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, 30 November 2018

Dr. Leo Igwe and a New Event in January, 2019

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Humanists remain a unique branch of the secular community. However, most, perhaps over 90%, identify as atheist, but not all, nonetheless. How does humanism permit a wide range of co-accepted beliefs in the secular community?

Dr. Leo Igwe: Obsession with labels can sometimes be energy draining, distracting and counterproductive because people who do not believe in a god or those who question religious claims are found in all cultures and they face similar challenges no matter how they self-describe. This is not to say that debates over these concepts are not necessary but they should not be belabored. In fact, to those who are outside the English language traditions, designations such as humanists, atheists or agnostics are actually a play on words and terminologies and do not necessarily indicate distinct branches or unique sets of beliefs. 

Jacobsen: A new event will take place soon. Why start the event?

Igwe: The time has come to focus attention on people from various cultures and countries who self-identify as nonreligious or as nontheistic especially in Africa. Such persons exist and have always existed in the region but they have largely been ignored. For far too long, African societies have been (mis)represented as essentially religious, theistic and supernaturalistic. Magic has been used as the concept to study, explain and understand Africa and Africans. The rational, the critical and the skeptical have been portrayed as western and as unAfrican. Thus Africa’s indigenous critical and rational resource has largely been overlooked, untapped and unharnessed even in addressing the challenges of religious extremism and superstitions. Shining the light on the travails of those who exit religion has become so necessary because the situation of apostates sheds some light on the other side of the religious Africa that is too often ignored. That religion is used to legitimize violence, oppression, and human rights abuses. Today, the world is grappling with these religious excesses and highlighting the travails of apostates and blasphemers can be an effort in that direction.

Jacobsen: What is the event?

Igwe: The event is a conference on Leaving Religion: Risk, Challenges and Opportunities. Panelists are expected to share their stories and experiences as those who have left religion or as those living as nonreligious. The event is organized to provide a platform for ex-Christians, ex Muslims ex-indigenous religious believers to describe their journey and struggles. The program is also meant to get the Nigerian society to know that there are Nigerians who have exited religion and that it is okay to renounce religion. Attendees will also get to know the resources that exist out there for apostates and atheists. In short, the event is meant to tell all religious nonbelievers in the country: You are not alone. And you will not walk alone. 

Jacobsen: How will the event play out over its course?

Igwe: This event is bound to play out at different levels. On the part of the government, this event will help get the state officers to know that there is an active humanist community who care about freedom of and from religion. It will be a wake-up call to the politicians to know that the lives and rights of apostates in Nigeria matter. To the human rights institutions, the program would get them mainstream the rights of those who leave religion. And to those who have had this monolithic view of Africa, the event will make them begin to rethink that stereotypic notion of Africa and begin to understand that the other, the religious other Africa exists. More importantly, the program will help galvanize efforts to awaken Africans from their dogmatic slumber and realize a religious reformation of a global dimension.

Jacobsen: Who will be welcome to attend it?

Igwe: Anyone who subscribes to the values of reason, critical thinking and freethought can attend. Any person who is worried about the harmful effects of religious extremism and superstition-based violence should try and be there. Religious believers can participate especially those who are interested in dialogue or in holding civilized conversations with religious critics and apostates. In fact, anybody who thinks that there are no atheists in Nigeria or that the persecution of apostates is a made up story should try and attend.

Jacobsen: How can this help the humanist community in Nigeria?

Igwe: This program will help strengthen ongoing efforts to provide a sense of community to all who exit religion, all who question religious and superstitious claims, all godless people in Nigeria. It will improve the standing of the humanist community locally and internationally because the humanist/atheist organization is often ignored whenever issues concerning religious persecution are discussed. Meanwhile, those who populate the humanist community are the most persecuted of the religiously persecuted. Simply put, this program will make the humanist community in Nigeria more visible, active and effective in the region.

Jacobsen: Any further information about the event?

Igwe: Too often, authorities have trampled upon the rights of humanists or atheists or apostates based on the notion that religious nonbelievers are in the minority; that the number of humanists, skeptics, and freethinkers in the country is insignificant when compared with the religious. Actually, there is strength in numbers but at the same time, we cannot put the numbers above human rights, equity, and justice. The focus should not be on protecting the rights of majorities alone. The rights of minorities matter too. That the religious nonbelievers are in the minority does not mean that they should be oppressed with impunity and that their rights should be flagrantly abused. This is a clear mark of moral failure and error in judgement that should be addressed whether it has to do with the rights of (non)religious, ethnic, or sexual minorities.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Igwe.


Igwe: Thank you for this interview.
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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.

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