Inter Religious Dialogue And Peaceful Co-Existence In The Society



1.1 Background to the Study


Nigeria is a state where islam, christianity and traditional African religions are freely practised. Nigeria’s two major religions, islam and christianity, are


sometimes depicted as monolithic entities that confront each other in pitched battles. Religious beliefs and values are an important feature of the daily lives of  many families and communities in the country (Kukah 1993). It should also be emphasised that traditional beliefs, values and practices have a powerful impact upon our patterns of life and social interaction, as do the beliefs, values and practices of the many religions that have flourished in the country. Nigeria is clearly a prototype state in accommodating divergent religious fault-lines. With a population of over 150 million and over 250 ethno-linguistic groups, it is the only country with a population of approximately half christians and half muslims (Paden 2008; Kwaja 2009). Since the awakening of religion, wars have been fought in the name of different gods and goddesses. Still today most violent conflicts contain religious elements linked up with ethno-national, inter-state, economic, territorial and cultural issues. Conflicts based on religion tend to become dogged, tenacious and brutal. When conflicts are couched in religious terms, they become transformed in value conflicts (Kazah-Toure 2003; Kwaja 2008).


The character of the Nigerian State is responsible for the country’s deepening ethno-religious contradictions. This plural nature originates a constant feeling of distrust between the muslim and christian religious groups and they are working towards dominating one another (Kukah 1993; Mason and Talbot 2000). The religious contradictions that Nigeria faces are daunting.


The country is essentially a heterogeneous society, with the two monotheistic religions – islam and christianity – enjoying the loyalty of most Nigerians. A sizeable fraction of the population still prides itself as being pure religious traditionalists, meaning adherence to one or the other of the many traditional religions (Olu-Adeyemi 2006; Paden 2008).


Within the Nigerian political setting, everything takes place in a political framework. There are clear intersections of religion and fragility in its politicking, in fact, religion and politics are intertwined. For instance, religious discourse is used in politics, religious sites are part of the struggle, there is an active role of the state in religious institutions and there is internal socio-political and religious division among the various ethnic groupings in the country (Takaya 1992; Williams and Falola 1995). Indeed, the most overlooked aspect of this religious encounter is that competition within the various religious faiths – between the christians (Pentecostals and Orthodox) and the islamic groups that want to engage with or reject the modern world – is just as important as the competition between the faiths. But it is also true that the fastest-growing forms of faith on both sides tend to be the most vibrant and absolute. Nigeria has been identified as a country of occasional violence between muslims and christians, especially in the northern and central parts (the Middle Belt) of the country. Here, the two religions have co-existed and sometimes engaged in fierce confrontation (Ibrahim 1991; Williams and Falola 1995).



Despite the political differences between the various ethnic groupings in Nigeria, religion has also become a source of friction between the muslims and the christians. Violence against christian Igbo immigrants in the muslim north was a key factor during the Nigerian Civil War, and even after the war, the trouble between christians and muslims, especially in the northern part of the country, intensified (Egwu 2001; Babangida 2002). The use of religion as a tool for achieving political ends has contributed immensely to the problem of religious conflict in Nigeria. Some politicians in Nigeria are known to engage in reactionary recourse to religious fervour as a means of either holding on to power, or as an instrument for political ascendancy (Counted 2009). It should be reiterated that religious conflicts are fast becoming a common feature of society, in spite of socioeconomic development coupled with the gains of democracy. Many scholars have attributed the causes of conflicts between and within various religious groups in Nigeria to a number of factors, such as ways of propagating the religions, selfishness, intolerance, mistrust and suspicion between the followers of the various religious groups (Agbaje 1990; Blakely, Walter and Dennis 1994). Conflict prevention and resolution are key objectives on the agenda of Nigerian governments and major inter-faith mediation groups.


Within the Nigerian state, many governments and international organisations are suffering from a legitimacy deficit, and one can expect a growing impact of religious discourses on Nigerian politics. Religion is a major source of soft power (Kukah 1993; Ibrahim 2000). It will, to a greater extent, be used or misused by religions and governmental organisations to pursue their selfish interests. Religious tension in different parts of the country has threatened the survival of the Nigerian state, and the federal government is slow in stemming the religious violence that engulfs the country. When a government fails its people, they turn elsewhere to safeguard themselves and their futures, and in Nigeria at the beginning of the twenty-first century, they have turned first to religion. Here, then, is the truth behind Takaya’s assertions with respect to religion and state control. He argues that outbreaks of violence result not simply from a clash between two powerful religious monoliths, but from tensions at the most vulnerable edges where they meet zones of desperation and official neglect, and then faith becomes a rallying cry in the struggle for state control (Takaya 1992).


In spite of this early trend, the issue of religion did not come to the front burner as a critical issue dividing Nigerians until 1999. When military rule ended in 1999, democratic politics provided a perfect platform for corrupt and cynical politicians to play on religious fears to gain votes. The major event that opened the floodgate of religious antagonism was the decision of the Zamfara State government to introduce the Sharia penal code in the state


(Yusuf 2008). This move was seen by christians as a ploy to turn Nigeria into an islamic state against the spirit of secularity of the Nigerian state as enshrined in the constitution. The introduction of the Sharia legal system has added another dimension to religious dissension. This singular action of Alhaji Ahmad Sani (Yerima Bakura), the executive governor of Zamfara State, marked the epoch of intractable inter-religious violence in Nigeria. This religious imbroglio continued even in some states where Sharia was not introduced and this was as a result of the inability to categorically distinguish the place of politics and religion. The incessant religious crises erupting across the polity since 1999, when the military handed over power to a democratically elected government, negates Adigun Agbaje’s (1990) optimistic thesis that ‘Nigeria under a democratic dispensation would likely witness a lessening of tension over religion and politics’. The nascent democracy is witnessing increasing religionisation of politics and politicisation of religion due to the resolve of some northern state governors to adopt the islamic Sharia as the penal and criminal codes in their states. With Zamfara State blazing the trail, eleven other northern states have followed suit. Takaya (1992) also identified centrifugal factors that gave rise to the politicisation of ethnic and religious identities in Nigeria, which include the existence of two or more religious groups with sufficient numerical strength that can significantly affect the outcome and direction of a democratic political process. Then follows the instrumentalisation of ethnicity and religion as a legitimising tool of hegemony when the interests of the political class are under threat. He further reiterates that the society is characterised by political, social or economic hardships which have caused alliances along ethnic and religious fault-lines and these have resulted in the politicisation of religion in Nigeria (Kwaja 2009).


It should be reiterated that before the military handed over power to the civilians in 1999, the country had already witnessed a series of religious crises, and scholars have argued that the long years of military rule increased the gap of distrust as the politicians deliberately employed state power to heighten primordial sentiments, thereby increasing intolerance in Nigeria. The current political and religious sentiments are thus fuelled by some religious fundamentalists and individuals who benefit at the expense of the state (Olu-Adeyemi 2006). In 1990 a muslim-christian crisis broke out in Bauchi and in 1991 another religious riot exploded in Kano after a German fundamentalist christian announced a campaign to bring his Good News Revival campaign to the city (Ibrahim 1991; Egwu 2001). Also in 1992, a violent clash broke out in the northern town of Zangon Kataf, this development brought about a fierce confrontation between the christians and muslims in the community.


In that incident, the mostly muslim Hausa and the predominantly christian Kataf ethnic group fought over the relocation of the community’s main market

Some of the religious conflicts that have captured national and international attention in the last ten years (1999 to 2009) in Nigeria include: The Kaduna anti-Sharia crisis on 21 February 2000; the clashes followed a march by tens of thousands of christians to protest the proposal to introduce muslim Sharia law as the criminal code throughout Kaduna State. Between February-May 2000 over 1,000 people died in rioting over the introduction of Sharia in Kaduna State alone. On 28 February 2000, hundreds of ethnic Hausa were killed in reprisal attacks in Aba, Abia State, Nigeria (Igbokwe 2000). In 2001, over 2,000 people were killed and thousands displaced in religious violence that spread across the Middle-Belt states of Benue, Plateau, Taraba, and Nasarawa (Christian Solidarity Worldwide 2012). The outbreak of a religious crisis in the town of Jos, the capital of Plateau State and a city surrounded by beautiful hills, created pandemonium in the Middle Belt geo-political zone. The ironic thing is that Plateau State calls itself ‘The Home of Peace and Tourism’ in Nigeria. On the other hand, everyone in Nigeria is familiar with the fierce animosities that exist between the various religious groups in Jos (Kwaja 2008; Counted 2009). A week of violent clashes left at least 1,000 people dead and many more displaced in Jos. Soldiers and police kept vigilant watch on vehicles entering town, hoping to curb any potential reprisals. In every household, church and mosque, people blamed followers of the other religion with planning and executing the attacks with a vitriol that does not bode well for the future of the city.


Plateau State has the highest number of displaced people as a result of clashes between christian and muslim communities there. Subsequently a low intensity conflict spread to the surrounding countryside, where the mainly christian farmers clashed repeatedly with the predominantly muslim livestock herders. Over 500 people died in these skirmishes, which forced several thousand people to abandon their homes (Christian Solidarity Worldwide 2012). Most of the clashes in Plateau State have been portrayed as being between christian and muslim communities, but have often assumed an ethnic dimension. The predominantly christian Tarok farmers consider the mostly muslim Hausa cattle herders as outsiders, and accuse them of stealing land and trying to usurp political power (Ahmed 2007).


Again in 2004 another sectarian clash between christians and muslims broke out in Jos. Some Fulani herdsmen were believed to have brought weapons into the city and an army search triggered riots which led to the deaths of many innocent citizens. In that crisis, churches and mosques were destroyed and whole communities killed or driven out. This led to the burning down of 72 villages, and in the densely populated residential area of Jos, dozens of homes laid crumbling, and blood splatter stained floors, walls and the large peach-coloured boulders between homes (Paden 2008; Kwaja 2009).


In a reprisal attack, about 30 people were killed in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria with a population of about eight million. Religious violence erupted with a muslim protest demonstration on 10 May 2004, as a protest against the killing of over six hundred muslims in the small town of Yelwa in Shendam Local Government area of Plateau State (Olasope 2012; Christian Solidarity Worldwide 2012). Again over 1,000 people were injured after mobs of youths armed with clubs, machetes and jerry cans of petrol roamed the streets in Kano, attacking suspected christians. An estimated 10,000 Kano residents, mostly christians fleeing from their homes in troubled parts of the city, took refuge at the main military and police barracks on 11 May 2004 (see Vanguard of 16 May 2004). At least 57,000 people fled their homes following sectarian violence involving christians and muslims in northern and central Nigeria. More than 30,000 christians were displaced from their homes in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. Also over 27,000 displaced people had sought refuge in Bauchi State following a massacre of muslims by christian gangs in the neighbouring Plateau State earlier in May, 2004 (The Nigeria Inter Religious Council 2009).


Another major protest broke out in connection with the Miss World contest in 2002 in Kaduna and Abuja. Violence surged when a columnist wrote that the Holy Prophet Mohammed would likely support the pageant, an event some muslims felt was indecent. The ‘blasphemous’ article suggested that the Prophet Mohammed would have liked to marry a Miss World beauty queen (The Straits Times 2002). Some islamic fundamentalists perceived this as an insult to islam and it eventually led to further riots in which many people lost their lives. More than 2,000 people died in the rioting that followed in Kaduna and Abuja.


In 2006, riots over Danish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed led to the deaths of nearly 200 people in several Nigerian Northern cities, more than in any other country that experienced violence in the global backlash against the cartoons (Hill and Asthana 2006). Then came the sudden insurgency of a violent islamic sect in the Northern part of the country. Known as Boko Haram, the fundamentalist grouping aims to overthrow the federal government of Nigeria. The sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, is believed to have formed Boko Haram (meaning western education is a sin) in 2002 in the restive northeastern city of Maiduguri with the intention of imposing a strict version of islamic law. He declared total Jihad in Nigeria, threatening to islamise the entire nation by force. The group attacked a police station in the northern state of Bauchi on 26 July 2009. The incident led to a four-day armed struggle between state security forces and members of the militant group, spreading to three other states (Yobe, Kano and Borno) and leaving over 800 people dead, many of them members of the sect. The militant attacks, which followed the arrest of several of its members, targeted mainly police stations, prisons, government buildings and churches in the four states. Since the completion of a military attack that sought to break up the sect, no more violent outbreaks have occurred. Borno State and its capital city Maiduguri – the stronghold of the sect – were most affected

(Time 2009).


Religious clashes are relatively common in Nigeria and are likely to persist in the future. However, many of these clashes include a much stronger political dimension than is often suggested, concerning more the uneven distribution of power and wealth, rather than religion per se. While those crises have remained localised in the past and have not had the potential to turn into a full-scale national crisis, the destructive effects on the communities are immense.


The various religious conflicts have brought about economic and political instability, despite the abundant natural resources in the country. The losses in human capital due to the direct and indirect effects of the religious conflicts are of inestimable dimensions. Taking into consideration the level of destruction in the various religious conflicts, and coupled with incessant religious fundamentalist insurgencies, the Nigerian state cannot sustain the economic and human losses. Prevention and resolution of conflicts are, therefore, critical priorities in the nation’s socioeconomic development. It is for this reason that peace making has become a key objective on the agenda of the federal government and other relevant non-governmental organisations.


1.2 Statement of the Problem



Nigeria today faces greater challenges to peace and stability than ever before. The various regions in the country, the Northern part of the country, the South West, and the Niger Delta, are a volatile mix of insecurity, ethno-religious conflict and political instability. Thousands have been killed in riots between the two major religious groups sparked by various events: aggressive campaigns by foreign evangelists; the implementation in 1999 and 2000 of Sharia, or islamic law, in 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states; and the 2002 Miss World pageant saga which resulted into another religious imbroglio when a local Christian reporter, Isioma Daniel, outraged muslims by writing in one of Nigeria’s national papers, This Day, that the Prophet Mohammed would have chosen a wife from among the contestants. Similarly, in 2006, riots triggered by Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed left more people dead in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world (This Day September 2006). The attention to the role of religion in conflicts has been stimulated by positive and negative developments, including the desecularisation of  Nigeria’s polity and the rise of religious conflicts.


In the country today, attention is now on the militant forms of religious fundamentalism as a threat to peace. Also important has been the phenomenon of continuous armed religious conflict which have spread quickly across other states in the country (Mason and Talbot 2000; Polgreen 2008). Religious diversity appears to play a complex role in these conflicts, often entrenching struggles over resources through ethnic violence and social exclusion.



Both the federal government and some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have set up various institutions to deal with ethno-religious conflicts in the country. Many deal with them on an ad-hoc basis without articulating a standard way to process conflicts. Some of these ad-hoc committees have gone to the extent of designing a Conflict Management System (CMS) to address the issue of religious conflict in Nigeria (Kwaja 2009; Ahmed 2007). Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs) and Inter-Religious Mediation Groups are no exception. While many FBOs have well-developed programmes for conciliation, mediation, and scripture-based peacemaking, very few religious communities have taken advantage of the CMS approach to their internal conflicts (Ibrahim 1999).Using contemporary examples, this study assesses Inter religious dialogue and peaceful co-existence in the society groupings in Nigeria. In some cases, the faith-based organisations and inter-faith mediation group’s approaches to peace-making and reconciliation can offer a corrective alternative to the failings of the western peace-making model. This paper is meant as a contribution towards the ongoing search for a lasting peace to various religious crises in the country. The Nigerian government has taken bold steps to reduce tension, but the continuing religious conflicts raise questions about the effectiveness of these mechanisms towards addressing the issue of religious crises in the country.



1.3 Objective Of  The Study


The main aims and objectives of this study is to examine Inter religious dialogue and peaceful co-existence in the society, a study of Nigeria.

The specific objectives are:


  1. To examine Peace Moves towards Resolving Religious Conflicts in Nigeria
  2. TO analyze The Inter-Religious Mediation Strategy



1.4 Research Question



  1. Are there any Peace Moves towards Resolving Religious Conflicts in Nigeria?


  1. Are there any Inter-Religious Mediation Strategy


1.5 Scope of the Study


This study is on Inter religious dialogue and peaceful co-existence in the society. It was limited to Muslim and Christians in Nigeria.

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