attended that conference and met for the first time, Nigerian atheists, and that was the beginning of my association with atheists.
Jacobsen: Who were some influences in losing it or simply becoming an atheist?
Igwilo: The first influence was my personal experience. I have always tried to be sincere and honest to myself, so when I started struggling to keep up with religious teachings, I knew somehow that they weren’t tenable, then I became a “backslider” and because I don’t want to deceive myself claiming to be what is not tenable, I gave up on religion. The next influence was Leonard F. Runyon, my business partner, in whom I saw for the first time in my life how someone can live one’s life without the need for a God. Then when I a degree course in Biotechnology, everything fell into place, I had a rational explanation for the emergence of life and I applied that knowledge to every other supernatural belief. Life ceased to be mysterious to me and I never looked back since then. There was nothing to look back for anyway because I have traveled the road of religion and have studied the bible from page to page from cover to cover so there was nothing curious left there to go back to.
Jacobsen: What is the prevalence religion in Nigeria? What are the types that you’d typically find there?

Igwilo: The prevalent religions in Nigeria are Islam and Christianity, the traditional religion is steadily going extinct. Majority of northern Nigeria are Muslims while the majority of Eastern Nigeria are Christians, the western Nigeria are split between Muslims and Christians. So each region is dominated by their own common religion (Christian or Muslim) and they tolerate each other to a good extent except for some small part of northern Nigeria where sectarian crises arise once in a while.

Jacobsen: Why did you found the Atheist Society of Nigeria?

Igwilo: While I was doing my masters degree at the University of Nottingham, UK, I joined the University of Nottingham Atheists Secularists and Humanist (UNASH) association, it was my first experience of belonging to an atheist group, I also joined the Nottingham Secular Society an umbrella body for atheists and humanists living in Nottingham. I was elected to serve on the executive committee and was closely mentored by Dennis, the then President of Nottingham Secular Society and I gained some experience in running a secular society. So when I returned to Nigeria in 2013, I started Port Harcourt Secular Society with Timothy Hatcher under the suggestion of Becca Schwartz. The main reason was to create a community for Atheist, Humanist, Secularists and Freethinkers. By then there was a vibrant Nigerian Atheist group and Nigerian Humanist group on Facebook which serves as home for all atheists, humanists, and freethinkers. The need to organize so that we can engage with government, institutions, and societies led to us applying to be registered with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), but our application suffered numerous setbacks, when we got some kind of nod to go ahead, we didn’t have the fund to see the process through as Port Harcourt Secular Society had very few members then. So we organized at the national level to register Humanist Society of Nigeria but it suffered a huge setback from the CAC, they always come up with a reason to have us start the application all over again, it’s been up to 2 years now and Nigerian Humanist Association hasn’t been incorporated. While at it, some group of Atheists who belong to a Facebook group called Proudly Atheist made a move, and quietly got initial approval after their lawyer threatened to sue CAC, so we rallied around the process and finally got it registered. This has given us the backing of the law, to engage our community.
Originally Published in The Good Men Project
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:

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