This essay by Oliver Stone was entered into the HART Prize for Human Rights
What can the Nigerian Government do to Encourage and Initiate Religious Reconciliation in the Country?
Nigeria is in need of religious reconciliation. Ever since just before their independence from British rule in 1960, there has been religious divide within the country. As shown by the first map below, Nigeria is split into two halves religiously. The north is governed under Sharia law and is therefore mostly Muslim; the south is Christian. The populations of those two regions is roughly the same. The second map shows that there is a strong correlation between religious beliefs and political views. This immediately shows division within the country and shows a potentially challenging task of initiating religious reintegration as there is not only historical and current tension between Muslims and Christians within the country but there are also geographical barriers between them. The most recent religion-based violence has been related with the rise of Boko Haram which aims to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. Areas such as education, interfaith dialogue and local initiatives must be studied and improved in order to make the two religions more socially connected.
Firstly, education is arguably one of the most important factors in improving any conflict. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” After the civil war in 1970, the government took over all missionary schools which, before the war, educated up to 90% of Nigerian children who attended schools. It was the first time that the state took control over education rather than schools being private institutions. To begin with, the takeover was successful and increased the number of children in full time education. However, due to a lack of funding leading to the quality of the schools being poor, new private schools were opened. This led to new missionary schools being established. Lagos was the first state to return to missionary schools. While this increased the quality of education, it means that religious mixing and integration is severely lacking. Dr Heather Rolfe, an expert in Employment and Social Policy, says that if integration amongst other ethnicities or religions does not happen in an individual’s life during school then then the chance of them being segregated from those people increases significantly as an adult. Therefore, I believe that the Nigerian government need to focus their education funding on making sure that their children benefit from a wider range of social integration as well as maintaining a high level of the standard of education. This is arguably the most important factor to the religious reconciliation within the country.
The second way that Nigeria could initiate religious reintegration is by improving interfaith dialogue. Religious, or interfaith dialogue concerns often organised discussions between two or more different faith groups where the parties can gain a better understanding of each other and each other’s viewpoints. It is hard to gain a perspective on another person’s life without looking at their life from their own point of view and taking into account their background and upbringing. These discussions only work if there is mutual respect between those taking part. This alone can help to decrease tension between the two groups. Organisations such as Kaiciid have started working with the government to promote gatherings which have the aim of developing conversation between the Christians and the Muslims. They also visit states and communities which have been affected by the conflict and help to raise awareness of hate speech and hold intra-faith round table meetings. India is the perfect example of where this has worked. It was the birthplace of many modern day religions. Now, through inter religious dialogue, citizens of all faiths are able to cohabit peacefully. Rev. Fr. V.S. George Joseph, Dean of the Jesuit Faculty of Philosophy in Chennai, says that “It is true that inter-religious dialogue has almost become a way of life”  in India. He goes onto say that “at a structural level, each one of the society’s 17 provinces and one region in India has a coordinator for inter-religious dialogue.” The Nigerian government could introduce a policy along these lines which would help aid inter-religious dialogue. In my opinion, reconciliation cannot happen without both sides of the conflict being able to find common ground. These discussions can only benefit that prospect. Overall, I believe that the two most important ways in which the government can initiate religious reintegration within their country are by better and more rounded education and by holding inter-religious dialogue between the Christians and the Muslims. Both of these strategies require building from the bottom up. Therefore, they would not be straightforward to implement and maintain. However, for a country whose future is predicted to be as influential as Nigeria’s, creating these strong foundations is fundamental.
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(Featured Image: © Kipp Jones)