Nigeria’s ethnic and religious crises have continued unabated causing disunity, extensive damage in loss of lives, properties and dispersal of citizens from their homes. These crises have been compounded by political inclinations. The ethno-religious conflicts have affected the sovereignty of the nation and the paradigm of the citizens into unpatriotic attitude. The scope of violence crystallizes the opinion that the government is culpable when it has the means to stop the conflicts but fails to prevent the violations and safeguard the legal or civil rights of the citizens. The adoption of Islamic legal system known as Sharia into the Nigerian Constitution has increased the insecurity of other religions especially Christianity. Since the late 1970s, religion has become as disruptive as ethnicity in Nigeria. The cultural and religious background of any nation is important to interpret the religious thoughts of the people and what shapes their thoughts.

This paper examines the ethno-religious conflicts that have led to human, economic and physical catastrophe on the nation vis-à-vis the desired attitudinal change. Nigeria as a secular nation is home to many religions among which are Christianity, Islam and Traditional Religion, which leaves it open to serious religious conflicts. Nigeria consists of multiple ethnicities with diverse cultures and customs, which also lead to tribal and ethnic wars at times. The power-hungry politicians are the causes of ‘religionalization’ of politics. This paper looks into the causes of the violent conflicts emanating from ethnic biases and conflagration, human intolerance, religious pluralism, religious bigotry, and structural imbalances. The paper discusses a revolving face of human nature as it concerns human behavioural patterns in ethnoreligious antics. Globalization allows interchange of world views, ideas and cultures but also brings along religious vices into Nigeria. There is a dire need for a formula that can alter and expand the capacity for qualities like love, empathy, justice, peace and harmonic-coexistence in Nigerians. The paper advocates that ‘state of origin’ must give way for State of birth and state of domicile (a minimum of 10 consecutive years) in Nigeria as the desired ‘Change’ to foster true unity among Nigerians.


Key Words: Religion, Ethnicity, Violence, Conflicts, Globalization, Sharia, and Change



Religion is an important cultural characteristic as well as one of ethnic ‘descriptors’ (a critical factor that at times is used to identify ethnicity). In Nigeria religion and ethnicity have been used as potent tools for disunity of the people; hence the need for a ‘Change’ towards unity and peace of communities and the nation. A secular and multi-ethnic country like Nigeria is a hub of volatility for religion and ethnicity crises. Over the years, there have been various faces and changes of the volatile nature of religion and ethnicity induced by fundamentalists. Religious fundamentalists have not changed even though they have become more ferocious in their offensive conducts. They have made religion a force that every government has been forced to take seriously. Armstrong[1] indicated that fundamentalists do not care for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, free speech, or the separation of church and state.

In the middle years of the 20th century, it was taken for granted that secularism was an irreversible trend and that faith would never again play a major part in world events. Fundamentalists’ fury according to Armstrong reminds us that modern culture imposes extremely difficult demands on human beings. Fundamentalists see conspiracy everywhere and are sometimes possessed by a rage that seems demonic. Since late 1970s religion has become as disruptive as ethnicity in Nigeria. August 26, 2011 was a sad day for Nigerians as it went down in history as a day that suicide bombing brought the country to an international negative prominence. The Muslim terrorists bombed the headquarters office of the United Nations (UN) in Abuja, killing UN staff, and non-staff[2]. This event was just one of the atrocities of the Islamic jihadist militant sect called Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-jihad, which in English means “people committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teachings and jihad” called ‘Boko Haram. The country witnessed its nakedness in security and vulnerability that turned Nigeria into a state immersed in violent conflicts till today. These conflicts lead to human, economic and physical catastrophe on the nation. The Boko-Haram fundamentalists are convinced they are fighting for their Faith, conducting unholy war against secular modernity. Islamic Canon law (Sharia) that was inserted in the Nigerian constitution aided this view.

The president of Nigeria, Muhammad Buhari recently committed Nigeria to the Saudi Arabia-promoted military alliance against terrorism[3] without consulting stakeholders of other religions. Hilary Clinton, as America’s Secretary of State in 2009 said Saudi donors were the largest source of funding for terrorist groups worldwide. According to secret US diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, “Saudi Arabia remains a critical support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups”. It is a grave mistake for President Buhari to conclude that Saudi Arabia is Nigeria’s ally in the war on Boko Haram after another administration dragged secular Nigeria into Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) without due consultation. If Saudi Arabia’s motive is sincere, then Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, and Afghanistan should have been part of the alliance because they are Muslim Countries. This paper examines the various problems associated with religion and ethnicity that have led to violent conflicts among Nigerians. The paper then argues for a common ground that will foster unity among the multi-religious and multi-ethnic polity. Nigeria is home to many religions including Christianity, Islam and Africa Traditional Religion (ATR); which leaves him[4] open to serious religious conflicts. Nigeria consists of multiple ethnicities with diverse cultures and customs, which also lead him to tribal and ethnic wars at times. In several communities ethnicity and religion in the cultural traditional setting are intertwined and have direct influence on each other. The ethnoreligious violence between Christians and Muslims lead repeatedly to the destruction of churches and mosques. Religious paradox[5] is created. It is in this context that religion preaches love and peace, but at the same time approves holy wars as serving the divine purpose of God. Christians engage in violent crusades while the Muslims undertake jihads, and ATR uses their deities as potent tools. Conservativists, Dogmatists, Parochialists and Intolerants, all have aggressive behavior in relation to religious matters. Conservatives reject change and new ideas; Dogmatists impose their ideas or beliefs; Intolerants are not willing to accept the ways of thinking and behavior that are different from their own.




Religion is the activity that appeals to all that is noblest, purest, and loftiest in the human spirit. In essence, it is a way of living to glorify a Supreme Being known as God, Gods, god, or gods. American heritage dictionary defines religion as the belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe and as a personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.


Ethnicity is civilization; a distinguished group in a society that speak same language and from same source or same cultural background and at times share the same ancestors. Ethnic is sharing cultural characteristics: sharing distinctive cultural traits as a group in society. Ethnicity is culturally traditional: belonging to or associated with the traditional culture of a social group. Ethnicity is ethnic affiliation or distinctiveness. Ethnicity in the view of this speaker is a thread that weaves together some people that share common goals, common values, common objectives, culture, traditions; descendants of same ancestral lineage and of common historical background.


Conflict is a combat, struggle or warfare between communities, different ethnic groups, and religious opponents or any other opposing forces especially a prolonged, bitter and sporadic violence to kill and maim people and destroy property. Conflict is a situation or condition of disharmony in an interactional process. Banks claims that a situation of conflict is one in which the activity of one is actually or forcibly imposed at unacceptable costs, materials or psychic, upon another[6]. Banks[7] puts forward required factors for conflicts, which are intensity and salience of the issue at stake, the status, & legitimacy of the parties, the clustering of interests and coincidence of cleavages within a community.


Fundamentalism is to take one’s fundamental rights, beliefs, and opinions to a violent dimension. A fundamentalist is one who rather than tolerate another’s perspective will prefer enforcing his own perspective on others with use of weapons, tools of destruction, and hard lines destructive action. Fundamentalism is described as movement with strict view of doctrine: a religious or political movement based on a literal interpretation of and strict adherence to doctrine, especially as a return to former principles; support for literal explanation in the belief that religious or political doctrine should be implemented literally not interpreted or adapted.[8] Fundamentalists are convinced that they are fighting for the survival of their faith in a world that is inherently hostile to religion. They conduct a war against secular modernity, and have achieved notable results in the course of their struggle.


‘Change’ is to make something different; the act or instance of making or becoming different. The Change here is the contemplation of something different from what it has been towards a future course of unity of purpose that will be beneficial for the nation. Change management[9] has at least three different aspects, including adapting to change, controlling change, and effecting change. A proactive approach to dealing with change is at the core of all the three aspects that are in alignment with the thoughts of this speaker.



 Terhembar Nom Ambe-Uva research paper[10] traced the historical background of Plateau state and affirmed that the state is home to over 50% of ethnic groups in Nigeria; although no ethnic group shares 100% of its culture with other ethnic groups. There is a deep-seated religious and cultural diversity in Plateau state. Further clarifying, Ambe-Uva said Plateau State including its capital Jos, is inhabited by Christians and Muslims. While Christians are in the majority, the Muslims constitute a significant minority[11]. He said Plateau is home to several ethnic groups, which fall into two broad categories: those who consider themselves “indigenes” or original inhabitants of the area-among them the Berom, the Afizere and the Anaguta and those who are termed “non-indigenes” or “settlers”, composed in large part of Hausa (the majority ethnic group in Northern Nigeria), but also of southern Igbo, Yoruba and other ethnic groups. Some of the “settlers”, notably the Hausa, have been living in the area for several generations. Neither the “indigenes” nor the “settlers” are monolithic in religious terms, but Christianity tends to be the dominant religion among the settlers[12]. In Plateau state religion ranks only next to ethnic identity; this is evident in the 2008 Jos north local government crisis that began as an electoral dispute but snowballed into an ethnic and religious conflagration. Philip Ostien[13] stated that conflict between “indigenes” of particular localities and “settlers” is widespread in Nigeria; that religious difference compounds the problem. He said the particular locations for indigenes and settlers fight are the 774 local government areas into which Nigeria is now sub-divided. Ostien said the fighting in the end is about access to resources controlled by the federal, state, and local governments, through which 80% of Nigeria’s GDP flows, which are largely derived from oil and gas production in the Niger Delta. He said Nigeria in effect is tending in some respects towards disaggregation into its constituent ethnic and sub-ethnic groups. He asked whether the bundle of ethnic or indigene rights, which unquestionably exists in Nigerian law, extends or should extend to political control of local government areas by local indigene groups, at the expense of other important rights enshrined in the constitution and laws. Isaac Oluwole Agbede[14] said ethno-religious conflicts and violence in Nigeria dated back to pre-colonial era; the establishment of kingdoms (Oyo and Bini) and emirate (Kano Emirate) involved subjugation of neighbouring communities or ethnic groups. He said the Islamisation of most parts of northern Nigeria and some parts of the south areas involved the waging of holy war on the communities or ethnic groups to convert them to Islamic faith. He emphasized that boundaries disputes between adjacent communities or ethnic groups were as old as the history of man; again intra-communal and inter-ethnic/ religious tension and conflicts are intensified by the introduction of slave trade by callous European merchants. The administration’s policy of ‘divide and rule’ deliberately set one ethnic group against the other under the guise of securing the right of each ethnic group to maintain its identity, individuality nationality and chosen form of government. Agbede indicated that under the policy of indirect rule, minority ethnic groups particularly in the northern areas are subjected to the rule of the powerful emirs, and to a large extent, to their religions with unavoidable resultant resentment. He further affirmed that with the establishment of the federal form of government in 1954 and with the three major groups dominant in each of the three regions, a new phase of ethno-religious conflict emerged. He said in order to undo the other major ethnic groups in the power equation each regional political operators supported (if not incited) minority agitation against the majority groups while blissfully ignoring the same agitation within its own region. Agbede concluded that the government must ensure an equitable distribution of the product of collective labour. Only these can bring the much desired conflict avoidance, conflict management, conflict resolution and peace-building in Nigeria. Chris Kwaja[15] said “the ethnic or religious dimensions of conflict have subsequently been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement, inequality, and other practical fears are the root causes”. He said since communal violence first emerged in 1994, few charges have been brought against perpetrators and no credible prosecutions have been pursued. He claimed the concept of indigeneship inherently divides Nigerians and undermines the democratic form of government that Nigeria aspires to uphold. Eyene Okpanachi[16] indicated that Nigeria is characterized as a deeply divided state in which major political issues are vigorously and or violently contested along the lines of the complex ethnic, religious, and regional divisions in the country.[17]

Osaghae and Suberu[18] stated that Nigeria presents a complex of individual as well as crisscrossing and recursive identities of which the ethnic, religious, regional and sub-ethnic (communal) are the most salient and the main bases for violent conflicts in Nigeria. They said ethnicity is generally regarded as the most basic and politically salient identity in Nigeria; yet in spite of the salience of ethnicity, and the large number of studies that have been devoted to the subject, the exact number of ethnic groups in the country is not known. There is also the fact that ethnic identities and boundaries including myths of common origin are fluid and subject to continuous construction and reconstruction. In the final analysis, it is clear that ethnicity cannot be defined only in terms of categories employed by linguists and ethnographers. The duo claimed that religion ranks next to ethnicity; that in those states that adopted Sharia law in the fourth Republic, religious identity is more critical than ethnic identity and in fact serves to activate ethnicity.

Fawole O. A. and Bello M. L[19] claimed ethnicity; religion and federalism are intertwined and are more likely to be together than being separated. They claimed ethno-religious conflicts do more harm to federalism than good. These conflicts have presented many challenges that border on security and the corporate existence of the country, which is the fundamental reason for the adoption of a federal system. Fawole and Bello affirmed that these crises weaken patriotism, commitment to national deals and true nationhood, giving rise to parochialism, ethnicity and other cleavages, which ‘ethno-religious’ jingoists exploit for their interest and advantage. They concluded that ethno-religious violence retards the practice of federalism in Nigeria; contaminates social relations and undermines the economy of the state. Ethno-religious bigotry in Nigeria according to the duo has become a fulcrum of various forms of nationalism ranging from assertion language, cultural autonomy and superiority to demands for local political autonomy and self-determination. Salawu E.,[20] said the major cause of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria has to do with the accusations and allegations of neglect, oppression, domination, exploitation, victimization, discrimination, marginalization, nepotism and bigotry. He explained that the failure of Nigerian leaders to establish good governments, forge national integration and promote real economic progress, through deliberate and articulated policies, has led to mass poverty and unemployment and as a result has led into communal, ethnic, religious and class conflicts that have now characterized the nation. He said poverty and unemployment therefore served as nursery bed for many ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria because the country now has a reservoir of poor people who warmongers as mercenary fighters. He claimed further that a very important cause of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria is the breakdown of such vehicles of social control that characterizes the traditional African societies such as the family, education, law, religion, and political system that cares for well being of all citizens. Salawu re-affirmed that the malfunctioning of all these important institutions has actually increased ethnic and communal conflicts in Nigeria. He reiterated that the long military intervention in politics encourage and legitimize the use of force and violence as instruments of social change and attainment of set goals and demands. Hence the use of coercion and force in settling conflicts has become a tradition in the Nigerian body politics. Salawu claimed that the ethno-religious conflicts have some connection, with a number of politico-religious developments at the international scene. He agreed that the foreign connection in ethno-religious crises in Nigeria is also evident in the involvement of non-Nigerians in a number of urban insurgencies. These foreigners have been found to actively participate in the ethnic conflicts around the country and particularly in the Northern part between the Hausa-Fulani Muslim hosts and their Christian dominated southern Nigeria ‘strangers’ who reside in their midst. He said the foreign preachers often contribute to the insurgence of ethno-religious crises in Nigeria. He cited the example of 1991 religious crises in Kano that was traced to the plan of evangelist Richard Bonnke’s crusade tagged “Kano for Jesus” and because the government had earlier denied access to a Muslim cleric to preach in the city; serious crises erupted between the Muslim and Christian populations. Salawu in conclusion argued that in spite of widespread of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria, past and present governments have failed to tackle the problem through articulated and well-organized policy actions. He suggested that government should move from conflict resolution to the stage of conflict prevention; provision of adequate and effective security in each state that will respond promptly to any ethno-religious insurgence; establishment of functional and effective platform for ethno-religious leaders where grievances can be discussed before they escalate into ethno-religious crises; involvement of civil society in some critical areas of ethno-religious conflict, and strengthening of some conflict resolution institutions through appropriate legislations. Government should resolve to be pluralistic, representative, and Just in dealing with ethno-religious issues; and above all the government should strive to reduce poverty among the citizens.




The causes of ethnic conflicts include, cultural and social intolerance, ethnic activism or fundamentalism, heterogeneity within groups in a community; discriminatory government policy, homogeneity of ethnic group characteristics, boundaries or/and territorial agitation, and at times group competition or rivalry. There are three schools of thought on the ethnic-conflict debate: Primordialist, Instrumentalist and Constructivist. Proponents of primordial accounts argue that ethnic groups exist because there are traditions of belief and action towards primordial objects such as biological features and especially territorial location.[21] Instrumentalist 
account sought to explain such persistence as the result of the actions of community leaders, who used their cultural groups as sites of mass mobilization and as constituencies in their competition for power and resources, because they found them more effective than social classes[22]. Constructivism is often associated with pedagogic approaches that promote active learning. Jean Piaget
[23] articulated mechanism by which knowledge is internalized by learners and suggested that through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. Constructivists argue that through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences by incorporating the new experience into an already existing framework without changing that framework[24].


The adherents of various religions guide their ‘Faiths’ jealously. Conflict arises when some step out of their beliefs’ to insult others. Conflict is not limited to antagonistic or different beliefs or Faith; at times we have conflicts within a group professing same Faith. Religious pluralism (diversity), and religious beliefs are viewed from different perspectives and these give rise to religious conflict within the same congregation, denomination or different religions. In itemized formula not necessarily in order of priority, the causes and sources of religious conflicts are:

  1. Disagreement over interpretation of scriptures, doctrines, sacraments or practices of various religions.
  2. Over-pampering of one religion over others through legislation, policy, resource allocations, and government gifts and patronages.
Leadership in religious institutions leads to controversies and schisms.
  4. Mismanagement of funds by the treasurer, finance committee or the priest or equivalent in other religions.
Acquisition and use of power by religious leaders or religious groups; this may be the power of persuasion or the power of the most cruel violence and terror.


Onigu Otite in his book[25] identified seven likely causes of conflict:

  1. The struggle for land space and the resources available;
  2. Disputed jurisdiction of certain traditional rulers and chiefs, where a 
king of one ethnic or sub-ethnic group claims rulership over people 
belonging to another ethnic group.
  3. Creation of new local government councils and the location of their 
  4. Ethnic and individual or sectional competition over access to scarce 
political and economic resources.
  5. The micro and macro social structures in Nigeria.
Population growth and expansionist tendencies to sustain ethnic bound 
occupations – a type of conflict, popular amongst the users of land 
  7. The perception or disregard for cultural symbols and the “pollution” of cultural practices.




Ethnicity is correlated to nationhood and it is as old as mankind. The word ‘ethnic’ when traced to its Latin or Greek origin means “Ethnos’ depicting nation or race. Nigeria had over four hundred ethnics and many sub-ethnic groups[26] 
existing independent of each other before the colonial rule in the country. Colonialism and amalgamation of Nigeria led to creation of unacceptable boundaries that led to the development of ethnic consciousness thereby making ethnicity a part of the country’s source of violent conflicts. The colonial masters through the constitution and political arrangement bestowed on the country tribalism, ethnic differences and disparities that different governments since then have been battling with. 
Despite various efforts by successive governments to eradicate ethnic violence, the problem persists unabated till today. Some of the past efforts included: creation of more states, ethnic balancing, federal character, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), federal unity colleges, proliferation of local government areas, various formula for revenue sharing policy, and multi-party democracy etc. These efforts have yielded no positive changes because ethnic violent conflict is not abated. Adeogun Adebayo[27] posited that ethnic conflicts could occur within two major typologies:

  1. Intra-Ethnic Conflict: This is the conflict between the same ethnic or sub-ethnic group living within the same boundary or different boundaries.
  2. Inter-Ethnic: Conflicts between two different ethnic groups living within the same geo-political boundary or different boundaries. Various issues such as location of local government headquarters, religion, or/and marginalization could cause such conflict.

It is important to note that some conflicts referred to as ethnic conflicts are really not ethnic in nature. Most of them have nothing to do with ethnic issues or ethnicity. These conflicts arise from religious bias, demographic explosion, politics or struggle for scarce resources. Ethnic identity was heightened and promoted during the colonial times because of the cultural nature of the threat posed by state violence. Later day ethnic conflict is as a result of injustice and environmental destruction, an example is the minorities of the oil-rich Niger Delta. The resultant violence brought the attention of the world on Ogoni. MOSOP succeeded in focusing national attention on the problems of Ogoni; this happened as a result of the violence, repression and resistance associated with their struggle. Hence a new perspective was created to ethnic conflict; the concept of resource control became legitimized and publicly discussed up to the Supreme Court of the country. Ethnic violence has now become a way of attracting ethnic attention to political issues, interests, and becoming relevant in the politics of the land.


Nigeria has experienced a long series of violent and bloody confrontations between the religious groups, especially between Christians and Muslims, causing several deaths of innocent Nigerians. Local conflicts are easily translated into religious loyalties and interpreted within the historical antagonism between Christian and Muslims especially in the north where there is Christian ethnic minority compared to Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic majority. Christian groups in the southern half of the country and in the middle belt reacted sharply to what they perceived as a Muslim, northern effort to lay the foundations for an Islamic state. Northeast has the highest number of displaced people as a result of clashes between Christians and Muslims. More than 1,000 people were killed in sectarian clashes between Christians and Muslims in Jos alone in September 2001. Many northern states continue to ban or limit public proselytizing, although it is permitted by the constitution. In addition, in many states, government officials sometimes discriminate against adherents of minority religions in hiring practices, awarding of state contracts, and granting of permits and licenses. There is wide spread discriminatory legislation or policies disadvantaging certain religions. Some governments have implemented laws or regulations that favor certain religions and place others at a disadvantage. As Paul Tillich puts it “religion is the substance of culture and culture is the form of religion.[28]” Psycho-cultural theory of conflict shows that psychologically, religious and other cultural contradictions are the basis of conflicts. Faleti[29] argued that psycho-cultural conflicts take long to resolve. In this kind of conflict, passion for the protection of one’s identity, religion and culture overwhelms reason and inflames conflict behavior. The 1970s were decade of verbal wrangling and unruly display; the 1980s and 1990s were known for riots and violence. The Maitatsine crisis in 1980 claimed thousands of lives. By 1980, more than thirty-three cases of religious violence were reported in the north; these incidents spread geographically. Bitter conflicts between Christians and Muslims have become permanent feature of Nigeria’s politics.


Samuel G. Egwu[30] presented a scenario:

Nigeria has demonstrated a very high propensity for the ethnic and religious violence in the past three decades; there has also been a rise in the level of religious fundamentalism, millenarian religious movements of all kinds, and an extreme sense of religious intolerance resulting into numerous cases of intra and inter-religious violence on the other[31].

Matthew Hassan Kukah[32]
 in agreement with Egwu said, most students of Africa political scene agreed on the fact that both ethnicity and religion are the most dangerous threats to the attainment of democracy in Africa. Yusuf Bala Usman added his voice to this contentious religion crisis by stating that:

A series of violent demonstrations, riots and civil uprisings in this country in the last two years, have forcefully made many Nigerians come face-to-face with the harsh reality that religion is being systematically manipulated, by some forces, for specific purposes which are clearly opposed to the unity of the people in this country.[33]

Jos crises since 1994 have religious undertone among other causes of conflicts. 
Mvendiga Jibo et al[34] once declared that “the violent clashes in Plateau are very dangerous because any conflict involving the predominantly Hausa/Fulani with the non-Hausa-Fulani Christians has both ethnic and religious component.” The religious crises heightened in the 1980s, and since then there have been relocation of people based on ethnic and religious borderlines; this in effect has serious implications in future. War-lines are already drawn for potential violent conflicts. Most Christians have fled cities of violent conflicts and the churches that remained have suspended their services to protect their congregations. Major cities in northern Nigeria are patterned along Christian-Muslim divides. In Jos for example, Muslims inhabit Anguwan Rogo, Bauchi Road, and Gangare; while Christians predominate in Jenta Adamu, Kabong, Anguwan Rukuba, and Tudun-Wada areas. These relocations are based on suspicion, mistrust, fear, and open resentment between Muslims and Christians especially in Jos town[35]. The dislocations and relocations as a result of religious conflicts have created socio-economic problems as some people have lost their jobs. Most importantly, the continuous religious crises in Nigeria have conditioned the people to harbor grievances, bitterness, hatred, and mistrust against each other. All religions advocate peace and peaceful interactions; this core teaching has been jettisoned for hatred leading to serious and violent religious conflicts.





Violence is a malady, a syndrome that corrupts all who are engaged in it regardless of the causes. The effects of ethno-religious crises lead to social chaos and anarchy. More than anything else, the greatest obstacle to the nascent democracy is the pervasive insecurity of lives and property, as evidenced by the spate of ethnic, religious, and political conflicts, coupled with the seeming helplessness of security agencies to handle the outflow. Ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria highlight the ‘Conflict Trap Theory’ (CTT). The promoters of CTT are Paul Collier, Ankle Hoeffler, Havard Hegre, Nicolas Sambanis, V. L. Elliot, and Marta Reynal-Querol. As a theory, conflict trap denotes that once a conflict has erupted, it tends to develop a momentum of its own. Peace seemingly becomes elusive and hard to restore; even when peace is restored, it often does not endure[36]. The promoters of conflict trap ascribed the lengthy pattern of a typical conflict to a number of interlocking factors. The varying degrees of conflict factors in Nigeria are due to the fact that the country is secular, multi-ethnic and plural in nature. Conflicts in multi-ethnic societies are vulnerable to the mobilization of ethnic sentiments for the government and the warring groups. In a heterogeneous as well as pluralistic society, divergent opinions in relation to religious beliefs and ideologies, might not allow for a cordial relationship. The struggle for supremacy among religions in the society does not allow for a compromise especially in state policies as it affects affiliations to socio-economic institutions in the globe. The ethno-religious conflicts are not limited to an area; they are spread in the six geo-political zones of the country. The negative interaction of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria is a catalyst for disunity and can easily dismember the state because the outcome is upsurge of violence, which is the most significant factor impending true constitutional democracy. The resultant effect of this negativity is social disintegration.


The disastrous implications of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria are: wanton destruction of property, high toil of deaths, underdevelopment as a result of destruction of available infrastructures, and a nation in throes of disintegration. Nigeria has become a nation struggling not to become a pariah nation among other nations. The country has lost its tourism potentials and foreign patronage as a result of prolonged religious insurgencies. The struggle for supremacy among religions compromises state policies negatively or positively depending on the side one is. An example of this issue is the membership of Nigeria in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Sharia bank introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Christians are not happy with the country being drawn into core Islamic association and products irrespective of any economic gains if any.




There is need for a Paradigm Shift in perspective, action, and reaction of the people towards religion and ethnicity. The desired change is the ability to resolve conflicts arising from religion, and ethnicity, without turning violent. Nigerians must speak and act as one nation not from ethnic or religious biases. The viable proposition here for an end to ethnicity conflict is stepping-down on ‘state of origin’ and stepping-up ‘state of birth’ or/and ‘state of domicile’ for at least 10 consecutive years. This is the only way to foster strong unity among the different ethnic communities. Also a culture of tolerance, trust and dialogue in inter-ethnic and inter-religious issues need to be built by all Nigerians. This paper advocates for a change to make Nigerians think nationally rather than ethnically or religiously. If religion influences were underplayed in the rights and privileges of Nigerians, religious conflicts would drastically reduce. At this point, the words of Stanley Samartha may become useful, he noted that “traditionally, religions have been moats of separation rather than bridges of understanding between the people[37], and Stanley concluded that “in spite of peace potential of religions, organized and institutionalized religions have not been able to prevent conflicts or to control religious passions once they have been aroused”[38]. The dictum in religious doctrine of cohabitation is ‘peace’ and all adherents must uphold peace as a choice. The Change Agenda is for a responsive positive solution, which is no other than nonviolent resistance. The nonviolent resistance will usher in, a new dawn for the community and present an environment free of oppression and pollution. The tools for analyzing conflict hang on a tripod of ‘CAB’: Contexts of the conflict, Attitude, and Behaviour of conflicting groups. The contexts (C) are the sources of conflict such as injustice, discrimination, corruption, and ethnic imbalance, political and economic issues, among others. The Attitude (A) is signs of hatred, prejudice, fear, mistrust, confrontational attitude etc. The Behaviour (B) of conflicting people or groups towards each other includes intimidation, destruction, killing, maiming, discrimination, marginalization, displacement, and so on.

The ethno-religious model in Nigeria shows religious/cultural intolerance, and discriminatory government policy contributing to various forms of activism that causes violence. It is a matter for concern that the economic injustice is an inseparable twin of ethnic injustice. The inequalities in status, income, and access to wealth showed more citizens are impoverished; unemployed and poor. The activists (mainly youths) use the sources as excuses for violent conflicts. The advocated change hinges on the theoretical standpoint that the howl for peace in Nigeria is as old as the dawn of history of Nigeria. The allegations of citizenship/indigeneity, native/settlers, victimization, marginalization, religious intolerance, land for grazing for Cattles, resource control, lack of good government, self-rule, and so on.


Religion in Nigeria is politicized. Religion relates to everything including birth, name, education, marriage, business, contracts, travels, and death and so on. Ethnicity is correlated with religion. The major examples of violent ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria include the Kafanchan-Kaduna crises of 1987 and 1999, the Tiv-Jukun crises in 1998, Zangon-Kataf riots of 1992, 2001; the Kaduna riots of 2000 and the Jos (Plateau) riots of 2001, each claiming several hundreds of lives and generated violent ripple effects beyond Kaduna and Jos respectively.[39] Since 2012, the nation is embroiled in suicide bombing by Islamic terrorists. The pursuit of peace sometimes comes with a stiff price. Love conquers all, love is never defeated; genuine love is the only solution to violent conflicts. Conflict resolution therefore lies in a Paradigm shift towards the fear and love of God. Religious leaders have social, economical, political and spiritual responsibilities to the people. On this cause, they have refused to act to bring everlasting peace to Nigeria by their lack of positive interference and conflict management. It is better to stop a conflict rather than look for ways to resolve the conflict. Martin Luther King’s conviction was:

That any religion that professes concern for the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.

 Therefore religious leaders must be concerned about the land degradation, unemployment of vibrant and proactive youths, unrest and economic insecurity. This is simply the social gospel. Mahatma Gandhi’s concept was SATYAGRAHA (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; Satyagraha means truth force or love force). This is in conformity with Jesus’ teachings. This has a great potential in the area of social reform. Gandhi was the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force. Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. Love overrides all things. In unity, man can achieve anything; even the most difficult task. This is like the Biblical Tower of Babel; men can achieve their aim in oneness. The ‘Change’ this paper, advocates as ways out of ethno-religious conflicts are but not limited to:

  1. Transformed human beings (re-engineering of human minds).
  2. Good leadership and good governance by running a transparent government.
  3. Respect for the country’s constitution, especially under the fundamental human rights section.
  4. Addressing the underlining issues fuelling ethno-religious conflicts.
  5. Continuous dialogue, discourse, collaboration, negotiation, and 
  6. Dispensation of love, peace and justice.
  7. Revisiting all the reports of all commissions of enquiries that have been set up 
in the past by the government which have remained in the custody of 
government untouched.
  8. Infrastructural development: government must make uninterrupted electricity 
supply available; rehabilitate the bad roads, and construct new ones; upgrade 
the current dilapidated educational facilities.
  9. Creating jobs for the unemployed to eradicate poverty in the land.
  10. Putting an end to civil, tribal and religious strife by taking a stand at 
indigeneship and nativity of citizens (native and settlers): Many Nigerians are no longer comfortable in areas that are not dominated by their ethnic group because they can be killed under flimsy excuses. Many youth corpers have lost their lives in this way.



  1. Patriotic Gene: this will instill deep patriotism in Nigerians.

With genuine patriotism, bond of true unity shall develop between different ethnic groups and all shall see themselves first as Nigerians. Nigeria is not founded on strong ideals that are the reasons the country is challenged today. Nigerians lack patriotism, hence Nigerians need to go back to the root of all problems, if truly the people want to be one nation. John Fitzgerald Kennedy in his “Inaugural Address” on January 20, 1961 urged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. This timeless advice is advocated for Nigerians.

  1. Citizenship and Indigeneity: State of Birth to replace State of Origin

The twin issues of indigenous and settlers always cause ethnic conflicts. They must be frontally dealt with by removing ‘state of origin’ in the dictionary of Nigeria and replace it with state of birth. Legislating on the state of birth and relegating the state of origin will truly bond together various ethnic groups of people. State of domicile could be considered if a person has lived in that state for a minimum of ten consecutive years. The country’s constitution needs to be amended to reflect this. It is the only way of stopping ethnic conflicts and foster unity among all people of various cultural backgrounds.

  1. True Democratic Government: 
A developed or developing nation must operate people-driven-democracy and achieve free and fair elections at all levels of governance. Both leaders and followers must uphold the rule of law. A true democratic government leads to Egalitarian Society. An egalitarian society gives everyone equal rights; this is a social philosophy.



Abogunrin, S. O., “Towards a Unifying Political Ideology and Peaceful Coexistence in       Nigeria: A Christian View”, in J. O., Onaiyekan, (ed), Religion, Peace and Unity          in Nigeria, (Ibadan, NACS, 1984)

Adebayo, Adeogun, Ethnic Conflict, Resolution and Management in Nigeria, in In Asaju,   D. F. Ekiyor, H. A. andLawal, M. O. (eds) Studies in Nigerian Development,  Lagos: Irede Printers, 2006

Agbede, Isaac Oluwole, “Dynamics of Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Nigeria”,         Department of            Jurisprudence & International law, Faculty of Law, University of     Lagos, African Centre for Contemporary Studies

Armstrong Karen, The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, New York: The        Random House Publishing Group, 2001

Banks, M., Conflicts in World Society, London: Wheatsheaf, 1984,

Egwu, G. Samuel, Ethnic and Religious Violence in Nigeria, Jos: St. Stephen Inc Book       House, 200

Elliot, Paul, Collier, V. L. Havard H., Ankle H., Marta R. Q., and Nicolas S. I., Breaking    the conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy, Washington D. C., The       International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2003,

Faleti, S. A., Theories of Social Conflict, in Shedrack Gaya Best (ed.), Introduction to         Peace and conflict studies in West Africa, Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 2006

Fawole, O. A., and Bello, M. L, “The Impact of ethno-religious conflict on Nigerian          Federalism”, International NGO Journal Vol. 6(10), (October 2011),

Grosby, Steven, The verdict of history: The inexpungeable tie of primordiality – a  response to Eller and  Coughlan, 1994, Ethnic and racial studies, 17 (1)

Gwamna, J. Dogara, Religion and Politics in Nigeria, Bukuru: Africa Christian       Textbooks ACTS, 2010

Jibo, Mvendiga, Ethnic Groups and Conflicts in Nigeria,Volume 4, The Lord’s       Creations, Ibadan: 2001, p.82 cited in Gwamna, J. Dogara, Religion and Politics            in Nigeria, Bukuru,: Africa Christian Textbooks ACTS, 2010, 8.

Kukah, Hassan Matthew, Democracy and Civil Society in Nigeria, Ibadan: Spectrum         Books Ltd., 2000

Kwaja, Chris, “Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict, Africa Security   Brief”, A Publication of the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies No.(14/ July    2011) Eghosa, E., Osaghae, and Suberu, T. Rotimi, A History of Identities,  Violence, and   Stability in Nigeria: CRISE, WorkingPaper No.6, January2005,  London:University of Oxford,

Ostien Philip, “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa: Ethno-Religious Conflict in Jos, Nigeria,        August 2009, Muslim Christian Relations in Africa Peace history Society and     Consortium on Peace, Research, Education and Development, Peace and change    Vol 22, No. 1, (January 1997),

Otite, Onigu, Ethnic Pluralism and Ethnicity in Nigeria, Ibadan, Sharpson, 1990

Piaget, J., The Origins of Intelligence in Children, New York: International Universities     Press, 1952; Cognitive Theory of Constructivism, 1967

Salawu, E., “Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Nigeria: Causal Analysis and Proposals for        New Management Strategies”, European Journal of Social Sciences – volume 13, Number 3 (2010)

Samartha, Stanley, “Current Dialogue, World Council of Churches, Geneva” No. 38,          Dec. 2001, p. 16 cited in Gwamna, J. Dogara, Religion and Politics in Nigeria,      Bukuru,: ACTS Bookshop, 2010

Smith, Anthony, Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History, (Cambridge: Polity, 2001)

Tienou, Tite, The theological task of the Church in Africa, Hong Kong: African Christian   Press, 1990,

Usman, Bala Yusuf, The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria: 1977-1987, Kaduna: Vanguard Printers and Publishers Ltd., 1987 Accessed on 25   Jan 2013>News>worldnews>Nigeria @ 2010 Academic Journals

http:/ (Human Rights Watch, 2001), accessed on July 07,       2012

http:/ (HRW, 2001), accessed on July 07, 2012

http:/ (HRW, 2001), accessed on July 07, 2012



[1] Karen, Armstrong, The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, (New York: The Random House   Publishing Group, 2001), vii, xi, 135-317, 365



[2] Those injured included 64 UN staff, 36 non-UN staff and 16 unidentifiable persons according to the          broadcast by various news and electronic media on the day of event.

[3] Buhari’s declaration that Nigeria has joined the controversial Islamic Military Coalition against Terrorism            was made public recently in an interview with Aljazeera cable television.

[4] “Our Fatherland” in the National Anthem is the reference point for the use of “him”

[5] A situation that involves two ideas or qualities that is different.

[6] M. Banks, Conflicts in World Society, (London,: Wheatsheaf, 1984), 100.

[7] Banks, Conflicts in World Society, 100.

[8] http://www.Microsoft (R) Encarta (R) Dictionary on-line, 2009, © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation

[9], accessed on Thursday, March 10, 2016 @ 2.25pm

[10] Terhemba Nom Ambe-Uva, Identity politics and the Jos crisis: Evidence, lessons, and challenges of good           governance, African Journal of History and Culture (AJHC) Vol.2(3), pp.42-52, April 2010       available online at @ 2010 Academic Journals

[11] http:/ (Human Rights Watch, 2001), accessed on July 07, 2012

[12] http:/ (HRW, 2001), accessed on July 07, 2012

[13] Philip, Ostien, “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa: Ethno-Religious Conflict in Jos, Nigeria, August 2009.    Muslim Christian Relations in Africa Peace history Society and Consortium on Peace, Research,          Education and Development, Peace and change, Vol 22, No. 1, (January 1997),


[14] Isaac Oluwole, Agbede, “Dynamics of Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Nigeria”, Department of     Jurisprudence & International law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, African Centre for        Contemporary Studies


[15] Chris, Kwaja, “Nigeria’s Pernicious Drivers of Ethno-Religious Conflict, Africa Security Brief”, A         Publication of the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies No.(14/ July 2011)

[16] Eyene Okpanachi of department of political science, University of Ibadan in his contribution on Sharia in            Kaduna and Kebbi states

[17] Okpanachi quoting Smyth and Robinson, 2001

[18] E. Eghosa, Osaghae, and T. Rotimi, Suberu, A History of Identities, Violence, and Stability in Nigeria:CRISE, WorkingPaperNo.6,January2005,London:UniversityofOxford,

[19] O. A, Fawole, and M. L, Bello, “The Impact of ethno-religious conflict on Nigerian Federalism”,          International NGO Journal Vol. 6(10), 211-218, (October 2011),

[20] E., Salawu, “Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Nigeria: Causal Analysis and Proposals for New Management            Strategies”, European Journal of Social Sciences – volume 13, Number 3 (2010)


[21] Steven Grosby, The verdict of history: The inexpungeable tie of primordiality – a response to Eller and Coughlan, 1994, Ethnic and racial studies, 17 (1): 164-171, 168

[22] Anthony Smith, Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History, (Cambridge: Polity, 2001), 54-55

[23] J. Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence in Children, New York: International Universities Press, 1952;     Cognitive Theory of Constructivism, 1967,   Accessed on 25 Jan 2013

[24] Piaget, 2009, 1-7

[25] Onigu Otite, Ethnic Pluralism and Ethnicity in Nigeria, (Ibadan, Sharpson, 1990)


[26] Adeogun Adebayo, Ethnic Conflict, Resolution and Management in Nigeria, in In Asaju, D. F. Ekiyor, H. A. andLawal, M. O. (eds) Studies in Nigerian Development, (Lagos: Irede Printers, 2006), 15.

[27] Adeogun, Adebayo, Ethnic Conflict, Resolution and Management in Nigeria, in In Asaju, D. F. Ekiyor,            H. A. andLawal, M. O. (eds) Studies in Nigerian Development, (Lagos: Irede Printers, 2006), 18.

[28] Cited by Tite Tienou, The theological task of the Church in Africa, (Hong Kong: African Christian Press,          1990), 24

[29] S. A. Faleti, Theories of Social Conflict, in Shedrack Gaya Best (ed.), Introduction to Peace and conflict           studies in West Africa, (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 2006), 50.

[30] Cited in J. Dogara, Gwamna, Religion and Politics in Nigeria, (Bukuru: Africa Christian Textbooks      ACTS,  2010), 2.

[31] G. Samuel, Egwu, Ethnic and Religious Violence in Nigeria, (Jos: St. Stephen Inc Book House, 200), 1.

[32] Hassan Matthew, Kukah, Democracy and Civil Society in Nigeria, (Ibadan: Spectrum Books Ltd., 2000),           93.

[33] Bala Yusuf, Usman, The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria: 1977-1987, (Kaduna: Vanguard Printers  and Publishers Ltd., 1987), 71.

[34] Mvendiga Jibo, Ethnic Groups and Conflicts in Nigeria, Volume 4, The Lord’s Creations, Ibadan: 2001,          p.82 cited in Gwamna, J. Dogara, Religion and Politics in Nigeria, (Bukuru,: Africa Christian Textbooks ACTS, 2010), 8.

[35] Mvendiga Jibo, Ethnic Groups and Conflicts in Nigeria, Volume 4, The Lord’s Creations, (Ibadan:      2001), 82 cited in Gwamna, J. Dogara, Religion and Politics in Nigeria, (Bukuru: Africa Christian  Textbooks ACTS, 2010), 8.

[36] Paul Elliot, Collier, V. L. Havard H., Ankle H., Marta R. Q., and Nicolas S. I., Breaking the conflict    Trap: Civil War and Development Policy, (Washington D. C., The International Bank for       Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2003), 12.


[37] Some Glimses into the theology of Stanley Samartha, Current Dialogue, World Council of Churches,     Geneva, No. 38, Dec. 2001, p. 16 cited in Gwamna, J. Dogara, Religion and Politics in Nigeria,          (Bukuru,: ACTS Bookshop, 2010), 13.

[38] Some Glimses into the theology of Stanley Samartha, Current Dialogue, World Council of Churches,     Geneva, No 38, Dec. 2001, p. 18 cited in Gwamna, J. Dogara, Religion and Politics in Nigeria,          (Bukuru: ACTS Bookshop, 2010), 13.

[39] http:/ (HRW, 2001), accessed on July 07, 2012


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