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
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
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
Leo Igwe is the executive director of CFI-Nigeria.
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