Leo Igwe (born July 26, 1970) is a Nigerian human rights advocate and secular humanist. Igwe is a former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and has specialized in campaigning against and documenting the impacts of child witchcraft accusations. 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.
- We need to launch a nationwide campaign against superstition and belief in witchcraft. Nigerians should be told that witches are not real, and that witches and spirits are imaginary entities created by primitive minds during the infancy of human race to explain situations and issues they could not understand or resolve commonsensically. This campaign should be taken to all Nigerian schools, colleges and universities. It should be publicized over the radios and television, in the newspapers, in market places, in churches and mosques. In particular, we need to check the activities of our so called pastors and other self styled men and women of God who use the Bible or Holy books to perpetrate and justify atrocious acts and human right abuses. These religious charlatans continue to act and preach in ways that reinforce the belief in witches and provoke acts of witch accusation, persecution and killing. This has been the driving force in Akwa Ibom State, and until Nigerians learn to reject superstition and irrationalism such tragedies will continue to occur.
- Saving Child Witches: A Nigerian Perspective (December 14th, 2008)
- To save the witch-children in Nigeria and rescue this nation from witch-believing forces, we need to get all Nigerians to exercise their common sense, reason and critical intelligence when practicing or professing their religion or belief. This is especially important when they are reading, preaching and interpreting messages and doctrines contained in their holy books.
A Manifesto for a Skeptical Africa (2012) Edit
- For too long, African societies have been identified as superstitious, consisting of people who cannot question, reason or think critically. Dogma and blind faith in superstition, divinity and tradition are said to be the mainstay of popular thought and culture. African science is often equated with witchcraft and the occult; African philosophy with magical thinking, myth-making and mysticism, African religion with stone-age spiritual abracadabra, African medicine with folk therapies often involving pseudoscientific concoctions inspired by magical thinking. Science, critical thinking and technological intelligence are portrayed as Western — as opposed to universal — values, and as alien to Africa and to the African mindset. An African who thinks critically or seeks evidence and demands proofs for extraordinary claims is accused of taking a “white” or Western approach. An African questioning local superstitions and traditions is portrayed as having abandoned or betrayed the essence of African identity. Skepticism and rationalism are regarded as Western, un-African, philosophies. Although there is a risk of overgeneralizing, there are clear indicators that the continent is still socially, politically and culturally trapped by undue credulity. Many irrational beliefs exist and hold sway across the region. These are beliefs informed by fear and ignorance, misrepresentations of nature and how nature works. These misconceptions are often instrumental in causing many absurd incidents, harmful traditional practices and atrocious acts.
- Recently Africa was polled as the most devout region in the world, and this includes deep devotion to the continent’s various harmful superstitions. Devoutness and underdevelopment, poverty, misery and superstition co-exist and co-relate. It should be said that the dominant religious faiths in the region are faiths alien to the continent. That means African Christians are more devout than Europeans whose missionaries brought Christianity to Africa. African Muslims are more devout than Muslims in the Middle East, whose jihadists and clerics introduced Islam to the region.
- Most Africans cannot think freely or express their doubts openly because these religions have placed a huge price on freethinking and critical inquiry. Because these belief systems rely on paranormal claims themselves, Africans feel they cannot speak out against superstition as a whole, or they will be ostracized or even killed by religious zealots. Belief in demonic possession, faith healing, and the “restorative” power of holy water can have deadly consequences for believers and whole communities. Africans must reject superstitious indoctrination and dogmatization in public institutions. Africans need to adopt this cultural motto: Dare to think. Dare to doubt. Dare to question everything in spite of what the superstitious around you teach and preach. Africans must begin to think freely in order to ‘emancipate themselves from mental slavery’ and generate ideas that can ignite the flame of an African enlightenment.
- The two dominant religions have fantastic rewards for those who cannot think, the intellectually conforming, unquestioning and obedient, even those who kill or are killed furthering their dogmas. They need to be told that the skeptical goods — the liberating promises of skeptical rationality — are by far more befitting and more beneficent to Africans than imaginary rewards either in the here and now or in the hereafter. Today the African continent has become the new battleground for the forces of a dark age. And we have to dislodge and defeat these forces if Africa is to emerge, grow, develop and flourish. To some people, the African predicament appears hopeless. The continent seems to be condemned, doomed and damned. Africa appears to be in a fix, showing no signs of change, transformation and progress. An African enlightenment sounds like a pipe dream. But I do not think this is the case — an African Age of Reason can be on the horizon! The fact is that there are many Africans who reason well and think critically.
- The darkest part of the night precedes the dawn. So there is no need to despair for humanity in Africa. There is every reason to be optimistic and hopeful.
- Skeptics need to organize and mobilize — online and offline — to further the cause of reason, science and critical thinking. They need to speak out in the media and to politicians about the harm resulting from undue credulity and challenge and confront the charlatans directly to put up or shut up. Skeptics can no longer afford to keep quiet or remain indifferent in the face of a looming dark age. They need to campaign for a reform of the educational system and encourage the teaching of critical thinking in schools.
- History has thrust on us this critical responsibility which we must fulfill.
An Interview with Dr. Leo Igwe — Founder, Nigerian Humanist Movement (2017) Edit
- An Interview with Dr. Leo Igwe — Founder, Nigerian Humanist Movement (June 23, 2017), Medium.
- I found the humanist outlook to be more realistic than religion. Humanism related to me directly, to human beings that I saw and interacted with. That was unlike religion that focused mainly on gods and spirits, which I could not see or really interact with. I also noticed that religion encouraged people to be dishonest, to claim to be seeing what they are not seeing or to be in communication with somebody when they are in communication with nobody. Religion encouraged fakery. So, some of these issues led to me embracing humanism.
- Religious worldviews overshadow other worldviews. Religious movements override other movements. The most prominent movement in the region is religion. We are only beginning to see the emergence of non-religious movements, such as the humanist/atheist movements rear their heads.
- Now, the most eloquent irreligious individual voice in Nigeria is our first Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Soyinka is an eminent literary scholar. He has consistently argued for tolerance and respect for the humanity of all in the face of religious intolerance and extremism. Soyinka has not minced words in condemning the unconscionable religious gladiators in the region that have often turned the country into a theatre of absurdity and holy wars. He has been consistent in his condemnation of the jihadists and crusaders who often orchestrate religious bloodletting in their quest to implement Sharia law or to further some self-styled divine mandate. While I cannot say for sure how impactful his rational appeals are on policies and programs, Soyinka’s statements are sources of hope and light at times of darkness and despair. I can say for certain that on occasions when religious extremists push the nation to the brink. When religion blinds and people are unable to see or think clearly, when fear and fanaticism loom very large, Soyinka is a voice of rational sanity, thoughtful courage, and moderation.
- Under Sharia law, apostasy is a crime punishable by death. So, reactions to non-belief include ostracization, severance of family support, abandonment, and other forms of maltreatment. In a society where the family is virtually everything in terms of social support and sustenance, family sanction is indeed the worse form of punishment for non-belief. The science is there. The scientists are there. But the popularizing scientific will is not. This is because scientists are afraid of backlash from religious establishments. Scientists do not want to disseminate scientific ideas in a way that they could be accused of blasphemy. Religious authorities are still very influential in Nigeria and will go to any length to suppress and neutralize any one promoting science in a way that puts religious claims into question. Science is still within the cocoon and control of religious authorities. Religion in Nigeria has yet to attain that liberalized state.
- Creationism is not just an issue; Creationism is the issue and exists in its both young and older Earth formations. That means in Nigeria people subscribe to the notion that the Earth was created whether it is a few thousand years ago or tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago. The belief is that Earth came into being through a divine decree. People often show disdain for science because it challenges their creationist ideas.
- Superstition has caused so much confusion, darkness, and deception. Dogma has been used to tyrannize over the lives of the people. So, this is the time for change and of some transformation based on reason, science, critical thinking, and humanity. People are yearning for freedom and emancipation. Humanism is critical in delivering that change and in the realization of social renewal.
- The young tend to be more curious and critical as they seek to understand life and make sense of their experiences. But as they grow older they start questioning less and try to conform. The young people tend to hold liberal positions on issues such as abortion or gay sex because they are not in positions of authority and not necessarily interested in the maintenance of law and order. The youths are not interested in things or in issues as established, but in issues as they think. So, they can afford to challenge existing norms. However, as they grow older and get into positions of authority, the maintenance of law and order becomes paramount — and they become more conservative.
- When it comes to critical questions of religion, freedom of conscience, belief and speech is a paper tiger in Nigeria. In fact, religion is presented as inadmissible of criticism, of opposing views and opinions whether it is the status of women, of children, gay, or of non-believers. Religious positions are cast on stones. Views that are critical of religion easily get framed as blasphemy, which is a crime under Sharia law and is punishable by death or imprisonment.
- Theological arguments are supposed to provide ‘explanations’ for the existence of God. That means these arguments ought to persuade and make anyone who does not know about God to at least understand that God exists. But unfortunately, this is not the case. Anyone who takes a critical look at the theological arguments would really wonder what those who advanced these explanations had in mind.
- Human beings are social beings with or without religion.
- Faith or religion should not be respected to the extent that they peddle lies and deception, and fuel division, and hatred and intolerance.
- In Muslim majority states in northern Nigeria, speaking out against Islam is blasphemy and it is punishable by death or imprisonment. Criticizing Islam is dangerous not just because the state could prosecute, execute or jail the critic, but one could be killed by Islamic mobs. In fact the chances are that one is more likely to die in the hands of the later than the former.
- Leo Igwe. Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies. Retrieved on 2013-02-16.
- From Witch Burning to God-men: Supporting Skepticism Around the World. Youtube.com (January 24, 2013).
- Helen Ukpabio militia invade child rights conference in Calabar, Nigeria. Youtube.com (July 29, 2009).