Karl Marx says, “religion is the opium of the people.” Religion was designed to give hope to the masses, especially the weak and oppressed, who hope they will get their just reward after their sojourn on earth. Over the years, the opposite seems to be the case. Religious conflict is a popular menace that has resulted in millions of dead or displaced persons.
During the middle ages, there was a holy war between the Christians in Europe, particularly England and Italy, and the Turks in present-day Turkey, who were predominantly Moslems. In the 21st century, we have terrorist organisations who are hellbent on exacting terror in the war for their faith. So what do we know about religious conflict?
What is religious conflict?
UIA encyclopedia defines religious conflict as the intolerance of other religions and discrimination against members of other religions, religious war, the intellectual conflict, and conflict between church and state. Such conflicts have caused many lives and properties to perish. As a result, religious apathy or disintegration is on the increase. People increasingly no longer view religion as a symbol of hope but as a cankerworn that needs to be avoided or eradicated.
Religious conflicts in Nigeria
The majority of the Nigerian population either follows Christianity or Islam. These two religions co-existed peacefully until the country’s independence in 1960. Suddenly, there was war between the two religions which also contributed to the deadly Nigerian-Biafran civil war. It didn’t end there. Nigeria continues to be besieged by a religious crisis that has persisted till now. Let’s take a look at some of the deadliest religious crises the country has witnessed:
Igbo massacre of 1966
The Igbo massacre of 1966 was preceded by Nigeria’s first military coup, Igbo military officers led by Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuma Nzeogwu. Following a counter-coup that led to Aguiyi-Ironsi’s death, over 30,000 Igbos were killed in the North. There was already religious tension between the Christian Igbos and indigenous Moslems in the North. This major factor led to the Biafra secession and the resulting civil war.
Maitatsine and the 1980s
The 1980s witnessed an upsurge of religious crisis in Nigeria. It all started with the Islamic uprising led by Maitatsine, dubbed the grandfather of Boko Haram, and his followers, Yan Tatsine, which began in the 1970s that led to thousands of deaths. Following Maitatsine’s death in 1980, tensions between Christianity and Islam increased.
There were cases of crisis between Christians and Muslims in Kafanchan in southern Kaduna State, surprisingly led by a young, educated group of individuals who feared that the nation would not be able to protect their religious group. In addition, two student groups in Nigeria came into contestation, the Fellowship of Christian Students and the Muslim Student Society. The clash between both groups led to the death of 12 people, and several mosques and a church were destroyed.
Reinhard Bonnke Crusade
In 1991, popular German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke organised a Christian crusade in Kano. Crutches and turbans were discarded on the open grounds for the crusades as thousands were converted to Christianity and abandoned Islam. Some Kano Moslem indigenes felt Bonkke had crossed the red line. After several attempts to make the government stop, the crusade failed, and a riot was instigated that led to about 500 to 2000 lives lost and many properties destroyed.
Between 2001 and 2002, Nigeria witnessed some of its deadliest religious conflicts in history. There was the 2001 Jos riots involving Christians and Moslems in Jos, Nigeria, over the appointment of a Muslim politician, Alhaji Muktar Mohammed, as local coordinator of the federal poverty alleviation program. The riot lasted two weeks, from September 7 to September 17, and about 1000 people were killed, with at least 50,000 persons displaced.
In 2002, Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel wrote an article about the Islamic Prophet Mohammed, which sparked a religious crisis in Kaduna that resulted in the death of over 200 people. A Fatwa was also placed on her life, forcing her to flee the country. There was also conflict after the Mohammed cartoons were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The cartoons led to a crisis in Nigeria which claimed about 100 lives when the police and rioters clashed. Reprisal attacks also happened in the South, particularly Onitsha, where 100 people lost their lives.
Boko Haram has been an increasing threat to national security since 2008. The extremist group has been ranked the 4th deadliest terror group in the world and aims to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram conducts terrorist attacks on religious and political groups as well as civilians. Victims are both Muslims and Christians. In addition, an estimated 2.5 million displaced people in the Lake Chad Basin and over 300,000 Nigerian refugees as a result of this conflict.
The terrorist organisation gained global attention when it abducted about 200 Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. Some girls have been rescued five years later, while some remain in the group’s custody. Also, Government Girls Science and Technical College schoolgirls were abducted in 2018. All girls were eventually released except Leah Sharibu, who reportedly refused to denounce her Christian faith. Leah Sharibu remains in Boko Haram’s custody to this day.
The farmers-herdsmen conflict is another crisis that has a religious undertone in Nigeria. In recent times, there has been an increase in such conflicts, particularly in North-Central states like Plateau, Benue, and Kaduna. These states are the food baskets of the nation where most agricultural products are produced and distributed to other states.
However, the region has been bedevilled by insecurity where a faction of the Fulani herdsmen known as bandits have adopted similar terror strategies to Boko Haram, which include targeting Christian leaders, communities, and churches, as well as expelling Christian farmers from their land. Communities have been massacred or displaced. While some victims are Muslims, the majority are Christians.
Causes of religious conflict
- Unemployment: An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
- Lack of education: Where the people are not educated, they can easily be brainwashed into causing religious conflict.
- Poverty: The poverty rate has increased in Nigeria, leading people to vent their frustration by causing mayhem in society. Also, impoverished people are vulnerable to being brainwashed into killing and dying for their faith.
- Lack of security: The security sector is not well organised and equipped to cope with the crisis when they arise.
- Struggle for dominance: When one religious group sees others as inferior or feels threatened by other groups, conflict arises in the quest to reduce the rival’s powers and numbers.
- Politics: Politicians are known for applying the divide and rule strategy by instigating religious crises in the vulnerable masses to grab power.
- Struggle for resources: With the same divide and rule strategy, the elite political class encourages religious crises to have the lion’s share of the nation’s natural resources.
- Ethnicity: We already talked about this in tribalism in Nigeria.
Solutions to religious conflict
- Improvement in education: Education should be made free at the primary and secondary levels as an incentive to encourage children to go to school. When people are educated, they are less vulnerable to brainwashing elements that would make them cause religious crises.
- Create new job opportunities: Government should create jobs or encourage a conducive environment for the private sector to create jobs for the masses. When people are effectively occupied in their various jobs, there will be no time to cause religious conflict.
- Improve security: The security sector should be equipped with crisis management tools. Those heading the security bodies should also be held accountable.
- Government should also establish or encourage bodies for equal rights for all ethnic groups and their religions where constructive dialogue can take place to move the nation forward.
Religious conflict is a problem that should be tackled before another global holy war emerges. People should realise that there’s something called religious tolerance. It’s okay not to believe in one’s religion. But it’s definitely not okay to kill, main, and destroy a person because of their religion.