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A New Nigerian Humanist Event with Dr. Leo Igwe


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): The Good Men Project

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/03/02

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 theUniversity of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Here we talk about a new humanist event that took place.

Looking at the landscape of belief and nonbelief, in terms of the traditional religions on offer around the world, we come to the perspective of the nonbelief or the secular regarding the standard religious answers provided in a number of contexts.

One of those is the general way in which the nonreligious or the secular carve themselves into groups. Some may see themselves as representatives of Richard Dawkins and memes, while making what seem like externalized phrenological investigations: meme maps of the self.

Others look simply for the separation of church and state, mosque and government, or otherwise. There is a general notion of ways of life as well, including humanists and ethical culture people, or in worldviews, including skeptics and Brights.

Nigerians have been gathered through the founder of the humanist movement in Nigeria Dr. Leo Igwe. He has been an incredibly important figure in this.

He, prior to the event in an interview, stated, “This event is important in several respects. First, it is the first of its kind because, at this event, humanists, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers in Nigeria are meeting to discuss an unusual topic: Leaving Religion. Humanists are convening to share their stories and experiences. Too often, people who are persecuted for leaving a religion or for renouncing religious beliefs suffer physical attacks and psychological abuses.”

Noting, of course, the, obvious, reasons for some leaving formal religion found in, for example, those who have been abused by a religious family or community, or the communal and familial practitioners of the religion.

Even being critical in public, whole societies may react negatively to the more prominent cases with threats, harassment, and intimidation. This, in Nigeria, is particularly bad, because many, many people simply lack the access to a space built for and by the non-religious, the non-believers.

“Thus, many non-believers live in fear. They suffer silently. Those who doubt or disbelieve religious claims think that they are alone and that their persecution is normal because those who persecute non-believers do so with impunity,” Igwe explained, “This convention provides a rare and historic platform to break the silence and give the doubters and disbelievers a space to share their stories and register their concerns.”

This event, set for January 12 in Abuja, sets an important tone as to those Nigerians who may doubt and even reject the fundamentalist religious certainties of much of the society, even wanting a more secular Nigerian state.

Igwe said, “In addition, the dominant impression is that the religious public treated others kindly and compassionately including non-believers. In fact, there is seldom the case. This event draws attention to religious cruelties, to the various ways that the religious maltreat those who exit religion.”

But coming from all this, it is intended to build on the previous meetings of rationalists and humanists in their fight against “witchcraft related abuses, Osu caste system, religious extremism, and related human rights abuses etc.”

These programs and initiatives exist within Nigeria, but these can create havoc in the lives of those who organize them or attend them. It, simply as a matter of course, is much more difficult for Nigerians to find their way within the society than others.

“The program will highlight the stories and experiences of those who have abandoned religion and those who are trying to do so. There will be testimonies from those who left the Christian, Islamic and traditional religion,” Igwe, commenting on highlights, said, “They will recount their struggles with their families, friends and the community at large. At this event, those who have exited religion will explain the reasons and justifications for their actions. They will also get to meet other apostates in a friendly and welcoming environment.”

The central purpose, according to Igwe, for the creation and attendance of this event in Nigeria for the non-religious is to help them know that there are others just like them and that the non-religious demographic has a history. There is a backdrop for them; there is a place for them; this is a situation in which they can feel understood.

The rights, lives, and ideas of the nonbelievers matter in this context, especially for those who have been left out of society and, thus, feel alone in a number of ways – even rejected in a number of others.

“A community is a necessity for humanists because one potent mechanism that religious believers use to undermine humanism is ostracization. They sanction those who exit religion or those who live as non-religious persons. Religious believers cut off family and community ties. They treat non-believers as social outcasts. Building a community is critical in beating back the tide of persecution and abuse that humanists suffer in Nigeria,” Igwe explained.

The capital of Nigeria – Abuja – as mentioned was the place for it. This is an especially important event for the nonbelievers because, in this context, they can finally find some community with those who simply see “clashes between Islamic jihadists, herdsmen and Christians.”

Igwe lamented, “People who leave religion or who question religious beliefs live in constant fear of their lives, their jobs, businesses, and family relationships. This is because sanctioning, sometimes violently those who renounce religions or those who criticize religious claims have been part of the religious tradition. Religion is so visible in Africa mainly because the religious do everything overtly and covertly to suppress, oppress, undermine, exclude and make invisible irreligious and non-religious persons and perspectives.”

I thanked him for his time. Then he concluded on the pleasure of being interviewed for reportage on this event.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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