Defining conflict, Weber argues that conflict is any action that is oriented intentionally to carryout actor’s own wish against the resistance of the other party or parties. For Coser, conflict is a struggle over status, power and scarce resources in which the sole aims of the parties involved are not only to gain the desired value but also to neutralize, injure or eliminate rivals.

Generally, conflicts entail struggle and rival for objects to which individuals and groups attach importance. These objects can either be material or non-material. The material objects may include scarce resources like money, employment and position including political appointment, promotion in both the private and public organization. The non-material objects include culture, tradition, religion and language.

According to conflict theorist: conflict, whether political, cultural, communal, ethnic or religious are often influenced or motivated by disparity rather than similarity among the people especially unequal ones. Kari Marx wrote in 1937 in  the “communist Manifesto” that “the history of all  existing society is the history of class struggle” arguing from the perspective, one could say that conflict is inherent in human relationships.

Writing about the  causes of conflict Elaigwu asserted that conflict can arise due to many factors among which are:

  • Actions which lead to mutual mistrust, polarization or relations, and/or hostility among group in apparent competitive interactions;
  • Frustrations arising from unsatisfied human needs which may include psychological, economic, physical, social and other forms.
  • Explosion of identity as groups begin to ask for greater participation and rights.
  • Seemingly cultural incompatibility among groups with different communication styles; and
  • Perceived inequality and injustice through competitive socio-political, economic and cultural frameworks.

These factors are eminently important in the understanding of religious and political conflicts in Nigeria.


The modern Nigeria emerged through the merging of two British Colonial territories in 1914. The amalgamation was an act of colonial convenience. It occurred mainly because British colonizers desired a contiguous colonial territory stretching from the Arid Saharah to the Athlantic coast, and because the Northern Nigeria, one of the merging units, was not paying its way while Southern Nigeria, the other British Colony, generated revenue in excess of its administrative expenses.

It then made administrative sense to have one coherent British Colony rather than two. It also made sense to merge a revenue-challenged colonial territory with a prosperous colonial neighbor, so that the latter can subsidize the former. The amalgamation made little sense and has often been invoked by Nigerian as the foundation of the rancorous relationship between the two regions of Nigeria. It must be here emphasize that the Northern Nigeria which is now broken into several states and three geographical blocks, is largely Muslim. It was the centre of a pre-colonial Islamic empire called the  Sokoto caliphate, and its Muslim populations, especially those whose ancestors had been part of the Caliphate, generally look at the Middle East and the wider Muslim world for solidarity and sociopolitical example.

The South, an ethically diverse region containing many states and  three geographical units, is largely Christian. The major sociopolitical influences there are western and traditional African. These differences have been a source of political disagreements and suspicions between the two regions since colonial times. To add to this cauldron, each of the two regions contains ethnic and religious minorities they see as hegemonic oppressors. These grievances are sometimes expressed through bitter political complaints, through sectarian arises stoked by political elites and incendiary media rhetoric and through violent insurgencies.

Between 1947 and 1959 Nigerian nationalist leaders from different regional, ethnic and religious communities came together in a series of conferences and parliaments to negotiate the transition to self-rule and to map out a common future. During this interaction and in the first few years after independent in 1960, the Jarring effects of a arbitrary colonial unification manifested as seemingly irreconcilable differences of aspiration, priorities and vision. So deep were these religious and ethnic antagonisms that one Northern Nigeria Muslim nationalist leader declared Nigeria “the mistake of 1914” while a Prominent Southern Nigeria Christian nationalist figure called Nigeria “a mere geographical expression.

In Nigeria’s national politics, Christians anxieties about Muslim domination of the national political space and the accomplishing fear that politically dominant Muslims would use their priviledged perch to Islamize national institutions and imposed Islamic Sharia law on non-Muslim date back to Colonial times. Muslims, especially those from Northern Nigeria, for their part, have sought to lend off what they regard as unbridle westernization and have sporadically sought refuse in parochial religious reforms.


Post-independence Crises (1960-1996)

Religious crises in Nigeria in the pre-independence period and between 1960 and 1966 were for the  most part at the level of a cold war, characterized by external mutual respect between Muslim and  Christians. The mutual respect stemmed from the fact that none of the religions really knew the strength  of the other. Thus, the mutual tolerance was merely out of fear of the other and not out of any genuine respect. Each one respected the other from a distance and never dared to overstep its bounds.

In 1961, The Sardauna of Sokoto formed the Jamaatu Nasril Islam (JNI), an Islamic movement charged with the special responsibility of propagating Islam. It was thought by some people to be the religious wing of the NPC. However, some of the activities of the JNI were not acceptable to other Muslims, especially those who did not belong to the NPC.

Religious Crises after the Civil War (1970-1975): The first five years after the civil war were declared the period of reconciliation, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. Despite the attempted reconciliation, the religious face of the civil war persisted even after the war had ended. It continued in the form of a religious cold war.

The Sharia Crisis (1976-1979):

The Sharia issue is as old as Islam in Nigeria. It was the aim of Usman dan Fodio to implement it in the northern emirates in order to reform what was perceived as the lax practice of Islam among the rulers. Matthew Kukah supported this view when he wrote: “The basis of the Jihad of Usman dan fodio was the establishment of an Islam State based on the Sharia” (Kukah: Religion, Politics and Power …p115).

While the Constituent assembly was debating the issue, Muslims outside sought to enforce their argument by engaging in threats and riots to support the idea that if the Sharia was not accepted they were going to make the country ungovernable. The Muslim Students Society (MSS) for example demonstrated at Ahmadu Bello University, pleading with the assembly men to “stop opposition to Sharia or take full responsibility for putting the entire nation in chaos”. In April 1979, protesters took to the streets in Zaria and  Kaduna with  such banners as: No Sharia, No peace, No Sharia, No Constitution, No Sharia, No Muslim, No Nigeria, etc. (Sylvanus Udiodem, “Religion in the Political Life of Nigeria, in F. U. Okafor Ed. P162). From what has been said so far about the Sharia issue, two conclusions could be reached namely: That the Sharia debate has both religious and political implications. On the religious grounds, it sought for the establishment of an Islam State, where an ideal Islamic religion could be practiced. On political grounds, the defenders and the opposers used the debate to gain a political followers either as the defenders of Islam or the protectors of Christianity from Islam domination.

That the Sharia issue is major source of conflict in the Nigerian body polity is incontestable. It was this Sharia debate that set the stage for the prevalent religio-political conditions that existed at the times that Alhaji Shehu Shagari became the president during the Second Republic (1979-1983).

The Shagari Regime Religious Crises (1979-1983)

Although the Sharia provisions were not included in the 1979 Constitution in exactly the same way the Muslims demanded, they at least saw the election and swearing-in of President Shehu Shagari as Allah’s will for Nigeria. With Shagari, a Sokoto prince and a Muslim the Northern Muslim the Northern Muslims felt that the stage was set for the achievement of the will of Allah: effective Islamization of the country.

Kano Riot (18-29 December 1980) Because of its bloody nature and level of destruction, has come to be referred to as the first religious and bloody riot in contemporary Nigeria. However, according to the report of the Tribunal of Enquiry set up after the 1980 riot, prior to the outbreak in Kano, there had been over thirty violent incidents of religious riots in the northern states. But these were nothing compared to the December 1980 event.

When in 1980 Maitatsine resurfaced in Kano, it was certain that he had come, if not for a revenge, at least to wage a war of purification of Islam.

Burning of Churches in Kano (October 1982) The burning of Christian churches in October 1982 is an example of an inter-religious crisis in Nigeria. This was the first open and violent religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. The action of the Muslims was probably fuelled by the laying of the foundation for a Christian Church near a mosque in Kano. As noted by Matthew Kukah, “although there was  no evidence of hostility visibly shown by the visit of the archbishop of the Catholic Church to Kano, it was not accidental that the site where he laid the foundation stone for the building of the new Church became the scene of the violence that erupted in Kano six months after the visit. The violence was targeted at Christ Church in Fagge, Kano Metropolis”.

The Buhari Regime Religious Crises (1983-1985). The regime which overthrew the Shagari-led civilian administration did not do much to allay the fear of non-Muslims, especially given the peculiar nature of its composition and policies. Most of the members of the Supreme Military council were either northern Muslims or Muslims from the south. This structure made Christians very uncomfortable. It was not only Christians that the regime offended. If anything the Buhari regime incurred, is the anger of almost all groups in the country. For example, by drastically reducing the number of intending pilgrims across religious lines, Buhari made himself unpopular even among Muslims. The religious riots that occurred during this period were for the most part of political in nature.

The Organisation of Islamic conference (OIC) Crisis (1986)

During the Babangida regime, information filtered out to the public that Nigeria had sought admission into the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). This raised a lot of anxiety among Christians who now believed that the federal government was systematically engaged in the process of Islamizing the country. A bitter controversy erupted between Christians and Muslims. The Christians based their argument on the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, which upholds the secular state of the nation. They argued that since Nigeria is a secular state it could not and should not belong to such an organization. All Christians were unanimous in asking for the withdrawal of the country from membership of such an organization.

The Muslims, on their part, argued that just as it is accepted for Nigeria to maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican, there was nothing wrong in it being of an organization that was essentially at cultural body with many economic advantages for the country.

Ahmadu Bello University Religious Crisis (June 1988)

In June 1988, during the Student’s Union election in Ahmadu Bello University, violence erupted when it turned out that a Christian candidate would win the elections. Prior to the elections, one of the campaign slogans popularly used by the Christian candidate, one Mr. Stephen, was ‘A vote for Steve is a vote for Christ’. The implication of such a slogan was that the campaign for votes in the Student Union elections was being done on the basis of religion.

In January 1990, Christian in four northern towns protested against the marginalization of Christians in the country. Protesters carried placards with inscriptions such as: “We reject OIC”, “Islamization of the country is totally rejected”. “we are ready to buy our rights with our  blood”. Christians were now determined either to fight for their rights or defend themselves whenever they were abused and attacked. Such preparedness was acted out in what came to be known as the Bauchi Riot.

Kano Riot (1991)

The Kano religious riot, 1991, was a case of an inter-religious conflict. A group of Muslim youths attacked people in Sabongari and the Fagge area of the metropolis. The attack was a protest against the religious crusade organized by the state chapter of CAN with a German Christian preacher, Reinhard Bonke, in attendance.

What offended the Muslim youths most were what they termed as anti-Muslim policy in the state. Earlier in the year, they had asked for permission to invite a Muslim fundamental preacher to Kano but the government refused. When therefore permission was granted to Christians to invite the preacher from Germany, they interrupted it as anti-Muslim policy.

Obasanjo regime 1999-2004

In January 2000, the Governor of Zamfara state Ahmed Yerima introduced the Sharia legal System in his state. Since then, several Northern States have followed suit. This had led to several riots and destruction of lives and property both in the North and in other parts of the country.


BOKO HARAM – This is the worst set of agents of the devil in the recent time that through their activities thousands of lives had been wasted, properties worth billions of Naira had been destroyed; for the first time in the history of Nigeria. We have the experience of suicide bombers both male and female. In the activities of this group, we have noticed with clear evidence the collaboration of the armed forces and the politician to bring down the government. I wonder when and how the North-East and all the states where the Boko Haram insurgence had operated will get out of the devastating and frustrating situation. It has drastically affected the  two religions and the government. More than Two hundred girls of Chibok are still castrated by this group. Definitely, this is the worst experience Nigeria ever had on the activities of religious fanatics. Yet the end to all these is not in sight.

Measures of help Curb Religious/Ethnic Violence

Sanctions Against Violent Religious Fanaticism and Extremism

So far the government has taken little or no steps to curb the menace of religious violence. Panels have been set up to investigate the immediate and remote causes of religious violence. In most cases the issues ended with the committee’s or panel’s submission of the report. Without any assurance that perpetrators would no longer operate with impunity could have been a sufficient incentive to curb violent religious fanaticism, but no such assurance were given, and even where they were given, they were violated with impunity.


Notably, religious intolerance and inter-religious conflicts have continued to threaten the  peace, unity and stability of our nation. More so, politicians now exploit these religious differences as well as ethnic division for selfish ends. No wonder Ilaogu (1974:VIII) argued that religion that took no account of people’s way of life would only destroy the man’s soul.

Inter-religious conflicts have strained relationship between the Moslem dominated Hausa/Fulani of Northern Nigeria and the Christian  dominated Southern Nigeria. Religious conflicts have escalated ethnic rivalry in Nigeria. The fact is that religious conflicts have increased ethnic consciousness among Nigerians and hence to sort explanation from such dimension and even fight them out in line of ethnicity. Religious violence has brought mutual and persistent suspicions between the two dominate religions.

The Southerners living in the Northern part of the country are no longer safe like the Northern in the South. Religious differences have varying problems ranging from problems of recruitment in job of non-indigenes especially of different religions using the inter-denominational analysis of religion as basis for socio-cultural rivalry in Nigeria. Amucheazi (1980:22) observed that road construction; school project; electricity water; maternity homes and other projects were either frustrated by religious conflicts or sited in wrong places where utilities are near zero. The prevalence of religious conflicts sets in frustration and feeling of deprivation. These conflicts further breed enmity and hatred among adherents of the two dominant religions-Muslims and Christians.

Economic Consequences of Inter- Religious Conflicts

The importance of human resources to the economic development of a country cannot be over emphasized. Since 1960 so many people have lost their lives to religious conflicts, properties worth billions destroyed, trade stifled and banks closed down in Nigeria.

In fact, the loss to these conflicts cannot be calculated accurately. In agreement with our theory, the powerful religious elites use to achieve their economic safety and resort to conflict by appeal to religious sentiments when it suits them. So, they seek religions sentiment in order to deceive the public hence Marx rightly observed that religion is the opium of the masses, where man once again losses himself. Religious conflicts and intolerance retards economic progress, hampers economic activities and consequently breeds trading and other commercial activities. It claims the lives of able bodied men and women who would have engaged in productive ventures and contribute to the economic development of Nigeria. The cost of rehabilitating and reconstructing destroyed buildings after each religious conflict in Nigeria is so high and could be channeled to more useful direction for further development of our productive forces in Nigeria.

Largely these conflicts persist because some religious elites utilize these violent opportunities to enrich themselves. Sometimes, these religious elites appeal to adherents of the same religion outside the country therefore, giving room for infiltration of illegal arms into the country. Hence, Nigerian economy continues to be integrated in a subordinate manner to the global system. The elites under the cloak of religion connive with foreign capitalists who are interested in exploitation to foment religious troubles to subsist their exploitative motives. Thus, religious conflicts have become mean through which few alienated segment of the ruling class assent their economic power thus primitive accumulation by deals on arms.


No doubt Nigerian political system is seriously over-hearted with religious conflicts. One can even argue that Nigeria is threatened with disintegration. This becomes more intense as each of the two dominant religions in Nigeria (Muslim and Christianity) tries to control government activities or to shape activities of government following the tenets of her religion. The question now becomes. Is he a Muslim or Christian President, Minister, Governor or even Local Government chairman? The consequent abuse of human rights following these religious conflicts cannot go unnoticed. Such rights as freedom of speech, life, association, religion and movement are no longer observed.

In the face of political instability following these conflicts Southern (Christians) no longer settle in the Northern (Muslim) Nigeria for fear of lost of life and property and vice versa. Remarkably, Baum (1975:15) summed it up and argued that had religion promotes structures of domination in human history while Nwachukwu (2001:212), further buttressing this point noted that:

Policies are carried by emotional sentiments rooted in ethnicity or religion, Politics in Nigeria is characterized by religious cleavages. The education religious and political elites (class) prey upon the masses and use them as satellite to achieve their socio-political and economic objectives. This is done through orientation, indoctrination or violence using the masses on the already conceived stereotypes against their political and religious opponents. Right from formation of political parties to campaign processes and voting patterns, all tend towards religious affiliations and tribalism. As a result, politics in Nigeria is associated with violence and lack of accommodation. Thus religious conflicts have chartered the routine of political process in Nigeria.


Religious Inadequate in-depth understanding of both Christianity and Islam within and without these two religions lack of knowledge and information on a popular level, particularly in local languages, of the scriptural-based condemnation of violence and terrorism in both Christianity and Islam Statements and actions of a number of religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, which could be understood as condoning or encouraging violence tensions arising from well-funded and organized foreign Christian missionary activity, and well-funded and organized foreign Muslim missionary activity. The actions and influence of Boko Haram and Takfiris, and the ideological influences upon the genesis of Boko Haram. Renege killings by some Christians for the deaths caused by Boko Haram. The actions and influence of gangs of Muslim youths carrying out organized killings of innocent Christians. The actions and influence of gangs of Christian youths carrying out organized killings of innocent Muslims. The geographic polarization of Muslims and Christians along an imaginary North-South ‘fault line’ in the middle of the country, aggravated by demographic shifts and refuge movements in the period since independence. Further geographic residential areas (and  in some cases local markets) and Muslim areas are now segregated. Ineffective co-operation within NIREC (Nigerian Inter-religious Council relative to two years ago) Political Rampant corruption at every level among politicians. The long term and residual effect of the different ways that different parts of the country were administered during the colonial period particularly between the North and the South. Tensions between the prospective roles of the Federal Government and State government. Problems arising from President Goodluck Jonathan continuing as President during the Northern unofficial ‘quota’ of office after the premature death of President Umaru, and the disputed question as to whether he is constitutionally allowed to seek a further term in elections in 2015. Tensions created by the statements and actions of political leaders pandering to religious sentiment. Geographical and political interactions between Nigeria and neighbouring countries such as Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The lack of ability or willingness on the part of government to consistently acknowledge all incidences of violence and to assist all victims. The lack of ability to willingly follow up or and carry out recommendations made by government appointed commissions which have investigated communal crises . tension and competition between the  traditional tribal and ethnic leaderships and governmental and local leaderships and structures. Government and police neglect of violence and crime leading to a pervasive sense of insecurity. Lack of timely response by government forces (police and military to distress calls during times of violent conflicts. The roles of some external powers and intelligence agencies within Nigeria. Seems not to suggest that the end of conflicts is in sight.


Dialogue: To curb religious violence, the religious bodies will have to engage themselves and should enter into dialogue with each other in order to understand themselves and develop mutual respect, tolerance and harmony and co-operation that will lead to peaceful coexistence.

Membership Education. The religions have to inculcate in their members high ethical standards, respect for human life and dignity through social services. Educating and enlightening our children and adherents to be more loving and tolerant of other people and  other religions is a duty religious leader have to perform.

Equality in the Distribution of resources: All religions in the country should be given equal access to the media. No religion should be denied the opportunity to publicize its activities. Similarly, government assistance to religious bodies should be extended to all religions in the country, which have similar needs.

Avoidance of Inflammatory Statement against any religion: One thing the leaders of various religious sensitivities of Nigerians and sow weeds of discord between Muslims and Christians. It is well known that some utterances are capable of inflaming passions which, of course, can develop into intolerance and eventually end up in riots. If the leaders will avoid foul language, it will encourage other members of their religion to follow suit. This will in turn promote good neighbourliness and strengthen the unity of Nigeria.

The Rule of Government: It is important for the government of the Federation to act timely when there is religious crisis in any part of the federation. The untimely intervention of government in the past cases of religions violence has cost many lives and materials worth billions of naira. In the event of religious violence, the security agents in the country should act fast and decisively. Delay is absolutely dangerous. It is equally important that security and combat forces should be adequately train and equipment to be able to fight insurgencies.

Impartial Handling of religious conflicts and Attitude toward Non-Muslim Nigerians: One way religious violence can be reduced or eliminated in Nigeria  is for persons in positions of political and religious power not to be partial in handling any religious conflict that may occur in future. For, it has been correctly stated … the increasing state of religious conflicts in the country is not so much a result of cut-throat competition between Christians and Muslims … but more result of increasing government involvement in and regulation of religious affairs.

Strict adherence to religious Ethics: Religious leaders adhere strictly to their religious ethics. President Obasanjo rightly observed. “Christianity preaches peace and was established by the prince of peace and Islam by name is a religion of peace. Both religions have love as cardinal in their creeds” (News watch March 6, 2000 19). The religious leaders should, therefore, preach and practice the positive things in their religion to make for peace.


Inter-religious conflicts in Nigeria defy resolutions and seem unending because they are intractable conflicts. These conflicts are sustained largely because they serve the economic interest of certain  religious leaders who conceal the economic matrix behind their support for fanatic religious values. Behind these seeming passion and love for religious values and dogma shown by religious leaders lies the domination of religious values  by religious leader’s selfish economic benefits.

This paper recommends that the Nigerian Christian/Muslim beliefs, teachings and dogmas should be reviewed to accommodate Nigeria’s development objectives through a Sovereign National Religious conference co-existence. The Federal Government should also strive to provide the foundation upon which this feeling of domination among Nigerian religious groups. Proper funding of education would also to enable the masses appreciate and identify the voice of a fanatic religious elite who want to advance his economic interest through religious mask at the masses Perils.

Official graft needs to be tackles headlong. A new constitution that defines rights and privileges of citizenship in terms of residency rather than nativism, ancestry and religion needs to be grafted. This new constitution needs to devolve power and resource distribution and development from all-powerful central government to local, will make central political power less attractive and less corrupt and contests over national political offices less contentious. The use of religious and ethnic appeals as tools of political mobilization will become less attractive and fund a diminished reception in a climate of justice, equitable resource distribution and equal opportunities for all.

We cannot divorce national security from natural justice. And natural justice implies equity and fairness. The point here is that national security relates to people and issues, to the economy that is anchored on justice. For this reason, I’m suggesting that the Nations Security operatives should be decentralized so that states could man their own security outfit. There should be a clear demarcation of the limits of the national security guards and that of the states.

A country may have the best armed forces in terms of training and equipment, the most efficient police force, the most effective custom men, most active secret service agents and best quality prison, but yet be the most insecure nation in the world as a result of bad government. This a society with political injustice, economic deprivation, social discrimination, religious or ethnic antagonism, human right violation that are caused by intolerant religionists makes such nation greatly insecure.

It is my prayer that God will use 2015 elections to put the right people in government at every level. This is all that we need to stop Religious conflicts in Nigeria.


Thanks for reading and remain bless.


The Rt. Revd. Dr. J. Akin Atere

The Lord Bishop, Diocese of Awori