Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s start from the top, what was family background regarding culture, language, geography, and religion or lack thereof?
Zachiam Bayei: Interesting, I was raised in a Christian family. I speak the English, Pidgin-English, Hausa, Jju languages. The languages I speak, their cultures have greatly influenced me. I am from a village named Akudan, in Kamrum District, Zango-Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State. I was a Christian, but now am an Atheist and a Humanist.
Jacobsen: Would you consider this more liberal or more conservative as a household compared to other ones in Nigeria?
Bayei: I am from a conservative Christian family. I became an Atheist long before having a University education. I was a skeptic long before I became economically independent from my parents.
I later declared to them that I no longer believe in their God and religion. It was not an easy task. My father is an illiterate and a simple man. He understands me and wished me the best. But my Mom, a retired civil servant refused to give up on me.
She still echoes my coming back to God and religion whenever I pay her a visit at the family house. She said, she still prays for my return to religion.
Jacobsen: What were his primary, middle, and high school, or their equivalent, in Nigeria while getting your education? Was religion a big part of it? Was it formal in the education or informal in the social life, or both?
Bayei: Yes, while growing up, religion plays and still played a major role in my educational journey. In primary school, we were forced to pray during assembly time. A similar scenario plays out during my secondary education too. But at the university, it gives you wings. Nobody forces you to do such primitive rituals.
I already knew what I wanted for myself long before heading into University. I did not find atheists there. However, I found other schoolmates who held irreligious views about Abrahamic faiths. Social media actually gives me a voice to connect with atheists all around the world. I am so grateful for the technology of building bridges all across the world.
Jacobsen: When you reflect on some pivotal moments or arguments, or passages in the Bible that were contradictory, what were those moments when you begin to question it? When did you finally explicitly believe in nonbelief?
Bayei: I long knew the Bible was filled with contradictions and primitive violent rituals inimical to the freedom of the human spirit. In one breathe, the same Bible tells Moses saw the back of God; in another chapter, it says no man has ever seen God.
Moses was said to have written some books in the Bible, how come the same man recorded his death? But when I raised these observations to clergymen and Jesus-fans who often engage me in debates, they often shy away from them.
I had the observation theists hardly sustain debates about their faiths. I often tell them the burden of proof of God existence lies on them not us. Because they said He or She exists, simple they should prove it? This is a herculean task they can’t do.
The truth is that many of these religious con artists knew deep down in their hearts God doesn’t exist, because of the social supports they get from them; it keeps them in it.
Jacobsen: How does this impact on family life, personal life, and professional life?
Bayei: My atheism has personally made me freer and open to learning. But it has further alienated me and my family from other religious families. My wife is a Christian. We define our differences and still stay together.
She is worried about going to church alone. I always remind her not to cross the line we both agreed. We have a baby girl of 1. 11 years in the union for now. As for my place of work, it has not been easy.
My religious colleagues are aware of my stance on religions, but I try as much as possible to avoid religious debates with them. I just work and go home.
Jacobsen: Can you recommend any books by Nigerian authors on atheism?
Bayei: Really, I have yet to see or read a book written by any Nigerian atheist. But if I see, I will buy and read it.
Jacobsen: What have been the impacts of non-Nigerian authors who are atheists on the atheist community in Nigeria?
Bayei: The impact is enormous. Atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, etc., have impacted positively on the Nigerian atheists’ community. We often draw inspiration from their quotes and share on social media.
Jacobsen: How does the public view the atheist community? How are atheists treated in Nigeria? Is it positive or negative in general?
Bayei: The public views on atheists in Nigerian is a worrisome one. Majority of Nigerians are handcuffed by Abrahamic religions, any idea or ideas that challenge these “sacred” values are not welcome.
The Northern part of Nigeria is more intolerant towards atheists because of their fanatical stances towards Abrahamic religions (Christianity & Islam). Many atheists I know from the north have to take on pseudonyms and identities on social media just to play safe. That is how bad it is in northern Nigeria, but the South, which is more advanced in education, has a liberal outlook towards atheists.
Jacobsen: Who are some inspiring non-religious figures in Nigeria? In particular, what about outspoken women who don’t believe in any religion?
Bayei: Really Dr. Leo Igwe, the President of the Humanists’ Association of Nigeria (HAN) and Mubarak Bala have been inspiring figures for consolidating my stances on atheism. As for the public view of atheists in Nigeria, it is like any other in religious communities. They are physically, emotionally, and psychologically violent against the non-religious including atheists.
As for atheist ladies in Nigeria, earnestly, I know of none. Most of them are silent. I only meet a few during our atheist meetups in the country. But I know with time they will be expressive to the world.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved in Nigeria and its atheist activism? As per the right to freedom of religion and freedom from religion, the basic premise is not hoping for some inevitable elimination of all religion or discrimination against religious people, but for the equality of the non-religious, in particular, the atheists, with the religious in Nigeria – and elsewhere.
Bayei: I stopped believing in God and his religion when I was 19 years. Today, I am 36 years. It took me time to study and understands my environment. When it is time I can out. I strongly believe economic and social supports are pivotal for atheists coming out for activism. As you can see theist controls almost every go things for life. These are the “weapons” they often used to intimidate and even kill those who do not share in their own version of the truth.
The best way I think people can live a secular life in Nigeria is by separating the state from religion in our constitution. Religion has no basis in our constitution, but the political merchants are refusing to amend the Constitution because they often reap political capital from it.
Religion should be separated from state institutions. This is destroying the quality of service delivery. Critical thinking and inquiry should be encouraged in public schools. It will create doubts in the minds of the students and people about all they have been taught to believe.
It is a natural way to atheism, but the Nigerian government isn’t allowing that.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts based on the interview today?
Bayei: The interview has been incisive and inspiring. Thank you for finding me worthy to be questioned. Thank you for the opportunity once more.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Zachiam.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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