Nigeria as a country is deeply rooted in religion, with the most popular religions being Christianity, Islam, and Traditional worship.  Compared to much of the world, the faith of Nigerian people is considered extremely devout.  Due to these hard-core religious beliefs, variable degrees of extremism exist in adherence to the doctrines of the respective faiths, with tolerance remaining a bone of contention for many.

In the vast lands of Nigeria, no region has successfully attained peaceful coexistence between traditional worship, Christianity and Islam.  Religion has the potential to serve as a vice in the propagation of interfaith harmony, but can conversely be the motivation for violence in a manner scholars deem: “the double-edged sword that is religion”.

I have lived most of my life in the Northern Region of Nigeria; Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger, and Jos States, to name a few.  I have a personal cultural heritage of both the North and South Western part of the country.  In my experience, the problem of religious intolerance is acutely rooted in the northern part of Nigeria, where illiteracy is at its highest.  Again, the Northern part of the country tend to see things through the lens of religion, as it is widely believed that little difference exists between culture, politics, and religion.  Therefore, the tight-knit relationship between these basic social elements in the North make it difficult to establish a distinction.  A disagreement regarding any of the three either creates or escalates into a disagreement over religious beliefs – even if that is not how the conversation began.

The South West and Western region of the country have a natural admixture of religious faiths within families and live in relative harmony in spite of it.  Their level of tolerance can be traced back to beliefs from traditional religions with ingrained accommodation and tolerance that, in turn, paved the way for the spread of both Islam and Christianity.

In Nigeria, it is not uncommon to see opportunities like jobs and access to schools, health services, and other social amenities – as well as the application of the law – are applied differently to individuals on the basis of their religious inclinations, rather than by merit or the law.  This can be traced back to the conditioned belief that it is better to prioritize the needs of brothers and sisters from your own religion.

Studies show that incidents like the 1999 and 2000 religious clashes in Kaduna in reaction to the prospect of the introduction of Sharia into Kaduna Sate which led to the situation degenerating into a clash between Muslim and Christian protestors, with massive violence and destruction of life and properties on both sides with an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 deaths according to an article from Punch Newspaper on 6th June 2016. As a result of this, by 2002, residents were describing particular areas of Kaduna town as “100 per cent Christian” or “100 per cent Muslim.” The physical segregation of parts of the city increased as a “survival tactic” because people expected to be safer when surrounded by their own community in the event of any future resurgence of violence.

These riots escalated not because there was no love between these religions but largely due to lack of understanding, tolerance and co-operation.  It does not have to be this way.  Religious tolerance can be taught.  It can be fostered through pop cultural expressions in music and videos, social media campaigns, as well as use of the ever-growing and multi-levelled institutions within the nation’s educational system.

There is dire need for inter-religious dialogue which translates into mutual understanding in areas of freedom of worship and other fundamental human rights.  This is a fundamental component a culture of peace and the promotion of harmony between all people, regardless of their faith.  It is key to a stable and secure environment for collective growth and development for all Nigerians.

Interfaith harmony can only be attained by Nigeria if Nigerians put aside their religious differences and embrace one another – for we are, as is sung in our national anthem: “One Nation Bound in Freedom, Peace, and Unity”.

 

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