Decades of correspondence and cooperation have enriched efforts to promote humanism in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Going forward, I want that cooperation to continue because the best expression of humanism is global. I look forward to working with you to achieve this important goal. But as you may know, this will not be an easy task because many have vested interests in the world as it is.
I just returned from our World Humanist Congress in Copenhagen where I was reelected for another 3-year term. I take this position seriously hence I am sending you this message. I am looking forward to working with you to further the cause of humanism as I have always done. First, I thank you for your support over the years. Working with you to promote humanism and freethought has been a labor of love and joy. And I look forward to your support in the coming years. As a board member, I will represent your interests and, the interests of other humanists, continuing the work of promoting humanism. As you may know, I campaigned to help capacitate humanist groups and facilitate the growth and development of humanism around the globe. On our local WhatsApp and Facebook platforms I have always emphasized this objective. We need to strengthen organized humanism today more than ever. With effective humanist groups, we can confront and meet the challenges that we face.
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Unfortunately, in our WhatsApp groups and other platforms, some of us expend energy attacking others based on ethnic or political differences. Meanwhile, those individuals are unable to effectively organize and mobilize in their various states and constituencies. They cannot, using a pen name, write a letter to the editor or an opinion or blog post on humanism in Nigeria. Some people have noted the presence of spies or infiltrators on our WhatsApp and Facebook groups, gathering information or trying to undermine the growth of humanism. These individuals, who are active on the WhatsApp platforms attacking others, are not keen to organize, do something constructive, or help grow humanism locally. This is unfortunate and needs to be addressed. Those persons should understand that organized humanism would outlive them and that those who aim to destroy others end up destroying themselves.
As humanists we need to decide whether we have to remain a virtual talk shop, a WhatsApp group of faceless individuals who are contributing nothing to organize humanism or we have to translate these energies into robust and effective growth and development mechanisms. Since 2020, especially following the arrest of Mubarak Bala, random individuals who self-identify as humanists have surfaced. They have infiltrated the various platforms. They engage in making frivolous allegations. These individuals who could not distinguish humanism from humanitarianism or human rights activism have been making posts about what they know very little about. They have made themselves a laughingstock, and a source of embarrassment to us all.
These self-acclaimed humanists have been spreading misinformation about the humanist association with a long history that they did not know about. They are uninformed; they are misinformed. They do not care for information. They have not been a part of the organization but claim to be members of the ‘humanist community’. Some became humanists to further some ulterior motives, because they wanted to take over the case of Mubarak Bala, not other cases of blasphemy allegations, for reasons that we all know. When they could not realize their goal, they started attacking those who were leading the campaign making frivolous and unfounded claims. Others wanted to use allegations of blasphemy to realize their asylum and relocation plans. And again, when we could not validate their claims, they resorted to insults and to using vile language. Of course, when external organizations entertain these mischievous individuals as ‘humanists’ from Nigeria and validate their opportunistic claims it makes matters worse, and becomes counterproductive. And with the internet and social media, it is easy for these elements to get away with their mischief. But we have to be careful and vigilant. We should understand that these incidents are not new. We should not allow such incidents to happen again. There is a need to reorganize to avoid this kind of embarrassment in the future. In the next three years, I hope to work with leaders of various organizations to address these gaps and strengthen organized humanism, atheism, and freethought at various levels.
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To fellow African humanists, it was a great delight meeting delegates from different countries at the just concluded World Humanist Congress in Denmark. I was happy to see humanist delegates from Libya (for the first time), Morocco Tunisia, South Africa, Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, and of course Nigeria at the event. I wished many more had attended. Unfortunately, some delegates were unable to attend due to visa issues and limited travel grants. We will explore ways to ensure that many more African humanists attend the congress in the future. As you may know, at the event, Ghanaian humanist, Roslyn Mould was elected Vice President. For the first time, an African was elected to the position. These developments are some good news and clear indications of the readiness of Humanists International to work with African humanists, to make humanism happen in the region. So, we all must seize the opportunity and do our bit to grow the humanist constituency in the region.
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We may not agree to the minutest details on every issue. But I know we all agree on the need to grow the humanist community or fellowship. Let’s commit to doing this whether we identify as humanists or atheists, or we are inclined to socialist or welfarist ideas. As you may be aware, humanist groups in Africa are still few and far apart. Organized humanism is weak and largely ineffective due to limited organizational efforts. This situation needs to change. It is our responsibility to change it, to start and strengthen humanist groups. Nobody will do it for us. Let us answer this call to duty. Sometimes, we have to start or sustain these groups using our money, and other resources. Yes, we have to do that. The socio-economic realities in Africa are different and demand creative and innovative ways of organizing humanism. We need to deploy our creative ingenuity and organize humanism in ways that are in tune with the realities and particularities of our region.
We should be ready to make some personal sacrifices. That is how I have been able to keep going over the years. You can start with your resources, and then, you fundraise to support and sustain the initiative. We should not wait until we have secured a grant before we can begin to organize. Do not forget that many churches started as house fellowships. Yes, they did. Many still operate as house fellowships. Humanist or freethought groups could start as house fellowships. So, I enjoin you to start now, start something today. Instead of wasting time and energy asking what other humanist activists are doing, use that facility to start and do something. Be that change you desire. We all know that it is easy to criticize and destroy, but more difficult to construct and build. In the next three years, let us commit to doing the difficult job. And I will work with Ros and other leaders to support you in any way that we can. Do not hesitate to contact us if you need some ideas and suggestions. We are here to help, support, and cooperate with you in furthering the cause of humanism in Africa.
And to other humanists beyond Africa, I thank you for reelecting me at Copenhagen. I will represent your interests too. I look forward to working with you to fulfill my promises. As I noted in my manifesto, the way that we promote humanism has to change, and we have what it takes to make that change and put organized humanism on a more solid and sustainable footing. I say this mindful of the task ahead and based on my experiences over the years. I have always had an internationalist approach to the promotion of humanism. Humanism is not Eastern or Western, Northern or Southern, European or American, Asian, Australian or African. Humanism is universal. That was why, when I started the humanist movement in 1996 I contacted various humanist organizations in Australia, New Zealand, India, Britain, Norway, and the United States, etc. I worked with Roslyn Ives and Ray Dahlitz from Australia, Iain Middleton from New Zealand, Paul Kurtz from the US, Indumati Parikh from India, Jim Herrick, Levi Fragell, Roy Brown, and other European humanists.
Decades of correspondence and cooperation have enriched efforts to promote humanism in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Going forward, I want that cooperation to continue because the best expression of humanism is global. I look forward to working with you to achieve this important goal. But as you may know, this will not be an easy task because many have vested interests in the world as it is. Some people are imprisoned in their prejudices and biases. And for us to promote humanism that befits the 21st century, we have to depart from the old ways of doing things. We have to be ready to change the way we do business. We have to be guided not by the idea of the world as it is but the idea of the world as it should be. We have to be guided, not by the idea of humanism as it is promoted or organized but by the idea of humanism as it should be promoted and organized. Surely, this will be a difficult, and challenging task but it will be rewarding. The changes on the board have sent that message of hope and progress, and now is the time to deepen that message, and better connect and capacitate humanism. I look forward to drawing from my experiences over the years in realizing this objective. Let’s get to work.
Leo Igwe is a board member of Humanists International.