Scott Douglas Jacobsen and Bamidele Adeneye
Humanism is universal creed, and deed. A life taught and lived in one breath, and step, for all people. Whether in the lonely, snowy white-capped North of Canada in North America or in Nigeria on the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, human beings live, eat, work, educate kids, raise families, and build communities around ideas.
Those ideas form the base for mutual solidarity, sympathy, and pursuit of cooperative endeavours.
In Lagos, Nigeria, humanism is probably unknown to most Nigerian citizens — except, maybe, to members of the Humanist Assembly of Lagos and others like it. In that spirit, we think humanism has unique applications to Lagos. Here’s how and why.
Bamidele grew up in a society viewed from the perspective of two Abrahamic religions, namely Christianity and Islam. Many ascribe their actions and interactions to faith. Most Nigerians have religious upbringings. So Abrahamic religion is the main lens for perspective on the world in Nigeria. That is, most Nigerians see the world with religious-tinted glasses.
Lagos is a bustling city; it is sleepless. A busy urban area, where acts of kindness are rare. If they happen to a Nigerian, they are taken for granted because life is so on-the-go all of the time. Everyone is working in their daily, weekly, and monthly hustle in the bustle. How can you be humanistic when you are busy and trying to get ahead of others?
Take, for example, the daily routine for many Nigerians in Lagos trying to build their professional profile. The day starts early at 5am. There’s no time to even say, “Hello, good morning. How are you?” These kind gestures are ignored. Unless, of course, you are reminded by the ‘Word of God’ when you read from the daily devotional. Even though, it does not say it explicitly.
You feel compelled to be kind to your neighbor, to empathize with others, to do the right thing, and so on. In essence, you are being a humanist effortlessly and without knowing it. Your moral values are purported to be derived from Christianity and Islam, both with promising rewards — for those who behave good, and threatening punishment, for those who behave bad.
This is a misconception. Humanism implies the good and bad stem from us. Humanism is an intricate part of our being, inherent in us as long as we are of sound and healthy mind. Happily, most of us are good most of the time.
So, what is Humanism to the average Nigerian? The International Humanist and Ethical Union states:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. Humanism stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. Humanism is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
This aptly describes everyday acts people engage in readily, acts of kindness, of concern for others…UBUNTU!
In Lagos, there are countless instances of people helping accident victims and those in need, giving food and shelter to the hungry and the homeless, and lending a helping hand without regard for where the person being helped is from or what the person worships. These are all acts of humanism in Lagos. The city of hustle and bustle, and busy people taking their time to act with compassion, consideration, and kindness.
Similar to the anchor to normal human compassion and kindness religious texts and services can be for ordinary Nigerian citizens in Lagos, the Humanist Assembly in Lagos and other humanist organizations — and their teachings, values, and community — perform the same function without, by necessity, reference to the transcendent.
Except for the secular, who value freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, it does not necessarily have to come from the divine. It can come, simply, from Nigerians. Besides, in its own way, moment-to-moment compassion has its own transcendence.