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A New Nigerian Humanist and Non-Religious Event, Dr. Leo Igwe


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/11/23

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 the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Here we talk risks in leaving religion in Nigeria.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You have a new upcoming event. What is it?

Dr. Leo Igwe: The event is a humanist convention. And it is taking place in Abuja on January 12. It will be the second major humanist event that we are holding in the city.

The last meeting was held in 2011 and since then many humanist groups have emerged. We are looking forward to using the meeting to consolidate on the gains and progress that we have made since our last convention.

Jacobsen: What is it about?

Igwe: The event is about leaving religion and at this event, the attendees will be exploring the risks and challenges that apostates or those who deconvert from various religious faiths face in the country.

The impression is often that Nigerians are deeply religious and that atheism or skepticism has no place in the Nigerian culture and society. Incidentally, this is not exactly the case.

Indeed, religion is visible and ubiquitous in the Nigerian society. Millions of people profess belief in various spirits and deities especially in the Christian and Islamic divinities.

But a key component of religion in Nigeria is the willingness to sanction sometimes violently those who reject, renounce or criticize religious beliefs. Unfortunately, the religions of Christianity and Islam owe their dominance and spread in Nigeria to this very attribute.

Simply put, there is no real freedom of religion in Nigeria because freedom of religion is understood as professing a religion or belief in gods especially the Christian and Islamic gods, not disbelieving in God, or questioning Christian or Islamic god ideas.

Open expressions of atheistic, agnostic or nonreligious thoughts are frowned at or disallowed. The Christian and Islamic religious public find them offensive. Those who openly and publicly express thoughts that are critical of God are accused of blasphemy or of offending religious sensibilities or of insulting God or Allah.

Consequently, social sanctions are applied to such persons including mob attacks and killings. Hate, resentment, and violence have largely characterized the treatment of people who leave religion or those whose thoughts are at variance with religion.

Due to entrenched religious persecution, persons who have left religion find it difficult to identify openly and publicly as nonreligious or irreligious individuals. So the main goal of this event is to provide a space for apostates to share their stories and experiences, and to connect with people of like mind.

Jacobsen: How can local Nigerian humanists become involved?

Igwe: Local Nigerian humanists can get involved at different levels. First, by publicizing the event. Humanists should circulate the announcement on social media, and get the notice across to the wider society.

Then, they should plan to attend, and use the opportunity to connect with others. Some of the attendees will be looking forward to meeting and forging new ties and friendships with other apostates. In addition, local humanists should also encourage other humanists to attend.

They should help mobilize and support others who have left religion or who are contemplating leaving to come and be a part of an event where apostasy is celebrated, not despised; an occasion where leaving religion is considered an expression of human rights, not an offense or a taboo.

Jacobsen: How can this event help enlighten the Nigerian public?

Igwe: This event will hopefully educate and get the people in Nigeria to understand that there are religious (and non-religious) others in Nigeria. Many Nigerians languish in ignorance that is induced by religious indoctrination.

They are not aware that there are other Nigerian who are atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, that there are individuals who do not subscribe to any religion or who do not believe in any god. Nigerians are brought up to think that one can embrace religion or convert to a religion but cannot deconvert; that religious claims cannot be critically examined, and religious absurdities should not be highlighted.

The dominant disposition is that apostates be compelled to recant or be penalized. So the conference will help stimulate a reorientation, a change in attitude towards apostates and a realization that the rights of persons who renounce their religious faiths are human rights.

Nigerians need to know that in a religiously pluralistic society, it is imperative that the rights of apostates be respected. They should be informed that Christianity and Islam started as heresies and blasphemies and that if pre Christian and pre Islamic Africans reacted with hatred, resentment, intolerance and violence towards Christian and Islamic faiths, there might not be such religions in the region today.

Jacobsen: What are the ways in which people can donate finances are other resources to the event in the humanist movement in Nigeria?

Igwe: Persons who want to donate money or to support our programs should contact the organization for necessary instructions. We are working to make it easier for people to send donations and to financially support humanist activities in Nigeria.

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

Igwe: It’s been my great 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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