Religious tolerance is imperative in modern societies because it allows people with separate faiths, beliefs or values to coexist with one another. Acknowledgment of the validity of other people’s religions requires placing these different religions in their traditional contexts in order to understand them.

Furthermore, understanding the history of other cultures allows one to appreciate how similar experiences led to different conceptual systems. One must realize that people created their belief systems in order to make sense of their worlds. Therefore, every religion is a reflective of the culture and history of its followers.
The search for religious tolerance in the world has become particularly pressing today in promoting peaceful coexistence in a religiously plural society like Nigeria. In Nigeria, religious tolerance as a means for peace is expedient because of the near frequent occurrences of religious strife during the past three decades. Within this understanding, this paper examines religious tolerance as a means for peaceful coexistence in Nigeria. It considers the manifestations and consequences of religious intolerance and the search for religious tolerance as a panacea for peaceful coexistence. Prominent of these recommendations includes public enlightenment and reorientation of the citizens on religious tolerance.

Christianity, African traditional religion and Islam are the 3 existent religions in Nigeria. Christianity and Islam are the two dominant  with unverifiable 87 million Christians and 90 million Muslims.

While religious violence in Nigeria has been linked to intolerance and extremism, the portrayal of incidents by the media also aggravates religious violence.
According to research by Accord between 1999 and 2012, Nigeria has experienced over 30 religious-based incidents of violence with the most attacks recorded in the northeast, northwest, and north central region of Nigeria.
From January 2021 to December 2022, there were 360 deaths in churches with a total of 71 attacks, 56 deaths and 14 attacks on mosques.

Nigeria has designed a number of policies and measures to curb religious violence, one such is the political application of the principle of power-sharing between the south and the north, Muslims and Christians, the promotion of interfaith cooperation and dialogue through the establishment of Nigeria’s inter-religious council in 2000, prohibition of registration of banks with religious appellations, the exclusion of religion as an index in the design, conduct, and reporting of national population census, non-registration of political parties with ethnic or religious colourations and the establishment of the federal character commission to prevent the predominance of one religious group in all government institutions.

Dr. Philip Olayoku, the coordinator of the West African Transitional Justice Center (WATJCenter) pointed out that this government and its policies are doing little to nothing to actually curb religious violence in the country, he stated that the issue of religion has been mixed with politics, citing the example of the candidates of the just concluded   2023 presidential election and the uproar on the Muslim-muslim ticket. According to Dr. Philip, the actions of the government towards such matters might degenerate into religious violence as religious violence also emerges from sentiments being mobilised in the system.


There is no gainsaying about the fact that the problem of religious disturbances in Nigeria has devastating effects on the stability order. The destruction which religious violence has caused to Nigeria cannot be quantified. The frequent clashes which erupted as a result of this had inflicted untold hardship on both the individuals, in term of loss of lives and property and on the Government in terms of occasional provisions of relief materials for the victims of religious disturbances. Though, there are many consequences of religious violence, but the most obvious consequence has been loss of lives and property. Innocent citizens are in most cases the victims of violence. Religious violence has the potential of resulting into large-scale physical displacement and forced relocation of individuals, families and groups. The spate of this violence in the last three decades has certainly resulted in varying degrees of internally displaced persons (Jibrin 1989: 65-82; Egwu 2001: 30-33).

Apart from undermining the stability order, religious violence tends to dent the image of the country in the international community. The frequent eruption of religious uprisings has forced some countries to issue travel warning advising their citizens not to travel to Nigeria because of religious tension that could erupt quickly and without warning. For instance, in December year 2003, the American State Department citing alleged resurgence of violence crises, warned its citizens of the dangers of traveling to Nigeria (Abubakar 2003: 6; Sulaiman & Ojo 2013: 21-38).

Also in December year 2004, the Government of United States and Britain re-issued travel advice to their citizens traveling to Nigeria. The advisory noted among other things that ‘ religious tension between some Muslim and Christian communities results in occasional acts of isolated communal violence that could erupt quickly and without warning… ‘ (Egua & Makinde 2004: 6; Avalos 2005: 32). It is a truism that this kind of warning does not augur well for stability order in the country, hence, the need for religious peace. It also causes psychological trauma to those who witnessed the killing of their relatives, and burning of their properties. And it increases the unemployment level when most of the small-scale industries that employ young and able youths are lost to religious violence.

In other words, religion has being a factor in national development while it has also been manipulated to wrought havoc on the Nigerian populace. Between the year 1980 and the year 1990, Nigeria recorded eight major religious disturbances with heavy human and material losses; many monuments of high and historical value were also destroyed.

Apart from the monumental losses which can be qualified, the crisis further deepened the division which hitherto existed among the various religious adherents. For example the psychological trauma and the sear among the victim of religious disturbances is a recurring decimal. Such persons never live to neither forgive nor forget the persons involved in the circumstances of such carnages.

Economically, Nigeria has lost opportunities of economic recovery owing to suspicions based on religious rivalry. For example, in the year 1984, Nigeria lost an opportunities of an interest free loan from Saudi Arabia which agreed to lend Nigeria a substantial part of the 2.5 billion Naira loan, she was negotiating with the I.M.F. The rumour then was that Nigeria’ s regulation of her membership of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) would make Nigeria an Islamic state (Ojie 2004: 12- 17; Eniola 1990: 24-30). Nigeria lost this golden opportunity even when relatively smaller nation such as Garbon, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Guinea Bisau enjoy comprehensive economic facilities of the OIC and have not become Islamic States in the process of their regular membership.

The incessant nature of violence in the country also has the impact of breeding social miscreant and criminals who by their access to weapons of war (which are usually sophisticated) become terrors to both their immediate community and the larger society. After the crisis, it is always difficult to retrieve such weapons back because most of these people are originally jobless, they often found solace in terrorizing the society. Also, the inability (in most cases) of the security forces to nip in the bud this religious violence before they escalate to the level of wanton destruction and killing expose the quality (in terms of knowledge, readiness, expertise and equipment.


To a large extent one can say that Nigeria of the past boasted of religious flexibility and tolerance for many years. When I was young, I used to be the one that drives a nephew and his family to prayer ground at Ileya festival. One can say that a curious feature of today Nigerian society is religious intolerance, most especially in the Northern and the Middle Belt regions of the country. Religious fanaticism in the Northern part of Nigeria has been hidebound and its spread is unbridled. Religious violence has been unleashed on many innocent citizens of this country, that one wonders if Nigeria is truly a secular country which gives room for religious freedom. There is palpable apprehension among the citizens due to the Boko Haram insurgencies in the different parts of the Northern region. For over two years or more, cities like Maiduguri, Bauchi, Damaturu and Gombe have being bedeviled with fear due to the Boko Haram insurgencies.

Religious intolerance usually originates from the perceived superiority of one religion over the others. In simple terms, religious intolerance or fanaticism is the inability of an adherent of a particular religion to acknowledge, accommodate and accept the right of others to live by another faith different from his own. Invariably, such attitude is connected to the conviction that one’s religion is the only divinely ordained path to spiritual enlightenment and morality in heaven. Consequently, a religious fanatic believes strongly that his religion is unquestionably superior to other religions. It is good to point out that being zealous for one’s religion is commendable and is to be expected, but where such zeal is wrongly channeled, it becomes dangerous for the life of the community and it is an abuse of human rights.

Nigeria, like many other countries, is a secular country going by her Constitution. A quick look at the 1999 Amended Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shows that in Section 38 (1) and also Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right, state that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” Furthermore, Section 10 of the same Constitution states: “the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State religion.” It therefore bears restating that the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and no one should be victimized for their beliefs. The multiple religions in the country give every citizen the right opportunity to choose which faith is convenient. Therefore, freedom of faith must be defended at all cost, even when those in authority are not convenient with it.

Religious intolerance poses a great threat to human rights. Human rights apply to all irrespective of colour, gender, sex, religion, health status, dress, socio-economic status, etc. This threat is not simply because of the specific acts of fundamentalist groups which may be recognised as concrete violations of human rights standards; the real threat comes from the political aims or the political project that is at the heart of fundamentalisms, which is essentially to transform the way identities are ascribed and negotiated. The pattern of voting at just concluded election testify to this, where many voted along religious line. The human rights question is about us having rights as human beings. The fundamentalists’ claim is very different: it is about ascribing humanity on the basis of a certain religious claim which has to be legitimated by certain authorities, and which in turn lays down a whole set of other obligations and subject relationships with self and others to a certain kind of regime.

Right to religious freedom is based on the inherent dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). In the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it is explicitly affirmed that the recognition of the dignity and the rights of the human person is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace, and that disregard and contempt for them are acts of barbarousness that offend the conscience of humankind. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Dignitatis Humanae,( the Declaration on Religious Liberty), teach that the right of the individual and of communities to social and civil freedom in religious matters carries with it the right “to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits”.

Today, most of the world’s major conflicts are as a result of religious intolerance that has been left to fester into uncontrollable spiral of violence. We must restate again that religious belief is fundamental to many human identities. It is part of the ways in which human beings experience the world around them. Hence all have the right to enjoy freedom to choose which religion that one is convenient with.

So, it becomes unbearably worrisome and saddening whenever incidents like this happen, and some people are always quick to jump into conclusion that a particular set of people and their religion are scheming to eradicate or wage war against believers of other faiths or religions. We have come a long way together and it will be a big shame if mutual suspicion is the order of the day amongst us at this time and age.

In a country with over 200 million people, it is natural to be experiencing conflicts of interests once in a while; but, that does not mean that we should now forget the positive aspects of our togetherness and set the country on fire for the acts committed by a few. If you take a closer look at the situation, you will observe that the tendencies to committing such heinous act(s) in the guise of protecting one`s religious beliefs and inclinations are mostly dependent on the environment and the level of tolerance of the people involved.

In an environment where the attributes of “fanaticism” and “extremism” are prevalence, the tendencies for such incident to occur will be very high than in other areas where those attributes are very low or non-existent. Interestingly, such people are not restricted to a particular religion or ethnic group; but, they cut across all stratifications. Thus, there are instances where some Christians and Muslims see and treat their fellow Christians and Muslims as “sinners” and “infidels” respectively. So, the issue of intolerance is not always a case of Muslims against Christians and others, or Christians against Muslims and others; but, instances abounds where they are Muslims against fellow Muslims and, Christians against fellow Christians.

From whichever angle or perspective we tend to look at it, one of the major factor that has contributed to religious intolerance or acts of fanaticism and extremism in our societies is derived from the “unguarded” and “twisted” “gospels”, “hadiths” and “messages” from the pulpits, alters and shrines of many of our today’s pastors, imams and other religious leaders. Some inciting messages are recorded in audio and video CDs; others are written in books and pamphlets or tracts which are used to indoctrinate people into seeing one belief or the other as more authentic or superior to the others. As such, these people who could do “anything” to protect and propagate their own religion are made to see other beliefs or modes or worship as forbidden.

Another major factor that could be responsible for the occurrence of such unfortunate incidents is the misinterpretation of the provision of Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution which states that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”; to mean that everyone have the right to say whatever they like under the sky without repercussions. So, in the cause of exercising their freedom of expression, such people make remarks that sometimes disparage or demean other people`s beliefs and religions. The people in this category are quick to forget that Section 45 of the same Constitution also made it clear that “nothing in Sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of the Constitution shall invalidates any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –

(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or  provoke those that does not have the spirit of tolerance (across all the religious beliefs) to taking irrational action(s).

From the foregoing, there is no gainsaying the fact that religious intolerance is a plague that we should all join hands together to eradicate from our societies to forestalling such heinous incident that happened in Sokoto. This is very important because, even if justice is eventually served against the perpetrators for taking laws into their hands; the life or lives that have been lost will be irreparable.

Having synthesized the implications of religious violence for stability order in Nigeria, it is necessary to make some recommendations which the following antidotes are, therefore, expected to go a long way in combating the phenomenon. The Constitution must be strengthened and respected. This include the respect for the rule of law, respect for the fundamental human rights, independence of the judiciary and respect to all democratic norms and values. There should be running of Government affairs in a positive and progressive manner that will be beneficial to the Governed by following due process and the rule of law.

The issue of faith is the concern of every individual. Thus, man has the choice and freedom to follow whichever religion he or she thinks he can find solace and tranquility in (Bashir 2002: 27- 29; Sulaiman 2014c: 368-387). So also must every person be free to invite others to consider his or her religion of choice without any harassment whatsoever. In doing this, the principles enumerated by different religions on how to invite people to the way of God should be employed. Invitation of another person to one religion should not be done in an aggressive manner. The invitation should be done with wisdom and discretion, meeting people on their own ground and convincing them with illustrations from their own knowledge and experience, which may be very narrow, or very wide. The use of social and economic diplomacy can also be employed to win souls into one’s religious belief.

Also, to avert religious violence, the Nigerian Government should, at the Federal, State and Local Levels, adopt an open and uncompromising neutral attitude towards religious groups in the country. By this, it means that anyone in the position of power in a multi-religious country should not allow his religious inclination to override common interests. Nigerians should be treated equally and be given equal rights and privileges irrespective of their religious background.

Relatedly, religious leaders should preach the genuine teaching of their respective religion about peace to their followers. All religions could promote peaceful and harmonious co-existence among people if only their teeming followers are informed of the erroneous consideration of anyone outside their faith as an antagonist. Biblical and Qur’anic injunctions are germane for promoting love and religious peace in contemporary Nigeria.

In addition, the Nigerian press can play a big role towards averting religious violence and promoting national peace and stability order. The objectivity of the press in reporting religious matters, will promote religious harmony and peaceful co-existence. It is expected that the mass media practitioners should always imbibe the ethics of professional journalism whenever they are reporting or making news analysis and features.

Furthermore, at the levels of education in Nigeria, Students and their Lecturers should constantly reflect on the value of religious tolerance in a mixed community of religious believers. In all tertiary institutions; symposia, lectures and conferences should be frequently organized on this topic (Lederach 1995:43; Ekwenife 1993: 10-16). Experts on dialogue with different religions should be invited to present leading papers that will promote meaningful dialogue. Enlightenment campaigns should also be organized for the members of the public on religious peace.

The need for inter-religious dialogue in a religiously pluralistic state like Nigeria is equally expedient. The aim of dialogue should not be to obliterate the identity of a participating religious group. Rather its objective should be to discuss the various aspects of the problem that pose as threat to the peaceful co-existence between different religious groups. The promotion of inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria, will therefore contribute a great deal in averting religious violence.

In another development, all religious bodies should work hand in glove to identify the fundamental aspects of religion in relation to the complex national and international issues (Balogun1988: 23- 30; Sulaiman 2014b: 106 -120). For instance, what does religion say about corruption; child abuse, secret cultism, terrorism and poverty to mention but a few. They should come together to fuse their knowledge and fight these social problems in unison rather than broad generalizations and more sentimental statements of concern from different religious bodies.

The problem of religious violence can also be tackled through poverty alleviation programmes. In this respect, it is imperative that the economy should be empowered to take care of the unemployed and a poverty-ridden populace. Besides, Government should pursue democratic governance that respects individual and group rights while shifting emphasis from distribution to innovative and productive politics.

Furthermore, there is the need for the development of an early warning system for raising alarm on the imminent eruption of religious uprising. Such warning system will enable the law enforcement agents to intervene promptly in religious tension before it escalates into violent out- burst. The pluralism on religious matters and ethnicity call for sincerity when relating with people of different faiths, we must be truly tolerant of each other especially where the practice of religion proves divisive. Since all religions preach peace and love and since we are children of one God; all efforts must be geared towards unity. Any country that is divided by religious conflicts finds it hard to recover. Christian and Muslim preachers must carefully guard their utterances so as not to wound people’s sensibilities.

Finally, the curriculum of religious studies in the Nigerian Educational System should be wholly reviewed. Basic tenets that are characteristic of the three major religions should be more emphasized through realistic comparative studies, which should be made compulsory in all schools. Through this, the youths shall be opportune to know more about themselves not only in the set-up of their Christian or Muslim or organization but have their religious understanding sharpened and refined.

It will also be in the interest of peaceful co-existence if we should all start restraining ourselves from doing anything that could be seen or taken as denigrating other people`s religion; and, which are capable of degenerating into unfortunate situations.
The governments at all level should put machineries in place towards ensuring that all identified factors that could lead to religious intolerance are tackled comprehensively. Any such message(s) of incitements or abuse by anyone against any religion should be viewed seriously and be met with appropriate punishments; and, anyone or group of people that take laws into their hands as a result of intolerance should also be made to face the full wrath of the law.

Those of us that are “soldiers” and “defenders” of our respective religion should know that the laws of the country does not permit anyone to deprive another of his life. We should not hide under any claim that the PUNISHMENT for BLASPHEMING or any such religious abuse is DEATH. There is no such provision in the Constitution or any known statutory law of our country. If anyone kills under the guise of fulfilling the penalty prescribed by the doctrines of any religion whatsoever; that person would be running foul of the provision of Section 33 (1) of the Constitution as earlier stated above; and, such person would be made to face the consequences.

All major religious organizations and associations should also ensure that they regularly interface with one another regardless of their religious affiliations to work out ways of eradicating “religious intolerance” and promoting peaceful and harmonious co-existence amongst their followers. A situation, where they wait for unfortunate incidents like this to happen before trading blames and expressing disaffections will not help matters.

For those of us who are also feeling cheated for always tolerating and remaining calm in the face of such abuses against our religion; I want to assure you that being civil and decorous in the handling of religious matters is not in any way an act of cowardice, foolishness or weakness; it is what is expected to be done under every sane society. Engaging in retaliatory actions or becoming intolerant to one another will never be the solutions to the wrongdoings. As the popular saying goes, “two wrongs don`t make a right”.

In conclusion, my advice to all and sundry is that, in any circumstances or side of the divide we find ourselves; we should always try as much as possible to ensure that we do not do anything to abuse or demean other people`s religious beliefs; and, if peradventure we feel that ours has been abused; the best thing to do is to report to the appropriate authorities and allow the law to take its course.
We must all come together, join hands together and, fight “Religious Intolerance” together; because, we are all about to be consumed by it.

On how to curb religious intolerance in the country, We suggests that ethnic identity and religious identity should be segregated as a way to curb religious violence, holding that Nigerians are often identified by their religions and ethnicity first before identifying as a national of Nigeria. Citizenship should be imposed as the first form of identification before ethnic and religious identity comes to play.