Conversation on Humanism, Irreligiosity, and Education in Nigeria with Dr. Leo Igwe — Session 3

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. In this educational series, we explore Nigeria through Dr. Igwe’s expertise.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Without the appropriate provisions for a healthy and stable education and educational environment, this seems to leave many rural communities in difficult circumstances. Maybe, one question is not about the improvement of the education itself, but working from the foundations. How good are the educational provisions in this or that neighbourhood?

Dr. Leo Igwe: Well, neighbourhoods are not the same. There are rural and urban neigbourhoods, upper class, middle class and poor neighbourhoods. There are also liberal and conservative neighbourhoods, Christian and Islamic neighbourhoods.

The ways these neighbourhoods relate to education are different. Some relate better with eastern Islamic education, others may ally closely with western Christian education, still, others may go for a combination of both. So the way various neighbourhoods relate to education differs.

There are other intervening variables. And these variables are factors in determining how education works, no matter the quality of educational programs and curricula. An excellent educational curriculum is not enough!

Those who impact the knowledge are also important In fact, these circumstances go a long way in determining if education leads people away from ignorance, and into knowledge and enlightenment, or holds them firmly in chains in the cave of fear and ignorance. Then we can begin to establish proper curricula based on critical thinking, science, logic, and so on.

Jacobsen: How should we tackle both of these problems, even at the same time?

Igwe: We may have to burn the candle at both ends: put in place a sound curriculum and work on making the environments more receptive to the educational modules.

However, this is not going to be an easy task especially in situations where religious ideologies trump educational goals and objectives. Or better this is a challenging task because of religious usurpation of educational modules. Religions want education to serve their ends. So schools often try to Christianize or Islamize educational materials before they are allowed to be used in schools.

Schools in Nigeria are always trying to satisfy the interests of their owners even if it means watering down an excellent educational curriculum. So even if they agree to teach critical thinking, science and logic, the delivery is interspersed with religious caveats. That is why the secular schools such as the ones we have in Uganda present us with a glimmer of hope.

This is because in this case, one does not worry that the owners would sacrifice the curriculum on the altar of their religious interest. Instead, my guess is that secular schools would ensure optimal delivery of the educational curricula. But we must be aware that these secular schools are few, so few at the moment one in Nigeria and 3 in Uganda. So we need more secular schools in Nigeria and Africa to ensure a more hopeful future. Some Africanizing and Nigerianizing of critical thinking and the scientific method could especially help inspire the youth in their endeavours to learn more, be inspired more, and to pursue their dreams with adult examples.

Jacobsen: What are some examples of Africanizing and Nigerianizing these general human capacities, critical thinking and the scientific method?

Igwe: By Africanizing or Nigerianizing critical thinking and the scientific method, I do not mean anything exotic. No, not all. I rather mean trying to highlight the roots of these values in African culture and stop creating this false impression that critical thinking and science are western values. The habit of basing one’s knowledge claims on observation or experience does not belong to any culture or race. It is human and universal.

Although the ways that cultures account for this value may be different, that does not mean that the values are absence or alien, they have not been sufficiently emphasized. Africans must begin to account for the place and presence of critical inquiry and scientific method in their cultures.

They need to embark on scientific research and experiments and publish and share the results with the global scientific community. These research projects could be tailored to help discover cures for diseases that kill Africans or to highlight solutions to problems that plague the region.

Jacobsen: Who are some great critical thinkers, scientists, and humanists in Nigerian history?

Igwe: There are actually many of them. They include Tai Solarin, Sheila Solarin, Mokwugo Okoye, Beko Ransome Kuti, Wole Soyinka, Steve Okecha, Nkeonye Otakpor.

Jacobsen: What can inspire the youth to take on those subjects, such as chemistry, physics, and biology, to build this better future for Nigeria?

Igwe: Young people want to know that there are opportunities and resources to study these subjects. The challenge is that some youths who want to study science subjects may not have the resources to learn them. They may not afford the money to go to school. Some may go to school but the schools may not have qualified teachers to handle the subjects.

The schools may not have libraries and laboratories, and where these facilities exist, they may not be equipped. To get youths to study science subjects, there should be schools where these subjects could be properly delivered. There should be scholarship opportunities, well-qualified teachers and well-equipped libraries and laboratories. There should be incentives; the government should ensure that there is some social capital in studying science.

Jacobsen: Who are some public science communicators in the country now?

Igwe: The only one I know is Prof Steve Okecha from Ambrose Alli University. There are actually others who are doing a good job whom I do not know.

Jacobsen: Have you had the privilege of becoming friends with personal heroes in science, critical thinking, and humanism?

Igwe: Yes, I have and I found it inspiring how they, ordinary people, accomplished extraordinary feats. Becoming friends with them or getting to know them personally deepened my admiration for them!

Original Publication in Humanist Voices.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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