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Nigeria's Educational System Needs Freethought

by Leo Igwe


The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 19, Number 2.


Freethought is lacking in Nigeria's educational institutions. This is because the country's schools were originally established by religious groups, mainly Christian missionaries from Europe who used them as tools for proselytizing and converting the Nigerian "heathens." The curricula were faith-based and overwhelmed by religious indoctrination, dogma, and brainwashing. Education was used to get Nigerians to embrace Christianity or Islam. It was not an avenue for self-realization or intellectual growth.

But in the early 1970s, the Nigerian government took over all the schools in order to instill secular ideals and values into public education. But the Nigerian educational system has retained its religious character-Islamic in the north and Christian in the south. The government's secularization project was never achieved. So, two religions have maintained their corrupting influence on Nigeria's schools and students, allowing no space for free, independent, and secular thoughts to thrive and flourish.

Consequently, most educated Nigerians are intellectually inclined to blind faith and unreason. They have a pathological aversion to critical thinking and free inquiry. The current educational climate is not only repressive but dangerous. For over a decade, Nigerian schools, colleges, polytechnics, and universities have been bedeviled by the actions of cultists and criminals. Tertiary institutions especially have been scenes of indescribable violence against students by other students. School authorities have often attributed the problems to students' lack of faith, godlessness, or religious indifference. Some have turned to religious leaders for help, and they now flock to the campuses to hold crusades, prayer sessions, and revivals. But the problems have not been solved.

Other problems have been created. Nigerian campuses have been turned into religious supermarkets, and Nigerian education has become sectarian. Religious meetings are now conducted virtually everywhere in schools—in libraries, lecture halls, and even in laboratories. A number of lecturers have abandoned teaching and researching to become clerics and evangelists.

There is no longer any clear demarcation between religious duties and academic work.

As Islam and Christianity continue their decades-long battle for control of the nation's educational system, Nigerian schools have been turned into breeding grounds for religious militants, terrorists, and bandits. Since the 1980s there have been recurring instances of crises and violence-at the University of Sokoto (1986), the University of Ibadan (1987), Queen Amina College Kaduna (1987), Ahmadu Bello University Zaria (1988), Government Vocational Training School Markafi (1990), Government Girls' College Jalingo (1992), Kaduna Polytechnic (1992), and many others. Many incidents have been sparked by efforts to introduce and implement Islamic law in the country. In February 2003, Muslim and Christian students clashed in some secondary schools in Oyo State over the wearing of the Islamic veil.

I find this situation deplorable. I am using this opportunity to call for an immediate end to this dangerous trend in Nigerian education. I submit that, rather than too little religion, it is too much religion that is at the root of the problem of intellectual decay on the campuses. All in all, religion is part of the problem facing Nigerian schools. And religion cannot be the solution. All who think that more religion or faith is required to eradicate the problems in Nigeria's educational system are terribly mistaken.

Even though religious groups may have something positive to contribute to Nigerian education, such offers are corrupted and complicated by the extremes of religious fundamentalism, militancy, and rivalry in the schools.

Beside cultism, religious fanaticism remains one of the greatest threats to education and academic freedom in Nigeria. Religious fundamentalism sanctifies ignorance, glorifies conformity and blind obedience, and rewards lack of curiosity and intellectual stagnation. All religions have a way of turning young and docile minds into stone, making them impervious to critical intelligence and rational thought. This is the tragic situation in Nigerian schools.

And now, what is the way forward? Personally, I am of the view that Nigerian campuses are in dire need of an intellectual awakening that would tackle religious fundamentalism and occultism, foster academic freedom, and restore genuine scholarship and intellectual culture. To this end, I am strongly recommending that the following take place on all Nigerian campuses: a decline in religious belief and observance and an explosion of humanism, skepticism, and freethought.

Religion and dogma must decrease; reason, science, and freethought must increase. Theism, supernaturalism, and occultism must shrink; secular humanism and skepticism must expand and flourish. The culture of faith and blind belief must be replaced with a culture of intellectual curiosity and critical thinking. Nigerian students should rededicate themselves to the pursuit of the ideals of enlightenment and intellectual and moral progress.

As part of its efforts to improve the quality of learning and instruction in schools nationwide, the Nigerian humanist movement has initiated a Campus Freethought Project, in coordination with the Council for Secular Humanism's Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA). The Project is aimed at countering religious fundamentalism and encouraging critical inquiry into every area of human endeavor. It will support and stimulate student humanism, skepticism, and freethought through the publication and distribution of literature, news and information services, and lectures and seminars on campuses nationwide—much like CFA has done across North America.

CFA Nigeria seeks to encourage students to cultivate open-mindedness, to exercise their creative and critical faculties, and give free rein to their moral and intellectual energies by following a secular and reasoned approached to life and learning
I call upon all Nigerian students who entertain humanist, freethought, and skeptical sentiments to organize into groups and take up the task of secularizing life and learning in schools. All students should see this as part of the efforts to salvage Nigerian education and its institutions. I hope the Nigerian Campus Freethought Project will help enlighten, liberate, and bring joy to life and learning in Nigerian schools, colleges, polytechnics, and universities.


Leo Igwe is the executive director of CFI-Nigeria.


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