Humanism Now

18. Leo Igwe on New Future for Freethought, Atheism and Humanism in Africa

March 03, 2024 Humanise Live Season 1 Episode 18
18. Leo Igwe on New Future for Freethought, Atheism and Humanism in Africa
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Humanism Now
18. Leo Igwe on New Future for Freethought, Atheism and Humanism in Africa
Mar 03, 2024 Season 1 Episode 18
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"We should acknowledge that humanism is something that beats in the heart of every human being"  Dr Leo Igwe

This week James, Lola & AJ are joined by legendary human rights activist, Leo Igwe. We discuss the merits of Darwin Day, Leo's decades of campaigning for freethought and against superstition and Leo's vision for a new future for atheism and humanism in Africa.

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Leo Igwe

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"We should acknowledge that humanism is something that beats in the heart of every human being"  Dr Leo Igwe

This week James, Lola & AJ are joined by legendary human rights activist, Leo Igwe. We discuss the merits of Darwin Day, Leo's decades of campaigning for freethought and against superstition and Leo's vision for a new future for atheism and humanism in Africa.

Episode references

Leo Igwe

Upcoming events:

Support the Show.

Support us on Patreon

Click here to submit questions, nominate guest & topics or sponsor the show.

Follow Humanism Now @HumanismNowPod
X (Twitter)
YouTube
Instagram
TikTok

Follow Central London Humanists @LondonHumanists
Centrallondonhumanists.org.uk
Meetup
Facebook
X (Twitter)
YouTube

CLH are an official partner group of Humanists UK and an associate member of Humanists International

James H:

Hello and welcome back to Humanism. Now, the podcast from the Central London Humanists. I'm your host, james. This week we're delighted to bring you our in-depth interview with humanist campaigner and human rights advocate Leo Iguay. But before we dive into that, I'm very pleased to introduce two of our regular panelists who are here to go through some of the bigger news stories from the week. Firstly, lola from the Association of Black Humanists. Welcome back, hi, james. How are you doing Very well, thank you. Thank you for asking. Yes, doing well today. How are you? I'm very well, thank you, nice to be here. And my colleague at Central London Humanists and from Humanists International and Young Humanists and many other groups as well, aj, sorry if I've missed a few. Aj, welcome back.

AJ:

Hi James, good to be back.

James H:

Pleasure to have you, as always. Now we're recording this podcast. The week of Shrove Tuesday here in the UK, which, for those who are unaware, is usually celebrated with a feast of pancakes, followed by going into the lent season for those who follow lent. So I have a double-barreled icebreaker question for our panel today, which is, firstly, what are the toppings that you had on your pancakes and, secondly, what would you give up for lent or what will you be giving up for lent? So, lola, I'll come to you first. So, firstly, did you have pancakes?

Lola T:

No, I didn't. I gave it a miss this year, but I do love pancakes. And what would you?

James H:

usually have on top.

Lola T:

Do you know I have. I love my pancake just plain. I don't want anything on top. It's like anything on top of the track from it. So just plain pancake, like my mum used to make it.

James H:

Keep it simple. That's very good. And if you were to be giving up something for 40 days for lent, what would you like to come up this year?

Lola T:

Probably something that will make AJ happy Meat.

James H:

We'll get you on the sentientist train very soon, I'm sure. Right AJ, same questions to you. Did you have your pancakes for a pancake day this year?

AJ:

I didn't know. I can't actually remember the last time I had pancakes, but if you count crepes, I've had crepes a bit more recently, but again, that was many months ago.

James H:

Sure, yeah, so yeah, that's the London hipster version, so I should have meant I should have asked that in the first place. But yes, what's your usual toppings?

AJ:

then Indulging my French side, and there are some excellent crepes that can be found near where I went to university in South Kensington. So that's where I usually go for my crepes. And I'm a bit more of a savory person. That's my sort of weakness, not so much of a sweet tooth, in fact I don't really have a sweet tooth at all. So something savory, maybe even spicy, showing my Indian colours there herbs and spicy and to tantalise their tongue.

James H:

Yeah, spicy pancakes. Never heard of that before, but that's a good answer. So, and in terms of giving something up for lent, what would you like to take a break from for 40 days?

AJ:

There's have to be food. I'm not sure Is it. Can you give up non food, or is it just food? Yeah, I think so. Okay, yeah, because I'm not familiar with what people usually give up and then I'm not much of a foodie, so actually I'll go with popcorn. Popcorn is sort of one of my. I can always, I can always indulge in some popcorn. That sounds good.

James H:

Yeah, I think for me, do you know what I'd love? To take a break from Email. I'd like 40 days with no emails. That would be a wonderful experience, but I can't imagine it's going to happen anytime soon. So thank you very much. Hopefully our listeners know you a little bit better now. So this week we've also, in addition to Shrove Tuesday, we've had Valentine's Day here in the UK and we've also had Darwin Day, and I know, aj, you were over at the Darwin Day lecture hosted by Humanist UK this year. We would like to do a bit more of a deep dive into some of the topics that were discussed there, but I think what would be interesting to start with is your thoughts on what is the purpose of something like Darwin Day, and is it something that we should make a big deal of as part of the humanist community? So, aj, what are your thoughts?

AJ:

I think when you're trying to build a community, when you're trying to build a world movement, having days International Day of XYZ we have an International Humanist Day. Of course, june 21st is very useful because it allows just like with Valentine's Day, I think, quite sensibly, you say that's not the only day that you show love to someone. Actually it should be every day. But just given the realities of life and given the twoings and fourings, and people are busy and you allow yourself to focus on a particular issue for one day and you coordinate efforts. So, for example, for our World Humanist Day last year, you, james, had the excellent idea of bringing together a global network of activists and humanist leaders and just getting us all on the same digital stage and meeting each other, because many of us don't, even though we are all parts of humanist international, we don't often have those opportunities to network in that way and also to present a united front. Okay, if someone's curious about what humanist humanism is, they can look out for their local International Humanist Day event and wherever they are. Same thing with Darwin they. Arguably Darwin in some ways is more famous than humanism, given the change that his discoveries had in our civilization. But still, how is Darwin relevant today, attacking some of the tropes of Darwinism or humanist, treating Darwin as some kind of a prophet or some kind of a infallible figure.

AJ:

I think these things are challenges that modern humanists can address, as well as also just being thankful and being grateful, as many movements are, to their key figures, whether it's civil rights leaders, whether it's football fans, whether it's. It doesn't have to be intellectual or it can be social. Any kind of movement, I think, has to have a level of appreciation, gratitude for the past and a way of marking that philosophical interest in humanism. You don't have to have have done an online course on humanism. You can just get involved in your local Darwin Day. So, for example, in Southwest London we have a Darwin Day dinner and that just helps people get a grasp on.

AJ:

Okay, well, you know Darwin's too relevant to the humanist movement, but here's how he's influenced us and here's how we've moved beyond and it just allows us an opportunity to do that. So I think, yeah, putting it in a proper perspective and having lectures like the Darwin Day lecture again, which an opportunity for 300, 500 humanists to gather together in London, and also many online and many other groups, for example, my colleague Nicole from Young Humanist. She's also the head of Lester Humanist and for one of the previous lectures she had, they had a watch party in Leicester and that's also an opportunity for humanists to gather together. So, just like any other community, it has opportunities for people to gather and commemorate things. That Darwin Day is one of the ways that UK humanists do that.

James H:

And you've raised an interesting point when you build it around an individual, that obviously puts a lot more spotlight on the individual themselves. Lola, what's your views on celebrating Darwin as a person and setting aside a day for that?

Lola T:

I absolutely agree with everything that Asia said. It said it so beautifully that it's very difficult for me to add to it, other than if I'm going to, I think probably we can even make a festival out of it, I think for somebody like me who was religious work and then he answered it for all humanity. So he's key. He's a key person in our understanding of our history, of our natural history and our relationship with other living things, with animals. You know everything. I have to say that you know some, especially some black people. They are not so positive about him because of you know some of the things he said in his book, I think the descent of man, if I remember the book correctly, yes, and about women as well. It seemed to have said something along the line that was, like you know, promoting white supremacy.

Lola T:

But then I think what we have to think of number one he was a scientist. He did this groundbreaking research, gave us this information inside that is helping every human being in the world, regardless of where you are, who you are. So, and as a scientist, he came out with a lot of correct information and then maybe some incorrect information what is given of the foundation? And a lot of work. Because of his inspiration, because of what? Of his hard work.

Lola T:

You know other scientists are built on it and you know they looked into it, they've investigated and actually Darwin himself believed that we are all one species. You know, and other people have. You know, they've done the work and you know the conclusion. You know, whatever you know people are fearing. You know, because sometimes people fear racist using Darwin's work, you know, for their racist agenda. But I think his work it depends on how we want to interpret it. We have to see what is done for us collectively, as human race, and then we have to focus on the fact that we believe that we are one species and actually he was an abolitionist. So there is a lot for us to be grateful. And then, if he didn't get everything correctly, that is fine. It's given us the foundation to get it right. I will have a festival for him.

James H:

Do you feel about whether we should, as non-religious people, be having days and also elevating an individual to that status of having a day to celebrate their work? It?

AJ:

can be a double edged sword, dear. I mean we also in London's humanist community, we celebrate Tyshalaran Day, which it has always highlighted about you. We've done it for the past few years and we're trying to make that into a more of a festival and a big thing as well, which I look forward to this year and in future. He is a Nigerian educator, a humanist, tyshalaran Now. Again, the same thing applies there.

AJ:

Where could we not have an Nigerian humanist day or an evolution day rather than a Darwin day, if there is a humanistic sort of rational argument there to trying to be less tribalistic and trying not to repeat the mistakes of previous faith and belief systems that have gone before us and get tied up into idol worship?

AJ:

And we can see how that can get quite toxic in some movements, even if they may start out with good intentions. So I think that we don't have to be wedded to this idea of one person, and especially, again, one person. They tend to be more male and there's other diversity problems in who's chosen for this. I mean Black History Month. They've just had in the US similar problems there, where the initial idea can be kept, but maybe we can modify it. So maybe an evolution day, or maybe an African humanism day or something like this. There are other ways to approach it and, yeah, I agree that there are problems. Even if it was a perfect individual, even if it was someone whom we can find any criticism at all, it's still a problem, because why focus on the individual?

James H:

And, yes, I think what I'm kind of sensing from this coming through here is you are more likely to engage people if you talk about one individual and their work, if you make it more general. Yes, an evolution day. What is the reason for doing it on any particular day? And similarly, you know, nigerian Humanism Day. How would you tie that to a day? But, lola, as one of the driving forces behind our Thai Salaran Day that we've jointly been organizing here in London, do you think there's something that is gained from tying it to an individual's life and work and their particular either discoveries or their moral values, as it is with Thai Salaran? That helps bring people together.

Lola T:

I think so the thing is, as humanists, we don't believe in, you know, in this supernatural force. You know we don't believe that there is a voice from above. You know somebody is talking to us in a dream. We don't have a prophet. We, you know, we have to celebrate humanity. We have to celebrate key people who have inspired us.

Lola T:

Sometimes it goes beyond them. When we choose a person, it goes beyond them. For example, thai Salari. Thai Salari has been, you know, was one person throughout and the only one really, apart from we have Liyueyue in Nigeria now, but somebody of the Calibur that was in the government, that was known, arrested many times and then stood by humanist principle from beginning till the day he died. And then he was one person that Nigerians knew and they knew that he did not believe in supernatural forces, he didn't believe in God, and yet people respected him so much because of his, you know, of his values, because of his work, of his charity, because it was a great educator in Nigeria.

Lola T:

So we need human beings that we can relate to flesh and blood. That flesh and blood, like us, have inspired us. So it goes beyond that one person is our collective warmth and respect for what that person has done, because they represent the goodness in us. You know this, this people, this key figure. Sometimes they embody what we've aspired to, and and and and some gratitude that they, you know we've had them and their legacy continues. So for that, yes, sometimes I understand what Ed is saying and I agree. It's just that I think there is more impact when we can put a face to you know, celebrating, when we celebrate one human being, I think we are celebrating each other.

James H:

It's what that person represents and what the causes, that which they have championed, which we should be celebrating, but the name becomes a representation for those causes and for those values. So, yes, I think that's a beautiful way to describe it. Now, thank you both very much for your thoughts there. Now, in addition to Darwin Day, there's also been some movements on a couple of cases here in the UK which we've been covering closely already on the podcast. Firstly, the Rwanda bill, which I think we discussed with both AJ and Lola previously. This is the UK's attempt to have illegal migrants deported to Rwanda. Lola, I know this is very close to your area of work. What are your reflections on where we are now and, in particular, the humanist UK position against the Rwanda bill?

Lola T:

I think the humanist UK position is in line with the decision of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has found that it is not safe to return people to Rwanda and for one particular reason, and that is reformat to their countries, especially those that are at risk. Their life is at risk. They are at risk of a treatment, torture, a degrading treatment and all sorts of ills if they are returned to their country and they don't feel that Rwanda is a safe country, because there is a risk that they could be returned to where they are not safe.

Lola T:

I think there are many issues here and one of the things is whether our politicians actually have respect for our judicial system. The judicial system is there to balance power, to guide. We've trusted them, for I don't know what this means. I don't know what this means when a case goes through the court system, especially to the highest court of the land, to the Supreme Court, and then the politicians are still spending and then the politicians are still trying to find a way around it. I think we should all be concerned. That's a great concern for all of us because it's easier, and I want all of us, all of us in the country, to be concerned, because it's not just. We might be for those who want something done about immigration. I respect their people that want something done, but then we need to be mindful that how we treat the vulnerable amongst us and it can come back to bite us when our politicians, our leaders, are trying to circumvent the rulings of the court system I think we should be very, very concerned.

AJ:

Yeah, lola's exactly right and we should mention that. One of the ways that and I think quite proudly humanists in Parliament are trying to address this issue and indeed it was discussed in the all-party parliamentary group on humanism was that this has to be a cross-party issue. It can't be a partisan issue. They're just the idea of issuing a law to change a statement of fact, a finding of whether a country is or is not a safe place and whether a policy will or will not comply with international law. That goes against every humanist principle that we have about evidence-based reasoning, about deference to democracy, deference to relevant authorities and the humility before a general consultation and legislative body. So we're cutting through all of that. So this really is and quite rightly square in the targets and the sites of the all-party parliamentary group on humanism.

James H:

Yes, quite right, and thanks to Tommy Shepherd and everyone else who's involved with the all-party parliamentary group on humanism for the great work they do and for highlighting these issues amongst Westminster, which now we treat the most vulnerable, is very telling of a society in general. And in addition to that, we've also seen this week MPs raise the case of Mubarak Barla again, the case which we've covered somewhat on this channel already, and Leo Iguay this week's interview we'll discuss in more detail. Eija, I know this is a case which has been heavily supported by Humanist International, where you sit on the board, so would you like to give an update on the Mubarak Barla case and what the likely sort of outcome is from this being raised within the UK politicians?

AJ:

Yeah, his case has been made, quite rightly, into a talisman of the challenges faced by free thinkers and circularists and humanists all over the world, and it's a very typical case where he was imprisoned because of a Facebook post. There's actually a ruling, a superior court ruling in Nigeria that says that he should be released on bail, but that's not being adhered to because of other tribal lawties or other favoritism that's shown towards religious authorities in Nigeria. As opposed to he's obviously the president of the Nigerian Humanist Association. He doesn't have that. He doesn't have purchase in that world, and this is something that we speak to in the Freedom of Thought reports that came out last year. We publish it every year.

AJ:

Humanist International, where just even the counting and the basic respect and accountability, and even if there are laws and procedures on the books, they're not followed. There's exceptions made, there are deals done sort of in dark corners, and that ultimately puts the safety and security of humanists at risk all over the world as well as secularists and free thinkers, and not only theirs but also their families, which is the case in Mubarak Parla's case, and it's as you can imagine. It's an intensely confusing to torturous path that him and his family, his wife and his children have been on. We've supported them legally. We've made some provision to support them personally as well, just because of the, because you can imagine, the conditions in Nigerian prisons take a physical toll on you as well as an emotional and mental toll. So that's what we're trying to do there and thankfully our members are supporting us in that and you said Humanist UK and also other members around the world.

AJ:

The national humanist groups and the subnational groups have been doing fundraisers and getting the word out there, and that needs to continue because ultimately, when we go as humanists international to the Human Rights Council or to other international bodies and we make that case, or we lobby MPs who are trying to, or involved with trade negotiators with Nigeria and every place where we can see that there is a scope for accountability to be pressed, for the screw to be turned, we need that to happen. So humanist groups all over the country in the UK and all over the world have their part to play in bringing this to bear and at the moment there's no foreseeable change in the situation. But we're monitoring the situation and we're seeing how that can be improved. But his case continues to be a headline one and you can go to our website, humanist International, to see the other cases that we're supporting alongside his, and there's many, many horror stories unfortunately similar to Mabarak's.

James H:

Absolutely yeah, and I think it's what's saying he is facing from his from the initial conviction up to 24 years in prison from making that Facebook post. He's two years into that sentence as we speak and I think it slightly ties into what we were talking about earlier, that sometimes the individual can represent a much greater whole as well. And, yes, we may be putting a lot of emphasis on this one individual case, but this is really about what kind of world we want to live in and whether people should be permitted their freedom of speech and freedom of expression and very much of his cases at the forefront of that battle. And I guess that leaves us in nicely to our interview this week, which is with Nigerian human rights activist and campaigner, leo Iguay. Lola, you are kind enough to make the introduction to Leo for our group and he's someone that I think most of us who are active and involved within humanism globally will be aware of. But for those who aren't aware, how would you introduce Leo's activism but also his influence on the humanist movement?

Lola T:

Leo Iguay is the founder of the humanist association of Nigeria and he himself. He has faced a lot of lawsuits, attacks, arrests and I remember I think he has been detained by the authorities in Nigeria for his activism in trying to protect especially women and children from human rights abuse, violations caused by allegation of witchcraft. He was a founder of an organization called Advocacy for alleged witches. After, for short, leo Iguay, I consider him a friend and a brother. I refer to him as my brother in prison. You know, in religion we say brother, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Lola T:

I consider Leo Iguay a brother in prison and I admire him for we were just talking about Mubarak Balak for his bravery, being able to stand up for rationality, his war against superstition, especially how women and children have been abused, and we are not talking of murder, abuse, we are talking of torture, we are talking of being killed and he is fighting to protect these vulnerable and group of people. So we are very grateful to have him in Nigeria and it's not just working in Nigeria, it's collaborating with other humanists and other organizations in different parts of Africa.

James H:

Absolutely, I think, globally. We are incredibly grateful and honoured to count Leo Iguay amongst our number. So here is our interview with our brother in prison, dr Leo Iguay. Dr Leo Iguay is a distinguished Nigerian human rights advocate and secular humanist, renowned for his on-wavering commitment to combating harmful superstitions, including witchcraft accusations, and promoting humanism. He founded the Humanist Association of Nigeria in 1990 and is a long-standing board member with Humanist International. Dr Iguay has received global recognition, including awards, for his services to humanism and his advocacy against witchcraft related persecutions. He continues to be an active voice against human rights abuses and a proponent for reason, science and human values, addressing societal issues. Dr Iguay, thank you so much for joining us on Humanism Now. Yeah, thank you, jasps, for having me Pleasure. I guess, as mentioned in my intro, you have been a lifelong campaigner and committed to the humanist cause. I think it would be interesting to know about your background, your upbringing and what led you to humanism in the first place.

Leo Igwe:

Well, I think that, first of all, we should acknowledge that humanism is something that beats in the heart of every human being. Yes, I think it is, because I don't think that, as a human being, anything humanistic should be alien. In the course of our growth, in the course of our upbringing, of course, we are told OK, you have to believe in a deity, you have to believe in the supernatural, you have to believe in a God, you have to belong to this group, you have to belong to that group. And slowly and steadily, we find that we are being shifted, we are being moved. Sometimes we move the way in a way that alienates us, we human beings, from ourselves. So, yes, I was born in a rural community in South Eastern Nigeria. When I grew up and my mother took me to a local seminary, it was my decision to join the seminary, it was my mother's decision, but it is in the course of studying philosophy that I started to ask questions about life. I was born in a village in South Eastern Nigeria and I grew up for about 12 years interacting just like a typical village community. Life is rural. People try to mix religious, traditional Christian beliefs and ways of life.

Leo Igwe:

Then, at the age of 12, my mother took me to a Catholic seminary where I trained to be a priest, and there I studied philosophy much later, and actually it was in the course of study philosophy that I got to know about humanism as a formal way of thinking or as a school of thought, and that was where I got fascinated by it. Because, quite unlike the religious notions, humanism speaks to me and humanism talks about me and other human beings, unlike religious teachers that tell you so much about, sometimes, what you don't see, what you don't hear, what you really don't understand and people you don't really have connection, or entities or personalities. As a first case, maybe, you don't have reconnections. So after studying philosophy, I now begin to think that the religious thing is not good for me, and so I left the seminary training and of course I now started the Humanist Association.

Leo Igwe:

That was in the 90s and there has not been any reason for me to change, because for me I just felt like being a humanist, like going home. It's like coming back to myself. And now religion makes better sense to me as a human than it did then, because then I was taking it so seriously that it becomes so alienating, so self-alienating. It degrades you, it makes you think that you are nothing, you are worthless and all that.

Leo Igwe:

But now, when I made that shift, I'm in religious studies, my doctoral degrees in religious studies, and I let everybody understand that I understand religion more now and better now than I was then, because then I was taking it seriously, maybe trying to go to heaven, you deny yourself some food, you think that in the course of it you could encounter God, and only to find that you're just either making yourself sicker or making yourself go madder as a result of your beliefs. So that's it and I started the movement so that I could connect with other people. Very important, yes, because I felt that that sense of connection is helpful in my own ability to grow as a humanist, flourish as a humanist and also build a society where humanistic values have a place in terms of social progress, in terms of social change, in terms of development.

James H:

That's wonderful. And how was it? In the early days of founding the association in Nigeria in 1996? Apologies, I said 1990, my intro Founding in 1996. So we're in the very early days of the internet. So what was that experience like, creating a community? And how? Where were you of other people who also shared this idea of humanism at the time?

Leo Igwe:

Yeah, well, when we started, I just had an idea of a community where I could connect Somehow. You need a place, you need people. You could sit down and relax and talk and chat and socialize Not people you feel like. Let me give you an example.

Leo Igwe:

This morning a pastor the posted a video of a pastor on a platform who was telling people that when you have a problem with your car engine, that you should use an oil. Yes, they posted it on a platform and I said look, this pastor is a clown. And everybody descended on me all the members, because all the people are. So they descended on me. I said look, you guys are not reacting to the post, you are reacting to what I said. So I know how a lot of people are very hostile when people try to criticize that. So I was longing for a community where I could laugh. I keep saying this thing I'm not actually in the humanist community because of so much things but relax and they have a good sense of humor. Yes, I enjoy it so much. Now a pastor said put anointing oil in the machine. I said look, this pastor is a clown. If you do that, you will destroy the car more. A car is already bad and we are adding anointing oil. What's the connection? Now I call the man a clown. They dissented this I was abusing. The guy is a clown, honestly. So I need a community where I could say these things and we begin to talk about it. Yeah, so what am I trying to say? So that was exactly.

Leo Igwe:

It was challenging because nobody wanted to criticize religion openly, nobody wanted to criticize religious actors. Now, having been trained, going through the training as a religious actor made me I don't have that kind of respect Because they told me I should be. I said I can't respect somebody who said I should put anointing oil inside an engine. When there's a mechanic who knows what to do with this, I will not respect the person and I don't care what you call him. So my training actually prepared me to have this boldness in quote, to criticize them clerics, man of God, woman of God, I don't care. He made you talk rubbish. He's rubbish, period. I don't want to know. So what happened was? It was challenging.

James H:

You faced much more, I guess, threatening attacks than just pylons online throughout your career Legal challenges, personal attacks. How do you find the resilience and strength to continue in the face of sometimes overwhelming opposition to your views?

Leo Igwe:

You know what? I studied a lot before I started the humanist movement. In fact, I went to do the encyclopedia. I studied what is humanism, the middle ages, the Renaissance. I took time.

Leo Igwe:

I knew it was not going to be easy. Yes, so somehow I was mentally prepared. Yes, yes, in fact I was ready. I told my family not too long ago that I was ready for everything. And when I say everything, I'm sure you understand what I mean. Okay, so, and I knew the society. Yes, so that's why, when people try to tell me that I don't know what I'm doing in terms of my campaign here, I feel insulted. I know the society. I'm a Nigerian. I understand how to talk to Nigerians.

Leo Igwe:

Even when it like today, I did it on that platform, they didn't remove me, I'm still there. So they said, telling me about that, I'm a soul that I could become a Paul. I said, okay, yeah, but I've made my point. So what am I trying to say? Is that I know my society. Knowledge is power. So I knew how, sometimes, how to, where to stop and when I have made my point. And again, I try to connect internationally. Yes, so I tried to. You know liars with the humanist groups in the West, people again like mines, who understand where I'm coming from. So, with my local knowledge and international connection, I find a way to renew myself in the face of being born to our hostility or persecution, or, you know, being resilient. So resilience is a factor of renewal, renewal based on knowledge and international connections.

James H:

Thank you. And in terms of that local knowledge, how would you describe the religious culture in Nigeria? You know this is a country which is, you know, fast becoming, you know, one of the most popular, potentially one of the most important, you know, an economic hub. In the future. It's going to be a more and more important country going forward, so, but I think it's perhaps not as well understood, particularly in Europe, in terms of the cultural makeup and the complexities. So how would you describe the religious situation and how has that changed in your 30 years of running the humanist group?

Leo Igwe:

Well, there are changes. There are changes, but I want to let you know that the Western representation of Africa, the Eastern, the Arab Islamic representation of Nigeria and Africa, they are holding us hostage. We are not as religious as you think. People are religious because they don't have an alternative, and that's exactly why I'm interested in the Humanist Association, I'm interested in the Humanist movement. Give them a better alternative. Remove the cohesions, remove all these privileges around religion.

Leo Igwe:

I want to tell you that Nigeria will be one of the most religious nations in the world. Yes, now listen, what is the price of being a Christian? Yes, you get a lot of support and solidarity from Europe and America. You get free visas. You get a lot, you know. But what is it? What do you benefit if you're a humanist? If you oppose in religion, they'll just tell you you will lose election. You have no ally. There are few of you. So it does not matter here what you preach. It matters. What do you benefit? What benefit comes from it? That's why I said I have local knowledge.

Leo Igwe:

Now, of course, islam is a different thing. You don't even talk about it. Yes, it's either you believe or you die. In quotes there is no space for negotiation. There's no middle ground. So people are held hostage, religiously hostage. Now this religious hostage has gone over a long time and there is no alternative. That is why today I'm saying the humanists associate you. I say, look, you guys must provide an effective global alternative or you are irrelevant. Yes, you lose relevance. Yes, because people are here looking for an alternative they cannot find.

Leo Igwe:

Let me just give you one example. A colleague from Sudan told me that a Muslim member was into some financial difficulties, looking for money to pay the son's trophies, and went to the Muslim brothers or relatives. They did not give him the money. So he went to the Christians and they gave him money to pay trophies. He converted to Christianity. So when they were asking him, he said that when he needed help that they didn't provide it.

Leo Igwe:

Now, I'm not trying to present this as if it's all about the stomach or all about benefit, but what I'm trying to say is people are not religious because we understand Jesus or Allah more than that. There are a lot of social aspect of it, political capital in this. Now, as long as the alternative has no social or political capital, many Nigerians will remain religious. I went to a meeting where somebody told me. I'm not religious but I go to church. A lot of people are not religious but they go to mosque, they pray even, and all that. They do as much as possible to satisfy that outwardness, because they want to be alive, they want to get votes when they contest for election, they want to get scholarship, they want to get jobs. So they have hijacked all these, holding us hostage. Now we who understand this cannot resign to it. If we resign to it, then we have failed in a non-religious constituency that has always been there and that will always be there, because religion does not make sense to a lot of people.

James H:

Yeah, very interesting and, I think, very enlightening about the makeup. So have you seen a growth in the interest in humanism? Do you see the community growing? And I guess the subsequent question is what can groups like yours, like ours, like Humanist International, be doing to create a more appealing alternative?

Leo Igwe:

You know, let me use that saying in the Bible Let me, because that's my background, let me use it. Let my people go, that's all. Let me tell you, they're holding them hostage, like the Islamic, you know, in Nigeria has a more or less is a kind of representative something, the sense that we have this very Muslim leaning north and Christian leaning south. Okay, so, and all of them are in different levels of hostage. They'll be held hostage in different ways. Okay, let them go, that's all, so that they can think freely, they can question freely.

Leo Igwe:

Now, recently, the latest blasphemy case we have in Karsina. Of course, it's not a humanist, it's a Christian who made a post on social media, just on social media, like Mubarak did, that Muhammad was a fake prophet and the Quran was like a pirated book. You know things like that. And of course, yeah, a lot of us don't believe that the guy was even a prophet at all, you know, and all that, yeah, but you don't say it. That's where we are now. So, and we thought that social media will give people an ample space to be expressive and say well, but we are not even getting there. So we are even getting to the stage where, by giving, you can post something on social media, you get killed. Yes, you can post something. The Bora, the Christian girl, just made a post on WhatsApp. That was all the K-man leacher.

Leo Igwe:

So are we growing with a lot of caution? Because you know why Any mechanism for growth, they will hijack it. They're not hijacking social media. So before you make a post now, you now look over your shoulder and say who will read this post? Will they come after me? Okay, another. So now what we're expecting could actually give us a space to be more expressive.

Leo Igwe:

They have also hijacked it. You know why? Because international mechanisms have also allowed these people to get away with it. Yes, because when they do this, I mean they got some passive support from the East, from the Muslim part of the world and, of course, the Christian part of the world. We say oh yeah, but you need to respect their religion. So we adjust three steps forward first steps backward, two steps forward. We keep moving back and forth. So are we really making progress?

Leo Igwe:

I don't know, but the fact remains that people will continue to long to express themselves, to say what they think is true. Nobody will stop it. They will disrupt it, they will put them in jail, but it will like now is Muhammad a prophet? I don't know. I didn't make him a prophet, I don't care. You know you get what I'm trying to say.

Leo Igwe:

So don't bring it. I used to tell them. They said I shouldn't throw the Quran to the floor. I said, okay, don't bring it, I don't want it, I don't want even to read. Can you take it away? Because if you give it to me, I will put it where I put my books.

Leo Igwe:

Okay, they say you shouldn't put another book on top of the Quran. I said why? They won't give you any reason. So everybody knows that this is absurd. Okay, now they want to force it on you, but of course, people are being cautious Again. People want to live. Yes, nobody wants to die and we know that there is no afterlife. So you really have to trade with caution.

Leo Igwe:

Now, in trading with caution, it seems as if we are not a significant population in terms of, you know, non-religious people. We are, I can tell you. A lot of people come to me. They just tell me I believe in what you're saying, I support what you're saying, but I don't have the boldness to say this. Some people are worried about what their parents will say Some people are worried about their jobs. I know somebody who is in the police in the Nigerian police part of the Nigerian police force, but he said because of his job he will not come out openly. And I say no problem. So a lot of us are in the closet. So that is why I said it is important, those of us who are out to begin to make sure we have a robust mechanism to represent many of these people in parts of the world where they could be killed or who suffer serious damage or loss as a result of open expressions of their views.

James H:

Absolutely yeah, and it's very important that representation, that being open and providing people that resource if they need it, to know that they're not alone if they are having these doubts or they share these views. So thank you for everything you've done, and I know you've had some great successes in your campaigning as well, particularly through advocacy for alleged witches. I wonder if you could perhaps, for those who are unfamiliar, explain some of the cases which you've had to fight and, in particular, the successes that you've had, but why this has persisted as an issue.

Leo Igwe:

The evil. They abuse their wrongs, religion and commit, they put them under. They try not to highlight those things. Yes, like now, blasphemy, killings, witchcraft accusations, persecutions. They try to minimize those things. Yes, and it is our duty, the duty of non-believers, non-religious people who have a sense of how the society should go and be governed, to highlight them. So one of the ways we have tried to make a case for humanism is to advocate against witchcraft accusation and witch persecution, because if is an abuse, an atrocity being committed and linked to people's belief and unbelief in the supernatural or in the magical world. So what are we doing? So no more argument, because a lot of the time people will say you don't believe in witches, you don't believe in the devil, you don't believe in God. Then they shut down, they don't want to listen to you again. But what we do now? We present the case before them. I say, ok, look at this, look at this. You believe, but look at where we are, look at what is being done. So we are using these cases to make a case for a more humanistic society, a society that values life, values, human rights, values, equality. A society also that should tolerate in quote, believes that deviate ideas of the world that deviate from theirs. So we've been making a lot of success and I must tell you, right now we are overwhelmed. We are literally overwhelmed, because people come to us to provide them a system to help speak for them.

Leo Igwe:

We had a case that was last year. Somebody was this man was. They accused him of being responsible for the death In a village and they went in the middle of the night and they abducted him and just set him ablaze. He said that they were just trying to OK, you guys may not understand this. They were. They do a goat. When they want to kill goat and prepare it for meat, they just put set of fire openly and throw the whole thing inside it. He said that they wanted to. They treated him like a goat, but that even if you want to do that to a goat, you have to kill the goat. But they didn't kill him, they just threw him live and threw him inside the fire. So that was it. So luckily he survived. So they drew our attention and we moved in, got the police to arrest the perpetrators and charge them to court. They never expected it, because very often they get away with this thing. So they were able now to come together and apologized and told the family that they would not harm the man if eventually he returned. So we're having that as a kind of a social experiment now. So the man has returned to the village. So we are monitoring his safety as he is back there now.

Leo Igwe:

So this is one of our cases. We have intervened, in fact we have a recent case where a young woman, a widow. The family members accused her and their plan was to tie her and throw her into a river. But initially they now changed their mind and now brought a local masquerade and they did that to drive out of the village. But luckily it was somebody who caught that in a video and posted it on social media. We intervened. We are trying to rehabilitate her as we speak at the moment. So we also have a child who was also there. They burnt her to the point that part of her buttocks was partially burnt and we were also able to intervene, rescue and charge the people to court. So these are some of the things we are trying to do and we need to consistently be doing it to make sure that there is a paradigm shift, because we have not gotten there yet. So the cases have stayed so many In Ghana.

Leo Igwe:

They have a particular thing they call witch camps, but these are refuge centers where people flee to Immediately. They persecute them. They don't want to be lynched, they run there. So these places are still there. They need to go away. Because for me, there is no meaningful campaign we are running until we begin the process of shutting down witchcraft accusation as a form of a death sentence, so that people who live in refuge centers could go back home in Ghana.

Leo Igwe:

For me, I can't sleep. I'm not happy that. Ok, I went there to do research. People are still going to come to do research there next year, there are other doctoral degrees, next five years, next 10 years, next 20 years. Human beings are there and nothing is being done. So what I'm saying? There in Malawi, we have a very bad situation also, that's time to death. They're also lynched. So in fact, there was a woman who was pushed into. They wanted to bury the woman alive. So we have had cases in Zambia, people buried alive. Now why are these things going on? There is no robust mechanism to beat back the tide. The humanist movement will also be identified with ending which persecution in Africa. That's my hope, that's my dream, but before then we need to end it. Before they write any history, let's end it first.

James H:

It's incredible work. Those are quite shocking cases and thank you for your commitment to the cause. You mentioned being overwhelmed with the cases which you receive. If anybody listening would like to contribute in some way, how can they help? Where are you looking for assistance?

Leo Igwe:

volunteers.

James H:

Yes.

Leo Igwe:

Today. There are so many ways you can help. First of all, we need a platform to keep presenting this perspective, because a lot of people have this idea that oh yeah, which one is in Africa? Is it cultural to them? I hear a lot of nonsense, even from Europeans and Americans, and sometimes I get angry with them. I said if you don't know something, just shut up. Just shut up. You must not comment. They say, oh, it's cultural to us. First of all, they must drop the misrepresentation of witchcraft accusation in Africa. That is number one thing you can help us do, please. They should stop saying that this thing is cultural to us. That is our own way of life. That is help us stabilize our society.

Leo Igwe:

It's not true. The scholarship in this respect is wretched and it's part of the problem, and that's why, when you want to address it, there's this smile on their face. When you talk about it, it's like it's not, like these are not serious things. It doesn't water our time. You are disturbing them. People are dying. Yes, if you throw a British person, want to bury a British person alive in Malawi, you will see what will happen. Yeah, but oh, when they bury a Malawian, somebody will just smile and say, oh yeah, africans and all that, so there is this, no seat they give us. The thing makes me mad when I get to international conferences and I even don't want to hear it.

Leo Igwe:

So if you really want to help us, first of all stop this. They should stop this idea that witchcraft accusation is cultural to us. When your mother is accused, you will not know when that is not cultural. When they want to throw you inside the grave and bury you. Recently I can show you the image a woman was buried up to. She was lucky. In Malawi. They buried her up to the head, ok, another. So let them. That is one good thing they can do for us.

Leo Igwe:

They misrepresentation of which kind of accusation in Africa should stop. Then, of course, those who are trying to advocate it. They can support them through all the NGOs, through Humanist International. Any support that comes to Humanist International, we get to us. Any support that comes to all our allies in the UK, in the Europe, america, we get to us. So but first of all, we must all agree that this has to end, that this has nothing to do with stability, cultural stability, cultural benefit. There's no cultural benefit to Africa. It is harming, it is destructive. It is dark and we must end it Immediately. We agree on this. I think that the will financial, political will will just come up and that we will be moving closer to stopping this nonsense.

James H:

Thank you. Couldn't agree more. No, it does require a unified effort, definitely. Before we wrap up, what advice do you have for aspiring activists, anyone who's looking to follow in your footsteps? Well, what would be your best words of wisdom?

Leo Igwe:

Yeah, for me. First of all, I don't want us to be operating based on spontaneous emergence of activists. Yes, we should begin the process of being better organized and coordinated. Yes, and it has made us not a very serious organization. Yeah, yes, I must say this.

Leo Igwe:

Some months ago, we just heard that Somebody mentioned South Africa. She is very competent. She said who is this? Nobody knows clearly who the person is. Nobody has any clear profile. They say, oh, he's a humanist. Now the person will be writing nonsense. You don't know what other person is on drugs. You don't know anything.

Leo Igwe:

So we keep operating as if there is no sense of understanding. Today, if you go to the Catholic Church or you write something about a clergy, you refer to somebody. Ok, I know this man, I met him. There's another.

Leo Igwe:

So I think that this idea of relying on activists emerging here and there and working in a very coordinated, we need to end it. We need to have a sense of who is doing what and who is who. Yeah, email address is not enough. Facebook posts and social media posts is not enough From individuals. You don't even know their character, you don't know their background, nothing. So what am I? Aspiring people? What I'm saying there is. First of all, we need to begin to have a sense of coordination in terms of our activism. That is the only way we can begin to make reasonable progress. Now, people should also understand what they are into. Yes, a lot of people will come in, they follow that, they wave oh, maybe there's a donation coming the way of Leo. Somebody now starts engaging in such a thing. Yeah, because he wants the donation. He doesn't even, he's not even interested in the job. So people should understand what they want to do.

Leo Igwe:

Like I told you, it took me a while I had to understand it. So I read about which haunting in Europe. I did a doctorate there before I moved in. So when I'm speaking, I'm speaking from point of view of knowledge. So activists should be informed. Don't just be very, don't be shallow minded, and I think that for me, if you are informed, every other thing becomes very easy. You can navigate the tension, you can navigate every issue and challenge. You have credibility and you will be able to attract all the necessary support you will get. For me, if you want to be activists, go and study, be well informed, be focused and, yes, be resilient.

James H:

Fantastic. Well, thank you very much for your resilience and everything that you've contributed with Humanists International and the local groups as well. Are you optimistic for the future of humanism, particularly in West Africa, and what role would you like to see humanism playing in the future in society within Nigeria?

Leo Igwe:

You see, I can say I'm not optimistic. To say that is like shooting myself on my foot. Yes, I am, but it's cautious optimism. Yes, I'm optimistic, but I'm also aware of the fact that things could also go the other way. Yes, people are becoming more knowledgeable. People are becoming more informed. Yes, even though we are all having all these threats on social media, people want to kill another person for making another. For me, those people are losing grounds. All these people that are reacting violently. Whether you cartoon Mohammed or you say something about the Koran. They start running around like crazy people, here and there, running embassies and all that. They are losing. They are the losers and for me, they will continue to be the losers. So that is the basis of optimism when it comes to the future. But this is not optimism that will drop on our lives. We also have to sit up, those of us who have some sense of idea of what this future will be a more secular future, more tolerant future. So we really have to work for it. If we don't work for it, then it will be delayed. Yes, yeah, because I want some of this to happen in my own lifetime. So I'm looking forward to a situation where we play a more active role in our schools.

Leo Igwe:

Yes, our education system is part of a problem Today, the education. I mean I have a five-year-old and he comes by and he's telling me about Jesus. I said Jesus, you are telling me about Jesus. What do you know? You get it. He said God, listen. He said where is it? He will point up. I said there's nothing there. You just get on that. You know planets and all that. At five years, a child knows about Jesus. He doesn't know anything about the planet and about you, know about what is going on as it, about the song, but he knows about Jesus and all that. So our education has to change.

Leo Igwe:

Yes, and I have a feeling that we who understand how to change this thing also have to sit up and come up with materials and begin, otherwise then we see, continue this kind of indoctrination. So, if we're able to change our educational system and couple with the fact that we're getting more interconnected a lot of information out there, you know, and all that making people to sometimes begin to question what they're told or what they're taught, so I'm thinking that, yeah, a brighter future lies ahead, but that brighter future is something we have to work for we have to end it, yes, and we have to protect it, we have to guard it, we have to be vigilant, so it's not something that we just happen like a miracle. So that is the basis of my optimism and I think that it's possible that we can. You can also happen within my own lifetime yes.

James H:

Wonderful, and I know you'll also be presenting a new vision for humanism in Africa at events upcoming soon, so we'll certainly keep an eye out for that. Our usual closing question is to ask about something which you've changed your mind on, and I'm happy to leave that as an open question to you. But I wanted to draw back to something you said right at the start that you feel now like you understand religion from the perspective of humanist better than you understood it when you were studying to be a pastor. So would you mind explaining your understanding of religion now and why you feel it is a more complete version?

Leo Igwe:

Religion is largely an understanding, a perception of the world based on ignorance and fear. Yes, so when the world, or when human beings, we are much more afraid, religion helps, gives them a more holistic so that, whether you're educated or not mainly you are religious you have an idea of the world. Yes, religion is not concerned with what is true. Religion is concerned in giving you some kind of a coherent, some kind of a sense of the world. Yes, so that is why you will get people, children, they will be telling you about the angels. They say, oh yeah, they have wings and, as we had maybe, you start questioning it. The whole thing crumbles. So religion is just something that helps human beings. It's a survivalist thing. Yes, it helps human beings to make sense of survival, to make sense of life. So that is what I said and that's why, today, when you are explaining why do people believe in this? They believe in this because sometimes they were not educated or they deliberately rejected. People can deliberately reject what they think is true. Yes, but the whole thing is that it gives you a sense of the world. It's not concerned with whether it is true or not. So, and that is why you can see somebody on this. You say I'm a Christian. Ask the person what is the Facebook? Or, say, called Last Book in the Bible? The person doesn't know. Ask the person questions fundamental about the faith they don't know, but they'll say I'm a Christian. Or they'll just say no, I know. God created me and all that. That's how, where, when. So it gives people a sense of it. So that's why, as long as people are ignorant, as long as people are poor, their needs are not met. There are no efforts to really get people the knowledge that gives them that confidence, religion will continue to thrive. Yes, this is my understanding, but it is important. We are the humanist association. Put religion in its perspective, because I used to tell them in the bus that my problem is not that you are religious, but where do you put religion? Where do you put Done in the shelf? Put religion here. You have fiction. Put it there. I don't have a problem with it.

Leo Igwe:

Like the man, the pastor, who said something about the engine and anointing or a. I told him I didn't have a problem. I won't have a problem If you people told me this guy was joking. Yes, so for me, religion is largely a joke. It's a joke and we are human beings, we can joke. I told them I don't have a problem with that pastor if he were a comedian. Yes, if you are saying this in as a form of comedy, I won't have a problem. I wouldn't even call him a clown, I'll call him a comedian and I will enjoy the comedy.

Leo Igwe:

But the man is not telling us this in as a comedian. He's telling us that if we have a problem with our engine car engine we should do that. He just he wasn't saying this as a comedy. So is there a place of comedy in human life? Yes, please. So that is where religion, religion has its place.

Leo Igwe:

But when you are having serious conversation, please, and about how to repay your car, please don't refer to this pastor, don't refer to what he said, and please seek out somebody who has knowledge of science and technology, a Trend mechanic, an engineer, to handle your car. So I just want to use that very story to tell you you know my sense of religion, you know. But I understand him because for him, nigeria states are very difficult, let life, economy is very bad. So if you don't have money to repair your car, you could pray, hoping that the car gets fixed. Yeah, so that is it. So I understand where he's coming from, but it must be either a joke or a form of comedy.

Leo Igwe:

So if, apart from this, I don't think that you know what are the example I have given now, if that is what religion is, I don't think we should take it beyond that. Yes, but let me not, let me not say that, let me not rely on the fact that Religion has inspired a lot of people to do a lot of good. Yes, religion has also inspired a lot of people to do a lot of harm. Yes, but when it comes to a way of thinking that doesn't allow you to question, a Way of thinking that tyrannizes over your life, it is important we treat such way of thinking of such way of looking at the world, with special sense of scrutiny and critical examination. Otherwise, it will do more harm than good.

James H:

Dr Leo Iguay. Thank you so much for joining us on humanism now. Welcome back to humanism now, and thank you once again to the heroic Leo Iguay for his time and that fascinating interview. Aj, I know you've been a colleague of Leo's for some time and you were gracious enough to join us for the interview as well. What did you take away, not just from from that 30 minutes there with Leo, but also from your Collaboration on Leo on various campaigns? What would you Most sort of commended for in his work?

AJ:

Well, leo's been an inspiration through and through, as, as Lola was saying before introducing him, the decade of activism that he and his group just to focus on one thing that they've launched 2020, 2030 against persecution of alleged witches, coming out of not only the history of this happening for decades and centuries beforehand, but really in the past couple of decades, where orphans, especially children, but also the disabled, the elderly, how by knows, people with HIV, aids these subgroups within African society have been targeted. Covid-19 was also another manifestation of that, where superstition, lack of education, lack of resources, lack of investment and social infrastructure all of these in a multifaceted way, give birth to all of the symptoms that Leo was describing there and for them to have and, as Lola's mentioned, leo's personally been the target of attacks. He's only just trying to do good and he's trying to be transparent about it and humanists international, as a global charity, we're trying to be transparent about how we're helping them, but you get the slings and arrows as he's born a big personal cost that I've been a witness to as well, which is just heartbreaking to see, but not surprising. I mean, this is you kind of have to have the flat jackets and and try and deflect bullets as best you can, which he does, and he makes it. He keeps it all about the work and he's just a tireless servant, keeps writing interviews and because you can see the, the institutions that are arrayed against him and against us are Just a behemoth. You know their mammoth, the resources that the church has and other religious institutions. Humanists can't quite match that. But we can do a lot with what we have and thank, thankfully, due to the support of our members at HI, we can. We can try and ramp up our efforts and this decade of activism aim for 2030 is is part of that. You know we're almost halfway through now.

AJ:

I mean UNICEF, unhcr, save the children. They've all backed up what Leo and the Association for the advocacy against alleged witches is saying that this is the child targeting, especially in what's going on in these alleged witchcraft cases, is unprecedented in the history of witchcraft accusations and, as we know, in Europe and North America that has a very, very sorted blood soaked history. Even amongst that, it's so bad with that as a bad, as a background or a comparison it's so bad what children have to go through here that it needs an unprecedented Resolution and a step. It's not. It's not not just in Nigeria where he's working, but Angola, gambia, sierra Leone, congo, ethiopia. It's sub-Saharan Africa generally, but not just that, also in in other parts of Africa as well, and I think we has someone who's based in the global north and I can see this perspective. What Leo said, that's particularly about the responsibility that we bear in terms of how NGOs discuss this, how Western commentators discuss this Not any Western humanist that I know, but certainly others Western Christians and maybe even other secular people where they try to be sensitive in a cultural, moral, relativistic point of view.

AJ:

I mean, leo's done some good work exposing this now, so it's not as strong as it used to be and people have now changed their approach, but we see this quite a lot in say a decade ago that it somehow the witchcraft cultural, sort of a tribal phenomenon is something to be it, that's their culture, that sort of, that's something benign or that, something that they need to, they need to Sort out amongst themselves or that they need to hold on to. And then Christianity especially has been brought in as kind of a soothing balm to say, well, yes, your witchcraft beliefs are maybe a, you know, a Real and present evil to combat. And here is us coming with our Christianity and evangelism to try and combat that and then get, get the indigenous population on side. So that's often how the decades of Western global north presentation of how to address this has come about and that needs to change. As Leo said there, we need to stop seeing this as some kind of benign or, you know, african eccentricism. It really wrecks lives. It wrecks societies. It's as as Penicious as the witchcraft accusations were against women here, the sale and witchcrafts and so on in the global north and the west and north America In the UK, as blood-soaked as that is. That's the level that we need to be Tackling the witchcraft accusations in Africa on. And yes, we can have partners and certain. That's one of the.

AJ:

Being an interfaith activist myself and placing that as a very high Priority for my activism generally.

AJ:

I'm very proud to say that Lee also agrees that we need to partner with legitimate and worthwhile actors in the faith and belief spaces. To say this is goes against the principles of your religion as well if you're just going cynically and trying to increase your numbers and your participation and your signups to your religion by manipulating how the witchcraft superstition is has sunk into these societies. That's such a bad faith effort where it's actually a genuine true Christianity or true Islam trying to combat superstition. But really, if you want to Preserve that personal faith, that sense of community, that sense of belonging, that's very, very important, especially to impoverish societies. We don't want to completely go in there and and destroy that and then leave these people without means of support. But we do need to have good interfaith partners and Leo Leo is very open to that as well. So I agree with him on all of these points and I look forward to participating in this decade of activism Against the persecution of alleged witches in the years to come.

James H:

Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that the moral relativism point is is patronizing and insulting and definitely that was probably the occasion where he got the most Animated, I think, and given, as you mentioned, he is someone who has had so many personal attacks, both the league, legally, and also, you know, other forms of threats he didn't mention that at all. He doesn't dwell on that, he doesn't position himself as a victim. He is advocating for the real victims here and his strength in that is incredibly inspiring.

Lola T:

I will want to Share his optimism. I Will really want to, but I'm not as optimistic now. I'm hopeful, I'm hoping, but I'm not as optimistic. Only because, you know, I've just come back from Nigeria, was in Nigeria for a month and the very first thing that hit me, you know it's it's if you're not there, even though I've always known that Nigeria is a very religious society. But being there and seeing I Don't know how to even put it in words religion has the way it is as the fabric of the society is so frightening that I Just felt like I remember thinking when I was in Nigeria that if they remove Religion from Nigeria right now and I'm not talking about religion as the belief, I'm talking about religious institution, the infrastructural that If, let's say, somebody goes into Nigeria now and ends religion, my, my fear is that the country will collapse instantly and the level of suffering will be something that would never imagined Every inch of Nigerian space. This is why somebody like Leo Igui I I Is such an inspiration. I don't know how he works from within Nigeria, how he lived there and and how he has the energy day in there from one year to the next and fighting for these vulnerable people, religious establishment on church, schools, right from not risk schools, universities. When I was in Nigeria, we didn't have Religious universities. Now, everywhere you have religion so that at every level of your education you are in the hand of religion. It's not just religion hospitals, bakery's, you know everything that people need. Religion is there, and it's not just the infrastructure. They've got the politicians in the palms of their hands like that. There is no room.

Lola T:

I Always talk about my brother. You know, one of my brothers is a pastor and he said something to me that I was, you know I that gave me a bit of hope that the young people are questioning religion. The young people are not. So. So the minds are there Waiting to be freed, but the force of religion, the, the, the power that religion has on them because of poverty, because the government is not doing anything for the people and the only thing that they have are these religious establishment it's not just religion is providing jobs for people and give them better life. So and I think it's one of the things that you ego, you know, talks about. So I it is overwhelming. It is overwhelming that how this mind, my brother that is a pastor, telling me that this mind a questioning religion and to the extent that the universities, you know, like all the religious, in that they make it compulsory for them to attend, you know, the charge programs, but they have to tone it down, they have to reduce the the length of time to suit them, because the student, they will start revolting if it's long, if it's too long for them. So that is going on like the youth are ready, but then there is no system to enable them, you know.

Lola T:

And because economy and health and life and everything is tied to religion, religion, I'm just wondering, you know, where do we even start? It's a question because I don't have any answer. It's a question when do we even start? Because it takes a lot of money, religious establishment, they've got trillions. We don't have that, that kind of money, yeah, so where do we start? And, and there is a reason, leo ego is optimistic. So it's optimism. I don't think it's empty, even if I don't see it. I don't think it is empty optimism because I think, maybe because of what he is achieving, you know, with the group, is trying to, that is protecting, is saving lives. So if he's doing that, I can see why it's optimistic. So, and I think all we can do is to work with people like that, people on the ground in Africa and in other places.

James H:

Hmm, I think, I, absolutely I think. I think. I think that advocacy and being open and Out and present met. Potentially more people are coming forward To him, and so he is. He is seeing that change in real time, and I think one thing which he mentioned was there are a lot of people who exist within that structure which you mentioned, but they are questioning or they're even, you know, fully actually non-believers themselves. But as as it stands at the moment, it it's, it's not worth them coming out Publicly. So I think these things take some time before it becomes more open and accepted and and it is the bravery of the few Like yourself and like Leo who, who can help help to change that.

James H:

One thing that I think is particularly interesting, an interesting case about Nigeria is potentially unique Globally. You mentioned religion generally being sort of this, this, this force, but it is almost a 50-50 split when we talk about religion in Nigeria between Christian and Islam. Most countries where religion has a stronghold, there is an overwhelming majority religion, which, which is the you know from the political class all the way through society, in, in, in, and I can't claim to be too familiar with you know how the politics aligns with the, with the different religions. But when you talk about religion being a stronghold, how does the split between Muslim and the Christian population, what do you see? Potentially, because there are there are differing. There are differing religion, religious views. There is more potential for a more secular society to emerge.

Lola T:

I don't think so, because it's religion has become very political in Nigeria so and is causing a lot of tension. And then, because it's only you know, I would divide Nigeria into three main parts and that's that's a. That could be reckless, you know thing to do, but you know there is a reason. I'm going to try that. So, nigeria, we have the north, northern part of Nigeria, then we have. So it will be like, yes, we have the northern part of Nigeria and then we have the southeast and then the southwest. So in the northern part they are predominantly Muslims, in the southeast they have the northern part of Nigeria and then we have the southeast and then the southwest. So in the northern part they are predominantly Muslims, in the southeast they are predominantly Christians and in the southwest they are slightly more, I think, 55% Muslims and then 45% Christians. In the Southwest they have a kind of you know it's very cordial you will have one family. You will have Muslims and Christians, like almost every family in Nigeria, like including mine. So you have Muslims, relatives, some. You know one of my best friends in Nigeria. She's a Christian married to a Muslim. So we have that in the Southwest.

Lola T:

But one thing I noticed, like when I was growing up in Nigeria, the Muslims in the Southwest they were kind of laid back about Islam. So they were more of cultural Muslims rather than, in fact, they will make fun of Yoruba Muslims for that. Like they were laid back. They, like you know, they love patting and things like that. In the North they took Islam very, very seriously.

Lola T:

But it is changing. And it is changing because you know politicians, they are very I don't know politicians, they are problematic, so they are. The way they are working with religious leaders is turning religion into something that could become dangerous. So they are mixing it with tribalism and we are now having this tension between the North and the South. So having our constitution is secular on paper but in reality, you know, it's not as secular as it should be.

Lola T:

You have in the North. You know some of the states in the North practicing sharia law, you know, and they want to. And the Yoruba, the Muslims in the South, they are also changing and I think they are being influenced by international political issues, international political Islam as well. So there are so many aspects of it that things are very fragile in Nigeria. Things are very fragile. So instead of that diversity of belief to allow secularism, you know, no, it's not, it's just allowing, it's just contributing to intense competition between religion, you know. So it's a power thing now in Nigeria. It's a struggle and I just hope you know it does. I hope not, because peace is very fragile in Nigeria. How would maintain peace since after the April war? I don't know.

James H:

No, absolutely. It's unfortunate point that's happening globally, where religion is being used to fuel political campaigns and whenever that happens, there is a rise in tension, as we're seeing, and unfortunately, there has been a rise in religiously motivated violence in Nigeria, which, you know, strangely doesn't get much coverage in the mainstream media as well, and actually you have to rely on Christian sites or Islamic news sites to actually cover these incidents, which is the sad thing as well, particularly when it's related to politics. So, before we wrap up AJ, do you have anything to add in terms of optimism and looking at Africa in particular?

AJ:

One thing that I should have added on to my previous comments was that we need 10 or 15. Lio igueza, that should be that, and he said that himself. That should be the goal really. We can't just be relying on our well by chance. Will some savior come along? You know, we were talking about personalities before with Darwin and Taisalara, and Taisalara, of course, was placed a heavy premium on education, founding a school and having so.

AJ:

I think those are the ways that, in addition to all of the ways that Lola mentioned about supporting the right organizations there and having international solidarity, as we've done in extreme cases, for example with Mubarak Bala, we need to be thinking in the long term, in the next 10, 20, 30 years, because that's the way that the churches think and other institutions and investors and people with their eyes on. I mean, nigeria is a very big economic piece of the pie in Africa. We're in natural resources wise, population wise. It's going to be a leading economy in the 21st century, climate change wise in so many ways, and you can see I'm good that Lola is maybe in something describing what I've also seen is that the youth there, especially in more impoverished areas, they're sort of jumping directly to education through self-education, sort of decentralized education, sometimes into crypto and some other trends that I don't think are very healthy for long-term growth. But they are eager for knowledge and eager to participate in the world economy and humanists. I don't need to be part of that conversation because we have nothing to hide in some sense, whereas Christianity or other religions have a lot to fear, I think, from the openness of the internet, from that kind of scrutiny, whereas humanist ideas and it can only serve to grow as long as we do embody and live up to them and do all of the things that Leo's an excellent example of for us to do.

AJ:

If we do that, then, yeah, we should be getting a whole line of volunteers who are inspired. Ultimately it will take a whole life if not sacrificed hopefully not, but it can be. It is very dangerous in Africa, especially with the extremist assertions that Lola mentioned, but at least many lives being dedicated to working for 10, 20, 30 years on transforming society. On Toronto, my country, we've had that in many. Speaking from my background in the Indian-Russianist movement, we've had people who've been selflessly willing to dedicate their whole life to this and they don't come along very often. But if you plant 100 seeds, you may get sort of five of them who are very, very special. So that's the part that I think we need to play, which Leo and Lola are pointing us the way to do that.

James H:

Absolutely. I second that for sure, and I think as much as there are, as you say, those who are out on the forefront and dedicating their lives to us, I think just the more, and this goes particularly to the younger generation just showing up and saying this is who I am, this is what I believe goes a huge way in normalising and spreading the good words. So, AJ, Lola, thank you so much for your reflections and your thoughts on the topics today. Before we wrap up, just want to give a quick plug to the groups which we organise. So, Lola, what is happening with the Association of Black Humanists in the next couple of months?

Lola T:

Yes, we meet on the Saturday of each month and I think we are discussing something really interesting on Saturday, February 24th, and the question we are asking is are black people more vulnerable to religious cult? This is following the BBC documentary on TB Joshua, so please come along. We are on meetupcom, you can see our event, and then in March we are discussing a book. I think this is called. This Is Not America. Why Black Life Matter in the UK? So, yeah, you can see what we do on meetupcom and we would love to see you.

James H:

Excellent, yeah, and we will include all of the links and AJ with all of your many groups that you are involved with. What would you like to highlight this week?

AJ:

Thank you. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Humanists International are having some drop-in sessions online for the Freedom of Thought report how to interpret that and how to apply that and understand that in your particular context, because it does cover so many countries. We are having a few of those coming up. So if you go to humanistinternational and see the event section there, there will be the dates where you can sign up for that. I'll also be there, at least for some of those sessions and for any members.

AJ:

Hi members in the audience as well should also flag up that we're having an emergency annual general meeting that's being called, so that's also online and that is going to be on the 23rd of March. March is going to be busy for young humanists as well. On the 4th of March in the UK for young humanists UK, we will have a social adjoining the Roslyn Franklin lecture, which will be on International Women's Day and that I think this year is on the subject of the keys to kindness and lifestyle changes and enacting kindness, a very important human value, in our everyday lives. So that's done every year as our keynote lecture for International Women's Day and we'll have a social that will be adjoining that afterwards in London in Herb, and similar to what we had with the Darwin Day lecture. So look out for that on young, humanist socials.

James H:

Wonderful. Well, thank you, aj, thank you, lola, for joining us this week. We will include links to everything that we've discussed today and all the upcoming events, and thank you very much for joining us listener this week on Humanism Now, and we very much look forward to speaking with you again soon.