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Interview with Okoye Francis Chukwuebuka on Imo State, Igbo Culture, and Religion and Gender (2)

2023-01-03

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/02/17

Okoye Francis Chukwuebuka is an indigene of Imo State, Nigeria. He is Igbo by tribe and Humanist by worldview, and a skeptic by orientation, and a former Roman Catholic priest-in-training. He is a Member of the Humanists Association of Nigeria and belongs to the African Regional Committee of Young Humanists International as the West African Delegate for Humanist Affairs. Here we talk about Imo State indigenous culture as Igbo, the Great God, cultural traditions, religion as a tool for power and oppression, and more.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are some of the ways in which Imo State indigenous culture inculcates beliefs in the supernatural backed by practices particular to the indigenous culture?

Okoye Francis Chukwuebuka: An exceptional approach to gain insight into the ways in which Imo State indigenous culture inculcates belief in the supernatural is to make a clear-cut clarification of concepts so as to avoid some unguided misinterpretations. It should be noted that prior to the advent of Western education; the indigenous people of Nigeria had certain ideas, which formed the basis of their system of values which includes the various customs, traditions, and practices of the people like marriage, birth and death rituals, music, language, as well as food. And when we speak of Imo state indigenous culture, we are actually referring to the Igbo culture in particular.

Interestingly, one of the many ways in which the Igbo culture inculcates belief in the supernatural lies in the recourse to the Supreme Being called CHUKWU (The Great God). The Igbos are very religious and the idea of the Supreme Being is featured prominently in the consciousness of their daily existential engagements. The Igbo culture obviously gives a premier status to talks relating to the Supreme Being and it is only an aberration to talk of an Igbo culture that is devoid of the Supreme Being because the Supreme Being is always at the peak of human thought, expressions, actions, and activities of these people.

It is against this backdrop that a major social practice amongst the Igbo people emanates from which is the ritual naming of the newborn. For an Igbo child, the ceremony of being named is the beginning point of being socialized into the membership of the community and also being identified as one of the creatures of the Supreme Being. Nonetheless, some of the names given to the newborn during such rituals include CHUKWUEBUKA, CHINONSO, and CHIDUBEM, which bear testimony to the whole idea of the supernatural.

Moreso, beliefs in faith healers also extends its arms across to the things of the supernatural. Faith healing as a belief system is very crucial for an Igbo for it is believed that whatever happens to any member of the community in terms of sickness has a spiritual meaning attached to it and must be handled spiritually through the medium of faith healers. These various cultural practices explain the fact that the Igbos are not so intellectually impecunious as to be lacking in the belief in the Supernatural.

Jacobsen: Was religion something helpful or a hindrance in growing up in the tough life of Imo State on the streets?

Chukwuebuka: I grew up in a harsh environment where religion was a tool used by the church to oppress, confine, deprive and limit people. An anomaly that played out in various ways — injustices, sexual abuses, and social ills and mostly carried out by the church’s clergymen. Growing up, I was privileged to listen to stories from my peer group; you know, as children, we opened up only to ourselves and we were made to remain silent on matters like this, as voicing out these social concerns would only bring shame and condemnation from the society upon one’s family.

You see the hypocrisy everywhere; people try to hide it, but it is as conspicuous as anything. Religion played on the emotions of people and religious clergymen most especially took advantage of this. The sexual abuses were everywhere; children were mostly the victims of these abuses. Once, I could remember having an indirect encounter at age seven where I did see a clergyman abusing a girl of my age in the parish house. These experiences are gory I must say and not so pleasing for me.

Jacobsen: How many indigenes who grow up in those conditions simply do not make it — either life or a decent livelihood?

Chukwuebuka: Like I rightly mentioned, religion was just a hindrance for me, I could feel it. There was this moral compulsion upon me to act in a certain way which I consider to be servile. And this anomaly undeniably plays in the lives of so many children out there in Nigeria. Parents take their children to religious schools and seminaries where religious beliefs are taught thereby forcing its way into the stream of consciousness of these children. What this means is that when I violate a rule, I feel guilty, and when I adhere to the rules, I am being praised for doing so.

On one hand, we see children who do not make it in life at a later stage because there is this psychological trauma. If you have grown up being told that there is a God who watches over you, it is hard to part with it later in life. On the other hand, some make it in life through the various addictive parameters of power and control. You see people who have once been controlled in life trying to also control others forcefully. This is not healthy at all.

Jacobsen: Dr. Leo Igwe came out of the seminary experience, as he left early into a humanist frame of mind. Something similar to your story. Is this a theme in some of the Nigerian, even general African, stories of coming to humanism?

Obviously, this would probably be more applicable to men than to women, as seminaries and the churches tend to have a sex and gender partition upon which one only finds women on one side and men on another — for the elite education and training of the seminarians.

Chukwuebuka: I must say that ever since I embraced humanism, I have been at peace with myself. It has given me a sense of compassion and affection to care for others. It has also helped me see the importance of humanist values as they could help end the persisting scale of violence, religious extremism fundamentalism in Nigeria and this is where people like Leo, Mubarak, and the like stand out.

I have been privileged to have a solid conversation with Dr. Leo Igwe via Facebook messenger. It was a nice encounter with such a promising man who took the bull by the horn to leave the seminary amidst the ostracization that usually comes with such a decision in the society. Occasionally, I also get inspiration from many humanists particularly former Catholic seminarians who left the church. They are all amazing I must say.

Humanism is creating social change and becoming an agent of transformation in the Nigerian space. We are gradually standing out. But we see more of the men standing out than women because the church and tradition have successfully created a gender-based partition backed with toxic masculinity that only sees reason without doubt whenever a man leaves the church than a woman. It is unbearable and an unthinkable thing for a woman to embrace humanism in Nigeria. This is one concern the international community should look into more.

Jacobsen: What are the struggles for women in Nigeria as humanists? How are these similar and different for men?

Chukwuebuka: Every society has its own expectations concerning women and men and the concept of ‘gender’ continues to change over time — how men and women are made today especially in the Western world has changed drastically and yielded much progress. Women now have more freedom, opportunities, and autonomy.

However, there is a sharp contrast as to what we see in Nigeria. A huge gap exists among humanists that are male and those that are female. The men are feared and respected because it is believed that they have the power and authority to decide for themselves. This mindset continues to bring about the subjugation of the rights of women, which makes it difficult for some of them to willfully opt out of religion.

We can begin now to re-educate people and make them know that discrimination is very bad and it impedes progress. We can also begin to look into the concerns of gender constructs. When we begin to put some certain people in a box and judge them by the label of the box, then it becomes an issue for everyone. Patriarchal viewpoints should be abolished most especially and women should be allowed to do whatever they want to do.

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

License

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 www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© 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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