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Oyedepo, Oyakhilome, Ashimolowo, Others Come Under Attack At Humanist Forum in Abuja; Sheila Solarin Urges Nigerian To Fight for A Better Society

Sent to AAI from its Affiliate the Nigerian Humanist Movement. Originally published in Sahara Reporters.

Stupendously wealthy Nigerian Pentecostal preachers and clerics have come under serious attack at the two-day national convention of the   Nigerian Humanist Movement (NHM), which ended Saturday afternoon in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

The forum brought together students, children, scholars, government officials, atheists, sceptics, rationalists, agnostics, freethinkers and professionals from different fields to discuss Humanism as the next step in Nigeria.

Declaring open the forum which marked the 15th anniversary of the birth of  the NHM, Leo Igwe, the administrative secretary of the Oyo State –NHM,  told  participants that many people  across  Nigeria and the world  were looking up to them. “Meetings like this should spread message of reason, science and free inquiry, and usher in an era  of positive  and progressive change, hope and light,” he charged.

Speakers and participants after one another slammed the various rulers of the Nigerian state, past and present, as well as citizens for allowing  a great  nation like Nigeria to tumble into a chaotic religious jungle with poverty, disease, ignorance, corruption and crime to rule.

In the first paper, “Invitation To Humanism? What’s On Offer ? Dr. Tunde  Arogundade,  a  UK-based  politician scientist and  humanist, revealed that he had obtained information about the forum on June 8, 2011 from SaharaReporters, which he declared to be his church. He advised all to always visit the online site, which he described as, an “authoritative, reliable news source.”
According to Dr. Arogundade, “Youths instead of going to church should befriend it. We need change that will bring good, peace for us all.”

Expressing shock that there were humanists in Nigeria, he said, “Evangelists  in Nigeria have developed  serious business acumen  that is the envy of many  non-spiritual  entrepreneurs. The trick of business diversification has not been lost to the likes of David Oyedepo, Chris Oyakhilome, Chris Okotie  and Mattew Ashimolowo etc.”

He noted that in combination, their  churches have cornered  a significant percentage of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “Super pastors own  a variety of businesses,” he stressed.  “The sheer opulence of some of the most successful churches has given rise to the calls that the churches be taxed  like a company, a money making enterprise.”

Steve O. Okecha, a  distinguished  Professor of Chemistry  at the office of the Minister of Education, Federal secretariat, Abuja, also presented a paper entitled, “ Science and Superstition in Nigeria; A Lop-Sided Partnership “

Okecha attributed the slow pace of development in the country largely to superstition and ignorance, arguing that Nigerians over the years have not lived up to scientific ideas.
The Delta State born scientist described superstition as a national cancer in Nigeria. In his view, “Most Nigerians of all age-grades and different levels of education  and exposure are superstitious.  You can have a  degree in any of the science subjects. That doesn’t make one a scientist. But one without any science degree can be scientific. A scientist must ask critical questions”.

Also at the forum, 86-year-old Sheila Solarin, widow  of Dr. Tai Solarin, the popular Nigerian civil rights campaigner, writer  and atheist, sent a strong  and well-written solidarity message to participants.

The unapologetic British atheist, who could not appear on account of health problems, challenged Nigerians to reject religion, stating that it has done more harm than good to Nigerians  and the nation.  He called upon young people, in particular, to pursue good knowledge, science and reason, to doubt, and to criticize.

Like Mrs Solarin, many people around the world also extended their solidarity to the NH  on its 15th birthday. They included Norman Allen, secretary of the Institute of Science and Human Values; Tanya Smith, President of Atheist Alliance International, a global network of atheists and free-thought groups and individuals committed to promoting atheism, secularism and related issues; Dr. Bill Cooke, Director of international programs of the Centre  for Inquiry; and John Dowdle Mafrsa, President  of Watford Area Humanists