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“Religious institutions are the most powerful purveyors of religious tolerance in any society.”
(Dowd, 2016, pp.618)
Many academics have asserted that religion may simultaneously promote warfare and nurture reconciliation, referring to recent findings that religious principles can play a constructive part in conflict resolution (Haynes, 2009). The issue, however, lies with the general lack of tolerance of many religious figure heads who do not inspire peaceful values. As a result, Christian and Islamic groups have now and again targeted and attempted to prohibit the presence of competing religious groups, or at the very least, severely restricted their potential to shape the larger social sphere.
In Nigeria, Muslims and Christians have played an important role in defining Nigeria of today as Islam and Christianity’s interwoven past are ingrained in societal structures. The crossings of these conflicting religions were critical in converting Nigeria into the modernised state it is today –and these religious institutions themselves were shaped by the lasting “social, political, and economic imperatives of Nigeria’s diverse communities” (Vaughan, 2016, pp.224). However, these two religious groups have always strived to assert dominance over one another, causing the nation to remain divided and in perpetual conflict. Although religious organisations can play a vital role in providing aid, reinstating calm, and stability, and bridging gaps across communities, the government must shoulder most of the responsibilities as it serves as the nation’s leader and representative (Rakodi, 2012). This essay will therefore be looking at how the Nigerian government can promote and initiate religious reconciliation in the country.
GOVERNMENTAL APPROACHES TO INITIATE RELIGIOUS RECONCILIATION IN NIGERIA
To begin with, the most crucial approach to restoring peace between Nigeria’s religious communities is by incorporating religious peacemakers in the Nigerian government. These individuals are people or members of religious associations, who work to mediate disputes and promote tolerance (Haynes, 2009). According to academics, they are prone to succeed if they possess a national or global authority, are committed to achieving peace without resorting to violence, and have strong relationships with religious groups that are at odds(Appleby, 2008).As stated by Rakodi (2012, pp.571), violent conflicts will likely begin to cease and relations between Christians and Muslims will improve if the government: (1) addresses poverty and disparities (particularly the shortage of employment options for marginalised communities), (2) encourages connections between different communities (including religious ones), (3) offers legal representations for those who have been victimised, (4) enforces the rights and protection of all Nigerian people. All four of these responsibilities therefore must be addressed unbiasedly, which religious peacemakers are prone to accomplish in their efforts to reconcile religious groups and promote religious tolerance.
Another strategy that the government need to employ to promote reconciliation between Nigeria’s Christian and Muslim communities is to provide equal political representation as well as economic opportunities for all. In Kaduna State, where “the Hausa-Fulani tribe makes up 60% of the population, and the non-Muslim minorities who are mainly farmers make up the remaining 40%”, Christians have suspected Muslims of only voting Muslim politicians to manage political and economic affairs, to marginalise Christians (Ajiambo, 2019) (Miller, 2019). In addition to this, Christians have sensed they were not given the same career possibilities as Muslims (Ajiambo, 2019). For example, no Christian secured a political position in the region during the 2019 presidential election campaign. Consequently, there was a lot of unrest in Kaduna State: numerous religious institutions were destroyed, causing the deaths of many civilians, and worsening the tensions between Muslims and Christians. This example demonstrates the value of equal political representation and economic opportunities in addressing poverty and inequalities in an unbiased manner.
Supporting interfaith organisations, which promote dialogue without using any violent measures, is another way the government will be able to promote peace between Nigeria’s religious communities. On a regional and national level, these conversations promote social harmony and act as efficient means to avert religious disputes (Omotosho, 2014, pp.142). These associations can become significant peacemakers through engaging the nation’s people, encouraging inter-religious councils, and equipping religious groups with the resources that they need to successfully address religious conflict. Interfaith institutions strive to educate and uplift the disadvantaged, foster unity, and supply humanitarian assistance. They work to combat religious discrimination and extremism, as well as to foster an ecumenical environment, which the Swiss catholic priest and theologian Hans Kung advocates as a starting point for religious reconciliation between Christian and Muslim communities (ibid, pp.142-143). The Interfaith Mediation Centre is one of the existing interreligious organisations working to reconcile Nigerian Christians and Muslims. With accomplishments such as “[facilitating] the Kaduna Peace Declaration of Religious Leaders” in 2002, it is evident that these organisations are needed and are essential for Nigeria’s future (Peace Insight, 2021).
In parallel to supporting interfaith organisations, the Nigerian government must ensure that education is carried out in a safe environment for all citizens, to allow members of different religious communities to access schooling (Omotosho, 2014, 142). Political violence in Nigeria has been blamed for obstructing girls’ and women’s education, abducting children for use as war combatants or sex slaves, and kidnapping students and teachers for ransom and profit (Cherkaoui, 2021). As a result, Nigerians’ access to education is jeopardised by fear of political instability and ongoing conflicts. Through the resolution of these political tensions, Nigerians would be able to regain the right to education without constantly fearing the worst. However, in addition to this, there is a need for increased religious mixing and integration within educational settings to allow for increased religious tolerance. While efforts were “made in the mid-1980s in some of the southern universities to substitute religious with moral education detached from religion [to allow] both Muslims and Christians [to] be taught in the same class”, Nigerians need to be taught about religious tolerance ideals at a younger age (Jaafar, 2018, pp.6). The Nigerian government should therefore encourage the teaching of religious tolerance and acceptance in schools at an early age, with the assistance of interfaith organisations, for future generations of Nigerians to accept and adopt these values.
Given the eleven-year crisis, a lengthy past of disparities, environmental stresses, food insecurity, and now COVID-19, Nigeria has reached a tipping point where religious conflict must end and peace must take precedence. The Nigerian government must therefore take steps to reshape Nigerian society and its fragmented religious communities.
Overall, this essay asserts that religious division in Nigeria has hampered religious acceptance and that four tasks must be performed by the government in order to bring about the essential adjustments to religious tolerance. The presence of religious peacemakers within the Nigerian government is critical, especially because they influence and enable better, more equitable political representation and economic opportunity. Furthermore, if the government supports interreligious organisations, Christian and Muslim communities can learn from one another and reconcile, particularly if education is made available in safer conditions, and religious tolerance is taught at a younger age.
By Quitterie d’Harcourt
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