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New Humanist Event in Nigeria


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Personal)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/12/09

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.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Looking at the landscape of belief in Nigeria, why is this new event important to maintain the excitement of the secular community there?

Dr. Leo Igwe: 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.

Those who are critical of religious icons and doctrines are threatened, harassed and intimidated. Unfortunately, there are no spaces for non-believers, those who exit or question religions to discuss their persecutions and experiences.

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.

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 is also important because it sends a very important message to the Nigerian society, that there are Nigerians who doubt or disbelieve religious claims, that Nigeria has a vibrant secular community.

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

Jacobsen: How does this build on prior events?

Igwe: In the past, meetings have been organized to provide a rationalist and humanist perspective to witchcraft related abuses, Osu caste system, religious extremism, and related human rights abuses etc.

These programs presuppose that rationalists and humanists exist in Nigeria but they do not say a lot regarding the conditions and circumstances under which they live and operate.

This convention fulfills that purpose. It builds on the previous activities by focusing on the predicament of humanists and rationalists in the country.

Jacobsen: What will be the highlights of the event?

Igwe: 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.

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.

Jacobsen: What is the main reason for the humanists to attend this event in Nigeria?

Igwe: To get the world to know that they exist and to understand that there is a non-religious demography in this very religious nation. Humanists need to register the fact that the rights, lives, and interests of non-believers matter.

As I noted, humanists need to know that they are not alone. And that those who are persecuted for leaving religion, or for being critical of religion will not walk alone.

Jacobsen: Why is community important for the humanists in Nigeria?

Igwe: 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.

Jacobsen: Where is it? Where can people find out more about it?

Igwe: This event is taking place in Abuja, which is the capital of Nigeria. Abuja is actually in central Nigeria where there have been clashes between Islamic jihadists, herdsmen and Christians.

More information about the event can be found here

Jacobsen: Any other information?

Igwe: 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 has 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.

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

Igwe: It’s been my pleasure.


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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