More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

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 conflictGlobal 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.



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