Church and State in Nigeria

Christian-Muslim relations in Nigeria have been fraught, and sporadically violent, for decades. The north is predominantly Muslim and the south Christian but, of course, the proportions vary and there are large minorities of one or the other religion in all states.

Since 2000 12 states (out of 36) have adopted Sharia Law and Sharia courts operate in much of the rest of the country. This has been a source of displeasure and anxiety to Christian groups.

The Nigeria Inter Religious Council (NIREC) is was set up after the end of military rule:
[NIREC] organises conferences designed to promote understanding, appreciation of one another and the generation of mutual respect between Christians and Muslims. It is made up of 50 members, 25 from the Christian side and the balance from the side of Muslims. The organisation is co-chaired by two eminent Nigerians: the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, CFR, and the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Dr. John Onaiyekan, CON. (Daily Trust, Abuja)

A recent meeting (June 2008) concluded
"Peace is a process of ensuring and sustaining justice, fairness and equity in the society." It suggested a peace advancement mechanism by calling on governments at all levels, civil society groups and all Nigerians, "particularly the faith-based organisations to build a systematic platform for peace and religious harmony in Nigeria through the promotion of socio-economic justice, transparency and good governance."

It listed corruption, poverty, insecurity, access to basic amenities, collapse of infrastructure, maternal and child mortality and morbidity, food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and blamed "feelings of marginalisation, disregard for the rule of law, poverty, injustice and inequity" as triggers of conflicts. It acknowledged that some "reckless" religious leaders could inflame conflict but asserted that both religions taught peace and the accommodation of diversity.

So far, so good.

However last week the leaders of NIREC visited Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola. After this visit the headlines were about homosexuality. Governor Fashola

charged all religious leaders to rise up and prevent the spread of homosexuality as no law in the country has yet legalised the practice. ... [He] added that homosexuality represents a very disturbing trend globally which should be of concern to Nigerians as a people. (here & here)

Other matters were addressed, and NIREC was praised for reducing the incidence of religious riots. But at the end of the week NIREC leaders issued a communique which
... observed that the increasing rate of homosexuality, lesbianism and incest was disappointing to the image of the country.
"Such practice is illegal and repugnant to the norms of religion, tradition and culture", they stated.
They said that determined efforts should be made by government and religious bodies to check the problems in order to protect the moral well-being of the citizens. (here)

State and religious bodies share an antipathy towards homosexuality that serves both well - it is a route away from inter-communal violence to peace based on the presumption of violence against a common enemy, a weak and marginalised group with no power to fight back.

At the same time there is a widespread presumption that religious and state bodies are intertwined, that state law is subject to divine law, and those elected to high office may say publicly that God has put them there.

Nigeria is a very religious country where neither Christianity nor Islam is dominant. It is country with considerable poverty, corruption and internal problems. It is a recipe for violence that is religion-feulled and religion-channelled.

Friday Mosque, Zaria, Nigeria

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