The Humanist Association of Nigeria has finally achieved registration as a formal organization from the government. It brings to a close a 17-year-long fight to gain basic recognition for humanists in the country.
The Humanist Association of Nigeria (HAN), formerly under the name Nigerian Humanist Movement, has been trying to get the organization registered, on and off, for nearly two decades.
In the meantime the lack of recognition has not stopped the organization from speaking out against the death penalty, in favour of gay rights, and campaigning against violence related to ‘witchcraft’ beliefs, for which they have faced physical attacks and the threat of court action – which thankfully was thrown out.
Andrew Copson, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) said today, “This is very welcome news. Formal recognition means that an organization has entered the space of civil society. Humanists in Nigeria have been championing human rights and reason from the outside, but now they at last have their foot in the door! Congratulations to Leo Igwe who has championed this cause for many years and to all the current board and members of the Humanist Association of Nigeria.”
Founder of the organization, Leo Igwe, comments, “I think it happened now due to international pressure from human rights groups including IHEU that has highlighted this issue in the Freedom of Thought Report and the growing pressure from Nigerian Humanists and atheists. I think it has become clear to the Nigerian authorities that the humanist movement is not one that they can easily push aside or ignore.”
A statement from the board of trustees of the Humanist Association of Nigeria follows below:
Humanists across Nigeria and the world welcome with great delight the incorporation of the Humanists Association of Nigeria (HAN). The registration of HAN brings to a successful end a two decade effort to legally recognize the Nigerian Humanist Movement. We commend the relevant state agencies for at last allowing reason and the rule of law to prevail. While the incorporation of HAN gives legal recognition to the association, humanists and other non religious persons across Nigeria have yet to enjoy their full legal, constitutional and human rights.
In Nigeria, discrimination against atheists and agnostics is pervasive. Non religious persons are largely treated as second class citizens who should be seen not heard, and in some parts of the country as third class citizens who should neither be seen nor be heard. People who renounce their religious faith suffer persecution and serious abuses. People who express views that are critical of religion are regarded as blasphemers. Atheism remains a social taboo. Real or imagined non-theists can be attacked, jailed or killed by state or non state actors for exercising their basic human rights. HAN will campaign for the abolition of religious privilege, apostasy and blasphemy laws, and work to ensure that both religious and non religious persons are equal before the law.
HAN aims to provide a sense of community to all non religious persons nationwide and ensure their respectful and dignified treatment. It will strive to give a sense of family and fellowship to all Nigerians who seek to live morally and meaningfully without god or religion, whether they are young or old; rich or poor; artisans or technocrats, whether they live in rural or in urban areas. HAN will campaign to end all forms of discrimination on the basis of religious belief or unbelief. It will work to ensure the abolition of all harmful traditional, religious and cultural practices.
In addition, HAN will also promote critical thinking in the society, combat superstitious beliefs, and advocate for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in schools and in other public institutions.
At a time of increasing visibility of non religious Nigerians especially on the social media, and at a period that criticism of harmful and exploitative religious and superstitious practices is gaining momentum, HAN looks forward to contributing to this process of social change and reform.
HAN will robustly engage all stakeholders, agencies and institutions in pursuant of a democratic, tolerant and secular Nigeria.