Religious Conflicts in Nigeria: Issues and Solutions

Religious Conflicts in Nigeria Issues and Solutions


Religious Conflicts in Nigeria Issues and Solutions


Chapter One of Religious Conflicts in Nigeria: Issues and Solutions



Many will attest to it that the Jos crisis vividly exemplifies or by locus classicus describes a rancorous experience against religious intolerance. In a nation bound with vast geographic and vast ethnic and religious differences, these religious differences aid conflict which is a basis for showing religious biases and prejudices with the adherents being too fundamentalistic and extremistic in nature.

Naturally, the psycho-social description of man shows him as genetically selfish, fighting for his own interest alone. However, this does not necessarily explain or construe the religious nature of man. With various descriptions of the religious nature of man especially Africans, Mbiti have described him as ‘notoriously religious’.Maybe this can adequately give a hypothesis for action that is behind religious conflict in Nigeria. But how rational or how plausible is it for two notable religions to fight against each other, killing and giving a psychological aftermath or psycho-negative effect since God can neither be described as a Christian nor a Muslim?

However, the underlying principle for religious conflict is not purely religious but also political as we have seen in the last six years with the encounter with the Islamic fundamentalist known as Boko Haram.  The episodes of mass killing structured or engineered by this extremism is enormous. However, all written above has not defined what religious conflict is but has only given us an introduction to what the researcher tends to discuss.

Background to the study

The quest to understand what religious conflict is starts from the breaking down of the two separately from the basis for a rational clarification. But we must understand that the basis for a religious conflict is one to different ideologies, beliefs, values etc. The social network coordinated by belief system is so strong that as it can make heal, so it can be used to champion a cause of war or struggle. This was what Dawkins tried to explain when he elucidated that,

Imagine … a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bomber, no 9/11, no 7/7, no crusades, no witch-hunts, no gunpowder plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no serb/croat/muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as Christ-killers’…2

In defining religion, Dawkins noted that it is a false, a delusion similar to scotosis or insanity. He said, ‘when one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity, when many suffer from a delusion it is called religion’.3 But is religion truly a delusion? If it is, then what do we mean by delusion? ‘It is a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder’.4 However, what is important to note here, is that it is the belief in religion that serves as the mechanism engineering the prominent attacks against the other religion. But is belief the only thing embedded in religion? According to Wood,

For a group or philosophy to be protected as a religion under current human right legislation in the United Kingdom, it must be able to demonstrate a combination of (a) belief and/or conviction, (b) practice and/or ethics, and (c) a sense of belonging or community. Belief and practice are separated in this definition, and the element of belonging in interesting because it recognizes the role of social relationship is religion.5

But what we call sense of belonging must be as a result of the belief which has been binding on the individual which make him react to another since they both belong to a particular religion. So ‘Belief’ is fundamental and exerts great strength and psychological strength upon the individual in question. Religion as a word is used as something relating to religion. Religion therefore pertains to God and belief, it is derived from;

The term “religio” refers to four latin verbs, relegere, religare, reeligere, relinguere. … Religion could be defined as a reading over of things or phenomena, which pertain to the worship of God (relegere). It could be define as a bond, which binds the visible, and the invisible worlds (religare). It could be taken as a repeated choice of what has been neither lost nor neglected. Being created (first election), man is chosen again to enter into relationship with the creator (reeligere). Religion is also considered as an act of leaving certain things in order to be submitted to others, maybe to a supreme being (relinquere).6

But all these etymological sayings are not enough to explain the divers religion of the present with the atheistic, Godless philosophical religions and the pantheistic religions, therefore, “…all these ways are nominal and etymological definitions; they are important but not sufficient”7. And even the etymological definitions were words of various individuals and therefore can be criticized as ‘subjective views’ which is in negative to the objective word called religion. In a nutshell, it should be noted that religion is multi-dimensional and therefore, cannot be pinned down into a definition.

Looking to the other side of the coin, we see conflict as a disagreement, between two or more parties that can either be physical or psychological. In other words, ‘conflict may be defined as a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals’.8 The words conflict was gotten from the latin word ‘conflictus’, past participle of confligere which means “to strike together, be in conflict”, from com- “together”  fligere “to strike”.9 We therefore can see religious conflict as a disagreement drown out through religion. However in Nigeria, religious conflict does not only carry religious motive but also politically inclined such that according to Marshall, recently, the president of Nigeria was forceful in saying the Nigerian conflict has nothing to do intrinsically with religion, that is used as an excuse by politicians’10. Nigeria, in view, is a country blessed with vast geographical landmarks, a nation with vast ethnic groups and many dialects with major languages, English, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. It has three major religions which are Islam, Christianity, and African traditional religion. But specifically, the first two are notable while the last is not notable. In a journal entitled, curbing violence in Nigeria (11): the boko haram insurgency, it is noted that;

Nigeria is a fractured state’. It is rich but Nigerians are poor, many extremely so,… its members are from different ethnic, political and religious communities; when they agree on how to share the spoils, all is well, but when they disagree , they politicize, manipulate and instrumentalize ethno-religious and regional differences. With the failure of governance and development, an ever increasing number of ethnic militias, separatist groups and millenarian religious movements are being mobilized, both for self-defense and for pressing ideological and practical goals…11

In plateau one of the states in Nigeria, precisely, the capital of Jos. There have been series of rivalry between different groups, therefore changing their license plate as “Home of peace and tourism”12 to home of crises and religious conflict, this was what Campbell and Harwood meant when they maintained that;

But Jos is no longer a West African paradise. Bloody “religious” riots, ostensibly between Christians and Muslim in 2001, 2008, and 2010, split the community. The latest round, starting in 2011, continues. According to the council on foreign relations’ Nigeria security tracker (NST), there have been 785 sectarian related deaths in plateau state alone between May 29, 2011, and June 30, 2013. Between January and June 2013, 481 people were killed; 61% of the total since May 2011…13

Furthermore, no religious conflict in the nation is purely religious without ethnicity playing its way in it. Nigeria, as a nation, is bound by various ethnicities or ethnic groups, thus Higazi noted that, ‘the dominant discourses in the conflict refer to political exclusion on the basis of ethnicity and religion…14. As regards the political end which religion is used as a means, it must be noted that violence in Jos is as a result of, ‘…discrimination and bias in government, and the narrow ethnic and religious politics among both Christians and Muslims increased tension and polarization along communal lines’15.The fact that religion and politics are deeply interwoven in Nigeria is exemplified from the Islamic religion such at Igboin stated that:

When one observes the trend of these actual and attempted attacks, it is noticeable that… Muslim people are involved and that Islam as a religion has received a negative public image leading to islamophobia, radicalization of the religion and a reinforced, deliberated or in advertent interest in the debate on the symbolizes between religion and politics…16

However, it is crystal that the most religion that has caused conflict is nothing more than Islam. In recent techno-centric times, the religion has been at long headed war with modern and techno-logical advancement stating that, Islam embraces a composite view of life, which incorporates both the sacred and temporal spheres into single and undifferentiated whole with a divine mandate or guidance. These structures are perceived as incompatible with modernity and its pluralist values…17.Therefore, the removal of God therefore, as perceptibly done by the west, is an invitation to jihad in contemporary society…18

Another important issue in that the cause of conflict is that there is fear of domination. This is aptly stated when Higazi elucidated that ‘the dominant discourses in the conflicts refer to,… on the Muslim, and fears of religious and cultural domination among plateau christains’.19 Furthermore, Higazi noted that, ‘ there is much political propaganda, inciting religious and cultural fears- such as the Muslim conspiracy to Islamize Nigeria…’20 while speaking on the cause of ethic- religious conflict, Owutu noted that, ‘One of the main causes of this problem is mostly the struggle between rival ethnic groups or organizations seeking to maintain or gain control of state power’.21 He elucidated further that:

When one group gains access to power, it uses state institutions to distribute economic and political benefit preferentially to their ethnic brethren, discrimination against subordinate group members. Consequently, this aggravation a sense of shared deprivation and strengthens identification with their group, thereby providing a basis for political mobilization along ethnic line.22

Another sacrosanct point is noted by Owutu as the cause of religious conflict which Akowonjo described as the indigenship  and settlers division.23 This is notable according to these two writers in the plateau ethnic and religious crisis.24 Furthermore Ibrahim noted by Owutu explain that, ‘religion and ethnicity were the major variables that influence the 2004 ethnic- religious reprisal attacks in Kano state…’25 All through to 2009 before the emergence of the sect known as Boko Haram, there have been causes of religious conflict from 1990. On may 1990, in Zaria (Kaduna state), there was disturbances in Zaria during which property belonging to mainly Christians were destroyed. So also on December 1990, in Kano where there was a riots by maitatsine sect, where 4,177 people died and extensive properties were destroyed.26 It is worthy to note that immeasurable lives had been lost while properties had been burnt and displaced owing to religious conflict in Nigeria. However, what is the solution? This calls for religions dialogue among the religions involved. Inter-religious dialogue is done in other to promote peace, security and most especially, to erase the prejudices of the fundamentalist. The truth is, instead of us fighting to kill or to maim in the course of protesting that our religion is worthy above all others, we must recognize at the back of our minds what Comte sees as the religion of humanity which in my own microscopic eyes, calls for sanctity of humanity and human lives. Similarly, according to Kaigama, ‘there must be a shift from competitiveness to genuine encounter.  Meaningful dialogue between communities is needed… we need to reclaim its integrity and promote peace and reconciliation’.27 But what then do we mean by dialogue;

Dialogue is an encounter of people of different religions and faiths in an atmosphere of freedom and openness for each partner to listen and understand himself and the other. One person speaks and another listens and responds and vice versa. [Furthermore] dialogue is working and walking together in search of what is good and right with the desire of living together and in communion. Dialogue is living together in spite of our differences…28

And moreover, the understanding of the nature of God is a perennial problem as opposed to the simple view of man’s sanctity of life. However, the God-consciousness is ultimate different in these two religions while the object ‘God’ is universally indifferent from these two religions. What entails the conflictuum in these two religions is nothing than the perception of God but phenomenologically speaking; reality is indifferent and can never be tied to anyone of these religions. If it can, this will be a major havoc of God negating his absoluteness. By value of religious dialogue cum tolerance, man sanctity of life depends on the golden rule, a simpliciter that sustains the life of everyone. If both religions emphasizes strictly on the golden rule, religious conflict would be thinking of the then and not of the now. Comparatively, ‘he who knows one knows none’ in the science of religion, the knowledge and belief of Christianity can never be used to justify the knowledge of belief and others and neither can the other be able. It is therefore important that both religions must see themselves as human regardless of the belief and their knowledge.

However, all written above is just an interview of what the researcher intends to explain in the research work. Further exposition would be given in the research work.

Statement of the problem

At the height of religious crisis and conflict, is religious bigotry, biases and prejudices which has resulted in to maiming of various individuals as a result of one religion claiming to be superior, more important than the other. Furthermore, the inability of the government to manage the challenges faced also pose another form of problem. diversity is not the problem parse but the interplay is that of the inability to join each religion under one single and formidable government apart from religious diversity, is also cultural diversity, Therefore, it can be summed up as “religious cultural diversity” posing a fundamental and perennial problem within the state. It is as a result of the above problem or issue that calls for religious dialogue to eradicate such preconceived conceptions and notions and also to put an end to killing and destruction of various properties.

Aims and objectives

It is of absolute necessity to note that Nigeria is a country of multi-ethnic groups and built on religious pluralism.

This research work mainly aims at determining the solution to religious bigotry which is a mechanism for violence, conflict and crises. It also aim at explaining what religious conflict is and also enable various adherents of various religions to see the similarities as well as the differences between their faith, enabling them to see that no religion is great or better than the other.

Limitation and scope

Due to wideness of the country, the research work would not be able to get primary sources from the victims involved in religious conflict. Furthermore, there would be financial constraint which would serve as a limitation. But the researcher shall try as much as possible to gather fact, even when he encounters books that will be detrimental due to their own biases and prejudice.


The method I will adopt during the course of this research work will be analytical. It will analyze comparatively religions in the country, so as to provide a meaning resolution. It shall also focus largely on secondary materials which are textbook, journals, newspaper, online materials. Etc.

Definition of terms

Religion; is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural system, and world views that humanity to an order of existence.29

Conflict; A serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests.30

Nigeria; A republic in West Africa: members of commonwealth of nations formerly a British colony and protectorate. 356,669 sp. mi.(923,773 sp. km). Capital: Abuja. 31

Solution; The method or process of solving a problem, or the answer to or disposition of a problem.32


In conclusion, this chapter has explained briefly what the research is all about. It has explained what conflict is and what religious conflict is and not only that, but has also explained it within the scope. The following chapter shall therefore review the works of scholars who has contributed immensely to the research.