Not only has it abdicated its responsibility for social provisioning, the state has also largely withdrawn its commitment to promoting equitable social and economic development in the country. Given that nature abhors a vacuum, religious organisations were quick to seize the opportunity of occupying the terrain and using their nexus for social provisioning as an instrument for the control of the social and theological spaces.


(1) High Level of Religiosity

Nigeria has one of the highest levels of religiosity in the contemporary world. This means that the religious arena is characterised by high levels of activism, including the multiplication of religious authorities, texts, discourses and identities. The key marker of high religiosity is the visible growth in the intensity of belief and in the expansion of time, resources and efforts devoted to religious activities and practice. In other words, Nigeria is consumed by an extraordinary expenditure of energy in religious activism.

(2) High Level of Irreligiosity

The paradox is that notwithstanding thesis one, Nigerians are among the least religious people in the contemporary world. While claiming to be Christians and Muslims, Nigerians show very minimal adherence to the beliefs and core values of the two religions, such as love, compassion, honesty, moral uprightness and peace. The consequence is a high level of theft of public and private property by apparently “religious” people. There is massive immorality, debauchery, sex outside wedlock, homosexuality and other activities that genuine Christians and Muslims, who believe in the core values of their religions, avoid. There is too little religion in the lives of Nigerians and social life is characterised by drug and alcohol abuse, rape and other forms of anti-religious behaviour.

(3) Open Access To the Religious Space

The Nigerian religious space is open to a wide range of actors who have multiple motivations and objectives. Spirituality is used, or rather abused to achieve banal and materialistic objectives, such as becoming wealthy, winning elections or getting more sexual partners.

(4) Religion as the Main Source of Material Accumulation

The consequence of open access is that Nigeria’s religious arena has become the most profitable sector for young, articulate and upwardly mobile Nigerians who want to become rich and live lives of opulence. Religion has replaced commerce, banking, industry and agriculture as the most efficacious route to the primitive accumulation of capital.

(5) Massive Growth of Popular Religion

Popular religious movements have made massive inroads into the religious space. About 30-35 per cent of Christians have left orthodox churches for Pentecostal ones and about the same proportion have left Sufi Islam for Salafi Islam. Both Pentecostalism and Salafism emphasise the personal, rather than the collective, as the basis for salvation, as such they divide families and communities while promoting individualism as the most important behavioural trait to develop. This is an unprecedented level of religious change rarely encountered by any society.

(6) Crisis of Religious Education

The ongoing religious change has disrupted the normal process of religious education within the family and community, which is traditionally conducted by parents and clergy, with a long tradition in the society. Nigeria’s youth are therefore available to be influenced by new religious actors bringing in new values.

(7) Instrumentalisation of Religious Pluralism and Political Conflict

Muslim and Christian actors in Nigeria are engaged in a constant struggle to control the “theological space”. The development of both has depended on their capacities to convert believers in traditional religions. In the 1931 census, 5O per cent of the population were registered as “pagans”, with the percentage declining to 34 per cent in 1952 and 18.2 per cent in 1963; leaving Islam with 47 per cent and Christianity with 34 per cent of the population. Since then, there have been no census data on religious affiliation but most Nigerians define themselves as either Muslims or Christians. The instrumentalisation of religion takes the form of ecumenical battles to promote Christian or Muslim interests, thereby exacerbating conflict in society. Meanwhile, within each religious grouping, the cold war for dominance between sects, tendencies and denominations is growing.

(8) State Abdication of Social Provisioning

The Nigerian State has moved away from the position it occupied at the period of independence as an organ with primary responsibility for producing the fruits of independence in the form of infrastructure, education, health, potable water and so on. Not only has it abdicated its responsibility for social provisioning, the state has also largely withdrawn its commitment to promoting equitable social and economic development in the country. Given that nature abhors a vacuum, religious organisations were quick to seize the opportunity of occupying the terrain and using their nexus for social provisioning as an instrument for the control of the social and theological spaces. This accounts for much of the success in their growth and dynamism.

Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society and we must work hard to protect our reality. Religious insecurity is insidious and dangerous because it makes people feel threatened, not just in their present lives but also in the hereafter, therefore religious activities by all groups must be respected and protected.


(9) As Values Collapse, Violence Grows

The most direct sign of the strength of religious actors is the recent call by the chief of Army staff for the engagement of the armed forces in spiritual warfare. Violence has become the reward of growing religiosity, characterised by irreligiosity in terms of values and morality. Nigeria has never seen as much violence as we see today. The military is engaged in active operations in most states of the country. Militancy in the Niger Delta has not ended. The Boko Haram insurgency has endured for a decade. Farmer-herder conflicts have emerged as the most dangerous violent conflict facing the country. Rural banditry has made insecurity the reality for every Nigerian.

In spite of Nigeria’s new religions, we must strive to SURVIVE.

I. We Must Accept Our Differences

Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society and we must work hard to protect our reality. Religious insecurity is insidious and dangerous because it makes people feel threatened, not just in their present lives but also in the hereafter, therefore religious activities by all groups must be respected and protected.

II. We Must Separate the Religious from the Profane

New laws and systems have to be developed to separate the religious arena from business and commerce. Those who make money from religion must register their activities as businesses and pay tax. There should be requisite qualifications for those who want to continue along the religious line.

III. Rebuilding State Capacity and Responsibility

As mentioned earlier, given that nature abhors a vacuum, religious organisations were quick to seize the opportunity of occupying the terrain after the state abdicated its responsibility for social provisioning. The role of the state in addressing social and economic development cannot be abdicated and left to religious actors without serious social consequences.

IV. Providing Education and Employment for the Youth

The youth have been the major actors in religious activism and in the various conflicts generated by diverse forms of manipulation of religious sentiments. They have energy and they have time, due to the high rate of unemployment and non-attendance of or drop out from schools. There is no possibility of effectively addressing the problems of religious pluralism and democratic governance without a serious youth policy that puts the nation’s youth in schools and in jobs.

V. Improving the Administration of Justice

Too many Nigerians have lost confidence in the system of the administration of justice. As long as people believe that the police cannot protect them and their property and the courts cannot guarantee justice, then their belief in the state and its agencies reduce and they search for alternative methods of protecting themselves and seeking redress. The state must therefore significantly improve its competence in the performance of basic functions.

VI. Improving Religious Education

While the intensity of the performance of religious rituals has increased significantly over the past few years, the level of ignorance people have of the basic tenets of their own religion and the religions of others remains high. The promotion of religious education aimed at eliminating religious bigotry rooted in ignorance is imperative. The younger generation should be educated in such a way that they can question religious interpretations that encourage hate speech and action towards others.

Religious education must however be accompanied by civic education. Nigerians have to learn or re-learn the duties and responsibilities of citizens and the necessity of respect for others, tolerance and the importance of the promotion of human rights and the rule of law.


VII. Civic Education

Religious education must however be accompanied by civic education. Nigerians have to learn or re-learn the duties and responsibilities of citizens and the necessity of respect for others, tolerance and the importance of the promotion of human rights and the rule of law.

VIII. Promoting Equity

Nigeria has one of the highest levels of inequality in the world. The search for equity is basic to the Nigerian problem. Those in power have too often succumbed to the temptation of preferential treatment for themselves and the groups they belong to. This tendency has been creating anxiety and conspiracy theories. There are too many fears about “hidden agendas” by the powerful people in society who have, or appear to have the intention of restricting or denying the rights of others.

IX. Religious Freedom

The most important objective of the religious policy of the state is to guarantee religious freedom. Section 38 (1) in Chapter four of the Constitution:

“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.”

The problem that usually arises is that this constitutionally entrenched right is often breached in practice. It is therefore imperative that the state makes constant efforts to protect this right.

x. Proselytisation Policy

The Constitution guarantees the right to proselytisation. We note, however, that when such a right is not pursued cautiously, tensions emerge. Inflammatory and provocative speeches and hate speech need to be prevented if we are to promote religious harmony. Nigerians need to consciously promote civility towards each other.

xi. Educational Policy

Nigeria has had a policy of compulsory education for all since 1976 but the policy has not been implemented seriously especially in Northern Nigeria. Educate all our children.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.