Ethnic and Religious Tensions in Nigeria: An Update from Canon Hassan John

13 July 2017

Nigeria is a nation suffering from many woes. Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsman in clashes with Christian farmers, famine-like conditions in the North East, drought and a refugee crisis quickly add up to make Nigeria a very troubles country. The following article is a summary of a recent update from HART’s partner in Nigeria, Canon Hassan John.


The latest crisis, which is causing great concern across the country, is the ‘quit notice’. Earlier his year, 14 youth groups from Northern Nigeria demanded all members of the Igbo tribe, an ethnic group native to south-central and south-eastern Nigeria, to move out of all northern states by 1st October 2017, or face dire consequences. What these consequences would be, or how real the threat is, is unknown, but with the backing of some elite groups and elders in the North, and little condemnation of the notice itself or the hate speeches seen after the ‘notice’ was issued by influential groups makes the threat very worrying.

There are several factors which make these events particularly worrying. The most alarming is that the embers of the 3 year civil war (1967-1970), which killed almost a million Nigerians, are once again being fanned. Otherwise known as the Biafra War, political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions eventually led to fighting between the government of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra, representing the nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people, whose felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government. Back to today’s crisis, the 14 youth groups, who published the ‘notice’ are all Muslim and the Igbo tribe are predominantly Christian. Therefore the ‘notice’ has sharpened the distrust and heightened the conflict between Christians and Muslims in the country, especially in the middle belt region of the country, and several groups and states are now calling for independence and self-determination. If things get out of hand, then there will most certainly be ethnic and sectarian clashes all over the country.

A supporter of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, holds a Biafra flag during a rally

Hassan John argues that that the Nigerian constitution, that was produced by the military dictatorship in 1999,  has always favoured the predominant Muslim north and the government have resisted any attempt to correct or amend it to have a broadly acceptable ‘federal republic’ status. ‘While we claim to be a Federal Government, we run a military dictatorial styled unitary government’; very few people have a say in the governance of the country, individual regions or even local councils. Everything is dictated from the Office of the President. The Senate and Lower House of Assembly have failed in the representation of the people according to many public analysts.

Unless practical and widely accepted adjustments are made, at best, implementation of the findings from the last constitutional conference of 2014, the agitations from the Southern parts of the country calling for a Biafran nation will continue. Then it will only be a matter of time until other segments of the society, like the Middle Belt region and Odudua in the south-west, ask for cessation as well.

An armed Fulani Herdsman looks over his cattle

Adding to the religious and territorial tensions outlined above is the issue of Fulani Herdsman where attacks have not abated, despite the claim of the military that the insurgency and the attacks are under control. Many communities have been displaced by the herdsmen and the villagers are in perpetual exile. Yet the federal government, which controls both the army and the police, has not removed the armed herdsmen to allow the farmers return to their farm; many cannot return to their farms in southern Kaduna, in Kaduna state and in Riyom local council in Plateau State. The refusal of the Nigerian government to remove the cattle herdsmen, who are predominantly Muslims, from the villages and farmlands belonging to predominantly Christians has added to the religious hatred and claims that the Muslims have the backing of the government to grab lands belonging to Christians; to wipe out both the ethnic tribes and Christianity as a religion and spread Islam.



Canon Hassan John is the coordinator of the Mai Adiko Peace and Reconciliation Project, located in Rayfield in the city of Jos.

Last year, HART visited Northern Nigeria, for the full visit report, click here.

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