The great Nigerian humanist Wole Soyinka has been presented with the International Humanist Award by the World Humanist Congress in Oxford.
Soyinka, a poet and playwright who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, has dedicated his life to humanist goals such as universal freedom of expression, and is still a formidably strident critic of Islamic fundamentalism despite recently having celebrated his 80th birthday. In a recent conversation with Congress speaker Leo Igwe, he implored humanity to ‘Resist, Resist and Resist!’ religious censorship and ‘understand the historic partnership of Religion and Power on the one hand, and Humanism and Freedom on the other’.
Soyinka, who was unfortunately precluded from collecting his award due to illness, recorded a special message for delegates, in which he described disagreement between humanists and others as ‘a battle between the torch of enlightenment and the chains of enslavement.’ He continued, ‘The subject of religion is one that must be brought openly to the table with other concerns such as poverty… hunger, disease… The imperative is upon us: act!’
Igwe, from the Nigerian humanist movement, picked up the award on his behalf.
Presenting the award, British Humanist Association trustee Patricia Rogers argued that ‘In the sharpest possible contrast to the terrorist Boko Haram’s dichotomous disavowal of “western education” as alien to their world, Soyinka has long been the intellectual leader of distinctively African voices within the universal Enlightenment tradition’.
Soyinka joins the Pakistani women’s rights activist, Gulalai Ismail, in being honoured with the International Humanist Award at this year World Humanist Congress.
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The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.