Nigeria’s Religious and Cultural Conflict

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Nigeria’s Religious and Cultural Conflict



Ethnic conflict has scared Nigeria dating back to the slave trade and is still apparent today. The clash between Muslims and Christians throughout the Nigerian state has brought about concern on how stable a nation Nigeria is. Recently, the country of 126 million has seen a dramatic increase in violence. Since the election of Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, there has been over 10,000 Nigerians killed due to ethnic, religious, or political violence. This constant conflict is slowly deteriorating the Nigerian state. Its impact is seen not only through the eyes of innocent youths and defenseless women, but also in the political and economic structure of the nation. This paper looks at the conflict in Nigeria between the Muslims and Christians and its impact on Nigerian culture.

Nigeria is one of the largest nations on the African continent. It is comprised of 400 different ethnic groups each having its own specific language, social customs, and beliefs. To understand the conflicts Nigeria faces on must first look at its demographic make up. The state can be divided into two zones the northern savannah zone and the southern forest zone. Separating the northern state from the southern state is both the Niger and Benue rivers. This area is often referred to as the Middle Belt and is where many Muslims and Christian conflicts take place.

The northern state of Nigeria is dominated by three ethnic groups. The first, the Kanuri, are found in the northeastern corner around Lake Chad. The second group, the Hausa, the dominant group north of the Niger is found west of the Kanuri. The third ethnic group the Fulani are scattered throughout all of northern Nigeria (Adediran 10)1. All three tribes share the same religious faith, that of Islam. In a book titled Nigerian History and Culture edited by Richard Olaniyan, author Biodun Adediran describes the beginnings of these ethnic groups through legends passed orally from generation to generation. “These legends can be classified into two. In the first category are traditions woven around culture heroes who migrated at the head of groups of people from somewhere outside the area covered by present-day Nigeria; Arabia and the north-eastern part of Africa have always been pointed out as likely sources of these migrations…the second category of traditions of origins of Nigerian peoples are those which do not remember a time when the area now occupied by any of the ethnic groups was entirely [unpopulated]. These latter traditions refer to autochthonous inhabitants whose traditions and cultures are continuous with those of the various peoples who now inhabit Nigeria.” (10) Both classifications provide starting evidence to the spread of the Islamic faith through northern Nigeria. The first classification describes war heroes traveling the Sahara to Nigeria and with them bringing there Islamic faith, whereas the latter classification assumes a similarity between the Islamic faith and the already present Nigerian culture in the northern area. Further evidence has concluded that Merchants traveling along caravan trade routes openly preached their religion, and “as the merchants passed along the trade routes, settlements were formed in which some of the foreign traders and craftsmen remained with their indigenous customers, inter-married with them and formed separate communities” (241). The natives were attracted to Islam due to the religious devotion displayed by the merchants, and its supernatural healing power.

Unlike Islam, the spread of Christianity took many more years. Christianity is most apparent in southern Nigeria, an area dominated by many different ethnic groups, for example, the Ibibio Efik, Igbo, and Yoruba. In the 1400’s when the slave trade was starting to expand, Portuguese merchants arrived in Nigeria and traded brass and copper for Nigerian prisoners who were taken captive when neighboring tribes...
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