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Monday, 23 November 2009 01:58
Religious Freedom Ranking:
2.5 out of 5 stars: Poor


While the federal Constitution provides for religious freedom, in practice this freedom has been severely restricted in recent years, especially in some of the northern states. States are granted significant autonomy and have the freedom to develop and enforce legislation. This has caused many disagreements, particularly now that many of the states have adopted Islamic law. Constitutionally, Nigeria is a secular state prohibited from favoring any religion but states are allowed to establish courts based on common law or the customary law systems of their region. However, Nigeria has joined the organization of Islamic states, raising objections from some non-Muslims.

One of the most populous African states, Nigeria has a population of 158.4 million people. Exact estimates are not available, but some of the country is roughly 50 percent Muslim, 40 percent Christian, and 10 percent of believers follow traditional indigenous religions. Most Muslims are Sunni but there is a growing Shi’a population. Christian groups present are Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelical Christians, Pentecostal Christians, various African Independent churches, Unificationists and Mormons. While northern Nigeria is predominately Muslim, Christians have lived and intermarried with Muslims in the area for over 50 years. Most state governments in the country make efforts to meet the religious needs of their residents, and government funds are commonly used to fund trips to Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome.

Since the return to civilian government in 1999, Nigeria has experienced a difficult period of religious tension rife with outbreaks of violence between Muslims and Christians. The constitution permits individual states to expand the jurisdiction of Sharia (Islamic law) within their domain. According to the Constitution, cases that are tried in Sharia courts can be appealed in the Federal Court of appeals, but this has not happened in practice. The Federal court had not yet made a decision on the jurisdiction of Sharia courts in criminal matters as of the State Department report in 2010. BBC reported that 2,000 people died in clashes between Christians and Muslims in the northern predominantly Muslim city of Kaduna in 2000. A primary cause for the violence has been the adoption of Sharia law by state governments. Ten of the predominantly Muslim northern states have adopted Sharia law, and tensions have been aggravated in some areas by the rise of vigilante groups formed for the purpose of enforcing Sharia law. The intolerance between faiths is exacerbated by economic turmoil and land disputes.

Separatist movements have brought fears that civil war is approaching the country.  Even though Nigeria has benefitted by the recent rise in oil prices, citizens have not seen much improvement because of corruption and mismanagement within the government and the companies in control. The elections in 2011 have shown continued instability and turmoil between religious groups. Violence erupted in the Muslim north when the results were announced because their candidate lost the elections. More than 300 people were killed in the violence. This revealed a geographical divide in the country between the Christian south and Muslim north. Violence between Christians and Muslims in the country’s “Middle Belt” is on the rise as a result.

Due to the incidence of inter-religious violence, the government has limited the freedom of religious groups to conduct assemblies outside of their main buildings. Disagreement exists over religious education in schools. Proselytizing is restricted in some areas of the country. Discrimination in employment based on religious affiliation takes place on both national and local levels. There are also reports that in some areas Christians were denied building permits to build new churches or renovate and expand existing ones.

Nigeria has seen a rise in Islamist militancy. The dominant group, Boko Haram, whose name means “Western Education is Forbidden,” was thought to have been destroyed in 2009 when the Nigerian military bombed its headquarters and killed the group’s leader, among hundreds of others. However, in the summer of 2011 the group reemerged, attacking the military, police, and opponents of Islamic law. In August of 2011, the group claimed responsibility for the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Nigeria, which killed 23 people.

Furthermore, on December 25, in a series of Christmas day church bombings, the group killed at least 25 people. This was followed by a series of attacks in January of 2012 where more than 100 people were killed. This was Boko Haram’s deadliest attack. Eight government security buildings were bombed. While nothing of this magnitude has happened since, the group is still responsible for sporadic bombings and attacks.

The Nigerian government has begun making efforts to talk with the group in order to make a peace agreement. It has been difficult for them to make contact, and in 2009 talks were ended when Boko Haram refused to surrender their arms.


2011 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Nigeria

Nigeria - New World Encyclopedia

Nigeria Country Profile- BBC News

Nigeria News Overview-

Nigeria in 'Indirect Talks' With Boko Haram- Aljazeera

Last Updated on Monday, 17 September 2012 19:05