The Origins of the Current Struggle in Nigeria

The Origins of the Current Struggle in Nigeria

Dr. Moses Ochonu, a Professor of African history at Vanderbilt University, discusses the origins of the current struggle in Nigeria in his article, “The roots of Nigeria’s religious and ethnic conflict” Global Post, March 2014 ( In 1914 Britain determined that it would make administrative and economic sense to have one British colony, rather than two, so they amalgamated what is now Northern and Southern Nigeria. They hoped that the prosperous south could help support the struggling North. What the British failed to consider was the potential of bringing together two religious and ethnically diverse regions, with the south being largely Christian and governed by western and traditional African society and the north being primarily Muslim. This arbitrary colonial unification has resulted in the significant ongoing hostilities that exist in Africa today.

On the political stage, the Christians fear the Muslim domination of politics as the believe Muslim leaders will Islamize national institutions and impose Sharia Law on non-Muslims. On the other hand, Muslims presume that the Christians will “westernize” their country, which will result in moral decline. Adding to this mutual distrust has been the mismanagement of the country’s resources since Nigeria’s independence. The majority of Nigerians, who live in poverty with little optimism for their future, are vulnerable to the influence of religious rhetoric. This has set the stage for the rise of extremist insurgents, such as Boko Haram, who are taking advantage of the political strife by advancing their own radical solutions to Nigeria’s problems.

Dr. Ochanu does not suggest that colonization caused the historical conflict between Christians and Muslims, but in Nigeria it has made it worse. His proposed solution is to develop a new Nigerian constitution that defines the rights and privileges of citizenship in terms of residency not nativism, ancestry and religion. He also concludes that if resources were distributed equally among local constituencies rather then by a powerful central government then the fight for central political power would be less attractive and reduce the conflict.

In the article, “Death, Oil, and Religion: the origins of conflict in Nigeria run deep,” The Conversation, 30 January 2012. ( the author, Daniel Doward, agrees that religion and ethnicity have become the main vehicles for political mobilization in the post-colonial era. He also asserts that unless Nigeria’s political leaders are prepared to address the problems of inequality and develop a more socially equitable distribution of revenue than the poor and unemployed will be susceptible to any leader, even an extremist one, who delivers a message of hope. In the past year, Boko Haram’s bid to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic state is becoming more violent and widespread. They are attacking any political or social activity associated with western society, particularly education. This is why, Farouk Chothia, in his article “Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?” BBC News Africa, 21 January 2015 ( believes that in addition to addressing the issue of poverty, the Nigerian government needs to develop an education system that will gain the support of local Muslims in order to end the threat of Boko Haram.

The problems in Nigeria are yet another example of the long-term negative impact of colonization. When one considers the plight of the Nigerians, victims of terrorists groups such as ISIS and all of those involved in the Vietnam War as so eloquently described by Uwe Siemon-Netto in his novel, “The Triumph of the Absurd,” it becomes sadly apparent that the short-term economic gains of colonization has exacted a high cost in human-suffering. The recommendation to redesign the constitution is certainly an important concrete action that needs to be taken by the Nigerian government. Educational reform is another one. However, all three authors agree that the first step is to address the poverty of Nigeria. This aligns with the concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy; until the basic physiological needs of Nigerian’s are met they will be unable to adequately deal with their complex social issues.


Cult vs Religion: What’s the Difference

Cult vs. religion: what’s the difference?
In this article, Fleischacker assesses the differences between cults and religions and determines if our definitions appropriately describe either of these groups. A strong backbone to the author’s thesis is the idea that time is a major factor in the development and growth of a religious following. To explain, he first recognizes that anti-social behaviour is a common trait for cults. Specifically, social acceptance is one of the many challenges new religious movements (NRM) like cults face during its stage of emergence. Without social acceptance and a novel factor connecting people’s interests, the likelihood of people spreading word and bringing more stability to NRMs is diminished. In comparison, established religions have shown the ability to dodge anti-social behaviour and strive and survive over generations without raising the attention of public authorities. In addition to this, the author notes the importance of familiar theological notions in ties to social behaviour. More established religions tend to have developed a common ideology that is not entirely new, but contains elements of older, already established religions which are identified as “shared vision or morality”. It is noteworthy that it is one thing to have strong and familiar theological notions paired with social following/acceptance, but it is another for groups to act together and to share a vision. Fleischacker believes that in order to withstand the test of time, this shared vision for the religion or group must speak to the social and economic situation of the people who choose to follow it. He argues that followers of religions have this shared vision while cults have an opposite “heretical” nature that inhibits their growth. Despite the logic in the points raised, the author does not recognize that older religions were all once NRMs facing many of the challenges that cults also face. In light of this, the most remarkable difference between a cult and a prospering religion is truly the ability to face the challenges and obstacles that come form the test of time.

France’s Dilemma (RELS 348)

France’s ideologies of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity date back to the days of the French revolution. But with this being said, many of the new migrants of France do not feel welcomed with open arms such as these ideologies suggest. Many of the youth coming from a Muslim background feel as if the ideologies of France do not apply to them. They do not feel equal, free and a sense of belonging within the community. In the news article “France’s Ideals, Forged in Revolution, Face a Modern Test” by Steven Erlanger, 12 February 2015, we get some insight on life as an immigrant in France.

With population and diversity increasing rapidly throughout France, there has been difficulty for the natives of France to adapt to the new cultural traditions and practices. Muslims are treated unfairly with limiting their resources and opportunities to live a prosperous life. In the Muslim dominant Paris suburb of Clichy Sous Bois the unemployment rate is close to 40% and there has been a shortage of housing. A major cause for the high unemployment rate could possibly be the fact that there are no roads or public transit leading to the center of Paris. With a prosperous city filled opportunities such as Paris only being 10 miles away from Clichy. It seems as if France is trying to seclude its Muslim population from opportunities to better their lives. In no developed country should these types of problems occur. In the article, it is clearly stated that the government has promised to build roads for easier accessibility to Paris, but these empty promises have been going on for close to a decade.

In the recent killing of Charlie Hebdo a cartoonist who created offensive cartoons to the Islamic religion, had brought the nation of France together chanting “Je suis Charlie”. This chant translating to “I am Charlie” brought the nation together but the Muslim community of France had felt offended. Moments of silence were held for Charlie and the Muslim youth rebelled. It is basically a slap in the face from the people of France to the followers of Islam. A Muslim university student told his professor “They don’t respect us, and then during a minute of silence we’re supposed to honor them? How can someone render homage to someone who doesn’t respect us? We can’t.” I would have to agree 100% with this student, Charlie Hebdo made offensive depictions of Islam and being forced to honor someone who has offended your religion is not morally right.

It seems as if France is not ready to house a multicultural community. A country cannot welcome all sorts of people without being able to accept religious differences. France should really figure out ways to keep peace internally within their diverse population. With this being said, I feel as if France should strengthen their immigration rules or these internal battles will plague them for decades and decades to come.



More from RELS 348: Empire, Religion, and Colonialism

A response to T.J. Petrowski’s story “Attack in Paris a Direct Result of Western Imperialism” on the website

In a recent terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly magazine based in Paris, twelve innocent people were killed. The perpetrators of the attack have come forward and identified themselves as belonging to a branch of the Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda. The terrorists justified their ruthless murders as an act of holy Jihad carried out to uphold the values of their Islamic religion. Terrorism in and of itself, however, is no more than a violent and savage crime against humanity. Attacks against media and press organizations are essentially an attack against one of the most fundamental rights of mankind, and, therefore, they cannot be justified in any way whatsoever. By denying the freedom of speech through armed threats, these violent Islamic terrorists have done nothing but prove themselves once more as public enemies.

But there is a lesson here to be learned for all of us. Strictly speaking, the aggressive forces of Islamic extremists have not come about naturally. 20th century was an era of imperialism, when capitalistic nations of the West competed for and, eventually, colonized land in the Middle East, as well as in Asia, Africa, and South America. In various attempts to seize control of and monopolize natural resources in the Middle East, the Western powers have deprived the area of its natural political, economic, socio-cultural, and religious environment, thus beginning a long cycle of violence and oppression. In particular, they meddled in Shia-Sunni relations and sparked the conflict between Christians and Isamist, creating friction between various groups and ideologies. Thus, the chaos that inhabit the Mid-East today can be said to stem from a history of wrongful intrusion and domination by Western imperialists.


Middle East Not Ready to be Ruled Again?

The Middle East was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for the longest time. Would the Middle East be any different if the Ottoman Empire still existed? How would you react to its rise, again? President Erdogan of Turkey wants to see the Ottoman Empire re-rise and take control of the Middle East. He strongly believes in the saying: “the fallen shall rise again.” In a recent news article by the Huffington Post, a story has arisen concerning Erdogen’s view of the Ottoman Empire’s revival. Most countries within the Middle East do not agree with Erdogan’s views. They don’t want to be under the rule of an Empire once again. They didn’t want history to repeat itself. Resulting in the fall of the would-be Emperor (Erdogan). Not only does he feel that the Ottoman Empire was a success, he wanted to confirm that Turkey’s future was to be far better than that of the Ottoman Empire. He didn’t want to be like the Ottoman Empire, he wanted to be its successor. Islamists within the Middle East would agree with the revitalization of the Ottoman Empire but with restrictions. They would want to be in control of the religious aspect but the only concern would be the negotiation process with Erdogan. That wouldn’t have been a problem for Erdogan as he is all for Islam. However, his historical accounts and current views upon Islam create a doubt amongst the Muslim scholars. Now the question that lies here is, would Turkey be able to offer a successful model of democracy and religion? According to Erdogan, yes they would. According to the article, it is determined that with Erdogan’s current plan or strategies, Turkey will never become the global power Erdogan dreams about.

We are now in the 21st Century and times have changed. It would be impossible to go back to something that once existed. Sadly, Erdogan does not realize why the Ottoman Empire actually fell in the first place. In my opinion, to re-establish something that is similar to the one that had fallen before would be foolish. In my opinion, the rise of Turkey above all, in this day and age is unlikely. Most countries within the Middle East will not agree with having to be ruled again, after years of freedom and independence. A lot of chaos and commotion would follow. Erdogan’s creation of an empire would backfire hard, hurting him the most. Like the article proves, the would-be emperor would fall even before he even arose. Islam has a history of colonialism and imperialism. Yet, I still feel that the concept of empires have fazed out of context from the Islamic countries today. Saudi Arabia and UAE are the only two that come to mind, when it comes to a sort of empire-like state. In my opinion, the only reason Erdogan had envisioned the future of Turkey as a prevailing empire, was to create political and economic power above all within the Middle East. As stated in the article, that is truly far from becoming a reality at this point in time.

This article ties in really well with the University of Calgary’s Religious Studies 348 class. Dr. Hexham enlightened us with the historical context of Empires and how a religion may tie into them in different ways. In comparison to the article, Dr. Hexham expressed that early empires would be difficult to bring back or re-create. In the 21st century, the thought of creating an empire to rule the Middle East would vanish without question.

More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

During a news conference on a plane ride to Rome, Pope Francis spoke about contraception, summarized in Philip Pallella’s story, “Pope says birth control ban doesn’t mean breed ‘like rabbits’Reuters, 19 January 2015.

The popular topic in the Catholic Church. His stance is supporting the church against “unnatural” forms of birth control, which leaves pretty much just abstinence. Instead, Pope Francis promotes “responsible parenthood”.

A significant part of the pope’s speech was his view of societies “ideological colonization”, as he sees outside perspectives as attempts to change mentalities or structures in the church.

The Pope’s views, although strong, are a great example of the remnants of colonialism in North America. The fact that there are other opinions that are being put into place that are not from the church, i.e. laws promoting the availability of contraceptives, shows how the Catholic church is not the colonial power it once was. However as leader of the Catholic church, Pope Francis still hold a significant amount of power, as he and the Catholic church are opposing law makers that are trying to supply various forms of birth control.

These views are somewhat ironic as Robert Irwin noted in, “For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies” Penguin Books, 2006, that the Catholics converted the Qur’an into French merely, “So that they might have material for their mission of conversion” (p. 104). The irony is that the Catholic Church, known for being one of the largest colonizers, feels that they are being colonized by outside opinions. It is hard to sympathize or get on board with the notion that the Catholic church is being colonized when their problem is that people are being taught that there are alternative ways to think about the world.

The discrepancy between what the Pope is advocating for, in regards to offering various forms of birth control, and what we see in North America is evidence that the influence of Colonial powers is dying out, as options for birth control are being taught and made available.

789789          #uwreligions

More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

A response to Samir’s story “Impact of Western Colonialism and Imperialism in Asia and Africa”,, 2012

History has shown how the East has been considered as a land to be conquered by the West through the processes of colonialism and imperialism. Till today, there is an ongoing debate as whether colonization has brought prosperity or has led to the detriment in the different spheres of the states in which it has taken pace. As depicted in the article mentioned, colonization has impacted in the daily lives of the population of these countries, leaving its imprint in the cultural, economic and religious sectors. For instance, according to the author, colonization has contributed to the economic development to India in terms of industrialization, infrastructure and the implementation of law and governance. On the other hand, the author stresses how exploitation of raw materials of the country by the authoritative external powers has enhanced the level of poverty in the country.

The after effect of colonialism has been more consequential in terms of religious issues. For instance, if we look at India from the author’s point of view, colonization has seen the implementation of Christianity in India through missionaries coming from the West. The after effect pertaining to religious and social segregation can still be felt with the partitioning of India.

In his book entitled “For Lust of Knowing The Orientalists and their Ennemies”, Robert Irwin depicts The East envisioned as “a place of wonders, where treasures, marvels and strange tribes and beasts abounded”. This reinforces the derogatory label the people of the East were attributed: “strange”. Yet, in the process of colonization, the people from the West have not hesitated to take over and take the lives of these “strange” people.

However, although the debate of whether colonialism has had a beneficial or detrimental in the countries concerned, we must keep in mind that whatever has been said or done are bygones now. What remains as economic and cultural legacies need be used for the betterment of these countries. The latter must strive to come out of this aftermath centuries after the era of colonialism. States must undergo a smooth transition for their own religious, social and economic welfare. Even if this endeavour may take time, it will also be a way to help these countries get rid of their attributed stigmas.


Western Views of ISIS Created Using Orientalist Tactics (RELS 348)

Ever since Said published his book Orientalism, the term has implied that Orientalists purposely placed the western nations in a superior status to the Oriental countries. Orientalists did this by playing up the differences between the two. In his book For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies Robert Irwin spends a great deal of time arguing that the Orientalists were not purposely placing themselves as superior to Asia and India, but in many cases dating as far back as Aeschylus in Ancient Greece, were often trying to understand other cultures, at least as well as any outsider can. Irwin also claims that instead of purposely playing up the differences between Eastern and Western cultures to prove Western superiority they often did so to show Western weaknesses. Regardless of whether or not the Orientalists were attempting to make the West seem superior does not change the fact that they made their point by manipulating the way the given information portrayed the situation.

This is still being done today, such as discussions of ISIS. ISIS is an extremist Islamic group, for the purpose of this argument let us place the outsider to the average Western individual (ISIS) in the role of the Orient. With this lens let us view the article by Stewart Bell titled “ISIS spokesman calls for more Ottawa-style attacks in Canada, warning ‘what lies ahead will be worse’” published in the National Post. Bell starts by stating that ISIS is calling for more violence in Western countries, using an audio file released Monday. The article then stated that the most severe threat is people whom wereformerly trained by Al-Qaeda and that Canada is going to attempt to pass a new counter-terrorism bill that will stop terrorists from travelling and recruiting. The portion that most interested me was the conclusion. In this section Bell gives some general stats about the ISIS movement. He states that there are estimated 20 000 foreign fighters currently involved with ISIS and about 100 are Canadian. He then proceeds to compare this to the 2 500 Saudis and 3 000 Tsanisans who are involved in the conflict. First off the comparison is between one Western country, who has a relatively low stat to two non-Western countries with relatively high stats. These statistics are immediately followed some death statistics. The article ends with a description of all the Western nations have done to foil ISIS. Some arrests are detailed and it is stated that few followers have been found in Canada because the Muslim leaders here oppose violence. The final sentence talks about the man who voiced the message. This firmly sets up that Canada is superior (ISIS is not getting many followers from us) unlike the other non-Western nations. Also the Canadians whom are joining ISIS are being stopped (through arrests and deaths). Finally the man behind this message of increased violence, has been given a high-priority status for who needs to be stopped next. The information is being presented in such a way allows Canadians to feel safe. The motive is not important to this post. What is crucial is the fact that just like Orientalists manipulated the information present to create a view of the Orient, people today do the same to paint a specific picture of groups like ISIS.

If you the reader are interested in the current situation with ISIS here are some more links you can peruse.

-KV 348


The Good and Bad of Mission Schools in Africa (RELS 348)

The effects of colonialism can be seen all over the world, and the complexities of negative and positive impacts are vast. After reading Samuel G. Freedman’s article “Mission Schools Opened World to Africans, but Left an Ambiguous Legacy,” The New York Times, December 27, 2013, it became apparent to me that although there were many negative effects, such as assimilation, there were also positive effects that came out of colonization.

In the article, Samuel G. Freedman focuses on Nelson Mandela’s experience in one of the mission schools set up in Africa, as recounted in Mandela’s autobiography. Samuel G. Freedman best describes the struggle with the mission schools as a “contested crossroads. It was apart of colonialism, yet it educated students who opposed colonialism”[1]. What became very apparent to me was that even though many of these mission schools tried to assimilate the native African people into Western culture, it also was the only opportunity Africans had for an education. This education is what trained many influential black African people, and it promoted a sense of equality among the different races.

If colonization had never happened and the mission schools had never been created, some of the greatest leaders of the past century never would have gained the education they did, and would have had far smaller, if any, sphere of influence. It was through colonialism that the world was eventually able to here the ideas of an oppressed group of people, as many of these individuals were able to hold onto their beliefs and views of the world.   This does not take away the hurt, but it was not all bad; the mission schools led to a new group of people being educated, which gave them influence and power in a world where they previously had none.

On the other hand, one factor that contributed to how the mission schools were hurtful is that the colonial powers felt the need to push their culture and beliefs onto the native people of the land they are taking over. There was no interest in getting to know the people and their way of life. This was also seen in Vietnam in the case of the reporters who came to cover the War. As Uwe Siemon-Netto recounts, “Most correspondents were isolated from the Vietnamese by ignorance of their language and culture”[2]. I think many times the colonial power, or any country of more power and wealth, feels it their duty to show people a “better” way of life, but they have no interest in learning from the native peoples of these lands. There is no belief that the colonial power needs to grow or learn anything.

This is where it becomes hurtful and dangerous, because even though they may be bringing education, new technologies, and new ideas, there is often bitterness from the native people, as Freedman discusses in the article. Since they know they are not respected or heard as individuals, there is anger. Yet often, as seen with Nelson Mandela, people do not revolt completely because they know there are things, like education, that they would not receive with out the colonial powers being in place. It is a cycle that feels like two steps forward, one step back, creating very slow progress, however progress was being made.


[1] Samuel G. Freedman, Mission Schools Opened World to Africans, but Left an Ambiguous Legacy (The New York Times, 2013)

[2] Uwe Siemon-Netto, Triumph of the Absurd (USA: Uwe Siemon-Netto, 2014), 113.

More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

In recent months the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who currently govern China, have made a number of political decisions that exhibit an opposition to religion. While not a certainty, it is of my opinion that these decisions are being made in response to the increasing prevalence of Islamist rebel groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The latest move made by the CCP is to ban all persons who have any religious affiliation from joining the party. Matt Sheehan’s article entitled “China’s Communist Party Bans Believers, Doubles Down On Atheism,” The Huffington Post, 2 February 2015 explains the issue at hand.

Sheehan’s article tells that the decision made by the CCP is in an effort to eradicate Western ideologies from Chinese education and media. While the CCP has had policies that oppose religion for years, it is not until now that these policies have been strongly enforced. The party’s position against religion finds its roots in Marxist-Leninist thought which “decries religion as a delusion that distracts the oppressed masses from demanding their fair share.” Along with the ban of religion, Christmas celebrations in schools have been banned in the city of Wenzhou, and the same city has made plans to demolish over 200 churches this past year.

I am both compelled and distraught at the decisions made by the CCP. The party’s intentions are seemingly good, as they believe religion is a legitimate detriment to the well-being of its citizens. However, the trouble I find in this policy is that it is an attempt to censor free speech. I am opposed to totalitarian practices such as this, as I believe that it will instill fear in the citizens of China. Unfortunately, there is no situation in which a completely uncensored society can exist without offending some people. Therefore, I believe the larger underlying issue that should be discussed in regards to the CCP’s new policy is: To what extent can free speech be practiced so that it harms a minimal amount of others? This is one of the greatest issues our world faces today, and it is constantly becoming more intense due to the increasing ease of access to information and communication. For now, religion seems to be at the forefront of this debate, and after reading this article I am left seriously wondering if we will ever see a world that is unified by religion, or perhaps by the complete eradication of it.