Interview with Abdulrahman Aliyu on Nigerian Humanism Now

by | April 22, 2020

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Abdulrahman Aliyu is a Nigerian Humanist and Freethinker involved in the community and movement in Nigeria.

Here we talk about Nigerian humanism now.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. It is one of the most populated nations on earth. Its politics impact the rest of Africa and set a mark for the progress or regress for all of Africa. Many in the African diaspora, I would assume, look at the marvel at the developments in much of post-colonial (Arab-Muslim and European-Christian) Africa while in horror at some of the facets of their culture. It’s mixed. What do you, as a humanist, find are the best things about Nigeria?

Abdulrahman Aliyu: Yes, you are right, Nigeria could be the most vital country in Africa in terms of impacting either a progressive Africa or regressive one. In other words, if Nigeria prospers, we do so along with our brothers and sisters across the continent. As a humanist, I find that the best things about Nigeria are our diversity and the potential we hold in all the various spectra of life. So, we can explore those potentials to challenge wrong ideas such as dogma and superstition and campaign for good ones like humanism.

In summary, the best thing about Nigeria is that there is lots of untapped potential that we are attempting to bring out with our campaign for humanism. I strongly believe this will make us a more compassionate, tolerant, and prosperous society.

Jacobsen: What are the worst things about Nigeria as a humanist?

Aliyu: As a humanist, I must say it’s quite unfortunate and very frustrating that one cannot challenge or critique dogmatic beliefs that are clearly anti-human without watching one’s back. Imagine, as a humanist one has to be subtle in condemning ills and notions that are clearly against humans like child marriage, genital mutilation, sex slavery, and the oppression of women. Clearly, Nigeria is a deeply religious culture, so when one says that religion promotes anti-human ideals; one is expected to respect the boundaries of that religion. Well, in my view, we ought not be soft on bad ideas that are clearly anti-human. We have to devise ways and strategies to combat ideas that are anti-human. But we must do so in ways that do not endanger our lives. In other words, we must do so carefully.         

Jacobsen: What are your thoughts on the “leaving things to God” attitude of many Nigerians in the midst of coronavirus pandemic?

Aliyu: God should be left out of issues that are clearly medical in nature. God might be real and alive for many but not in our medical or science labs. There simply no evidence of God’s presence in the way nature works. God, in my opinion, is a thing of faith. And right now, we need to listen to medical expert’s advice, not some pastor or imam. Leaving things to God is very destructive, I strongly advise against it, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jacobsen: What would be a contextually appropriate Nigerian humanist response to this pandemic given the culture, the resources, the peoples, and the politico-social environment?

Aliyu: Campaign. Campaign. Campaign. We need to inform our neighbours and countrymen in general about the coronavirus. And we have to recognize the fact that religion is crippling the campaign against the virus, hence the need to find ways to bring religious leaders into the fold.

Jacobsen: In your (recent) essay on coronavirus and the pandemic, you noted the reactions of the communities in Nigeria closing down or calling to close down churches, temples, mosques, and the like. How are these measures important for the prevention of the spread of the virus? What has happened in some documented reportage?

Aliyu: These measures are very important. We cannot afford to let mass gatherings continue while we are facing a huge public health crisis. Since the virus cannot travel alone, it needs us to spread the disease. Simply abiding by medical advice is the only way forward, and right now, closing mass gatherings and maintaining social distancing are critical in controlling the spread of the disease. The sad thing about what is really happening here is that some authorities are clearly not following the medical advice, such as the wearing of face masks, avoiding public gatherings, and maintaining social distancing. As for documented reportage, we have seen reports on how churches and mosques are ignoring the authorities by gathering in their respective worship centres. Also, lots of people are gathering to worship at resident’s houses, especially in the northern part of the country.

Jacobsen: Dr. Leo Igwe has been studying and working on witchcraft in Nigeria. How have his efforts been important in the advancement of human rights, scientific skepticism, and the protection of the vulnerable, i.e., elderly women targeted for illegitimate accusations or allegations of witchcraft (because witchcraft in the sense of the supernatural does not exist at all, at all)?

Aliyu: Yes, of course witchcraft holds no supernatural powers. But sadly, many here in Nigeria believe in it and become the targets of exploitation because of their belief. I respect Dr. Igwe for doing a wonderful job in that regard. I think we need so many more like him in Nigeria to help in that battle.

Jacobsen: Which politicians have been most helpful in the advancement of secular and humanist values in Nigeria?

Aliyu: I’m not sure about the politicians. But there are definitely some brilliant Nigerians who have contributed immensely to secular and humanist values, to the movement. People like; Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, Professor Attahiru Jega, and many more.

Jacobsen: I like Falz, the Nigerian artist. I like the social commentary in his music— frank, direct, and compelling. As he notes, many Nigerians, many people in general, can be carried away with entertainment and not be conscious enough of the political message. What importance do some Nigerian artists place upon making people more conscious of the serious issues facing Nigerians in the political and social spheres? He expands the controversial and social commentary to Africa as a whole, especially when he stresses the importance of needing to vote and how young people can help change the social, political, and economic context for many Nigerians by voting. Many of the problems facing Nigerians are issues facing Africans in general.

Aliyu: Artists are crucial in raising consciousness regarding serious issues. That’s right, I like Falz too, we need many more of his like in Africa. Yes, we have many who are also addressing serious social issues.

Jacobsen: As a humanist, how are you coping in Nigeria in the midst of the pandemic?

Aliyu: It’s been very difficult. It’s hard to cope here, most people don’t seem to believe in the truth of the pandemic. Sometimes I find it frustrating attempting to rebut the various conspiracy theories about coronavirus being a political disease and not an actual one. Can you imagine? How deluded can one be?

Jacobsen: Is the humanist community becoming stronger in weaker recently, what is the progress report in general?

Aliyu: Let me tell you something. The campaign for humanism may not be moving as fast as we would like, but it is definitely growing day by day.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-booksfree or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican AtheistsAmerican Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Photo by Temitayo Aina on Unsplash

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