Atheists, agnostics, religiously indifferent, secularists, rationalists, skeptics and others who identify as religious unbelievers gathered to commemorate the birth of their atheist society. They convened to mark the one-year anniversary of the Atheist Society of Nigeria (ASN). Attendees were mainly from Lagos but one participant came all the way from Kaduna and another from Ibadan, to be part of the celebration.
It can be recalled that last year, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) formally recognised the ASN as a legal entity after a long hard struggle. Before then, the CAC had rejected or frustrated attempts and initiatives to register overtly non-religious, atheistic or nontheistic organizations. After several applications for incorporation, the agency eventually approved the registration of the atheist society.
So it was the first time that an officially known atheist society in Nigeria was registered with the government. And since after its registration, the ASN has recorded tremendous growth in membership and activities. It has established a website and enlisted hundreds of members across the country. And in November last year, the ASN organized its first national convention in Lagos with some international guests in attendance. In fact, ASN remains the flag bearer of atheism and free thought in the country.
According to the organizers, some months ago, they thought of staging an event to mark their one-year anniversary. Some members were of the view that the incorporation of the ASN was an important landmark and deserved to be celebrated. They eventually chose to have the party on April 1, which was curiously the April Fools’ Day.
One of the organizers noted that they agreed to do the event on April 1 because atheists were often regarded as fools for disbelieving in god. So it was in order to celebrate atheism and religious unbelief on this day! Getting to the venue of the event was an adventure for many of the attendees especially those who were not familiar with Lagos. All participants made a ten-minute ride across a river in an engine boat. Unfortunately for this writer, the boat ride took about thirty minutes because the engine broke down midway into the ride.
The day started with a breakfast. All the delegates sat around a table and took the breakfast together. Apart from the meals, which the attendees shared as one family and community, there were three games. The first was a Bingo game. Each player had a bingo card that was a matrix of five squares by five squares. The Bingo caller sat in the front with a device that noted the numbers that had been called. The game began and the caller used a mechanical device to select and call numbers at a random. As soon as a number was called, all the players marked it on their tickets. The winner was determined when one or several of the players completed the winning bingo pattern. It continued until one player had covered a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal pattern of five grid spaces on their card. There were many winners and they went away with prizes.
Then there was a drink relay. The game took place at the swimming pool in the hotel. The delegates were divided into 5 teams and representatives from the teams competed to finish beer, malt, whiskey, coke, and water. All team members drank and then walked across the pool to tag the next team member. The tag involved a handshake. Each team decided which of the liquid to start with. Prizes were also won at the end by of the game.
Another game that featured was Suikawari. This was a traditional Japanese game and involved splitting a watermelon with a stick while blindfolded. There were prizes to be won at the end by of the game. Unfortunately, it was only one person who won a prize. Even this writer tried his luck without success.
These games provided opportunities for attendees to interact, bond, socialize and get to know each other. Many of the participants stated that the atheist mega party was the first atheistic event that they had attended in their life. They shared experiences of living the religiously and theistically charged society like Nigeria. One woman who attended the event with her child was elated to have found a society for non-believers.
Another participant who was born in Europe and returned to live in Nigeria some years ago came to the event after years of searching for atheists in Nigeria. Some of the participants shared stories of religion or superstition based abuses in their families and communities. One participant narrated how, during her youth service, she challenged a schoolteacher who branded a schoolgirl a witch. According to her, a teacher asked the students what they planned to be in the future. And one student said she would like to be a mermaid. The teacher called her a witch and asked the student to kneel in front of the class. This participant said she scolded the teacher for penalizing the student to the surprise of other teachers.
One participant stated how he was given a spiritual bath when he was very ill as a child. And also how the mother accused his grandfather of witchcraft following the death of their only brother and son. In fact, he said on one occasion the grandfather visited and was locked outside under the rain. The mother only called to inform them that the ‘devil’ was around. Participants discussed the pranks and tricks that god men and women used to fool people. They noted how pastors, priests, prophets, and prophetesses use private prayers in churches and special consultations in their houses/shrines, spiritual baths in rivers and streams to sexually abuse and exploit unsuspecting desperate folks such as young ladies who are looking for husbands or married women who are trying to get pregnant. Other participants recounted how at state offices in the country including at the NYSC camps, officers and heads of departments devoted so much of the working time to prayer and worship. And how Fridays were literally work free days for civil servants nationwide because of the Muslim prayers.
So this year’s April Fools’ Day was a remarkable day for atheists in Nigeria because it provided an opportunity for many of non believers to come out and celebrate their atheism with pride, underscoring a growing sense of community and solidarity among non-believers in the country. The AFD eventually turned into an Atheistmas day, an occasion for non-believers to mark the official birth of atheism in Nigeria. The organizers of the event planned to make the anniversary celebration an annual event, and a part of the celebration of the April Fools’ Day in Nigeria.