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Religious intolerance in the Nigeria society, its effect on the people

Nonso Valentine
Jan 8, 2017
In simple terms, religious intolerance in Nigeria or fanaticism is the inability of an adherent of a particular religion to acknowledge, accommodate and accept the right of others to live by another faith different from his own. Invariably, such an attitude is connected to the conviction that one's religion is the only divinely ordained path to spiritual enlightenment and immortality in heaven. Consequently, a religious fanatic believes strongly that his religion is unquestionably superior to other religions. For such a person, those who belong to other faiths are infidels undeserving of eternal bliss in paradise. But then, uncritical acceptance of the superiority of one's religion is a psychological precondition for religious intolerance, since it motivates and justifies any action taken to further that very religion. Of course, there is nothing wrong in working to promote one's religion. The major problem is that fanatics go to extremes to promote their religion. Extremists see it as a moral duty, a means of showing genuine piety, to do whatever they deem necessary for achieving a religious cause. Societies all over the world have had to grapple with the problem of inter-group relations. Such concepts as 'apartheid', 'discrimination', 'prejudice', 'pogrom', 'ethnicity,' 'hatred', 'fanaticism', 'intolerance,' 'war,' and 'terrorism', etc. are terms in common use.

Intolerance is a blind refusal to understand and respect views or positions that are opposed to one's cherished religious views. Hence, by religious intolerance, Ekwunife opines that it is a blind and fixated mental and psychological negative attitude towards religious beliefs and practices that are contrary to one's cherished beliefs and practices. Such negative attitudes exhibit themselves in situations whereby leaders or groups in any society blindly refuse to understand and respect contrary religious views and practices except the ones they consider to be true.
In other words, there is religious intolerance when any group in a society deliberately and violently sets out to stamp out what the members subjectively consider to be an error in religious thought and practice. In short, there is religious intolerance when a particular group refuses to accept or accommodate the views, opinions of other opposing religious adherent. Often, this refusal to accept contrary religious views and practices is accompanied by series of violence and destruction.

There are several religions in Nigeria and this assist in the accentuation of regional and ethnic distinctions. As at 1990, all religions represented in Nigeria, were actually practiced in major cities (Wikipedia). The northern part of the country is dominated by Islam and there are some followers in the south-west that constitute the Yoruba.
Also, in the Yoruba axis, there exist Protestantism and local syncretic Christianity. Among the Igbos of the South East and other closely related areas are dominated by Catholicism. Both Catholicism and Protestantism dominate the Ibibios, Annangs, and the Efiks of south-south Nigeria.
This statistics cannot be relied upon wholly here for the reason being that the Nigerian population has been manipulated for political, economic and other reason. Also, the Purdah system cannot help to provide an accurate census of the Moslem population in Nigeria.
In relation to the major ethnic groups and religious affiliations, the Hausas' in the North is 95% Muslim and 5%Christianity, the Yoruba tribe in the west have 60% Christians, 30% Muslims and 10% belonging to other African religions. The Igbos in the East and the Ijaw in the south are 98% Christians (Catholics), while 2% practice other African religions. The middle belt of Nigeria is the largest minority group and they are Christians mostly with traditional religions and very few Muslim converts.
Basically, the major problems of Nigeria have been religion and ethnicity. These twin problems have been perennial and tend to defy all logic. This made it possible for religious intolerance to persist despite the pluralistic nature of the Nigerian state. Historically, the western experience is to move from the exclusivity of "eiuscuiusreligio" and try to create a secular state where politics and religion are kept apart. Nigeria typified an example of two major religious communities inhabiting two different religions.

Several causes of religious violence have been identified in some literature such as (Agwu 2009; Gofwen 2004; Salawu 2010, Iwara 2006, Kwaja 2009; Omotosho 2003, Sanusi 2009). The causes in this literature anchored on socio-political, economic and governance factors that gestate not only religious conflicts but also violent conflicts in Nigeria as a whole. However, Sampson (2012) showed that government neglect, oppression, domination, exploitation, victimization, discrimination, marginalization, nepotism and bigotry are equally factors that can trigger off religious violence. Kwaja (2009:107) also in his treatise identifies the fragile nature of state institutions in relation to their ability and capacity to manage effectively diversity, corruption, rising inequality between the rich and the poor, gross violation of human rights, environmental degradation, contestation over land, among others as the reasons for violent conflicts in Nigeria. Indeed, several others reasons such as disparaging publications by both Christian and Muslim elites (Omotosho 2003), wrong perception of other people's religion or faith, wrong religious orientation, the low literacy level of religious adherents, selfishness on the part of religious personalities, pervasive poverty, government involvement in religious matters (Acgumike 2008:287) as factors responsible for interreligious conflicts in Nigeria.
A cursory look at all these factors reveals religious intolerance, fundamentalism and extremism. Indeed, this tripod is what carried the pot of religious conflicts in Nigeria. This tripod is, however, fuelled by lack of education that is on a sound philosophic foundation. This assertion tallies with the view of (Achunik, 2008), when he opines that low illiteracy level of religious adherents accounts for religious violence in Nigeria. Lack of proper education is the major reason for religious conflicts and violence in Nigeria. This is because proper education will equip religious adherents with better understanding of the dynamics of religion. Education helps to liberate the minds of religious adherents of all dogmas that tend to generate and create intolerance, fundamentalism and extremism. It places the adherents in a position to question certain religious views and dogmas that will be against the views of others.

Religious intolerance has caused devastating results across the world. Religious intolerance is a result of the mistrust that occurs between people belonging to different religions. It is this mistrust that then leads to clashes and in some instances, killing of people including innocent people. In some countries, we hear of suicide bombers which are done by those people belonging to the Islamic faith who in some cases are angry with their Christian counterparts. In Nigeria the Muslims and Christians are also at logger heads and people are being massacred.
To say that man's inability to tolerate another man's own belief has hampered his elevation in general, cannot be over-stated. To have a clearer understanding of religious intolerance, defining it should give us a clear vision of its effects. There is no clear definition of the word religious intolerance. However, it can best be described as the absence of being unwilling to put up with someone else's beliefs. In clear and simple terms we can thus posit that religious intolerance means not tolerating beliefs that differ from one's own. The issue of religious hostilities dates back a long time ago. The quarrel that ensued between the Israelites and Egyptians from the Biblical accounts can be said to have been the inability of both parties to encourage or accommodate their different beliefs. In the end, it resulted in the loss of so many lives.
When the birth of Jesus Christ was publicized, so many children were murdered because the King had misinterpreted the prophecy of John the Baptist, and probably thought that the one who would dethrone him had been born. As he grew up, he began his message. He reached the point when he could no longer be tolerated, and so he was murdered in one of the most brutal means in the history of man. The great prophet Mohammad sought and got enlightenment after thirty days in a cave. After gaining this new experience, he began preaching his message of love and denouncing some activities in his society. The member of his own society got angry with him and then began persecuting him and his followers. This also led to many deaths as the persecuted had to put up some form of resistance.
Mahatma Gandhi the great thinker was not also left out in this kind of intolerable activities.
Insolence towards each other's religion has given rise to truculent activities. As a result, many religious wars have been fought. But one thing the followers of all these great thinkers have failed to do is to follow the example and teachings of their various masters. To further press home this view point, the achievements of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, cannot be over-looked. He himself in a bid changed some certain things which were not right, especially the Caste system which was in itself discriminatory, sought and got enlightenment. And in his Noble Eight Path teachings, he preached against lies, shedding of blood, and wrong ways of speaking, having wrong resolve (which includes religious intolerance), taking wrong actions, wrong means of livelihood and much more. Paying lip-service to this issue is not enough; every hand must be on deck to address this matter. Religious uprising where ever they occurred have destroyed a lot of things, from Islamic Jihads to the era of the reformation in the 16th century. Such rumpuses hindered economic growth in the periods they occurred. Addressing this issue is so important in that some crises are miss-interpreted to be either religious wars or that religious undertones are not lacking in them. A typical example of this until recently has been the difficulty in differentiating the problems bedeviling the Arabs and the Israelites from religion.

We divide religious intolerance into four forms, depending upon the perpetrator and the intended target:
1. Inter-faith intolerance (e.g. a Hindu - Christian conflict)
2. Intra-faith intolerance (e.g. Shi'ite vs. Sunni Muslims)
3. Intolerance by from a faith group against a secular group (e.g. Christian fundamentalists vs. Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Homosexuals, Transsexuals, loving, committed same-sex couples who wish to marry, etc.)
4. Intolerance by a secular group against a religious group. (e.g. feminists vs. some organized religions)
A given instance of religious intolerance may be considered inter-faith by some groups and intra-faith by another. For example, some fundamentalist Christians do not consider Roman Catholicism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church), liberal Christian denominations, progressive Christianity, etc. to be a legitimate part of Christianity. Thus, an attack by an evangelical group on Roman Catholicism might be considered inter-faith by the evangelical and intra-faith by a Roman Catholic.
We consider the following actions as exhibiting religious intolerance:
a.Spreading misinformation about a group's beliefs or practices, even though the inaccuracy of that information could have been easily checked and corrected;
b.Spreading hatred about an entire group; e.g. stating or implying that all members of a group are evil, behave immorally, commit criminal acts, etc.
c.Ridiculing and belittling an entire faith group for their sincerely held beliefs and practices;
d.Attempting to force religious beliefs and practices on others against their will;
e.Restricting human rights of members of an identifiable religious group;
Devaluing other faiths as worthless or evil.
f.Inhibiting the freedom of a person to change their religion.

Nigeria has many problems. At the moment religious intolerance is not one of them. The mere statement on the part of a religion that its own beliefs and practices are correct and any contrary beliefs are incorrect does not in itself constitute intolerance (i.e., ideological intolerance). Religious intolerance, rather, is when a group (e.g., a society, religious group, non-religious group) specifically refuses to tolerate practices, persons or beliefs on religious grounds (i.e., intolerance in practice). According to the 19th-century British historian Arnold Toynbee, for a religious establishment to persecute another religion for being "wrong" ironically puts the persecuting religion in the wrong, undermining its own legitimacy. Other countries, meanwhile, may allow for religious preference, for instance through the establishment of one or more state religions, but not for religious intolerance. Finland, for example, has the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and Finnish Orthodox Church as its official state religions, yet upholds the right of free expression of religion in article 11 of its constitution.

International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, 27 January 1998, retrieved 25 May 2007.
Achunike, H.C. Religious practices in Nigeria as a source of conflict, Journal of Liberal studies, 2008, 12 (1 & 2),pp 286-295.
Adebayo, R.I. "Ethno-religious Crises and the Challenges of Sustainable Development in Nigeria." Journal of Sustainable
Development in Africa 2010, 12 (4), Pp 213-225.
Agwu, C.T. "Religious Conflicts in Kano and Kaduna". In Ikejiani-Clarke, M.ed. Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution in Nigeria: A reader, Ibadan: Spectrum books 2009, Pp. 518 - 531.
Bologun, K.A. "Religious intolerance as a source of National disintegration; In Mala, S. B. ed. Religion and National Unity, Ibadan University Press, 1988.
Ojie, A.E "Prejudice and Discrimination: A Sociological Overview of Inter-Group Relations in Nigeria." In Igun, U.A and Mordi, A.A (eds) Contemporary Social Problems in Nigeria. (Ijebu Ode: Shebiotimo Publications, 2002).
Diamond, L "Nigeria" In Lepset, S.M. (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Democracy. Vol III (London: Routledge, 1995).
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