O’Seun Egghead Odewale
One of Nigeria‘s most prolific social media expert, Egghead Odewale bares his mind about religion, activism, social media and his beliefs as a humanist.
Q: Can you please give us a little of your family background?
A: I was born into a family of six. I’m the first of four children. My parents are not extremely religious people, but they are both Muslims and I think I can safely conclude that all my family members are Muslims, except me.
Q: Can you give us a brief background of your educational career, your student activism days, your career in the civil society and in the government?
A: I’ve been subtly active in students’ engagement and functions from my days at the polytechnic in Bida. Even though I didn’t contest for any political position, I was part of a core group of engineering students that rallied round candidates competing for various slots in the students’ union elections and candidates that were contesting elections at the faculty and departmental levels.
But I didn’t become openly active in student activism until my university days when I came into contact with friends and folks like Daniel Onjeh, Ibrahim Jimoh, Olayemi Oguntimehin and a couple of others. It was then I really began to dig deep into activism and student unionism.
I and my friends had an issue with the school authorities, and were suspended from academic engagement on campus for various lengths of school sessions.
During that period that we were out of school, I came into contact with some civil society actors who developed a liking for me and as such became my mentors. I got enmeshed in all of that for a couple of years until I got the opportunity to work as a contract staff for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission in Abuja.
It was during my work with ECOWAS, that one of mentors that I’d had earlier on, Dr Kayode Feyemi, called me to be part of his campaign to be the Governor of Ekiti State. It was after he was eventually declared winner and governor elect of Ekiti State that I fully went into government. He appointed me his Personal Assistant and Senior Special Assistant in the Governor’s Office.
After two years of service to him, I got a scholarship to do research on Governance and New Technology at the Harvard University, which I’m presently pursuing.
Q: What is Humanism all about?
I’ve at various points in time been involved with the activities of the Humanist Movement. It is all about humanizing; all about evoking and naturalising human relationships in such a way as to pursue the common good of the general public.
The humanist basically tries to seek a psychological, emotional, ecologically friendly, and if you like, cultural, good of the general public through different activities, attributes, attainments, commitments, and self-preservation that promotes a conscious awareness of the self-interest vis-a-vis the general interest of the public in any given society in such a way that the interests of any individual do not override the common interests of the general public.
Q: Is there any difference between Humanism, Agnosticism and Atheism?
I don’t think there is any significant variation in all of these. Actually, there are points of intersections. The Atheist does not believe in the existence of God, and does not believe that there is a supernatural being out there, the agnostic is not quite sure there is a Godhead or any sort of unseen deity, whereas the humanist could actually be in any of these folds.
But whereas the atheist or agnostic can form laws, rules or creeds that are actually tangential to the general good of the society, the humanist seeks to pursue creeds or deeds that promote the wellbeing of the generality of the public.
It doesn’t really matter what religion, belief systems, cultural systems etc; what mores, norms, that guide society; the humanists has a set of creed that speaks to what is perceived as promoting the general good of the public. I think that is the basic difference.
Also, humanists do not pursue any religious beliefs or any of the ‘standard’ or ‘traditional’ religious beliefs.
These three creeds intersect. You may have a humanist atheist or a humanist agnostic. However, not all agnostics or atheists are humanists. Humanists can be atheists or agnostics in so far as they pursue creeds that promote the good of the general public.
Q: Can people of faith be humanists?
A: I believe one can. But I believe if you are a Christian and you want to be a humanist, you probably have subscribed to subsume some of those canonical laws that you already held divine under the humanist creed that promotes the good and wellbeing of the society.
For instance, if you are a Muslim, and there is a law prescribing amputation for someone who steals, humanism, promotes people’s right to life. You cannot take anybody’s life. So if your religion promotes capital punishment, there is a point of conflict there.
So as a humanist, you can still be a Christian and not subscribe to aspects of the Canonical Law that says that people should be killed for offences or apply Old Testament laws to judge post-New Testament sins in a particular society.
Q: How strong is the Humanist Movement in Nigeria in terms of numbers? Is the movement growing?
A: I wouldn’t say that the Humanist movement as a group is growing. But I can say for sure that it is a general or global trend.
People around the world are now shirking religious beliefs and tenets for individualism, self-consciousness, and a sort of religious self-determination. People are now able to consciously prescribe for themselves new norms, laws, and beliefs that they want to adhere to.
I see this happening in different places, crossing different demography in our society. Basically, I think it is something far beyond Nigeria. It is a global trend.
Having said that, it is important to note that as population grows, you also have a corresponding increase in the number of those who go to church or mosque or have that attachment to a religious belief or some supernatural being somewhere who helps them resolve their problems, patent or impractical.
Q: Nigeria is reputed to be the most religious country in the world. Has this religiosity had any impact in the politics, economy and the development of the nation?
A: I think this is a contestable assertion. It is contestable in the sense that the different ratios and empirical information that is available from other geographical entities [shows otherwise].
However, I think it is also dependent on the manner of religiosity that is under discussion here. So that needs to be properly nuanced to put it in context. From all of these, we can still extrapolate. Nigeria is said to have the fourth largest Islamic population, after India, Indonesia and Pakistan as well as a large population of Christians. There is almost 50-50% Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. Nonetheless, there are other smaller sects and religious groupings that are not necessarily Christianity or Islam. So you could have a religious people, but it depends on what kind of religiosity is being promoted in the different spaces that we have.
Q: According to some sources, at least 50% of Nigeria’s population are Christians. What is your impression of Nigerian Christians?
A: The population of Christians in Nigeria does not matter; neither does the population of Muslims to me.
What I see is both Christians and Muslims proselytising, trying to conscript folks who do not lean towards their religious alignment into their perception of what the society should look like.
In the same vein, I see a lot of deception. I see a lot of straightjacketing. I see a lot of peer pressure. In fact, there is a lot of blackmail adopted against those who are not “religious”.
So, in the whole cycle of trying to find solutions to the myriad of problems that not only bedevils the nation as an entity but also individuals at their different levels, we have individuals who believe that all the problems that they have confronted in life may be resolved by some kind of attachment, or commitment, to some supernatural being, that they don’t have access to, or cannot realize at any particular time.
They also have this sentimental longing for religious cleansing through those who are perceived to be appointed agents (clerics, on all sides of the divide) for this supernatural being that have been spoken about.
Again, there is no agreement within Christendom about the nature of this supernatural being that everybody is expected to worship under that umbrella. You see Catholics having variant religious modes of worship from the Anglican; the Orthodox contemplation is in contradiction with the Protestants and those who are moderate Christian followers.
Then you have Christendom pitted against Islam in many ways including in the means they try to reach this Godhead to which both profess obeisance.
The humanist sees all of these as confusion that makes people brainwashed into certain mindsets and colours of thinking that does not allow for some kind of rational reasoning, some form of imaginative or creative assessment of a particular problem with a bid to finding lasting and enduring solutions to such problems.
Rather than work out the solution to a particular problem, [Christians] subscribe to abdicate the solution to that problem to the Godhead that is believed to have all the power to solve that problem but they can only draw the benefits from the Godhead by providing certain incentives that makes him to see them as preferred recipients of auspicious divine intervention in any particular situation that beset them.
Q: What are the best things that Nigerian Christians have brought to the table in pursuance of the Nigerian Project?
A: I think the things that come out clearly for me is the charity and hope that the Church and Christendom bring to the table. I think the church has done remarkably well in that regard.
You can imagine a situation where the church is absent and that charity and the hope that things will be better through the intervention of the Godhead were to be absent. I can imagine the kind of chaos, the catastrophe into which the country could have been plunged.
But because we have the church, we have people who continue to hope their prayers, their supplications, their various spiritual and religious rites would one day be accepted and a magic wand or command statement would change the entire way in which things are done, that things happen in the country. That is a significant thing that Christendom has brought to national development.
Of course an extension of that charity is the fact that some churches offer opportunities, offer assistance to those who need it in the society. It reduces the pressure we would otherwise have on the society. Essentially, they offer solace and consolation from the myriads of troubles we face daily as a nation.
Q: The Nigerian Church perceives itself as the moral conscience of society. Do you think it is living up to that perception?
A: It depends on how the society is configured. I think there are lots of contradictions. A society that is secular cannot look up to the church as its compass.
A set of provisions as enshrined in the Constitution will determine what will become the reference point in terms of the moral direction for society to follow. Each society will definitely have its norms and mores that it follows within that context.
It is important to note that there are societies that are fluid in their regard, or alteration, of the Grundnorm. Where society is flexible and open to changes, it is easier to accommodate new voices, creeds, and ethos within its fold. But where a society is xenophobic, it is more difficult and depends on how these, usually foreign, religions are able to co-locate with either the individualistic tendencies within the society or the traditional local religions that is already in existence in that particular society.
Q: What are the things that put you off Nigerian Christianity?
A: As an individual, I have been tolerant of different religious beliefs. I wouldn’t say there is something particular that puts me off Nigerian Christianity. In fairness, Nigerian Christians have been quite nice. I’ll rather be tolerant of their views.
But one thing that worries me is the newfound inclination towards prosperity in Christendom.
The church itself is political. When you have two or three individuals communing, politics abound, even within the family. So the idea of political Christianity is not bad. If Christendom wants to get involved in politics for the purpose of protecting the group interest of its members, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Q: Most people I’ve spoken to want to know what Humanists think about life after death, abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, divorce and capital punishment. What are your thoughts on these issues?
A: I don’t believe in life after death. I believe when I die, I die, I go into the ground, I decay and go back into the earth.
Personally, I don’t support abortion, but I don’t deride or judge those who do.
I am indifferent about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. They really don’t affect me so I’m indifferent about them.
I am a staunch advocate of divorce. If the marriage is not working, I see no reason why two people should magnet each other permanently because the society expects it. So, if divorce has to be the way out, I don’t oppose it in any form whatsoever. I think it should be encourage provided it will not be abused. In anyway, I am not a fan of the union of marriage; hence my position on divorce could be rationalized.
I can support capital punishment in some instances. But it depends on the kind of crimes we are looking at here. If the crime is murder, I think I can support capital punishment. If it can be proven that it was committed out of the sheer malice of the individual, not for self-defence or the protection of the life and property of a group, why not? I think capital punishment should be applied for very few and justifiable instances.
Q: Are Nigerian Humanists in all spheres of life any better than Nigerian Christians or even Nigerian Muslims?
A: I think all of these emanate from the general contradictions that we have in the body polity. Whereas you have Nigerian Muslims especially those from the North, are perceived as being violent extremists in their religious undertakings, but just the same cultural demography across the imaginary border to the north, we have Muslims who are Hausa kindred of our northern brothers, who are not as violent and morbid as we have down south in northern Nigeria. I mean not as deadly because I am not sure there has been any violent religious uprising recorded in Niger Republic as it has been in Northern Nigeria.
Having said that, I will like to reiterate that the society reinforces the kind of thinking the people take into these various spaces. Whereas these religious spaces are suppose to promote some kind of indoctrination that goes into group thinking and ideology, I see that Nigerians, out of their own sheer stubbornness and aggression, have been able to infuse that thought and philosophies, that individualism, that is ingrained, for instance in Christianity, that kind of aggression, whether positive or negative, that is uniquely Nigerian.
If you go to the Nigerian Humanist movement, you will also see that that aggression has tampered the way the humanist creed is interpreted and promoted. It is also the same with Nigerian Atheist and Agnostics.
Aside all of these, I don’t see the Nigerian Christian as significantly different from Christians elsewhere. Remove the context of unique cultural diversity of Nigeria aside; what is preached in Nigeria is not significantly different from what is preached elsewhere, minus this new inclination of championing prosperity. It is the same thing in Islam and all other religions. I don’t see the Nigerian Christian Bible being different from that used elsewhere. So it’s a matter of knowledge, depth and interpretations.
I think Nigerian Christians have a huge influence especially in the global north. You have them in Europe influencing society in various ways.
Another instance I can give is that the Nigerian Humanist movement is probably more aggressive than its Ghanaian counterpart; the same with Christianity, Islam, Atheism, Agnosticism and any kind of religion we have in Nigeria.
Thank you for your time.
Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.