It is most fitting that this first humanist event in Jos, and in Plateau state is devoted to fostering peace and tolerance in the region. This is because these values have in recent times been in relative short supply due to growing ethnoreligious hatred and intolerance, as well as the incessant attacks that have led to massive loss of lives and property in Plateau state.
Humanism is the most human of all human philosophies. Humanists seek to make the best of this one life that we have. While stressing the ideal of common humanity, the humanist outlook aims to achieve happiness for all in the here and now. So humanism is foundationally an inclusive positive outlook that is needed to fully realize human potentials and possibilities. Simply put, humanism is an imperative for the emancipation of human beings and the realization of progressive social change. So any community that shows disdain for human dignity has shortchanged itself.
Such a society has shot itself on the foot, jeopardized its future and put itself on the part of self-destruction. In recent decades, Plateau state, known as “the home of peace and tourism” has floundered, towing this path of darkness and destruction. We have witnessed, as this state gradually became a scene of unprecedented violence, mindless killings, and bloodshed.
The Humanist Association of Nigeria calls for an end to these vicious attacks and conflicts, and urges a peaceful resolution of all ethnic and religious differences. It is pertinent to note that in a region where people from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds inhabit, there are bound to be differences in religious and philosophical opinions. There will be conflicting interests. People are bound to disagree, hold opposing views and beliefs and say or do things that others may find offensive. However, these differences do not justify savage attacks and killings of other human beings.
Tolerance is, therefore, an important social ingredient, a necessary condition for the peaceful coexistence of persons, and for the progress and development of the society.
However, a peaceful and tolerant society cannot be achieved when the government at the state or federal level is ethnically and religiously biased; when the state apparatus is turned into an instrument for the prosecution of covert and overt sectarian ethnic and religious agenda. Peace will remain elusive as long as the state cannot fulfill its role as an impartial arbiter and guarantor of the safety and rights of all citizens.
This is because justice is important for the achievement of peaceful and harmonious coexistence. And the state must ensure justice and fairness for all citizens, not some, now, not later.
Peace will not be realized in a situation where the Nigerian state has abdicated its responsibility to equally protect all its citizens; or where state security agencies have compromised their role by taking side with those who slaughter innocent Nigerians while they are sleeping at night or worshipping in their churches or mosques.
The Humanist Association of Nigeria calls on the Nigerian government to rise up to its duty to protect all Nigerians everywhere. This country must bring killer herdsmen, Boko Haram militants and other ethnoreligious merchants of death and destruction to justice, not tomorrow, not next year but now!
We invite all participants to use this forum to freely express ideas and opinions, and make propositions that would lead to a peaceful resolution of the crisis in this state. Farmers in Plateau state should be able to cultivate their farms and live in peace without fear of being attacked by herdsmen either in the night or during the day.
Herdsmen must stay true to their name and trade- that is herd cattle. Herdsmen should also be able to freely go about their legitimate businesses in any part of this country without being attacked or murdered and without having their cattle stolen or killed. Christians, Muslims, traditionalists or non-believers must be able to practice their faith or belief freely without fear.
Also, humanists are calling for an end to the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities including Nigerians who do not profess any religious beliefs, Nigerians who live Christianity or Islam or hold views that are critical of these religions. This region is one of such places where ethnic and religious minorities have suffered systematic oppression for a long time. Oppression of minorities happens in this country due to ignorance. Nigeria is a nation of minorities because every Nigerian is a minority somewhere and in some form.
Persecution of minorities is in nobody’s interest even the so-called majorities. For instance, Muslims constitute the majority in the North but they are in the minority in many areas in the South. Yorubas are the dominant ethnic group in the Southwest but are in the minority in other geopolitical zones. Part of the problem is that the so called ethnic and religious majorities take undue advantage of their dominance in some parts of the country while forgetting that they are in the minority elsewhere. It is important to stress that those who on account of their ethnoreligious majority for instance impose sharia law or force everybody to live according their ethnoreligious dictates should know that they are sending out very wrong signals to majorities in other places. They are actually endangering their rights as minorities in other parts of the country.
So oppression of minorities goes against the future, corporate existence and stability of this country. Humanists are demanding that the democratic rights of minorities be respected including their rights to express and practice different faiths or none. That the Nigerian state should put in place legal and administrative mechanisms to check the oppressive tendencies of the dominant ethnic and religious groups.
In addition, this event is meant to inaugurate the Plateau state chapter of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. Humanism is a non-religious outlook and provides an alternative to supernatural religions and dogmatic faiths. It exists to give a sense of community to those who are unchurched, unmosqued, unshrined or those who do not take religion seriously.
For too long, the impression has been that there are no atheists or non religious persons in Nigeria. Fortunately this is not the case. There are millions of non religious Nigerians out there. At this event, humanists are declaring to all persons, young and old, educated and uneducated that religion is an option and a matter of free choice. And to all Nigerians who do not believe in God or who do not subscribe to any religion, and who seek to live an ethical life that is free from dogma and superstition: You are not alone. Come on board. The Humanist Association of Nigeria exists for you.
In the coming years, the Humanist movement will work to realize a secular society and that is one where individuals of all faiths and none are treated equally; a society where public policy, education and legislations are based on reason and science, not on religious dogma and superstition. So the humanist movement looks forward to working with all progressive and critically minded individuals and organisations to further the ideals of common humanity and human rights, and to realize a peaceful, tolerant, democratic and secular Plateau state, and Nigeria. I wish you all very fruitful deliberations. Thank you!
Leo Igwe is a human rights activist and the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement. He was the Western and Southern African representative to IHEU, the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.