By Leo Igwe

On June 29, 2024, I became a certified chaplain. I joined the International Association of Chaplains, after training with the Regnum International School of Chaplaincy. Why did I embark on this training? Why did I take up a role often meant for religious leaders? Last year, I visited a colleague at a correctional center in Abuja. He was imprisoned for blasphemy. A leader of our humanist association, this colleague was serving his sentence at the Kuje prison. While I was waiting to see him, I noticed some other people who were also in the waiting room. They were holding their Bibles. They were pastors who came to do some prison ministry. It was a Sunday, and they came to preach to prisoners. I learned they were waiting for the Christian chaplain to come and usher them in. After about 30 minutes, the chaplain or the officer in charge attended to them.

Later, I inquired to know if there were humanist chaplains. And they said there were none. Of course, I was not surprised. I asked if they would allow humanist chaplains to minister to the prisoners. They advised me to go and discuss that with their bosses at their head office, along the airport road. I thought of going there before I left Abuja, but later changed my mind. I needed to prepare very well for the meeting. To make a strong case, I needed to know more about chaplaincy, and also get trained as a chaplain. After some online search I contacted and enrolled in a chaplaincy school, the Regnum International School of Chaplaincy. This school of chaplaincy is Christian; it is a quasi-theology school. The courses were Christian faith-based. I made it clear from the beginning that I was not a Christian or a person of faith. And the school managers had no issue with it. I was happy that they accepted me to train with them. During the training, I brought up a topic on humanist chaplaincy and made my colleagues debate if all chaplains must be clerics. And many agreed that all chaplains must not be clerics. That discussion delighted me.
As the first certified ‘humanist’ chaplain, I have a huge responsibility. I hope to diligently fulfill my role and duties. I plan to carry out my chaplaincy duties at two levels, first for humanists and second for humanity.

First, I will be a chaplain for humanists, atheists, agnostics, and others who identify as nonreligious or nontheistic. At the moment no such chaplain exists. I will offer help and support to this category of persons whose needs are often forgotten or ignored. I will provide care, and comfort to humanists in prisons, schools, hospitals etc. Many non-religious people go through existential crises but have no one to run to for help; they have no one to lean on. Atheists and agnostics face challenges in their families, marriages, jobs, and life in general but they cannot confide in anyone. No one offers them a listening ear; a nonjudgmental ear.

Many Nigerians cannot connect or relate to faith-based programs or support. They find beauty and meaning in the naturalistic outlook and seek reason based help. Many people in Nigeria think that religion does not have any reasonable answers to their problems, crises, and struggles. As a chaplain, I hope to fill this gap. I hope to be there with irreligious persons at their darkest moments and extend a helping hand to the best of my ability. I plan to hold them during those difficult times, take them by the hand, and give them a shoulder to lean on. I am interested in this aspect of my chaplaincy work because I am a humanist. I can relate to the problems and challenges that humanists face in Nigeria and beyond. Many people who identify as atheists, agnostics or nonreligious feel lonely and alone. They suffer physical and psychological abuse and torment. As a chaplain, I hope to provide them with the support and assistance they need to heal, recover, and lead happy and meaningful lives.

But my chaplaincy will not be for humanists alone. I am not only a chaplain for non believers. I am a chaplain for believers too. My chaplaincy will be for all who need it and ask for it, whether they are humanists or not. My chaplaincy will not be restricted to humanists, atheists, and agnostics. I will be a chaplain for all, regardless of faith or belief. I will care for and help all human beings. My chaplaincy is devoted to doing good for goodness sake, to helping humans for humanity’s sake. Human suffering does not know any faith or belief. Also, help should not be provided only to those who believe what I believe, those who think like me, or people of like minds. That a human being is suffering is enough. That a human is in need suffices.

Incidentally, I have been doing chaplaincy work without knowing it. I have been advocating against witch persecution, providing help and support to victims of all faiths and none. In the past years, I have supported Christians, Muslims, and other religious sufferers of abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs and ritual attacks. I have provided support to victims of blasphemy allegations of all faiths and none. Now as a certified humanist chaplain, I hope to carry on with this important work and in fact do more, providing help, comfort, and support to all suffering human beings in Nigeria and beyond.

Leo Igwe is a humanist chaplain and member, International Association of Chaplains.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *