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Working Paper 39 - 2009
Religions and Development
Research Programme
Religion, Politics and
Governance in Nigeria
Insa Nolte
Centre for West African Studies, University of Birmingham
Nathaniel Danjibo and Abubakar Oladeji
Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research,
Religions and Development
Research Programme
The Religions and Development Research Programme Consortium is an international research
partnership that is exploring the relationships between several major world religions, development in
low-income countries and poverty reduction. The programme is comprised of a series of comparative
research projects that are addressing the following questions:
zHow do religious values and beliefs drive the actions and interactions of individuals and faith-based
zHow do religious values and beliefs and religious organisations influence the relationships between
states and societies?
zIn what ways do faith communities interact with development actors and what are the outcomes with
respect to the achievement of development goals?
The research aims to provide knowledge and tools to enable dialogue between development partners
and contribute to the achievement of development goals. We believe that our role as researchers is
not to make judgements about the truth or desirability of particular values or beliefs, nor is it to urge a
greater or lesser role for religion in achieving development objectives. Instead, our aim is to produce
systematic and reliable knowledge and better understanding of the social world.
The research focuses on four countries (India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Tanzania), enabling the research
team to study most of the major world religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and
African traditional belief systems. The research projects will compare two or more of the focus
countries, regions within the countries, different religious traditions and selected development activities
and policies.
The consortium consists of six research partner organisations, each of which is working with other
researchers in the four focus countries:
zUniversity of Birmingham, UK: International Development Department, Department of Theology and
Religion, Centre for West African Studies, Centre for the Study of Global Ethics.
zUniversity of Bath, UK: Centre for Development Studies.
zIndian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi.
zNigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, Ibadan.
zUniversity of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
zLahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan.
In addition to the research partners, links have been forged with non-academic and non-government
bodies, including Islamic Relief. Contact:
Religions and Development
Working Paper 39
Religion, Politics and
Governance in Nigeria
This document is an output from a project funded by the UK
Department for International Development (DFID) for the benefit
of developing countries. The views expressed are not
necessarily those of DFID.
Insa Nolte
Centre for West African Studies, University of Birmingham
Nathaniel Danjibo and Abubakar Oladeji
Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research, Ibadan
ISBN: 0 7044 2777 X
978 0 7044 2777 8
© International Development Department, University of Birmingham
Working Paper 39
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
Acknowledgements 1
List of acronyms and abbreviations 2
Summary 3
1 Introduction 6
2 Religion and politics in Nigerian history 10
2.1 Politics and religion in postcolonial Nigeria 12
2.2 Research design and organisation 18
2.3 Research terminology 21
2.4 Outline of the paper 23
3 Muslim debates and Shari’a politics in Kano State 26
3.1 Christian-Muslim relations in Kano 29
3.2 The experiences of Christian organizations 30
3.3 Muslim political debates 34
3.4 Muslim organizations and government 37
3.5 Izala and the politics of power 40
3.6 Conclusion 43
4 Politics in Anambra State 45
4.1 Muslim organizations and ethnic difference 48
4.2 Godfathers and governors since 1999 52
4.3 Christian organizations and their insertion in politics 55
4.4 Conclusion 60
5 Yoruba opposition politics, ‘godfathers’ and religion in Oyo State 64
5.1 The collapse of Yoruba opposition and the rise of ‘godfather’ politics 66
5.2 Muslim organizations in Oyo State 68
5.3 Christian organizations in Oyo State 72
5.4 Conclusion 74
Working Paper 39
6 Religion in the political realm 77
6.1 Good governance and development 77
6.2 Poverty: “it is here with us” 81
6.3 Ethno-regional differences in gender perceptions 84
6.4 Conclusion 90
7 A fraught relationship: religious groups and FBOs and the Nigerian state 92
7.1 State governments’ attempts to co-opt some religious groups and
FBOs to gain access to the grassroots 92
7.2 FBOs’ perceptions of government and politicians 95
7.3 Relations between the state and religious groups and FBOs: unstable
and non-equitable 100
7.4 Nigeria’s current politics: a laboratory of inter-religious communication 102
8 Conclusion 106
Notes 109
References 112
Appendices 116
1 List of respondents from Kano State 116
2 List of respondents from Anambra State 116
3 List of respondents from Oyo State 117
Key words: Nigeria, Kano State, Anambra State, Oyo State, religion, politics
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 1
This report draws on the support of many individuals, and the author and contributors are grateful to all
named and anonymous respondents, without whose support the research could not have been carried
out. In Nigeria, this group of people includes Alhaji Opeyemi Abuliazeez Abduljeleel, Pastor Peter
Adagbada, Mallam Ali, Chief Akanbi Atoyebi, Alhaji Adulrauf Ayedun, Sir Ngozi Anyakora, Reverend
Joshua Bwamche, Mohammed Danyaro, Haruna Garba, Adbul-Lateef Jimoh, Reverend Madi-Dangora,
Prince Sulaiman Makanjuola-Totoola, Alhaji Abdulfatai Ologbonoke, Pastor Andrew Olubunmi, C. J.
Onyenze, Pastor Richard Ejike Orji, Funmilayo Osho, Father Ezekiel Owoeye, Abduljeleel Abdulyekini
Soga, as well as our confidential respondents. We appreciate that they have given us valuable time.
We also appreciate the contributions of Uchenna Chester Azubuike, who carried out the interviews in
Anambra State, and the work of Justina Dugbazah, who has provided administrative support for this
component within the Religion and Development Research Programme since September 2007. The
reports on religion, politics and governance in India and Pakistan by Surinder Jodhka and Gurpreet
Mahajan and Mohammed Waseem and Mariam Mufti respectively were also very helpful to us.
Useful comments and helpful suggestions for the final draft were offered by Aderemi Sulaiman Ajala,
Carole Rakodi and Gurharpal Singh, as well as in discussions under the ‘Chatham House Rule’1 at the
Ditchley Foundation on 1-3 October 2009. We are also very grateful for the insightful and generous
comments by an anonymous reviewer.
Working Paper 39
List of acronyms and abbreviations
AD Alliance for Democracy
ADS Ansar-Ud-Deen Society
ANPP All Nigerian Peoples’ Party
ANPP All Nigerian Peoples’ Party (before 2002 All Peoples’ Party)
APGA All Progressives’ Grand Alliance
APP All Peoples’ Party (after 2002 All Nigerian Peoples’ Party)
ATR African Traditional Religion (meaning a plurality of practices and beliefs)
CAN Christian Association of Nigeria
CofN Anglican Church (Church of Nigeria)
ECWA Evangelical Church of West Africa
FBO faith-based organisation
FOMWAN Federation of Muslim Women Organizations
HMCO Hausa Muslim Community Awka
Izala Izalatul-Bid’a Wa Iqamat
jihad struggle
JDPC Justice, Development and Peace Commission
MASSOB Movement for the Actualization of Biafra
NACOMYO National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations
NASFAT Nasrul-Lahi-Il-Fathi Society of Nigeria
NBC Nigerian Baptist Convention
NEPU Northern Element Progressive Union
NPC Northern Peoples’ Congress
NPN Nigerian Peoples’ Party
NSCIA Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs
OIC Organization of the Islamic Conference
PDP Peoples’ Democratic Party
PDP Peoples’ Democratic Party
PFN Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria
PRP Peoples’ Redemption Party
RCCG Redeemed Christian Church of God
YMCO Yoruba Muslim Community Anambra
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 3
Case studies of Kano, Anambra and Oyo States demonstrate that the relationships between the
Nigerian state and religious organizations are often asymmetric and unstable: Christianity and Islam
provide groups and individuals with moral frameworks on which to base their demands and critiques of
the state; Christian and Muslim organizations both contribute to and challenge state institutions, such
as law and education; and religious leaders are not immune from complicity in patronage politics.
Part of international comparative research on the participation of religious groups in politics and
governance, this study of Nigeria draws on extensive use of secondary sources and case studies of
the States of Kano, Anambra and Oyo, chosen to represent different religious and ethno-regional
compositions and historical experiences. Interviews with representatives of a selection of Christian
and Muslim organizations and the government in each state explored their views and expectations on
state-religion relations, as well as religious views on some key development issues.
Despite Nigeria’s secular constitution, religion has become increasingly important in the public sphere
because of political liberalization and the degree of autonomy accorded to the State governments in a
federal system. The case studies show that relationships between the state and Muslim and Christian
organizations are frequently ambiguous: while both world religions provide moral frameworks for
people and groups to articulate their demands and critiques of the state, they also challenge
institutions provided by the state: the Muslim critique of secular law has led to the introduction of
shari’a penal law in twelve states, while Christian demands for a re-privatization of former mission
schools currently under state control might reinforce Muslim disadvantage in the educational sector.
The ability of religious organizations to participate in politics and governance is strongly related to
patterns of inclusion and exclusion based on linguistic, ethnic and regional identity, as well as on intra-
Nigerian struggles to limit the political participation of certain groups through the requirement of
‘indigeneity’ at State level. As a result, and given the close links between ethnicity and religion, religious
competition is interwoven with the other rivalries that dominate Nigerian local politics and the
relationships between the state and religious organizations are non-equitable: in all the States some
organizations are excluded from participation in local politics while others have good access to the
state. Conflicts over religious participation are closely tied up with disputes over access to material
and ideological resources, from access to land to control of the State budget and local radio and
television channels.
Working Paper 39
The government primarily views religious organizations as political mobilizing agents, thus state
institutions often attempt to co-opt specific religious groups and FBOs for political purposes, rather
than providing systematic support for their development activities. At the same time, many religious
groups seek to influence government, even though they also fear its corrupting influence on
themselves and others.
All the State governments work with some religious organizations, so there are spaces for interaction,
but uneven relations with the state contribute to mistrust among religious groups, and the resultant
fears about religious or other identity-based forms of exclusion may contribute to deepening social
divisions. However, the inclusion of religious groups in the state has in some instances contributed to
increased mutual understanding, while the creation of some inter-religious forums means that some
religious groups have been able to enter into a dialogue with each other as well as the state.
Many concerns about the Nigerian state and visions of development that prioritize infrastructural
development and service delivery are shared by representatives of different religious backgrounds.
Also, all the respondents commented, almost despairingly, on Nigeria’s increasing poverty. However,
religious views of women’s roles differed, with Christian and Muslim groups from the north
emphasizing family and household duties as women’s main responsibilities and Muslim and Christian
groups from the south envisioning a much wider scope of action for women. This suggests that
differences in world views are not necessarily determined by religious orientation, and that other
factors play an important role.
The study concludes that:
Nigerians from different parts of the country share similar views on good governance and development:
these emphasize infrastructural development, education and health care and are shaped by recourse to
Biblical and Qur’anic ideals of justice, equality and ‘the fear of God’.
Despite their shared critique of the Nigerian state, which often includes government failure to provide
educational and health-related infrastructure, religious organizations neither act in concert nor, frequently,
in the common interest of all Nigerians.
Despite attempts by the state at various levels to co-opt religious groups in order to gain grassroots
support and legitimacy, State governments do not systematically support independent development
efforts by these groups.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 5
Encounters between the state and religious groups have included and facilitated negotiation, imitation
and dialogue, but the unequal integration of religious groups and FBOs into politics often has the effect of
giving priority to ‘indigeneity’ and locality; as a result it also creates and intensifies religious rivalry.
Some implications include:
Religious groups’ critique of the failure of the Nigerian state to deliver welfare to its citizens unites them
and suggests that they could be important participants in a national dialogue about the country’s future.
Attempts to reduce religious conflict must address concerns over equal treatment and the fear of
marginalization felt by many religious organizations, often arising from favourable treatment for
indigenous groups.
Some of the new public institutional spaces that provide opportunities for creative engagement between
both the state and religious groups and different religious groups may increase Muslim-Christian
understanding and have the potential for wider use.
Working Paper 39
1 Introduction
In recent decades, religion has become an important factor both in public debate and as a means of
political mobilization. However, the rise of religion has not happened in and for itself: it is closely linked
to wider material and ideological developments that have affected global politics. One of these trends
is the decline and collapse of state socialism, which served important ideological and political
functions outside the socialist world, including the offer of an ideological and political alternative. This
alternative included the provision of an alternative moral and political vision of the world, and, on the
whole, a consensus by ruling elites that social inequality needed to be limited. Since the 1980s, global
and national politics have increasingly been dominated by ideological and practical responses to the
ostensible victory of liberal capitalism. Reflecting a growing scepticism of alternative visions of the
world, idealistic thinking has frequently been perceived as outdated and positive visions for the future
of humanity have been limited to the functioning of the market and its institutions. Whether as a direct
or an indirect result of this, global inequality has increased dramatically since the 1980s, both in the
global North and in the South (cf. Cornia and Court, 2001).
In many contexts, increasing reliance on the market and the lack of consensus on limiting social
inequality and poverty meant that moral principles and hopes for humankind were demoted to the
private realm of personal ethics or faith. While even during this era religion has often informed and
influenced politics, both in predominantly secular Europe and beyond, the recent intensification of
religious debates has had important political and developmental consequences, because it reflects or
intersects with existing and – due to increasing inequality – growing social divisions. Thus, the
ideological distance between Islam on the one hand and Christianity and the (Western) secularism
derived primarily from Christian traditions on the other has contributed to a growing political distance
between Muslim and Christian communities. Because large parts of its population are either
Christians or Muslims, often within the same countries, Africa is located at the centre of the
contestations associated with this political and ideological struggle.
Today, Muslim and Christian communities and organizations in many African countries are publicly
questioning the legitimacy of the secular postcolonial state, while at the same time extending their
activities in areas of social provision closely associated with the state, but which the state is no longer
able to guarantee, such as education and health (Corten and Marshall-Fratani, 2001; Soares and
Otayek, 2007). Religious politics do not affect the state in a coherent or uniform way, instead having a
complex and even contradictory impact on state institutions. On the one hand, the political
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 7
engagement of religious groups and their provision of services in areas where the state has failed to
deliver present an ideological and practical challenge to the state (Love, 2006). On the other hand,
such activities support and supplement state activities in important sectors, and can even be
understood as supporting the state. Nevertheless, even formal collaboration between state and
religious actors can be perceived as undemocratic and threatening by excluded groups, creating
further ground for political – and religious – contestation (cf. Philpott, 2007; for a perspective aimed at
reducing contestation see Deneulin with Bano, 2009).
This paper examines the participation of religious groups in governance and development in Nigeria,
an important African country in terms of both its economic potential and political influence and its
population of at least 140 million inhabitants (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2006).1 It argues that the
close interaction between the state and religious and faith-based organizations (FBOs)2 reflects the
widespread perception that Nigeria is not a secular state. Case studies of Anambra, Kano and Oyo
States illustrate that the relationship between the Nigerian state and Muslim and Christian
organizations and FBOs is frequently ambiguous: while both world religions provide groups and
individuals with moral frameworks to articulate their demands and critiques of the state, they also
challenge institutions of common interest provided by the state: the Muslim critique of secular law has
led to the introduction of shari’a penal law in twelve Nigerian states, while Christian demands for a re-
privatization of former mission schools currently under state control might further emphasize Muslim
disadvantage in the educational sector. Moreover, religious leaders are, like leaders everywhere, not
immune from complicity in patronage politics.
In addition, the ability of religious organizations and FBOs to participate in politics and governance is
strongly related to patterns of inclusion and exclusion based on linguistic, ethnic and regional identity,
as well as on intra-Nigerian struggles to limit the political participation of certain groups through the
requirement of ‘indigeneity’ at the level of the federation’s states. As a result of this, the relationships
between the state and religious organizations and FBOs are uneven and non-equitable: in all States
there are some organizations that are excluded from participation in local politics while others have
close access to the state. Conflicts over religious participation are closely tied up with disputes over
access to material and ideological resources, from access to land to the control of the State budget
and local radio and television channels. As religious difference often reflects difference in markers of
group identity, including language, education, historical rivalry, ethnicity, and sometimes even age and
Working Paper 39
gender, religious competition is closely interwoven with the other forms of rivalry that dominate
Nigerian local politics.
The unevenness of relations to the state contributes to mistrust among religious groups, and the
resultant fears about religious or other identity-based forms of exclusion are likely to contribute to
retaliatory practices at different levels, thus contributing to deepening social divisions. Consequently,
attempts to reduce the intensity of religious conflict must engage with concerns over poverty and
development and diminish the impact of patrimonial politics and ‘indigeneity’. Nevertheless, the fact
that all the State governments also work closely with some religious organizations and FBOs means
that there are spaces for close interaction, negotiation and imitation. As a result, some religious
groups and FBOs have been able to enter into an intensive dialogue with each other as well as the
state. Their often creative engagement with each other serves as a laboratory of state-religious
So far, this introductory section has attempted to sketch out the most important arguments presented
in this paper. Building on a review of the relevant literature (Robert, Odumosu and Nabofa, 2009), this
report moves directly into a historical overview of Nigeria’s religious history and politics which
emphasizes the postcolonial period and provides the context for a detailed discussion of religion and
politics at the State level. This is followed by some research methodological notes relevant to the
discussion in the following sections. Following on are Sections 3 to 5, which focus on case studies of
religious politics and participation in Kano, Anambra and Oyo States. The case studies illustrate
differences and similarities between the political process in the three states, showing the complex
ways in which religious and faith-based organizations (FBOs) engage with politics.
Section 6 compares and contrasts the responses from the three states, with the aim of exploring
similarities and differences in religious views on good governance and development, poverty and
gender. Interestingly it appears that many concerns about the Nigerian state are shared by
representatives of very different religious backgrounds. Also, when it comes to gender, ethno-regional
origin is a much stronger indicator of difference than religious affiliation. Section 7 focuses on the
relationships between religious and faith-based organizations and the state, exploring the different
views and expectations articulated by respondents from the state sector and from religious and faith-
based organizations. It argues that relations between the state and religious and faith-based
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 9
organizations are asymmetric and unstable, which creates insecurity and a widespread sense of
disadvantage. In Section 8, the conclusion argues that the state must address the fears of
marginalization felt by many religious organizations. However, the inclusion of religious groups in the
state has also contributed to increased mutual understanding and learning among religious and faith-
based organizations. Indeed, we suggest that some of Nigeria’s religious politics and innovations
might be of interest for religious practitioners and politicians beyond Nigeria.
Working Paper 39
2 Religion and politics in Nigerian history
As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, Nigeria’s broad religious geography reflects the historical
exposure of its northern communities to Islam through the trans-Saharan trade and the success of
Christian missionary enterprise in many of its southern parts. However, while historical alliances and
shared ethnicity are closely associated with the adoption of these two world religions, religious and
ethno-regional identity are cross-cutting, often reinforcing each other. Thus, while Islam had been
entrenched in the pre-colonial Hausa cities for centuries, many other northern groups converted to
Islam in the wake of the nineteenth century Islamic jihad under Uthman dan Fodio (1754-1817), during
which the greater part of northern and central Nigeria was incorporated into a new Caliphate, albeit
with the exception of the existing, and much older, Islamic kingdom of Borno, which remains the most
important rival to Sokoto’s claims to represent all of northern Nigeria. Other Muslim groups with a
tradition independent of the Uthmanian Caliphate include the Yoruba of south-western Nigeria, where
people initially converted to Islam as a result of links to Malian trading communities (cf. Peel, 1996, p.
610), and Nigeria’s middle belt, where large-scale conversion to Islam has continued throughout the
postcolonial period.
Nigerian Christianity dates back to the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the early nineteenth
century, which was followed by the emergence of a literate African elite, consisting of liberated and
returned slaves as well as local converts, in coastal cities such as Lagos. Because Christianity is
much younger than Islam in the local context, it is not associated with pre-colonial relations of power.
And because its growth in Nigeria was accompanied by the spread of mission education, Nigeria’s
professional elite was, for a long time, dominated by Christians. Like Islam, Nigerian Christianity is
heterogeneous. Roman Catholicism has long been the religion of the Igbo-speaking south-east,
although Nigerian-founded Pentecostal churches have made strong inroads into this area over the
twenty years prior to this study. In other parts of the country’s south, Protestant denominations –
including Pentecostal groups – are dominant in the Christian community, but the Yoruba-speaking
south-west is almost equally divided between Christianity and Islam. Moreover, there are important
Christian groups in the north, which include both Hausa converts and smaller local groups determined
to assert their difference from the Hausa-speaking majority or from relations of power associated with
the Caliphate (cf. Kastfelt, 2003). Moreover, just as there are Muslim migrants from northern Nigeria in
many southern cities, there are Christian communities of migrants, or descendants of migrants, from
the south in almost all northern Nigerian cities.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 11
Apart from Christianity and Islam, Nigerians also belong to a range of other religious groups. The
largest of these is comprised of followers of traditional religious practice, here referred to as African
Traditional Religion (ATR), with the proviso that local belief systems and practices differ widely, and
that their subsumption under one term mainly reflects the fact that these practices do not (yet) hold
the status of world religions.3 However, many ATR groups share the conviction that the worldly and the
sacred are closely interwoven, and that all human relations – including those involving the state and its
representatives – reflect both secular and spiritual forces. It is believed that insight into these forces
can be gained through divination and revelation, and that they can be influenced through sacrifice,
prayer and incantation. Because traditional practices have influenced Christians and Muslims and vice
versa, debates about their validity form an important and ongoing part of inter- and intra-religious
struggles in Nigeria (Amherd and Nolte, 2005). Beyond the engagement with local traditions,
Christianity and Islam have expressed a high degree of political competitiveness with each other at
least since the 1970s.
Nigeria’s colonial and postcolonial rulers have managed the differences associated with different
religious constituencies, and especially Islam and Christianity, in various ways. For most of the
colonial period, almost all parts of northern Nigeria – the areas belonging to the Uthmanian Caliphate
and the kingdom of Borno – were under indirect rule, i.e. administered through the structures of the
Caliphate, albeit under British guidance. While secular concerns guided important aspects of the local
administration, it was thus officially presided over by traditional authorities sanctioned by tradition and
Islam, and Islam also constituted the basis for local government. Shari’a courts,4 which had existed
before colonial rule, were integrated into the colonial state, and most people turned to shari’a law for
the mediation and resolution of personal conflicts.5 Only in the run-up to independence in 1960 were
criminal laws codified into secular law. The colonial state’s reliance on the structures of the Caliphate
in turn affected religious and educational politics in northern Nigeria. In many parts of the north,
missionary activity was forbidden, preventing the emergence of an educated elite prepared to
challenge either the Emirs or local Muslim traditions. As a result, when the colonial presence was
dismantled, the established urban (trading) elites and the local aristocracy emerged as the tenants of
northern Nigerian politics.
Working Paper 39
While Islam was deeply entrenched in the traditional sphere of the Nigerian state, Christianity was,
especially in the south, mainly associated with modernization. As most missions provided schooling,
and later even college training, Christianity was closely associated with the spread of education. The
rapid growth of literacy contributed to the emergence of a mostly urban intermediary class of educated
men and women who worked as catechists, clerks and teachers. This group soon took up and
transformed the local elite’s struggles for self-assertion. Directly confronted with racial division in the
colonial administration, banking practices and even the mission churches, literate southern Nigerians
eventually formed the core of Nigeria’s anti-colonial movement. Criticizing both the colonial state and
the traditional rulers through which the state had ruled, members of this educated elite considered
themselves – rather than the representatives of older elites and especially the aristocracy – the natural
heirs and rulers of the colonial state after independence.
2.1 Politics and religion in postcolonial Nigeria
When Nigeria attained independence in 1960, it became an officially secular state. At the same time,
both Christianity and Islam were closely, though never exclusively, associated with very different social
and geographic groups, and this was reflected to some degree in postcolonial politics. Although the
independence movement had split along ethnic lines, southern Nigerians, who, apart from those in the
south-west, tended to be Christians, generally envisioned national integration and development in line
with Western models of modernization, democratization and meritocracy. Meanwhile, many northern
Nigerian leaders, most of them Muslims, were cautious about political independence. One of the
reasons was that they were worried that low levels of literacy in the north could mean that, instead of
being ruled by British officials, after independence northern Nigeria would be ruled by southern
Nigerians. As a result, education became an important concern of the Muslim communities in both the
north and the south of the country. The resulting engagement of Nigerian Muslims with wider political,
intellectual and religious debates has significantly contributed to the transformation and internal
differentiation of the Muslim community since independence, giving rise both to a trend towards
secularization6 and to more fundamentalist movements critical of the local Sufi traditions, some of
which are discussed below. However, while religion and education played an important role in
structuring political competition in the early postcolonial years, and even in the clashes eventually
leading to the first military coup (1966) and the Civil War (1967-70), the political impact of religion was
widely perceived as less problematic for Nigeria than that of ethnicity and regionalism.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 13
In response to the Civil War, Nigeria’s military rulers broke up the regions into which the country had
been divided and instead created a federation of twelve states (subse quently increased to thirty-
six). To reduce administrative differences within the country, the military also centralized and
standardized Nigeria’s administration and finances so that the majority of the country’s export
revenues were collected centrally and then (re-)distributed to the State and local governments. While
this degree of fiscal centralization means that the central government has a final degree of control
over State politics, meaning that secession would be economically disadvantageous to most States
outside of the Niger Delta, this form of federalism also provides State governments with a regular
income that is independent of local productivity.
The reforms following the Civil War were aimed at nation-building, and in the area of education, they
attempted to level differences between Christians and Muslims. Starting after the Civil War in the
south-east, and finalized in 1976, the military government headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo
encouraged the Nigerian State governments to take over schools and hospitals owned by religious
organizations in order to reduce inequalities, especially the educational gap between Muslims and
Christians. As most schools and hospitals were owned by the mission churches and based in the
southern part of Nigeria, this inequality of access to facilities and education levels was widely
perceived at the time as having contributed to the struggles over Nigeria’s future that had led to the
Civil War (Davis and Kalu-Nwiwu, 2001). However, the establishment of state control over – and state
funding for – the nation’s educational institutions further complicated educational politics. One reason
was that decision-making in this matter actually takes place at the State rather than federal level,
meaning that State decisions were not consistent at the national level. At the time, and despite some
complaints over individual State governments’ anti-Christian bias (cf. Hackett, 1999, p. 543), public
engagement in the provision of Western education was generally perceived as a contribution to the
nation’s modernization. However, Nigeria’s developmental failure has meant that the education
provided by the state is generally of low quality and the educational reforms are sometimes perceived
as having diminished the influence of Christian organizations as well as southern groups (Hackett,
1999). As a result, the churches demand that the government should return the ownership and
management of mission-established institutions to them.
Working Paper 39
While the educational sector in northern Nigeria has greatly expanded since the 1970s (Bano, 2009),
the provision of education remains a problem, especially in rural areas, and Muslims fear that they
would be disadvantaged by a return of formerly Christian-owned institutions to the churches.
Moreover, the return of formerly Christian schools might also affect Muslim politics in unexpected
ways. In the 1970s, education was generally understood as Western education, meaning that many
Qur’anic schools were overlooked. Similarly overlooked were the Muslim itinerant educators and
students (often referred to as almajiri or tsangaya), who have been associated with violent uprisings,
from the 1980s Maitatsaine risings (Lubeck, 1985) to the 2009 Boko Haram violence (The Nation, 8
August 2009). A withdrawal of state control over formerly Christian schools would also undermine the
(overdue) attempts in some northern States to exert control over potentially subversive Muslim
educational institutions (Daily Triumph, 16 November 2008). As a result of Nigeria’s complex
educational landscape, therefore, education remains a religiously contested topic.7
The reforms following the Civil War also affected Nigeria’s legal landscape. A Shari’a Court of Appeal
had existed in the Northern Region since 1960, albeit with a remit limited to civil cases between
Muslims. When the region was divided into States, this Court of Appeal ceased to exist, and while
some northern States set up their own courts of appeal, the legal landscape of northern Nigeria had
been disunited. In response, demands for the establishment of a Federal Shari’a Court of Appeal were
first voiced during the constitutional engineering that preceded the return to civilian rule in 1979-83,
often referred to as Nigeria’s Second Republic. While many northern Nigerians felt this would simply
ensure the unity of Nigeria’s Muslim community, Nigerian Christians in the south, who had hitherto not
come into contact with Islamic law, were fearful, because to them the creation of a federal institution
concerned with shari’a law appeared like a significant expansion of Muslim legal influence over the
Although a compromise was worked out at that time,8 the bitter rhetoric surrounding the issue has
been revived on several subsequent occasions. In the mid-1980s, when Nigeria was again under
military rule, Christian-Muslim relations were further polarized when its membership in the
Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) became public knowledge. Religious competition
continued to be intense under successive military governments until 1993, when Nigeria’s so-called
Third Republic was aborted with the cancellation of the presidential elections by the military head of
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 15
state, Ibrahim Babangida. The annulled 1993 election of the southern Muslim presidential candidate
Moshood Abiola led to a mobilization of pro-democracy groups opposing yet another military
government, especially in the Yoruba-speaking south and south-west. The resentment felt in the
south-west also found expression in a revival of ethnic politics. In order to overcome the resistance
associated with ethnic ressentiment and mobilization, the military leader who eventually succeeded
Babangida, Sani Abacha, turned to religion.
Abacha spent much of his time in government manipulating another so-called transition process
election. In the course of this, he invited religious leaders of all faiths to the capital Abuja in May 1998
and asked them, and indeed all Nigerians, to pray for three days to move the nation forward. The
reason for this was that he wanted to emerge as the only – and divinely chosen – candidate for a
supposedly democratic presidential election (Mustapha, 1999, p. 280). Undeterred by the fact that
Abacha died about two weeks after he had called upon God to help Nigeria, his civilian successor in
1999, President Obasanjo, also turned to religion to legitimate himself. Appropriating and subverting
the reservations over government corruption expressed by many Christians, especially in the growing
Pentecostal movement, he had declared himself ‘born again’ during the 1990s and had joined the
Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), a powerful and expanding church with a strong base in
Nigeria’s south-west.
The Obasanjo administration presided over a constitution, which, despite the considerable experience
of Nigerians with constitution-writing (the country has had nine constitutions since the first [Clifford]
constitution in 1922), was somewhat ambiguous with regard to the role of religion in the state. Thus,
Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999) announces that
The Government of the Federation of the state shall not adopt any religion as state
However, Section 38(1) holds that
Every person shall be entitled to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion,
including freedom to change his [sic] religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in
community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate its religion
or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
Working Paper 39
Referring to the demands associated with the struggle over shari’a law in the past, the constitution
also acknowledged the right of Nigerians to shari’a justice by stating that
There shall be for any State that requires it a Shari’a Court of Appeal for that State.
(Section 275 (1))
There shall be a Shari’a Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. (Section
260 (1))
After the implementation of shari’a penal law in twelve northern Nigerian States in 1999 and 2000, the
debates about shari’a law led to some religious polarization as well as to intensive debates about the
nature of the Nigerian state. Many Muslims interpret the constitutional provisions by focusing on the
provision for freedom of religion. If Muslims are free to practise Islam, which includes the practice of
shari’a law, then the introduction of shari’a at State level is, in their view, an expression of their
constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom. Many Christians, in contrast, focus on the provision that
no state religion be adopted and feel that the introduction of shari’a law is unconstitutional because it
affects their religious freedom to live without shari’a. Thus, the institution of shari’a penal law is viewed
by many Muslims as an act of religious freedom, while a significant number of Christians and other
non-Muslims interpret it as a challenge to the constitution, which is meant to guarantee their own
religious freedom.
Despite heated debates about shari’a at the time of its introduction, the boundaries in the struggles by
religious groups and organizations over public space and recognition are fluid. Some Christian groups
have ‘translated’ the current Muslim debate into the realm of Christianity and demanded the
introduction of (Christian) canon law in predominantly Christian states (Imo, 2008, p. 64). Others have
argued that shari’a constitutes a threat to the secular state model (cf. Ilesanmi, 2001). However, the
appeal to secularism may be a primarily rhetorical device to appeal to an international (secular)
audience, because Christians actively support the (re-) integration of religion into the country’s politics
in many other areas. Beyond the grand rhetoric of debates over the secular state model, it is
interesting that speakers from both religions appeal to the constitution and other state provisions. This
means that religious politics revolve around both the sacred texts and historical practices of the faith
communities and the constitution and its provisions. As a result, shari’a has been implemented within
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 17
the framework of the constitutional system. While this means that religious ideas and practices are
included in state provisions, the latter also impact on religious discourse and practice (Suberu, 2009,
p. 552-553).
Beyond the struggle over the shari’a law, the informal extension of the constitutionally established
‘federal character principle’ to the Christian and Muslim constituencies has had a noticeable effect on
the political debate. The ‘federal character principle’ was originally devised to guarantee the equitable
representation of Nigerians from all States of the federation in political and bureaucratic government
offices. This principle has assuaged both northern Nigerian fears of a preponderance of the better
educated southerners in government and administration, and southern Nigerian fears of northern
domination, based on the fact that most governments since independence have been headed by
Muslims from northern Nigeria. Employed by different military and civilian governments since the
1980s and continued systematically under both the Obasanjo (1999-2007) and Yar’Adua (2007-)
administrations, the practice of balancing the number of Muslim and Christian office holders, and often
of pairing a Muslim chair with a Christian vice-chair (and vice versa), has contributed to a tacit
understanding that government will ensure Muslim-Christian parity in federal institutions (Suberu,
2009, p. 558).
This form of religious representation constitutes a way of managing Christian-Muslim tensions at the
federal level and can be understood as a de facto acknowledgement of the multi-religious nature of the
Nigerian state (Paden, 2005, p. 81). It may have contributed to the growing acceptance of shari’a
among non-Muslims. A recent survey suggests that between 2001 and 2007, support for shari’a law
increased from 55 per cent to 60 per cent in shari’a states, and from 10 per cent to 28 per cent in non-
shari’a states (Afrobarometer, 2009, p. 6). Of course, these numbers also illustrate that a significant
number of northern Nigerians (including Muslims, Christians and traditionalists) remain indifferent or
opposed to shari’a, making Islamic law a practice that continues to be central to the political and
religious debate in Nigeria, even in the north.
Also, although the guarantee of equitable religious representation alleviates immediate anxieties, it
suggests that Christian-Muslim opposition is central to Nigerian politics. Yet by focusing on the divide
between Islam and Christianity, federal policy obscures other forms of religious conflict. For example,
Working Paper 39
while the equal representation of the world religions reflects the notion that Nigeria has roughly equal
numbers of Muslims and Christians, it does not address the aspirations of followers of traditional
practices and beliefs, despite their ongoing political relevance in many localities. Moreover, and
perhaps most importantly, as our research illustrates, the assumption that the cleavage between
Nigerian Christians and Muslims is the dominant one obscures the differences within these traditions.
By focusing only on the monotheistic religions, and by assuming that relations within the Christian and
Muslim communities are unproblematic, the present multi-religious policy does not reflect the reality
and fails to address important struggles over meaning and power within Nigeria. Instead, the state’s
attempt to mediate between what it conceives of as two fairly homogenous groups seems to reflect
and reinforce debates about the ‘clash of civilizations’ (Huntington, 1993), which potentially radicalizes
both the perceptions and the responses of Nigerian believers and their international supporters.
Moreover, while it may be a workable assumption to treat Islam and Christianity as of equal influence
at the national level, this is clearly not the case in the politics at State and local government levels,
where struggles over the inclusion of local religious groups are likely to reflect concrete rivalries and
historical differences linked to factors beyond religion, such as language, ethnicity or place of origin. In
this report we argue that the two-dimensional nature of Nigeria’s multi-religious political and
governance practices shapes the nature of religious competition in various ways.
2.2 Research design and organization
This paper is based on field research in three of Nigeria’s thirty-six States undertaken during 2007 and
2008. These States were chosen in order to represent both uniform and mixed Muslim and Christian
communities in different ethno-regional settings. The states studied included the mainly Christian
Anambra State in the south-east, the predominantly Muslim Kano State in the north, and the mixed
Christian-Muslim Oyo State in the south-west. In Anambra, Kano and Oyo States, interviews were
carried out by Uchenna Chester Azubuike, Nathaniel Danjibo and Abubakar Oladeji respectively9, who
spoke with leaders and members of religious and faith-based organizations engaged in local politics,
as well as with some representatives of the State government and administration (see Table 1). In all
three States, respondents from both Christian and Muslim organisations were interviewed, as well as
members of ‘indigenous’ and ‘migrant’ groups (see Table 1). The researchers also spoke to
government representatives in all three States. All respondents were offered confidentiality, though this
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 19
offer was not taken up by many. Interviews in Anambra and Oyo States were carried out in English and
in Kano State in Hausa and English. All the interviews were recorded and transcribed, and those in the
Hausa language were translated by Nathaniel Danjibo. A complete list of interviews, with anonymous
responses identified by position and state, can be found in Appendices 1-3.
Table 1: Interviews with representatives from religious groups and
Anambra Kano Oyo Total
Ansar-Ud-Deen Society (ADS) 2 1 3
Anglican Church (Ch urch of Nigeria, CofN) 1 1
Christian Associati on of Nigeria (CA N) 2 1 3
Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) 1 1
Hausa Muslim Communi ty A wka (HMCO) 1 1
Izalatul-Bid’a Wa Iqamat (Iz ala) 1 1
[Roman Catholic] Justice, Development and Pea ce
Commission (JDPC)
1 1 2
Nasrul-Lahi-Il-Fathi Society (NASFAT) 1 1 2
Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) 1 1 2
Yoruba Muslim Com munit y Ana mbra (YMCO) 1 1
Total 5 5 4 17
Source: Fieldwork by Azubuike, Danjibo and Oladeji, 2007-2008
One result of the relatively short time available for fieldwork was that that all but one of the
respondents was male. While this reflects the male-dominated structure of most of the organizations
with which we engaged, most of which encourage women’s activities in a separate ‘women’s wing’, it
also reflected the fact that we had only male researchers in the field, who all felt that if they had asked
to speak to women so soon after contacting an organization, this might have given rise to
misunderstanding. Nevertheless, this creates a regrettable bias and we suggest, therefore, that the
reflection on attitudes to gender in Section 6.3 should be considered preliminary. Also, all Christian and
most – though not all – Muslim respondents were members of the Nigerian (educated) elite. Again, this
reflects the dominance of educated leaders in the religious and FBO sector, as well as the fact that
during the short time in the field, the interviewers strove to obtain as much material as possible and
Working Paper 39
therefore did not focus on contacting respondents with fewer educational attainments. While we do
not believe that our research points to dramatic differences between the views of Muslim and Christian
representatives, and while we think that our respondents attempted, on the whole, to speak for their
organizations (please see below), we still suggest that our findings may not be representative of all
followers of the organizations with which we interacted.
The aims of the interviews were to assess in what ways religious communities and FBOs engage in
the political process in the States, and to analyse the roles of religious communities as obstacles to
and levers of change for development more generally. For this purpose, respondents were generally
encouraged to reply as representatives of their organizations. Where this was misunderstood and
individuals responded for themselves, the interviewers repeated the questions and asked about the
organization’s view. However, several interview transcripts, as well as field note comments by the
interviewers, suggest that many respondents shifted between different points of view, with the result
that most responses include comments that reflect personal, organizational and even general
philosophical or religious views. In order to take account of this potential source of confusion, we have
been careful to attribute quotes to specific respondents, rather than simply attributing the views
expressed to organizations. Where confidentiality was agreed, respondents are acknowledged with
reference to the relevant State and their organizational affiliation.
This paper sets out to analyse the findings from the field within the wider context of political analysis
and debate in Nigeria, especially since 1999. It is therefore based on a review of secondary material
on the political communities in general by the author, in order to contextualize the findings from the
field, as well as drawing on the draft fieldwork report and interview transcripts. The clear division of
labour between the research team members influenced its method of investigation, which could be
described as a modified institutional approach. Such an approach is based on the notion that
decisions affecting governance and development are made within the institutional contexts of both
religious and faith-based organizations and government. However, our institutional focus also reflects
the fact that the report is based on short-term fieldwork, in which little time was available for the
observations of actual practice by the researchers in the field. Thus, during fieldwork, while it was
possible to access and discuss the formal (and informal) rules of institutions with organizational
representatives, it was only rarely possible to gain a detailed understanding of local political, religious
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 21
and developmental concepts and debates. Moreover, the author and contributors had to overcome
significant communication problems, and as a result found it difficult to integrate the case study
research and the more general observations drawn from the responses of interview partners. As a
result, the report emphasizes two slightly different areas of interest, namely – first – studies of the
activities and scope of action of religious and faith-based organizations in the three selected States,
and – second – a discussion of views from both FBOs and religious organizations and government on
aspects of governance and development in Nigeria.
2.3 Research terminology
The terminology needed to understand organizational forms in multi-religious settings is under-
developed and attempts to develop a usable typology are few and preliminary. In this study, the
organizations with which the research team interacted can be described as either religious
organizations, used to describe the organizational expression of the faith traditions (institutions such
as dioceses, churches, mosques or Muslim tariqas10), or faith-based organizations (FBOs), used to
denote organizations with some autonomy from their religious organizations, as well as a public
engagement profile similar to other non-governmental organizations. However, it is useful to bear in
mind that many organizations straddle even these broad definitions. Thus the Nasrul-Lahi-Il-Fathi
Society (NASFAT), the Ansar-Ud-Deen Society (ADS) and the Evangelical Church of West Africa
(ECWA) are religious organizations or communities, but they were also recognized as FBOs by
Odumosu, Olaniyi and Alonge (2009) because of their strong commitment to development and
missionary causes. We suggest that, with the exceptions of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
and the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), neither of which are religious
organizations in the sense specified above, and the Hausa and Yoruba Muslim communities
interviewed in Anambra State (HMCO, YMCO), both of which have relatively few resources and might
best be considered religious (or ethno-religious) associations, all the organizations discussed in this
report are both religious organizations and faith-based organizations (FBOs). When we refer to them,
the terms ‘religious group’ and ‘FBO’ are used interchangeably, although the analysis emphasizes the
organizations’ activities as FBOs.
Despite the difficulty of categorizing the organizations studied in this research, it is clear that they are
quite different in terms of their organizational capacities and remits. Using Clarke’s (2006, p. 840)
Working Paper 39
typology of FBOs as a general guideline, we can, for example, assess the reach of the organizations
covered and illustrate some unevennesses. Thus, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is a
typical apex body, which aims to represent all Nigerian Christians. The Nigerian Supreme Council of
Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) is usually considered its Muslim counterpart. However, unlike CAN, the NSCIA
is not organized at the State level but at the federal level only. As its main officers are the traditional
rulers of Sokoto and Borno, as well as a high chief in Abeokuta (Ogun State), none are directly involved
in the politics of the States under study. After a consideration of these differences between the
organizations, as well as the difficulties of gaining access to the eminent personalities involved, we did
not attempt to contact them. However, in order to ensure that we did not favour CAN in our discussion
of national politics, we agreed not to digress from State-level concerns in our interviews with CAN
In order to assess the direct influence of political closeness on an organization, it was decided to
interview members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, reputedly very close to President
Obasanjo (1999-2007), rather than representatives of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN).
Apart from the Muslim communities in Anambra State, all the organizations with which we interacted
operate in more than one Nigerian State, although the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) and
Izalatul-Bid’a Wa Iqamat (Izala) are mainly confined to northern Nigeria, illustrating the ongoing
organizational differences between north and south. Finally, the interviewers found it more difficult in
some States than others to access local organizations, and this has resulted in a lack of interview
data from important groups, including the northern Nigerian Sufi orders. We have tried to balance this
through references to the scholarly literature where possible, but as a result our findings remain
In their mapping of Nigerian NGOs, Odumosu, Olaniyi and Alonge (2009) classify NASFAT, JDPC and
ECWA as primarily development-oriented FBOs and the ADS as a mainly missionary organization,
even though the research and interviews show that the differences between the activities of these
groups are limited. In addition, Odumosu et al. suggest that the JDPC is primarily a socio-political
FBO, which is reflected in its unique and critical engagement with electoral practice in Oyo and
especially Anambra States.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 23
2.4 Outline of the paper
The paper first focuses on case studies of religious groups and FBO participation in the selected
states, starting in Section 3 with Kano State, because of the high incidence of religiously motivated
conflicts in that State. Kano State has long been a centre of rivalry between the Sufi tariqas or orders
of Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya, and it has also experienced a range of violent clashes involving groups
critical of the tariqas since Nigeria’s economic decline in the 1980s. Such clashes have included bitter
and violent conflict between local groups and the (Muslim) local aristocracy and State government,
and they have not ceased since the implementation of shari’a law in Kano and other northern Nigerian
States since 1999. As a result, the management of intra-Muslim rivalry is of paramount importance for
the State government, while the resolution of Christian-Muslim differences is of secondary relevance.
As will be seen, shari’a law plays an important role in bringing Muslims from different backgrounds
From Kano, in Section 4 the narrative moves to Anambra State, which has suffered from intense
rivalry between its mainly Christian constituencies. Like in Kano State, these rivalries are partly driven
by local criticism of the State government. However, due to the fact that the political elite in Anambra
State only holds worldly authority, the nature of the criticism by religious organizations is not directed
against a religiously legitimated establishment. In the much more competitive environment of Anambra
State, religious rivalry is closely linked to patronage politics, which are determined by the links of
politicians and their backers or ‘godfathers’ to the central government. Unlike in Kano, the State
government does not officially include religious groups in the running of its own affairs, although
through a proportional distribution of posts among religious groups it ensures that very few groups are
fully excluded.
Meanwhile, in the multi-religious Oyo State, discussed in Section 5, religious conflicts have been of
much lower importance than other forms of competition. Thus, Muslims in Oyo State and elsewhere
have adapted the shari’a debate to local circumstances by pioneering the introduction of Independent
Shari’a Arbitration Panels at state level. These have been widely accepted by Christians because of
their voluntary character. However, unlike in Kano, such panels do not include all minorities by origin,
and in Oyo State, northern Nigerian Muslims have their own shari’a provisions, meaning that religious
difference is actually increased by the fact that different Muslim groups have different origins. At the
Working Paper 39
same time, a system of proportional involvement in politics by different religious groups has led to an
intense Muslim-Christian dialogue, with potential relevance for Nigeria as a whole and even beyond.
As Section 6 illustrates, despite the different circumstances under which they participate in politics in
the States, the organizational representatives interviewed for this report share very similar views on
good governance and development. They emphasize infrastructural development, education and
health care, as well as justice, equal treatment and the fear of God. Also, all respondents comment,
almost despairingly, on Nigeria’s increasing poverty. Despite the shared vocabulary with regard to
Nigerian politics, religious views of women’s roles differed, with Christian and Muslim groups from the
north emphasizing family and household duties as women’s main responsibilities and Muslim and
Christian groups from the south envisioning a much wider scope of action for women. This suggests
that differences in world views are not necessarily determined by religious orientation, and that other
factors play an important role. Overall, the comments of our informants include a strong critique of the
failure of the Nigerian state to deliver welfare to its citizens, a critique that both unites and legitimates
religious groups and FBOs as participants in a national dialogue over the country’s future.
Perhaps because of the religious base to many critiques of the Nigerian state, relations between the
state and FBOs are complex. Section 7 shows that the government primarily views religious
organizations and FBOs not only as service deliverers but also as political mobilizing agents. For this
reason, state institutions often attempt to co-opt specific religious groups and FBOs for political
purposes, rather than providing systematic support for their development activities. However, because
such processes tend to reflect the interests of those individuals and groups in power, religious
organizations and FBOs are unevenly linked to government. At the same time, many religious groups
seek to influence government, even though they also fear its corrupting influence on themselves and
others. As religious leaders and their followers worry about their spiritual integrity, differences in faith
and practice seem to become increasingly important. These relationships between religions and the
state are likely to further intensify communal tension, because excluded groups, whether they are
excluded on the basis of their religion, place of origin or ideology, tend to justify their discrimination
against others as being a way to ‘even things out’. As a result, both communal and religious rivalry is
exacerbated by the unequal inclusion of religious groups in the state. The main points of the
conclusion are listed below:
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 25
Nigerians from different parts of the country share similar views on good governance and development:
these emphasize infrastructural development, education and health care and are shaped by recourse to
Biblical and Qur’anic ideals of justice, equality and ‘the fear of God’.
Despite their shared critique of the Nigerian state, which often also includes government failure to
provide educational and health-related infrastructure, religious groups and FBOs neither act in concert
nor, frequently, in the common interest of all Nigerians.
Despite attempts by the state at various levels to co-opt religious groups and FBOs in order to gain
grassroots presence and legitimacy, the state does not systematically support independent
development efforts by these groups.
Encounters between the state and religious groups have included and facilitated negotiation, imitation
and dialogue, but the unequal integration of religious groups and FBOs into politics often has the effect of
privileging ‘indigeneity’ and locality; it also creates and intensifies religious rivalry below the federal level.
Some religious developments, for example the creation of public institutional spaces for interaction
between religious groups, may have potential for adressing religious (especially Muslim-Christian)
Working Paper 39
3 Muslim debates and shari’a politics in Kano State
Kano, an ancient Hausa-speaking trading town, is Nigeria’s most important northern metropolis today.
Like most historical centres in the southern Sudan, Kano has a long history of engagement with Islam.
Muslims lived in the town long before the fourteenth century, when one of the town’s rulers converted
and eventually declared Islam the religion of the state. His conversion was linked to the large-scale
immigration of traders from Mali, who settled in Kano and contributed to the emergence of a distinct
Kano identity. It appears that Islam was widely known in most Hausa cities by the fifteenth century,
though its practice was tolerant of local beliefs and mostly limited to the urban elite, who drew on it to
attract scholars and traders. Islam was also a valuable resource in Kano’s institutional development,
and in the sixteenth century, local scholars created a written constitution which enumerated the
obligations and responsibilities of its ruler and remained a focal point for Kano politics over subsequent
By 1804, a Sokoto-based Islamic reform movement under the leadership of Uthman dan Fodio created
a Caliphate centred on the Hausa states but going far beyond them. Dan Fodio’s choice of Sokoto as
the capital of his empire, and his defeat of Kano, which had asked to be spared on the grounds that it
had adopted Islam earlier than Sokoto, remains an important source of rivalry within the former
Caliphate. The rivalry between the cities of Kano and Sokoto eventually led to a civil war between the
two cities in the 1890s. It was also expressed by the adoption in Kano of the Tijaniyya Sufi tradition,
then a reformist movement critical of the older Qadiriyya, which was predominant in Sokoto and most
of Uthman’s Caliphate. After the British conquest, most of northern Nigeria was governed by indirect
rule, which meant that local sultans and emirs continued to govern their territories, albeit with the
advice of a British Resident. As the local aristocracy had significant control over the local population,
social change, including the introduction of Western education, was slow, and society – still organized
in accordance with the reforms introduced by the Caliphate – was ossified in many respects.
As colonial rule encouraged the entrenchment of Islam in northern Nigeria, Kano remained a centre of
religious study in the almajiri education system, which brought rural young men to study under Kano
scholars, where they improved their knowledge of Islam as well as learning a trade (Lubeck, 1985).
The economic significance of Kano also grew further when it was linked to Lagos by the railway in
1912 and became the most important regional market for groundnuts and cotton. As Kano expanded,
its aristocracy and trading elite increasingly aligned with each other in their struggle to maintain control
over a city that was increasingly attracting educational and economic in-migrants. Beyond migration
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 27
from the rural areas surrounding Kano, the railway also attracted many southern Nigerians to the city.
These immigrants were rarely allowed to settle in the old quarters of the town, and most of them
resided in a new and separate neigbourhood called Sabon Gari.
In the run-up to independence, Kano’s ruler, Emir Sir Muhammadu Sanusi, became an influential
member of the political party associated with the northern aristocracy and traders, the Northern
Peoples’ Congress (NPC), which became the most powerful of Nigeria’s ruling parties. The NPC’s
successor party, though no longer only focused on the North, also held power in Nigeria’s Second
Republic, and its policy of centralized social and political conservatism and coalition-seeking arguably
influenced the political strategies of most of Nigeria’s military regimes, which have tended to be
dominated by northern Nigerians. However, in what appeared to be a reiteration of pre-colonial rivalries
between Kano and Sokoto, Sanusi’s relationship with the leader of the NPC, Sir Ahmadu Bello, an heir
to the throne of Sokoto, deteriorated after independence, and eventually Sanusi was deposed in 1963.
Partly in response to the perceived domination of Sokoto and its ‘core’ Caliphate allies, Kano became
a centre of opposition to the party in power at the federal level. Focused on the interests of
commoners and poor people (talakawa) rather than the urban elite and aristocracy, Aminu Kano,
himself the son of a prominent scribe in the Kano Native Authority, emerged as the leader of the
Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU), which challenged the activities of the NPC in northern
Nigeria until the military coup of 1966 ended the First Republic.
In 1967, when Nigeria’s present form of centralized federalism was introduced, Kano became the new
capital of Kano state. However, Kano State in its present form only emerged in 1991, when what is
now Jigawa State to the northeast of Kano was excised. Despite this division, Kano State remains
Nigeria’s most populous state, with at least 9.3 million inhabitants (cf. Federal Republic of Nigeria,
2006; footnote 2). During the Second Republic (1979-83), NEPU’s successor party, the Peoples’
Redemption Party (PRP), was able to defeat the governing Nigerian Peoples’ Party (NPN) in Kano
State.12 Kano’s refusal to vote for the dominant party at the federal level probably still reflected the
powerful influence of Sokoto and its loyal allies in the government. While the NPN was successful both
in northern and, to some degree, south-eastern Nigeria, its nucleus had been formed on the occasion
of the fortieth anniversary of Abubakar III as Sultan of Sokoto and Leader of Nigeria’s Muslims (Sarkin
Musulmi). Moreover, Shehu Shagari, the NPN’s leader and eventual president of Nigeria, was an
Working Paper 39
office-holder at the Sultan’s court. Rejecting a similarly strong presence of Sokoto in the party
favoured by the Babangida regime during the failed transition to civilian rule in the early 1990s, Kano
voted against its presidential candidate Bashir Tofa, despite the fact that he originated from Kano, and
instead supported the Yoruba-speaker (and Muslim) Moshood Abiola, whose election was eventually
annulled (Vaughan, 2005, p. 125). The wide appeal of Abiola in northern Nigeria, though not in Sokoto,
would have made him the first Nigerian president to rule without support from Sokoto.
In the run-up to the Fourth Republic, the son of Abubakar III, Muhammadu Maccido, also had powerful
reasons not to support the majority party. After his father’s death in 1988, the then military ruler Ibrahim
Babangida had supported the installation of one of his relatives, Ibrahim Dasuki, who remained Sultan
until the Abacha government dethroned him and installed Maccido in 1996. When Babangida re-
emerged as one of the main sponsors of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in the transition
to the 1999 elections, Maccido, like many former allies of the now deceased Abacha, allied himself
with the strongest opposition party, the All Peoples’ Party (APP) (cf. Greiter et al,1998, p. 340). At this
time the APP had no coherent political programme or project, but by appealing to many power-brokers
outside of the PDP, it established itself as the governing party in Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Jigawa,
Yobe, Borno, Gombe, Kogi and Kwara States, thus finding support in diverse constituencies in
northern Nigeria and, below the State level, also in the south. While the votes of Kano – as well as
many other northern Nigerian states – for the PDP reflected the party’s greater ability to build national
coalitions, it is possible that the fact that Sokoto did not support the PDP also contributed to its ability
to establish itself in Kano.
Soon after the 1999 elections, the APP found a focus for its political ambitions: the implementation of
shari’a penal law at the State level. Transformed into the All Nigerian Peoples’ Party in 2002, the ANPP
appealed to the Muslim electorate through the public support for its presidential candidate in 2003 and
2007, the former military ruler General Muhamamdu Buhari, who campaigned for the introduction of
shari’a penal law throughout northern Nigeria. However, the ANPP’s overwhelming association with the
introduction of shari’a may, after an initial surge of enthusiasm, not have served as a basis for national
success in the long term.13 Hopes to carry all twelve shari’a states in 2003 were disappointed because
the party lost control of Kwara, Kogi and Gombe,14 as well as many of its southern Nigerian
supporters. However, the ANPP won Kano, which, because of its economic importance and large
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 29
population, and also because of its long history of political rivalry with Sokoto, constituted an important
win for the party. Under the leadership of Kano State’s current governor, Ibrahim Shekarau (2003-), the
state has since become a centre of ANPP activities (Paden, 2005, p. 159). Despite strong electoral
support for Buhari and the ANPP in northern Nigeria, the party lost further governorship seats in the
2007 election.15 Although it achieved an electoral victory in Bauchi State, it lost Sokoto and Kebbi
States, whose political elites had come to an arrangement with the PDP. The decline of the ANPP in
Sokoto further emphasized the importance of Kano.
After the ANPP governors of Zamfara and Bauchi States decamped to the PDP in early 2009 (after the
fieldwork was completed), it was rumoured that Buhari, the ANPP’s two-time presidential candidate,
and Ali Modu Sheriff, the current governor of Borno State, are also considering leaving the party, which
might mean that a shake-up of Nigeria’s political alliances is imminent (This Day, 7 May 2009).
However, as the candid pro-shari’a orientation of the ANPP seems to have reduced rather than
expanded its influence beyond Kano State, Buhari’s exit might be the making of the party. Despite the
scepticism about shari’a in most of southern Nigeria, the ANPP has been able to maintain or even
expand its presence in southern Nigeria through alliances with local opposition parties. If the ANPP
widens its currently narrow focus, it is very likely that the party will recover politically, making Kano an
important centre of opposition politics in Nigeria, albeit at the cost that such politics may then no longer
be dominated by predominantly Muslim concerns.
3.1 Christian-Muslim relations in Kano
While Kano received very little attention from missionaries during the colonial period, it did attract
migrants from all over Nigeria (and beyond), many of them Christians. Due to colonial and, later,
postcolonial notions of ‘indigeneity’, these migrants mostly settled separately from the native Kano
citizens. Today, Sabon Gari, where most immigrants and Christians live, is the economic heart of the
city. Because most Christians are considered to be southern Nigerian ‘in-migrants’, even if they are
third- or fourth-generation Kano residents, religious difference is often linked to ethnic or regional
rivalry, and public assertions of in-migrants’ ethnic or religious identity has often been viewed with
suspicion. Like the ethno-religious violence preceding the Civil War (1967-70), Muslim-Christian
violence in Kano has frequently followed perceived challenges to Islam or Muslims. For example, an
evangelical mass rally of the German preacher Reinhard Bonnke in 1991 sparked a two-day
Working Paper 39
disturbance which left several hundred dead. Since the return to civilian rule in 1999, the incidence of
Christian-Muslim clashes in Kano has slightly increased, although in a context in which violence has
increased throughout Nigeria. Kano was a centre of ‘revenge’ attacks on Christians after ethnic and
ethno-religious clashes in other parts of Nigeria in 1999 and in 2004 (Human Rights Watch, 2005;
Nolte, 2004). In 2002, a Nigerian reporter’s comments on the suitability of Miss World contestants as
wives for the Prophet incited violence, as did the appearance of Danish cartoons depicting him in late
The introduction of shari’a law in 2000 created some anxiety among Christians in Kano State, which
was alleviated at least in part when Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso argued that a gradual
introduction of shari’a was required in order to take account of the State’s cosmopolitan nature.
However, Kwankwaso’s moderate approach created Muslim opposition, and local groups set up an
independent Shari’a Implementation Committee as well as a hisbah group to police compliance with
the law.16 Perhaps in response to repeated clashes between the hisbah and the police, the State
government established a Hisbah Board in 2003. However, this came too late for Kwankwaso to win
the 2003 elections, which focused strongly on the implementation of shari’a. His successor Ibrahim
Shekarau supported a stronger reflection of Muslim ideas in state operations, although he has
stressed that neither shari’a nor any other pro-Islamic policy will affect Christians, and shari’a has not
been extended to the Sabon Gari, where many Christian ‘in-migrants’ live, and which continues to be
known locally as ‘pleasure island’. At the same time, the deliberate enforcement of ‘moral’ dress
codes, including the wearing of head scarves by Christian school girls, has affected all Kano State
citizens (IRIN, 1 September 2003). As not all Christians are opposed to the moral values widely
associated with the introduction of shari’a law, Christian criticism of the local state has primarily
focused on the discriminatory treatment of churches, the exclusion of Christians from state-controlled
radio and television, and the perceived excesses of the hisbah groups (Ludwig, 2008, p. 622-624).
3.2 The experiences of Christian organizations
The two Christian organizations whose representatives were interviewed were the Evangelical Church
of West Africa (ECWA) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). ECWA was formed in 1958,
when the Sudan Interior Mission in Nigeria handed over missionary activities to ‘indigenous’ converts.
ECWA thus began its work in Kano State as a church still dominated by missionaries, but since the
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 31
1960s it has attracted local converts – including both Kano ‘indigenes’ and migrants from other parts
of Nigeria – through enthusiastic mission work. ECWA also ran several schools in Kano, which were
nationalized in 1978. Today the church runs a primary and secondary school, an eye clinic which
attracts patients from all over Nigeria and beyond, and a rural development centre where farmers are
educated about modern agricultural developments. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is an
umbrella organization of most Christian churches in Nigeria and was founded in 1976. It meets
regularly to discuss and take action on matters of common interest to all Christians, including, since
1999, the introduction of shari’a penal law. The Kano branch of CAN was established shortly after its
foundation at the national level, and while the organization does not have many material resources it
has been quite vocal in the debate about shari’a penal law, the activities of the hisbah groups and
related issues of concern to Christians in Kano State.
The relationships between these two FBOs and the Kano State government suggest that Christian
organizations in the state are in very difficult position. This is generally attributed to the fact that Kano
is a predominantly Muslim state. The State government is tightly controlled by Muslims, and there are
currently no Christians in elected positions at state level and very few in high or mid-level
administrative posts. Generally, the Christians in Kano are marginalized and do not take part in
decision-making. Christian organizations are not subject to direct government control, but the
government may request compliance with State policies and regulations from their schools and other
institutions. Kano State government has often prevented Christian groups from acquiring land for the
building of churches or other buildings that might be put to religious use, and Christians are not only
prevented from airing their programmes on State-controlled television and radio stations, but also on
private and federally-owned stations which broadcast in Kano State.
The faith-related development activities of Christian organizations are also often subject to
government interference. Reverend Madi-Dangora, the secretary of CAN’s Kano State branch,
explained that “two years ago, CAN Tudun Wada local government organized a conference and the
local government stopped it without any reason” (interview 5 January 2008). Christian organizations
are not generally taxed, although they have to pay taxes on profits made in schools and other
institutions, such as hospitals, and they do not receive support for either schools or hospitals from the
Working Paper 39
State government, both being open to not only Christians but also Muslims. Reverend Joshua
Bwamche, the senior pastor of ECWA commented on this practice:
Instead of the state government to be giving grants to those schools because it is not
only Christian children that are trained; some Muslims bring their children to those
schools. So instead of the government to give grants to support these schools, they are
collecting money; they are charging the school something on yearly basis (interview 6
January 2008).
The close regulation of education provided by Christian FBOs that the Kano State government
attempts is, however, not entirely successful, and ECWA has also resisted government regulation.
Reverend Bwamche explained that
At a point when we first built the school the State decided we ought to, we must employ
an Islamic teacher in [our] Christian school. But our predecessor then said no, we don’t
intend to teach Islamic studies talkless [sic] of employing an Islamic teacher. And we
made it very clear to them that any Muslim child that comes into this place, we will teach
them Christian Religion Knowledge as a course, but we will not abide by what they said
we should. They had intended us to teach Islamic Studies in our schools but we have
rejected that (interview 6 January 2008).
ECWA has also successfully complained to the government about the way it has been treated. In
2007, a delegation went to visit Governor Shekarau and pointed out that Christians were not being
treated equitably. They argued that as public funds were used to build mosques, to pay Imams and to
send the Muslim faithful to Mecca, at least some public money should also be put towards supporting
Christians. While the government did not want to support churches or pastors, it agreed to sponsor a
pilgrimage by ten ECWA Christians to Jerusalem (interview 6 January 2008). Reflecting Christian
attempts to win a share in government resources for Muslims, as well as a modern incorporation of
the idea of pilgrimage into Christianity, Pilgrim Boards have supported Christians at the federal level
and in other Nigerian states for some time, and Ludwig has suggested that several northern Nigerian
states have begun to sponsor Christian pilgrimages to alleviate protests over shari’a (Ludwig, 2008, p.
617, 631). However, this does not necessarily reflect an – even tokenistic – inclusion of Christians in
the State administration. Under Governor Shekarau, and in a clear rebuttal of the demands made by
CAN, the head of the Kano Christian Pilgrims Board is a Muslim (Vanguard, 13/10/2003). Also, while
the State government includes three representatives of non-‘indigene’ groups to represent this large
constituency, only one is a Christian.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 33
While some of the restrictions and difficulties encountered by Christian organizations in Kano are
undoubtedly informed by religious prejudice, it is also likely that they reflect concerns over class and
economic forms of rivalry. Due to their close association with education and schooling, many local
Christians tend to be relatively well educated. As a result, many work in offices, educational
institutions, hospitals and other professions, and for this reason their presence in northern Nigeria has
frequently been perceived as a threat to Muslim upward mobility (Antony, 2002). Beyond concerns over
the presumed threat of Christian professionals to Muslim society, many northern Nigerian Muslims
also associate more general fears with the Christian presence in the educational sector. Appalled by
often foreign-sponsored Christian proselytization campaigns or ‘crusades’, and mistrustful of teachers’
motives, many Muslims fear that Christian schools are set up to convert Muslim children, thus turning
them into apostates (Ahmad, 2005, especially p. 24).
Moreover, local prejudice against Christians is probably exacerbated by the fact that many of Kano’s
political struggles revolve around the mobilization of difference between those considered ‘indigenes’
and the numerous in-migrants to the city. At several points in time, ‘indigenes’ have come to feel under
threat from in-migrant mobilization, and although the vast majority of in-migrants to Kano are Muslims
(and not all Christians are in-migrants), for many Kano citizens, Christians constitute a clearly
identifiable group of potentially threatening outsiders.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult for Christian groups to operate successfully and make
themselves heard, and the fact that ECWA has not only dared to defy government expectations
regarding its schools but has also lodged a successful complaint over government spending is
remarkable. It is possible that ECWA’s success is based on the family or professional links of its local
members to Kano’s political elite. Such links would explain why the church is confident that its refusal
to teach Islamic Studies will be tolerated, and why it could arrange for a delegation to be received by
the governor in order to present its grievances. While ECWA’s successes are relatively small, they
contrast with CAN’s lack of success, and suggest that as a church with local converts, ECWA may be
in a marginally better position than the cosmopolitan CAN or the mostly ‘migrant’ churches of which it
is constituted.
Working Paper 39
3.3 Muslim political debates
The popular support for shari’a law in Kano reflects longstanding debates about proper Muslim
practice, some of which are linked to violent conflicts between Muslim groups. Kano’s enthusiastic
embrace of the Tijaniyya and, from the 1940s, the Reformed Tijaniyya under Ibrahim Niass (d. 1975),
led to violent clashes with the Qadiriyya during the 1950s and 1960s, and it has been argued that by
the 1960s, the Tijaniyya had become the dominant group. However, by the late 1970s, Kano
experienced a divisive debate over the value of the Sufi tradition itself. In 1978, Sheikh Ismaila Idris had
founded the Society for the removal of innovation and reinstatement of tradition or Izalatul-Bid’a wa
Iqamat, usually referred to as Izala. The organization opposed the inherited traditions of the Sufi
orders, which it considered innovations that had tainted the original teachings, and advocated a return
to the Qur’an and Sunna.
The Izala became even more popular when the outstanding Arabist and legal scholar Sheikh Abubakar
Gumi, a former protégé of the northern post-independence leader and one-time Grand Khadi of the
Northern Region Ahmadu Bello, associated himself with the organization and translated the Qur’an
into Hausa to enable all local Muslims to practise their faith independently of Arabist scholars. While
the Izala accepted the Nigerian state and its boundaries, it demanded a stronger Islamic identity for
Nigeria. In order to work towards this aim, the Izala also supported the systematic education and
political mobilization of women (Loimeier, 1997, especially p. 166-172, 207). Its success shocked the
local Muslim establishment, and Tijaniyya and Qadiriyya began to reassess their relationship with
each other in order to create a united front against the ‘fundamentalists’. Since then, Kano has
experienced several violent clashes between Izala and the Sufi orders, especially the Tijaniyya
(Paden, 2005, p. 60-62, 184).
The conflict between the Sufi orders on the one hand and the Izala on the other also reflected social
differences. While most members of the northern aristocracy tended to favour the Qadiriyya, the
established families in Kano and the surrounding towns and villages were close to the Tijaniyya.
Meanwhile, many (though by no means all) followers of the Izala in Kano came from poor or poorly
represented groups, including students, women and petty traders. Although the Izala was able to
establish itself in many of the old quarters of Kano, it has been identified with a followership strongly
associated with ‘newcomers’ to the city’s politics (Kane, 2003, p. 104-122, 227-239; Loimeier, 1997, p.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 35
252-265). The different social bases of the Izala and Sufi groups are reflected in their different
approaches to religious and political practices, with the Izala’s strongly egalitarian ethos reflected in its
consistent campaigning for shari’a law in order to address the ills perceived to be present in society.
Apart from the Izala, Kano also witnessed the rise of the Maitatsine movement, a radical, anti-status
quo movement founded by Alhaji Marwa Maitatsine. Maitatsine attracted itinerant traders, scholars and
other marginal people, who engaged in a number of extremely violent battles with the State
government. One of the first and most violent of the movement’s battles took place in Kano in 1980,
when several thousand people were killed (Lubeck, 1985). While the Maitatsine movement itself was
destroyed in the mid-1980s, other anti-establishment movements have emerged in northern Nigeria. A
recent group with a similarly disenchanted followership is the Ahl-Sunna wal Jamma or ‘Followers of
Mohammed’s (SAW) teachings’, also known as the Nigerian Taliban or, more recently, as Boko
Haram.17 The group was founded in the early 2000s under the leadership of Mohamed Yusuf and is
opposed to both the Muslim establishment and the Nigerian state (United States Department of State,
2008). Several of its members were accused of supporting local terrorism and it carried out violent
attacks on police stations in the cities of Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Yobe States in July 2009, during
which several hundred people were killed (Vanguard, 28 July 2009; Daily Independent, 29 July 2009)
More intellectual than the Maitatsine or Boko Haram is the Muslim Brotherhood, also referred to as
Islamic Movement, which is often described as Shi’ite because its leader, Yahaya el-Zakzaky, was
trained in and receives support from Iran. Having agitated for an Islamic revolution since the 1980s, el-
Zakzaky has been arrested and imprisoned several times. However, he continues to appeal to
educated northern Nigerians, and the Islamic Movement is centred on university cities including Kano.
Like the Izala, it has heavily invested in education and owns several hundred so-called Fudiyah
Schools, as well as an important Hausa-language newspaper. El-Zakzaky has also publicly protested
against the introduction of shari’a penal law, arguing that “before shari’a can work successfully, there
must be Islamic education and improvement in the standard of living of the people” (Daily Champion,
21 April 2002). While Zakzaky claims that he and his followers limit their activities to intellectual
pursuits, they have also been accused of training militants to fight against the Nigerian state and of
supporting attacks on the northern Nigerian aristocracy (Vanguard, 19 March 2009; Leadership, 8
January 2009).
Working Paper 39
Ignoring or distancing themselves from these critiques of the postcolonial state, both the Izala and the
Sufi orders have strongly supported the introduction of shari’a, and as set out above, support for
shari’a has increased since its introduction. This is interesting in light of the fact that many observers
originally derided the campaign for shari’a by Zamfara State governor Ahmad Sani Yeriman Bakura as
an attempt at political self-legitimation directed either against Abacha’s critics or against the growing
representation of southern Nigerian interests under President Obasanjo’s government. Such concerns
may have played a role, but it is unlikely that the introduction of Islamic law was a well-planned political
move by the aggrieved political elite of northern Nigeria: the Sultan of Sokoto did not attend the
inauguration ceremony. Only when enthusiastic reactions proved that Bakura had touched on widely
held sentiments, and when he was even hailed as mujaddidi or renewer, a term usually reserved for
Uthman dan Fodio, shari’a quickly became part of the political programme in several northern Nigerian
states (Last, 2003, p. 141-2).
Irrespective of political strategies aimed at the central government at the time, the adoption and
eventual success of shari’a constituted an appropriation of the Izala’s oppositional discourse by the
northern political and traditional elite. Even today, support for shari’a is significantly higher among Izala
members (of whom 84 per cent supported Islamic law in 2007) than among other Muslims (of whom
59 per cent supported shari’a in 2007) (Afrobarometer, 2009, p.: 7). However, the eventual support for
shari’a by both the traditional elite of Kano and the government both acknowledged the legitimacy of
the Izala’s popular demands and made it impossible for the Izala to mobilize its followers in opposition
to the State’s political and traditional elite.
At present, important scholars from the Sufi orders as well as from the Izala and similar organizations
are represented on the state’s Shura Committee, which advises the governor on Islamic policy, and
which cooperates with the Shari’a Commission, the Hisbah Board, and the Zakat Commission. Other
recent State government projects have included involvement in the collection and distribution of
zakat,18 the building of a Hajj Training Centre19 and investment in schools for Muslims that teach both
secular and religious subjects. The wide appeal of these policies to Muslims of different backgrounds
suggests that the stereotypical interpretation of African Islam as divided between ‘tolerant’ Sufis’ and
‘radical’ reformers only captures local debates and struggles at a very superficial level (cf. Mamdani,
2004). It appears that Governor Shekarau has not only taken up and responded to general Muslim
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 37
concerns, but that the introduction of shari’a has also succeeded in the creation of structures for the
debate and resolution of differences between Sufis and their most important critics,20 thus creating a
powerful alliance of local – albeit only Muslim – religious groups.
3.4 Muslim organizations and government
In reflection of Shekarau’s politics of Muslim consolidation, most Muslim organizations have developed
extremely close relationships with the Shekarau government, even when, like the Ansar-Ud-Deen
(ADS) and the Nasrul-Lahi-il Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT), they primarily represent ‘in-migrant’
Muslims. The Ansar-Ud-Deen (ADS) is a Muslim order that was founded in Lagos in 1922, at that time
closely associated with the Ahmadiyya, a Muslim order originally founded in Punjab, India,21 and very
successful in western Nigeria. Like the Ahmadiyya, the ADS emerged in the context of Yoruba Muslim-
Christian competition, and it has built up a large network of primary and secondary schools throughout
Nigeria. While it has significantly contributed to the educational and political success of Yoruba
Muslims, it has not attracted many non-Yoruba followers (Reichmuth, 1989). In Kano in 1936, it set up
a primary and a secondary school, which were taken over by the state in 1978, and it also runs a
small clinic. The organization is currently providing public lectures on various issues, workshops,
training loans and IT training, mostly to young people.
The Nasrul-Lahi-il Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT) was founded in Lagos in 1995. Since then it has
grown dramatically, and today it has over 1.2 million members. Like other Muslim organizations that
originated from the south-west, the group has appropriated techniques and practices more generally
associated with Christianity (especially Pentecostalism), holding regular youth events, prayer camps
and vigils throughout Nigeria. It has been especially successful in mobilizing Muslim women. At the
same time, NASFAT shares many of the characteristics of Izala, such as its emphasis on education
and the equality of all Muslims, as well as its discouragement of ceremonial expenditure and other
practices not endorsed by the Qur’an or Sunna (Meagher, 2005, p. 31; The News, 9 February 2009).
In Kano, NASFAT was formally inaugurated in 2005, and it has already established two branches and
prayer camps, where it holds lectures and seminars aimed at different audiences. One of the areas of
direct developmental concern in which organization has been active is the promotion of the
poliomyelitis (polio) vaccine. After it came to light that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer had used
experimental and often harmful meningitis drugs on children in a Kano hospital in 1996, many northern
Working Paper 39
Nigerians had avoided the polio vaccine, which they suspected of having similar side effects. When
the ANPP government of Ibrahim Shekarau came to power in 2003, the head of the Kano state Shari’a
Supreme Council, Datti Ahmed, acknowledged these rumours and suggested that the vaccine was
part of a US anti-Muslim conspiracy. The vaccination programme was subsequently stopped.
Important Muslim organizations, including the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), of which
Nigeria is a member, and the International Fiqh Council22 criticized the decision, and after roughly a
year, during which local doctors and officials tested the vaccine, it was declared safe and reintroduced
(though no samples of US origin are used). However, in the meantime polio had spread dramatically
from an epicentre in Kano to other Nigerian states and even beyond Nigeria’s borders (New York
Times, 20 March 2006). In the attempt to control and eradicate the outbreak and to convince those
who remain sceptical of the vaccine, several local Muslim organizations – including NASFAT – have
participated in more recent polio vaccination drives.
Reflecting the openness of the current government to all Muslim groups, both NASFAT and ADS
representatives described their relationship with the Kano State government as harmonious and
reported visits to their organizations by Governor Shekarau and other politicians. Neither had
experienced any government restrictions, nor did they pay taxes on any of their activities. Mr Adbul-
Lateef Jimoh and Alhaji Adulrauf Ayedun, the secretary and chairman of the ADS respectively, reported
that the Kano State government sends hisbah groups to provide security during their prayers on
Fridays and for other functions as required. Neither group reported any problems of access to the
government and when the ADS raised a complaint about the dilapidation of the ADS school, which had
been taken over by the government, Governor Shekarau promised to include their request in the 2008
budget. Overall, the organization believes that it is close to the government:
We [ADS] are a bit close to the Governor here, the present Governor. We don’t know
what will happen tomorrow if he is no longer there. We hope the relationship will
continue. Mostly, Kano is predominantly Muslim and we know there will be no changes
(interview 3 January 2008, Adbul-Lateef Jimoh and Alhaji Ayedun).
NASFAT reported that it is even more successful, perhaps because due to its dramatic expansion, it is
less restricted to Yoruba Muslims, but also because it is seen to play an important role in countering
the attraction of Christian Sunday services to Muslim youth by holding prayer meetings on Sunday
mornings. One of its members was appointed to the State government cabinet as a Special Adviser to
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 39
the Governor and through him the organization reported that it has been able to achieve a lot. Since
Shekarau has come to power, it was noted that he had visited the NASFAT offices twice and also that
the organization had received donations of two plots of land and a bus from the State government.
Moreover, NASFAT also has the opportunity to air Islamic religious programmes on television,
especially during the month of Ramadan.23
These examples illustrate that in Kano state, Muslim organizations operate under much more
favourable conditions than Christian ones. This difference is not (only) the result of the structural
problems encountered by Christians in Kano State, but also reflects official policy. Mallam Mohammed
Danyaro, the Director of Internal Affairs at the Kano State Ministry of Information, Youth and Social
Development, defended the dissimilar treatment of Muslim and Christian organizations, and
specifically their differential treatment in terms of taxation, by suggesting that Christian organizations
are inherently different from Muslim groups because of their presumed insertion into the economy. As
Mallam Danyaro explained,
You have Pentecostal organizations and churches, for example, that generate money.
These are expected to pay taxes to the state. Unlike those ones, what we have here in
Kano, I mean the Muslim FBOs, do not generate money; they are non-profit making
organizations and so do not pay tax. You read the papers and you find people accusing
some church-based organizations of trying to make money out of religion. This is not
applicable [to Muslim organizations] in Kano. Therefore, they do not have any reason or
cause to pay tax (interview 13 May 2008, Mallam Danyaro).
It is implicit in Mallam Danyaro’s views not only that Muslim FBOs have the support of the government,
but also that they have its sympathy. Unlike Christian organizations, which are suspected not only of
making a profit but of ‘making money out of religion’, i.e. of acting in non-pious and selfish ways,
Muslim FBOs are seen as truly not-for-profit. It is interesting that Mallam Danyaro also regards
churches and Christian organizations as existing ‘outside’ of Kano. This suggests that the visibility
(and general awareness) of Christian organizations in Kano is very low, but also that, despite the
attempts of local churches like ECWA, the association of Christianity with ‘in-migrants’ from other
parts of Nigeria remains high, while Muslims – even if they are, by local reckoning, ‘in-migrants’, can
be accepted. However, this does not mean that all Muslims are valued equally. Perhaps reflecting the
ADS’ situation, ADS representatives A. Jimoh and A. A. Ayedun argue:
Working Paper 39
Jimoh: Mostly, the Kano people they don’t usually manipulate religion but they rather
manipulate ethnicity; you are Moslem, [but] you are Yoruba, you are Ibo, you are Hausa.
… it will be very difficult for someone who is a Christian [meaning an outsider] to win [an]
Ayedun: Even if he is a Muslim?
Jimoh: Even if he is a Muslim. That is where ethnicity counts.
(interview 3 January 2008)
Thus, while in general Muslim organizations receive extremely favorable treatment from the Kano
State government, the state’s religious preferences are cross-cut by concerns over ethnicity and the
status of ‘in-migrants’ vis-à-vis ‘indigenes’.
3.5 Izala and the politics of power
As set out above, the Izala emerged as a powerful reformist movement in northern Nigeria under the
influence of Abubakar Gumi during the late 1970s and 1980s. Since the mid-1980s, and especially
since Gumi’s death in September 1992, the movement has suffered from factionalism. As a result of
struggles over the local leadership, attempts by members of Kano’s political elite to re-appropriate the
Izala’s focus on the Sunna, and the fact that the Izala has come under some political pressure (see
below), some former members have now joined other groups, including the organization Ahl as-
Sunnah (people of the Sunna; Sfeir, 2007, p. 250), which is close to Governor Shekarau.
Despite this, the Izala remains an important organization. It currently runs a male and female primary
and secondary school in Kano, reflecting its ideals of female education but also strict gender
separation. Like other Muslim organizations, the Izala does not pay tax, and the government of Kano
supports its schools by paying their heads and deputy heads. The organization can also draw on the
protection of the hisbah groups. Moreover, the group is represented in the Governor’s advisory Shura
Committee, as well as in the other bodies advising on shari’a, hisbah and zakat. Nevertheless,
members of the group feel that the Izala is strongly under-represented in these bodies. They perceive
this to be a result of their conflict with the Emir of Kano, which has also led to a decline in the
previously cordial relations between Governor Shekarau and the Izala.
According to our interview with Mallam Ali, the secretary to Mallam Abdullahi Pakistan, who is the
leader of an important Izala group in Kano, the conflict began when Kano’s traditional Emir, Alhaji Ado
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 41
Bayero, attempted to appropriate a piece of land on which the Izala had built a mosque. When the
group resisted, Bayero, who had supported Shekarau during his electoral campaign, allegedly exerted
pressure on the latter’s office not to favour or support the Izala. The relationship between the group
and the government of Kano was further polarized when a Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ja’afar, who was a
leading member of the Izala group as well as an outspoken critic of both the Emir and the government,
was murdered in a mosque shortly before the 5 a.m. prayer on the morning of the April 2007 general
elections (Daily Trust, 12 May 2007). To date his assassins have not been officially charged.
Since the conflict with the Emir and, by extension, the government of Kano State, the Izala
representatives feel that the government has ignored them. Unlike other local Muslim groups, the Izala
reported that it had not received gifts during Muslim festivals, nor had it been able to attract any visits
by the governor. The group also believed that while Governor Shekarau had originally been well
disposed to making Abdullahi Pakistan a commissioner in the state, this expectation had been
disappointed. While Mallam Ali admitted that despite the Izala’s difficult situation, there were members
of the organization in government, he complained that their influence was limited:
Those of our members in government are very ineffective. For example, one of our
members is the Deputy Commissioner of Hisbah [the Hisbah Board], but you know that
Hisbah has been proscribed by ex-President Obasanjo. And even if Hisbah remained, he
is not the head and cannot attend the council meetings of the State. So, where is the
influence? (interview 13 May 2008, Mallam Ali)
Mallam Ali downplays his organization’s influence somewhat (hisbah continues to provide security in
Kano State, though some of their activities have been reined in), but his feelings of disappointment,
presumably based on the grassroots success of the Izala, were palpable. His views are supported by
scholars who have commented on the under-representation of the Izala in the policy-making bodies
related to the introduction of shari’a (cf. Wakili, 2009, p. 9).
The conflict underlying the present – albeit relative – marginalization of the Izala relative to other
Muslim organizations of similar importance in Kano State throws a light on the close relationships
between political and religious power, as well as social difference, in northern Nigeria. On the surface,
the Izala’s refusal to recognize the authority of the Emir, which in turn resulted in the deterioration of
the organization’s relationship with the government, does not seem to be a religious disagreement but
Working Paper 39
a struggle over the Emir’s influence. Nigerian politics continue to be dominated by extensive patronage
networks and, within these networks, by the agency of powerful individuals or ‘godfathers’, who
sponsor politicians and in return exert some control over their activities and sometimes even over
budgets. In northern Nigeria, the legacy of indirect rule and the widespread belief in the worldly and
religious authority of the aristocracy has often meant that local traditional rulers, like Emir Bayero, have
been able to dominate politics. Bayero’s challenge to the Izala might be interpreted as an attempt to
see whether the group was prepared to engage in local politics according to the rules of patronage.
Once the Izala refused to do so, they were quietly excluded from the most important government
But at the same time, religion and power are closely interwoven in Kano, and it remains difficult to
separate the religious and the political. Thus, the main representatives of the city’s elite, Governor
Shekarau and Emir Bayero, are members of the Sufi orders, while the Izala represents many Muslim
outsiders and newcomers. Thus the Izala’s unwillingness to accommodate the Emir would be
perceived both as imprudent and disrespectful by many other Muslims in Kano and could easily be
construed as a slight against the locality. Equally importantly, the Emir holds both worldly and religious
power as the leader of the local Muslims. Thus, beyond its egalitarian rhetoric, the Izala’s willingness
to challenge the Emir – and by extension, Governor Shekarau – is a reflection of its potentially
subversive religious message.
As a result of the Izala’s refusal to submit to the Emir’s worldly and religious authority, it has been
largely excluded from the implementation of shari’a law, even though the demand for shari’a was
originally the organization’s most popular political message. In fact, the Izala’s political influence has
been further reduced at the grassroots by the emergence of other organisations close to the Emir,
which copied the Izala’s emphasis on the Sunna. As a result, several former leaders and sponsors of
the Izala have now joined other non-Sufi groups, especially the Ahl as-Sunnah. The Ahl as-Sunna is,
perhaps not surprisingly, well represented within the Islamic institutions of the Kano State government.
Thus the adoption of shari’a has shown that Kano’s leaders were willing to accede to grassroots
demands for shari’a, which to a large degree reflected the concerns of social groups who felt
excluded. However, they were not prepared to concede real or symbolic power to Izala and the social
groups it represented.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 43
3.6 Conclusion
Overall, the activities of the religious groups and FBOs interviewed in Kano are similar; they include
schooling, health care and other forms of education, ranging from public lectures to workshops, as
well as, less frequently, small loan or microcredit programmes or even pro-democracy work. Despite
these similarities, the State government ensures that Christian organizations operate under very
different conditions than Muslim ones. Apart from government attempts to control their activities, either
through shari’a legislation or direct intervention, Christian groups receive very little government support
or encouragement, and their activities are taxed because it is assumed that they are carried out ‘for
profit’. Meanwhile, Muslim organizations are exempted from tax and generally receive government
support at different levels, including the payment of teachers’ salaries, protection by hisbah groups
and, often, other government donations.
The activities and responses of Muslim organizations suggest that the politics associated with the
shari’a debate in Kano have not only brought Sufis and their critics together in a range of institutions
(see also Harnischfeger, 2008, p. 91), but that they have also made it easier for ‘in-migrant’ or non-
Hausa Muslim organizations to carry out their activities and even to influence or participate in
government. The introduction of shari’a law and other Islamic policies has also strengthened links
between politicians and local (Muslim) constituencies through the inclusion of respected scholars in
new institutions of the State, including the advisory Shura Committee, the Shari’a Commission, the
Hisbah Board, and the Zakat Commission. As a result, Muslim scholars and intellectuals not only have
an important say in State politics, but also serve as mediators between their faith communities and
organizations and the state’s political class. This is perceived as positive and implicitly democratic not
only by most (Muslim) religious groups, but also by government representative Mallam Danyaro, who
Of course, those who are the custodians of the people are the Mallams [teachers]; they are the driving
forces of the people. These same Mallams influence politics and policies in the State (interview 13
May 2008).
However, while the introduction of shari’a has been very successful in capturing popular opinion, and in
creating and renewing links between the political elite and Muslim intellectuals, the entrenchment of
Working Paper 39
Islamic law has clearly not succeeded in reducing patronage politics and ‘godfatherism’. In this
context, the Izala’s refusal to acknowledge the Emir’s right over its properties in Kano, though in itself
both legal and legitimate, has clearly marginalized the organization. In a society where patronage
dominates, no popular local group can participate in politics without, as contemporary Nigerians put it,
a ‘godfather’. But as the spiritual leader of Kano’s Muslims, the Emir is of course much more than
simply a man of political influence or ‘godfather’, because he also represents the faith. For this reason,
the conflict between the Emir and the Izala was also a conflict with religious content, in which the Izala
symbolically refused to acknowledge the Emir’s power over its members as Muslims.
Clearly, the combination of worldly and political influence in the northern Nigerian elite shapes the
nature of political opposition in that part of Nigeria. In Kano State, neither the Christians nor the Izala
recognise the spiritual authority of the Emir, and both have been excluded from the State government.
According to the same logic, discontent with the government also inspires religious dissension. This is
confirmed by the recent violent attacks on several northern towns by the Taliban/ Boko Haram group,
which condemns the Nigerian government as both oppressive and immoral because of its failure to
adhere to Islamic virtues and address social ills such as poverty (Los Angeles Times, 29 July 2009).
Perhaps one can argue on the basis of the above that if the government of the State represents both
worldly and spiritual power, political opposition also tends to be ideological and religious opposition.
While Christians are excluded from power because of their religious difference, Muslims experiencing
marginalization because of their origin or social class also (frequently) understand their exclusion as
religious, and, in the worst case, as un-Islamic.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 45
4 Religion and ‘godfather’ politics in Anambra State
Anambra State is situated in the Igbo-speaking south-east of Nigeria. Until the emergence of the
colonial and postcolonial state, Igbo-speakers were a politically, culturally and religiously fragmented
group. Most Igbo-speaking communities reflected the egalitarian ethos of segmentary lineages, and in
the absence of a widespread culture of kingship and chieftaincy, most larger towns were made up of
decentralized communities. Spiritual life in these communities was characterized by diversity, but it
seems that the control of particular spiritual forces, often shrines or oracles, played an important role
in the organization of social, political and economic life. Anambra State is located in a part of Igboland
that has experienced a higher degree of centralization, and by the tenth century, the area was
dominated by the ancient kingdom of Nri, whose capital was a ritual centre from which its ruler and
priests advised on and managed events that were perceived as taboo or threatening. In turn, Nri
provided a safe haven for most individuals who were expelled from their communities for ritual
reasons. Nri was also the centre of practices linked to the Ozo title, a chieftaincy title of spiritual
significance that remains important in south-east Nigeria until today. Thus, Nri exercised power and
influence over others primarily through religious means, rather than through military or administrative
control (Harneit-Sievers, 2006, p. 53-60).
Possibly in response to the increasing European trade, especially the trade in slaves, Nri declined
from the fifteenth century onwards, and by the sixteenth century, the riverine trading town of Onitsha,
today Anambra’s most important commercial centre, had taken its place as a local centre. Pointing to
strong links between Nri and Onitsha, Onitsha was governed by a centralized ruler or Obi, who was
advised by Ozo chiefs. By the nineteenth century, however, the abolition of the slave trade and the rise
of the palm oil economy affected Onitsha’s politics, and the city’s traditional elite was eclipsed by a
new group of power-holders, often individual Ozo chiefs, who had attained wealth and power through
the trade in palm oil (Henderson, 1972). In an attempt to introduce indirect rule along northern Nigerian
lines, the British attempted to introduce or re-invigorate centralized government through traditional
authorities to eastern Nigeria, although this attempt failed dismally. Reflecting the competitiveness and
the participatory aspects of local traditions, eventually most local authorities included a range of
(usually male) representatives.
The palm oil trade had brought missionaries to Igboland, and in the second half of the nineteenth
century, Anglican and other Protestant missions, as well as a Catholic presence, were established in
Working Paper 39
the urban centre. By the early decades of the twentieth century, Catholicism had become the dominant
monotheist religion in eastern Nigeria, partly, as Ekechi (1971) argues, because the Catholic Church
was prepared to offer local converts access to education. This enabled local young men (and less
frequently, women) to pursue successful careers within the colonial state. At the same time, traditional
beliefs remain important, especially in northern Igbo trading cities like Onitsha and nearby Awka,
perhaps because localities here relied less on the state than other groups (Ifeka-Moller, 1974), or
because the local business and political practices remained closely linked to traditional beliefs.
Beyond personal conversion, the Christian influence on Nigeria often also encouraged an increasing
awareness of ethnic identity, which was based on the written languages that were shared through
Bible translations and literacy. While this spread from the predominantly Yoruba-speaking Lagos elite
to the south-west in the early decades of colonial rule, by the later colonial decades it had also
transformed south-eastern Nigeria. As Igbo-speakers caught up and overtook Yoruba-speakers in
terms of education, they tended to dominate the sectors of the colonial state open to Africans, such as
the lower ranks of the civil service and the railway. Based on the organizational power of the pan-
ethnic Ibo [Igbo] Federal Union, Igbo speakers, especially the politician Nnamdi Azikiwe, also
dominated nationalist politics – and the associated entrepreneurial fields of newspaper publishing and
local contracting – from 1944 onwards. This caused resentment, especially among Yoruba-speakers,
and in the 1950s led to the emergence of Azikiwe’s rival Obafemi Awolowo as the leader of a more
specifically ethno-national politics in the south-west.
The rift between Azikiwe and Awolowo was bitter and personal, and the break-up of the nationalist
movement along ethno-regional lines has influenced Nigerian politics in important ways. It meant that
at independence, a coalition of southern nationalists vis-à-vis the North was impossible to achieve,
and eventually Azikiwe, despite his egalitarian values, allied his party to the NPC under the leadership
of the northern aristocrat Sir Ahmadu Bello. The resulting power struggle between Azikiwe and Bello,
whose politics reflected almost diametrically opposed visions for Nigeria, eventually led to the break-up
of the First Republic, a series of military coups and the declaration of independence by the Eastern
Region as the Republic of Biafra. After the Biafran defeat in 1970, the centralized federalism that had
been introduced in the rest of Nigeria in 1967 was implemented in the former Eastern Region as well,
and most Igbos became residents of a new East Central State. This state was again divided in 1976,
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 47
when the (old) Anambra State was created with its capital in Enugu. Another state-creation exercise in
1991 excised the current Enugu State from north-eastern Anambra State and moved the state capital
to Awka, which lies half-way between the cities of Onitsha and Enugu. The present Anambra State has
a large and dense population, with at least 4.2 million inhabitants and the second highest population
density of the nation after Lagos (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2006; see footnote 2).
Igbo politics have been shaped by the fact that even after the Civil War, Azikiwe preferred an alliance
with the dominant northern party to one with Awolowo. The ties between Igbo political leaders and
different networks of power based in northern Nigeria (which in the south are often wrongly perceived
as monolithic) have constituted an important axis for Nigerian coalition-making ever since. The history
of this alliance illustrates that Nigeria’s patronage networks have a long history of cutting across lines
of religious difference. It also suggests that the rivalry between southern ethno-regional groups was so
divisive that it superseded concerns over religious (not to speak of ideological) differences, as most
southern Nigerians (with the exception of the Muslims of the south-west) are Christians. However, it is
possible that the prioritization of ethnic over religious difference was more important to southern
politicians than to northern leaders, at least in the 1950s and 1960s, because there are some
indications that at that time the northern leadership might have preferred a political alliance with the
south-west. Interestingly, however, the political divide between the south-east and the south-west has
not prevented the spread of Pentecostal and Anglican churches from south-western to south-eastern
Nigeria, which has blurred the boundaries of Christian denominational differences between Igbos and
As a result of historical ties with the federal governments dominated by northern Nigeria, Nigeria’s
south-east enjoyed closer links to both civil and military administrations than the south-west or the
Niger Delta, at least until the late 1990s,24 although it has never regained its pre-war prominence. The
tentative alliance between the conservative northern leadership and south-eastern politicians has not
only shaped national coalition building, it has also transformed Igbo politics. Where politics in the
1960s drew on grassroots support and mobilization, they were, by the mid-1980s, characterized by
the dominance of political entrepreneurs, who drew on personal links to the federal government, for
example, through direct or indirect relationships with military rulers Ibrahim Babangida and Sani
Abacha, to dominate their own societies politically. Reflecting the Nigerian political economy, where the
Working Paper 39
central government has the greatest degree of control of the nation’s revenue, such local strongmen
combined political power with sometimes fantastic wealth, which they accrued through government
contracts. In return, they provided their patrons with information and political support, or, where that
was impossible, at least the acquiescence of ‘their’ people (cf. Reno, 2005, p. 139).
As a result, politics in south-west Nigeria – including Anambra State – are dominated by the ambitions
of powerful men, who aspire to the kind of rarely challenged political authority enjoyed by their mostly
northern mentors. At the cultural level, the rise of these aspirations is also reflected in the revaluation
and even invention of local forms of chieftaincy and kingship. However, at the same time, Igbo
strongmen live in a society with a very strong egalitarian tradition, which means that their power is
frequently contested, even – and perhaps especially – by former clients or subordinates, and that their
actions continue to be closely scrutinized by the many people who hold traditional and modern
participatory and democratic ideals. It is this constellation which has, since the return to civilian rule,
most frequently led to political violence.
4.1 Muslim organizations and ethnic difference
Like northern Nigeria, the south-east is a region of Nigeria with an entrenched majority religion
generally associated with the ‘indigenous’ population and a relatively small minority religion linked to ‘in-
migrants’ (even if these have lived in the area for generations). Unlike in the north, in the south-east
Christians are in the majority and Muslims are in the minority. Like most south-western states,
Anambra has experienced a few Christian-Muslim conflicts of significance. In 2001, Onitsha
experienced violent clashes after struggles over political and economic control between Christian
‘indigenes’ and a local Muslim majority of in-migrants in the city of Jos turned violent and Igbo refugees
from the crisis returned to Onitsha with the bodies of their murdered townspeople. As the clashes
coincided with the attacks of 11 September 2001, the violence in Jos was locally imagined as a
(Muslim) Hausa conspiracy against (Christian) Igbos. Fuelled by rage and fear, a mob ‘avenged’ the
murders in Jos by attacking resident northern Nigerians, killing at least seven (Human Rights Watch,
2001, especially p. 21). A similar revenge attack took place in 2006 after clashes in northern Nigeria
following the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in the Danish press, and dozens of
people died as a result (Okafor, 2007, p. 40). However, it would be wrong to understand these clashes
as primarily religious. As those attacked were mainly Hausa-speaking Muslims, the local violence was
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 49
first of all ethnic, clearly distinguishing Hausa-speaking Muslims from their Yoruba co-religionists also
residing in Anambra State.
While relations between the local Igbos and ‘in-migrant’ Muslims have been cordial since 2006, the
division of the Muslim community along ethnic lines also affects the Muslim experience in Anambra. To
reflect this rift, we interviewed representatives both of the Hausa Muslim Community of Awka (HMCO)
and the Yoruba Muslim Community of Anambra State (YMCO). The Yoruba Muslim community is small
but has existed for over a century, and apart from the mosque, it runs an Arabic school for children.
Despite its primarily ethnic base, the YMCO’s Chief Imam Abdulfatai Ologbonoke argues that the
organization’s aim is to propagate Islam and to teach others how to worship God. The organization
mainly provides a support network for Yoruba Muslims in the state, so beyond the provision of religious
education it also occasionally helps individuals to pay rent, especially the rent down-payments
required for those looking for new accommodation. According to our respondent, the community has
not had any dealings with the state – implying that the organization does not pay tax – apart from
government support for several [number not given] pilgrims to Mecca. The organization also
consciously distances itself from the political sphere:
… this organization is not a political organization and any of our members with interest in
politics is free to do as he pleases. I think you understand me. Our people having interest
in politics are not [forbidden] by us to do so (interview January 2008, Imam Ologbonoke).
The Hausa Muslim community (HMCO) is of a similar age to the Yoruba one, but it is somewhat bigger
and is organized more elaborately. Our respondent, Alhaji Garba Haruna, the head of the community,
explained that the community is run by a council that is made up of representatives from each of the
northern Nigerian states which have residents in Anambra State, as well as representatives from other
countries. As the Hausa Muslim community represents all local Muslims, with the exception of Yoruba-
speakers, it brings together Sufis and their critics and has a strong international outlook and a wide
network of links. This reflects the fact that several of its members are traders, who are Hausa only in
the sense that they speak the language, even if it is their second or business (trading) language, and
that the organization provides them with support. It was also through this organization that the
Anambra State government assisted the local (Hausa) Muslims during and after the 2001 clashes, by
allowing them to relocate to the army barracks until they could return to their places of residence. The
HMCO also distributed food donated by the government and wealthy individuals to the refugees.
Working Paper 39
The HMCO pays tax on some of its activities, but it is not clear from the responses whether it provides
any specialized religious education for the children of its members. It is nevertheless well
institutionalized at the local level. Reflecting an openness to engage with the issue of human sexuality
more openly than is generally acceptable in many northern states, the HMCO is represented in the
Anambra State Action Committee on AIDS, which also provides free testing. The organization receives
regular support for pilgrims to Mecca from the government, as well as visits and presents from
government representatives during the Ramadan fast and on religious holidays such as Eid (al-Fitr,
the end of the fast). On some holidays, including Eid and Christmas, the community also exchanges
goodwill messages with the Catholic Church. Our respondent himself reported that he is regularly
invited to represent the HMCO at State events and even at the national level:
They [the government] always invite us during certain meetings they are having. I have
attended some like that and there are [discussions] on how we are going to make the
State greater (interview January 2008, Alhaji Garba Haruna).
Despite their minority status, none of the Muslim respondents interviewed appeared to feel a sense of
exclusion similar to that expressed by Christian respondents in Kano State. An important reason for
this seems to be that the local organizations are slightly better integrated into the local state. Both
religious groups receive state support for Muslim pilgrimages, and the HMCO is clearly included in a
number of institutions and patronage networks at the state level, which give it an opportunity to
represent its members’ interests. Also, apart from the fact that the HMCO pays local taxes, neither of
the organizations reports any attempts by the State government to interfere with their religious and
educational projects. But while the local ‘minority’ groups are clearly viewed with much less suspicion
than those in Kano State, they also seem less ambitious and, presumably, are perceived as less
threatening to local interests as a result. Thus, none of the Muslim respondents referred to plans to
spread the Muslim faith aggressively, for example through radio and television advertisements, and
neither organization is in control of institutions of public interest, such as (secular) schools or
Moreover, unlike Christians in Kano, Muslims in Anambra State do not tend to be perceived as a threat
to local upward mobility. Most Muslims in the state are traders, whose main links are with northern
Nigeria, and usually operate in markets – such as the import of cattle – that are both specialized and
well protected. Also, in a part of Nigeria which suffers from very high population density, local in-
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 51
migrants to Anambra State – whether Muslims or Christians – do not constitute a large percentage of
the population. As a result, Anambra ‘indigenes’ do not generally fear that in-migrants might exercise a
disproportionate degree of political control or even constitute a threat to local interests.
Finally, the relationship between the two Muslim NGOs in Anambra is not primarily characterized by
religious divergence but by ethno-regional difference. Thus the Hausa Muslim community is
constituted of Muslims from northern Nigeria and abroad, irrespective of the strong doctrinal
disagreements that shape politics in northern Nigeria and some of Nigeria’s neighbouring countries. As
a result, members of the Sufi orders and their critics work and worship with each other, united by their
common command of Hausa and an identity as northern Muslims in Anambra State. Relying on a
much more clearly ethnic base, but overcoming less dramatic doctrinal differences, the separate
existence of the Yoruba Muslim community illustrates that the interests of Nigeria’s southern Muslims
are quite independent of the wider Nigerian Muslim community, even in predominantly Christian
As our research illustrates, the Yoruba Muslim community is much less able to engage with Anambra
State and its institutions than the Hausa Muslim community. This is most likely due to the fact that
Yoruba Muslims are considered outsiders by both the local Igbos and the wider (northern) Muslim
community. From the local point of view, Yoruba Muslims are religious outsiders, as well as
representatives of rival (Yoruba) visions of southern Nigerian politics. For northern Nigerian Muslims,
Yoruba Muslims are representatives of a group which has strongly criticized the consistent influence
of northern Nigerians on the federal government. As the major group left out of the political alliance
between the north and south-east in the 1960s, both Christian and Muslim Yoruba-speakers have long
harboured resentment against the federal government, which was exacerbated during the years of
military rule in the 1980s and 1990s. While Yoruba political resentment has lost importance since the
presidency of Yoruba-speaker Obasanjo (1999-2007), the gap between Yoruba and northern Nigerian
Muslims has been difficult to bridge. Thus the doubly awkward position for Yoruba Muslims in south-
east Nigeria reflects the close and complex relationship between ethnicity, regionalism and religion.
Working Paper 39
4.2 ‘Godfathers’ and governors since 2000
Since the return to civilian rule in 1999, Anambra has been the site of extremely bitter struggles over
political control, and in many ways it has become a prime case of the Nigerian phenomenon of
‘godfather’ politics. While these struggles have also been played out as (Christian-Christian) religious
competition, they have their origin in Nigeria’s patronage politics and especially the important figure of
Arthur Eze, a client and local representative of former military ruler Sani Abacha (1993-8). After
Abacha’s death, two of Eze’s former aides, Emeka Offor and Chris Uba, were able to carve out
important positions for themselves in the PDP, where Offor concentrated on delivering Anambra State
while Uba focused on expanding his financial base through government contracts. In the 1999
elections, Offor successfully sponsored Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju in the state’s gubernatorial elections
on the PDP ticket. But because of his ‘godfather’ Offor’s demands for a significant profit on his
erstwhile investment, a large percentage of the State government’s resources were brazenly diverted
from their original purpose, and when Mbadinuju was unable to pay the salaries of State employees for
several months, he – and by extension Offor – lost both public credibility and support within the PDP
(cf. Olarinmoye, 2008).
From the very beginning of his tenure, Governor Mbadinuju held regular Pentecostal-style praise
worship meetings on Mondays, which were broadcast, along with the governor’s sermons, by State
controlled radio and television (Obadare, 2007, p. 139). These might be interpreted as attempts to hold
on to public esteem, or even to gain support as an opponent of shari’a law – as many Igbos live in
northern Nigeria, its introduction was hotly debated in south-east Nigeria – but it is also likely that he
wanted to emulate the then President Obasanjo, who at that time strongly emphasized his new-found
Pentecostal Christian identity.
Partly in response to this attempt by Mbadinuju to appropriate Christianity, the Roman Catholic church,
through its Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), became very vocal about its
opposition to ‘godfather’ politics. The church also underscored its politics with its actions: at a time
when Mbadinuju’s government had not paid civil servants over eight months of salary arrears, Catholic
officials publicly returned a two million Naira (at the time approximately £8,000 or $13,500) donation by
the governor himself and enjoined him to take the money to pay the salary arrears of the State
government’s workers. The JDPC also protested strongly against the assassination of Barrister
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 53
Barnabas Igwe and his wife Abigail in 2002, allegedly by the Bakassi Boys, a vigilante group by then
formally under the control of the governor (Smith, 2007, p. 187). By exposing and documenting a
number of corrupt and illegal activities of State officials through seminar presentations, press
communiqués and even open letters to politicians, the JDPC not only challenged the attempts by
Mbadinuju (whose religious affiliation is perhaps best described as Pentecostal Anglican) to present
himself as a spokesman for all Christians but also created popular support for the Catholic Church.
In the 2003 elections, the new PDP candidate, Dr Chris Ngige, himself a Catholic, attempted to
capitalize on the politicization of faith in the State and campaigned on a topic of great interest to the
Catholic Church, namely the return of former mission schools to their owners. However, Ngige was,
like Mbadinuju, a political ‘godson’, who was backed and financed by Chris Uba. Uba had established
himself as the PDP’s strongman and ubiquitous ‘godfather’ in Anambra after Offor’s loss of influence
within the PDP. However, by this time, a realistic challenge to the PDP had emerged in the form of a
new party, the All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA). The APGA won support in the south-east,
especially because it articulated the growing worry of many Igbos over some of the policies
implemented by (Yoruba-speaking) President Obasanjo. For example, Obasanjo wanted to discourage
the import of cars older than eight years, and as Igbos dominate Nigeria’s import-export car trade, this
was perceived by many Anambrans as an attack on their livelihoods. Alluding to the short-lived Biafran
state of the Civil War (1967-70), the Movement for the Actualization of Biafra (MASSOB) found
widespread support and tacit acceptance from more radical members of the Catholic Church and
APGA itself (Obianyo, 2008, p. 15-6). Focusing Igbo sentiments of ethno-national solidarity and
protest, APGA was headed by the erstwhile Biafran leader Odumegwu Ojukwu, who also stood as its
presidential candidate. In the Anambra State elections, Peter Obi, also a Catholic, stood for the office
of the governor on the APGA ticket. According to Obianyo (2008, p. 15), the Catholic Church supported
him openly.
Despite the popular – and Catholic – support for Obi, the PDP officially won the State elections again
in 2003. Yet Chris Uba did not make it a secret that he believed he had ‘bought’ the election for Ngige,
and like his predecessor, presented Ngige with substantial demands. When Ngige refused to fulfil
them, the two men fell out and in July 2003, Ngige was abducted and detained by police officers
allegedly in Uba’s pay. In the dispute between the two men it was revealed that Ngige had not only
Working Paper 39
provided his ‘godfather’ with a resignation letter and speech before the election, but that he had also
sworn political allegiance to him at a modern ‘traditional shrine’ in Okija. The embarrassment of Ngige
and others over this revelation, and indeed Ngige’s claim that he had sworn the oath with the
permission of his priest and a bible in his pocket, suggest that politicians are aware that recourse to
traditional practices, especially when associated with clandestine politics, easily evokes suspicions of
evildoing, which is widely perceived as much worse than corruption (Ellis, 2008, especially p. 457-9).
The confrontation between Ngige and Uba escalated in 2004, when thugs allegedly sponsored by Uba
stormed through Awka and destroyed state infrastructure as well as private property. While the battle
raged on, Obi took his complaint over the lost election to the courts, and in 2006 the Court of Appeal in
Enugu asserted that he had won the 2003 elections (Africa Research Bulletin, 2006). However, Obi
was impeached after a short time, and only reinstated three months before the 2007 elections, which
were officially declared to have been won by Andy Uba, Chris Uba’s ‘godson’ as well as his brother,
and – perhaps in a bid to counter Obi’s appeal – a man with strong support from the Anglican Church
in Anambra State. However, in June 2007 the Supreme Court of Nigeria removed Andy Uba from office
and argued that no elections should be held until February 2010, when Obi will have served a full four-
year term.
However, while Obi’s term of office continues outside the general schedule for elections in Nigeria, he
still has to govern the State together with the PDP members in the State House of Assembly who won
their seats in 2007. This has created some difficulties, and in late 2007, the PDP members of the
House of Assembly refused to pass Obi’s budget proposal for 2008 unless he agreed to their
demands. In April 2008, the Anglican Archbishop Maxwell Akinwenwa, drawing on his church’s close
links to the PDP, intervened and the budget was finally passed, but as the start of the rainy season
was by then near, no building projects could be commenced. Thus, inter-party horse-trading led to a
delay of many infrastructural projects by a year. These ongoing struggles illustrate the persistence and
dominance of godfather politics in Anambra State and, beyond that, Nigeria. As a result, the 2010
elections in Anambra State are widely perceived as likely to have an important signal function for
Nigeria’s future.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 55
4.3 Christian organizations and their insertion in party politics
The three Christian organizations whose representatives were interviewed in Anambra State included
the Anglican Community (AC), the [Roman Catholic] Justice, Development and Peace Commission
(JDPC) and the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), a Pentecostal church. The views and
comments emanating from these organizations illustrate that the turbulent political history of Anambra
State has affected Christian organizations in dissimilar ways and that, as a result, the churches’
engagement with the political process differs strongly.
The Pentecostal Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) was established in 1952 by Reverend
J. O. Akindayomi, a first-generation convert to Christianity in south-western Nigeria. After Akindayomi’s
death in 1980, the church’s leadership passed to Dr Enoch Adeboye and the organization has since
become one of the most rapidly expanding churches in Nigeria and beyond, claiming to regularly reach
more than five million worshippers. Adopted by President Obasanjo (1999-2007) as ‘his’ church, the
organization has, along with other members of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), enjoyed
preferential treatment during his presidency (Obadare, 2007, p. 145-6). The RCCG expanded to
Anambra State in 1993, where it was sometimes also included in the government’s religious
ceremonies during Mbadinuju’s term in office between 1999 and 2003.
Despite this inclusion in the political process during the first term of the Obasanjo presidency, our
respondent, the Assistant Provincial Pastor of Anambra State, Pastor Richard Ejike Orji, stressed
emphatically that the RCCG was not concerned with playing a role in politics, and that it only
supported politicians with prayers. While the RCCG contributes to development in the State through a
variety of institutions, including primary and secondary schools and scholarships, as well as HIV/AIDS
counselling, drug provision and a (planned) maternity clinic, it claims to have no formal contact with
the Anambra State government. However, as the government includes members of the RCCG, this is
not a result of exclusion from the state but a considered policy. When prompted, the organization
asserted that its non-participation in local politics is deliberate:
We keep the laws of the land. We have not had any interruption or contact with the
Anambra State government. We may have some members who are in government but
there is no direct contact or influence from either us or from them (interview 14 May
2008, Pastor Orji).
Working Paper 39
The current policy of the RCCG in Anambra State could be understood as aimed at rebuilding its
credibility at the grassroots and overcoming any negative associations arising from its association
with former president Obasanjo and, if only informally, former Governor Mbadinuju. It could also be
understood as deriving from underlying ethnic tensions, exacerbated by dislike for Obasanjo. Because
the RCCG draws strongly on Yoruba ritual, musical and literary genres, it is possible that it might be
perceived locally as a Yoruba church, despite the fact that it has been able to attract large numbers of
believers from other backgrounds.
However, as our examination of the RCCG in the Yoruba-speaking Oyo State (below) illustrates, the
RCCG’s official stance on politics in the Yoruba south-west is similar to that in Anambra, despite
different local politics and a strong ethnic base. While the above explanations should not be
discounted, it is therefore likely that the RCCG’s public utterances have a deeper meaning, especially
in view of the fact that the RCCG has clear political visions as well as connections to the ruling elite.
Ukah has convincingly described the RCCG as espousing an inherently political religious nationalism
focused on breaking Nigeria’s ‘curses’ and establishing the nation as sacred space with a unique and
special covenant with God. Within that mission, the RCCG has actively contributed to political debates
and ceremonies in both Anambra and other states and at the federal level (cf. Ukah, 2003, p. 200-1).
Trying to make sense of the RCCG’s ambitions and its representation at the State government level on
the one hand, and its denial of direct involvement in politics on the other, we suggest that the RCCG
wishes to create an image of distance to government, not only in order to disassociate itself from
corruption or particular personalities, but also in order to assert that it does not condone the traditional
practices – illustrated by Ngige’s alleged oath-swearing to his ‘godfather’ – which many Nigerians see
as foundational in contemporary politics.
With a long history of engagement in Nigeria, the presence of the Anglican Church (Church of Nigeria)
in Anambra State dates back to the 1850s. The Anglican Church has always been an important
provider of local services, and it is associated with the establishment of a large number of primary and
secondary schools, including Christ the King College Onitsha, and Government College, Umuohia.
Other Anglican institutions include vocational skills acquisition centres and seminaries in the capital
Awka and elsewhere in Anambra State. Important Anglican hospitals and health centres in the State
include the Schools of Nursing and Midwifery at Iyienu and the Emekuku Hospital at Owerri. Because
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 57
both Mbadinuju and the Uba brothers have supported the Anglican Church and drawn on it for
legitimacy, it has risen to great prominence in the State, and the current Archbishop of the Province of
the Niger and Bishop of Awka, Maxwell Anikwenwa (whose mediation efforts in 2008 are referred to
above), has become a powerful elder statesman in Anambra State politics.
All the same, and perhaps with the intention of competing for public legitimacy with the Catholic
Church, the Church of Nigeria also set up election monitoring groups to ensure fair outcomes of the
2003 and 2007 elections. However, the comment by our interview partner, Sir Ngozi Anyakora,25 the
Registrar of the Seminary College Awka, on the topic is worth quoting, as it could be read as
confirming rather reluctantly the fact that the 2007 elections were rigged (see also below):
The church set up monitoring groups just like the international monitoring groups that
monitored the elections. … The Anglican report toed the general line [sic!] that the
elections were massively rigged or flawed. The elections [were] wishy-washy in many
places (interview May 2008, Sir Ngozi).
Perhaps to illustrate that the Anglican Church was not biased against Governor Obi, Sir Ngozi also
asserted, as noted above, that it had contributed to the smooth running of the current government by
intervening on behalf of the 2008 State budget. However, beyond this comment, Sir Ngozi was
reluctant to answer questions about State politics. In response to a general invitation to comment on
politics, and especially ‘godfather’ politics in the State, which usually elicited passionate responses
from respondents, he originally claimed that he did not know anything about ‘godfather’ politics. When
prompted further, he explained that while he was aware of what the term meant, he – and by extension
the Anglican church – had no personal experience of such politics:
I know what political godfatherism means but you asked me about their activities, that is
why I said I do not know. But I understand political godfathers are people with big money
who sponsor candidates and even impose them on the citizenry. … And so, that means
that when the godsons get into government they would also be taking directives from
their sponsor who put them there. But beyond this explanation, I don’t want to talk more
on this (interview May 2008, Sir Ngozi).
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Further confirming the sensitive nature of material or infrastructural support for the Anglican Church by
the government, Sir Ngozi explained that:
I am not in a position to give a full answer to this question [about contributions from the
government to church activities], if what you mean is financial support. But the
government do[es] give moral support whenever there are any major activities in the
church. The government is usually invited and is welcome to make contributions any way
they deem fit (interview May 2008, Sir Ngozi).
The refusal to comment on Anambra State politics by the RCCG and the careful answers by the
Anglican representative contrast sharply with the responses from the [Roman Catholic] Justice,
Development and Peace Commission (JDPC). Like the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church has
been present in Anambra since the nineteenth century and is associated with the foundation of a large
number of local educational and medical institutions. The JDPC Nigeria emerged in the 1990s from
earlier bodies set up originally in response to the Second Vatican Council, which focused on the
church’s need to attend to issues related to justice, development, peace and human rights. It has been
mandated by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria to promote democratic development in
Nigeria. In Anambra State the JDPC exists as three separate organizations in the Dioceses of Awka,
Nnewi and Onitsha. The JDPC Awka was founded in 1992, and the organization is engaged in
numerous activities, including agricultural extension (through demonstration farms), environmental
protection, HIV/AIDS education, study groups, scholarships and microcredit, as well as political
observation, the monitoring of contracts and budgets, and civic education.
During the 1999, 2003 and 2007 elections, the JDPC ran mass orientation campaigns through
seminars and open air rallies. They also printed and distributed relevant pamphlets26, as well as
producing recorded video and audio files of electoral malpractices and abuses.27 It was (also) on the
basis of the documentation provided by the JDPC for the 2003 elections that the current governor of
Anambra, Peter Obi, was able to challenge the official electoral victory claimed by Chris Ngige. JDPC
support and documentation also allowed Obi to quash, or at least postpone by 3 years, Andy Uba’s
claim to the governorship based on the 2007 elections, in order to enable Obi to hold on to his position
for four further years following his courtroom victory in 2006. Waiving aside claims by other groups to
have contributed in a similarly critical way to the restoration of electoral justice, our respondent, the
JDPC (Awka) Project Manager C. J. Onyenze, pointed out that:
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 59
We monitored the election and it is only our own documented evidences that are being
tendered or rather, let me say, it is among the major and more concrete pieces of
evidences that are being tendered at the Election Petition Tribunals, without which most
of those election petitioners wouldn’t have anything to present as the defence of what
they are claiming (interview 16 May 2008, C. J. Onyenze).
Comments from the JDPC also highlighted the rivalry between the Anglican and the Catholic
Churches over political representation and public perceptions. Undermining claims by the Anglican
church that it had contributed positively to electoral politics in Anambra State, our respondent
suggested that the Anglican Church had been prepared – presumably because of its links to the Uba
brothers – to tolerate the 2007 electoral results, leading to conflict between the two denominations:
The last election almost put the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church into a conflict
or collision course. This is because the Bishops of the Catholic Dioceses went on air to
say there was no free and fair election, the election was not credible. In fact, they said
that there was no election unless you are talking about a non-election kind of election.
Other important bodies like the ‘Elders Council’ also condemned the election. The
governor himself condemned the election, but the Bishop of the Anglican Communion
stood up and said that there was an election. We saw that the people, rather than giving
that church a positive grading, really reduced the rating of that very faith-based
organization in Anambra State (interview 16 May 2008, C. J. Onyenze).
Interestingly, despite the significant support provided by the JDPC to Obi, the relationship between the
organization and the current government does not appear to be unproblematic. It was difficult to elicit
the exact reasons for this, but it is very likely that the JDPC’s refusal to participate in patronage
politics, or at least to participate in such politics to the degree required at the State level, has
contributed to this state of affairs, as it appears that some State officials would have liked to work
more closely with the group. Our respondent explained:
The last time they [government] wanted to partner with us, we even gave the
reassurance we were ready to partner with them, but the condition they gave was such
that it was obviously out of what we could bargain for (interview 16 May 2008, C. J.
Working Paper 39
As a result, the relationship between the JDPC and the government remains complicated, although it
is possible that it is especially so with regard to the (PDP-dominated) House of Assembly:
There is always that very unhealthy atmosphere that has been going on between us and
these leaders. You see, when they see us, they brand us their enemies. We’ve come to
report them, we’ve come to checkmate them, we’ve come to nose about to see the
much we now talk about [sic] and report and tell the people this or whatever. You see,
sometimes they decide to go [when they notice us], they wind-up and close-up every
avenue for us to come in (interview 16 May 2008, C. J. Onyenze).
Given the violence of politics in Anambra State since 1999, it is perhaps not remarkable that the JDPC
representative complained about an ‘unhealthy’ atmosphere of mutual suspicion between his
organization and the government. However, the JDPC has not experienced direct violence or
intimidation, and it appears as if all religious groups and FBOs in the state are relatively free to engage
in the public sphere in the manner they desire.
4.4 Conclusion
As the examples from Anambra State illustrate, the selected religious groups and FBOs engage in
quite different activities. Some of the differences reflect a gap between Muslim and Christian groups,
which also reflects organizational differences. The Muslim organizations are primarily religious
organizations providing community and mutual support, and only the YMCO explicitly focuses on a
conventional development issue - education at primary level. In contrast, the Christian NGOs tend to
be strong in the classic areas of education and healthcare, which are, in the case of the JDPC,
complemented by a range of activities from agricultural extension to civil education, political
observation and monitoring.
Despite the difference in focus between Muslim and Christian organizations, the factors determining
the participation of religious groups and FBO in local politics seem to be primarily determined by the
organization’s closeness to power. The religious rivalry of the most important local groups, the
Anglican community and the Roman Catholic JDPC, is not primarily based on doctrinal difference but
simply on different responses to the practice – and challenge – of ‘godfather’ politics. While the
Anglican church has greatly benefited from its links to local political leaders and their ‘godfathers’, it
still wishes to appear distanced and critical in order to maintain popular respect. Meanwhile, the JDPC
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 61
has won much respect for its apparently fierce independence of the government. However, due to the
Catholic sympathy for Igbo self-assertion, it would be hard to argue that it is entirely uninterested in the
(belated) success of APGA in the State under the current governor, Peter Obi. Thus both Christian
organizations are strongly engaged not only in local power politics (and its critique) but also in
struggles over popular perceptions.
Among the factors determining closeness to power is ethnicity, especially among the Muslim
organizations. Thus, the Hausa Muslim community appears to be very well represented, which
probably reflects the awareness that many Igbos live in northern Nigeria, and that good relations
between northern and south-eastern Nigeria are extremely important for local livelihoods. At the same
time, it also indicates a local understanding that, despite the Obasanjo presidency, northern Nigeria
continues to be the nation’s natural seat of power. In contrast, the Yoruba Muslims do not participate
meaningfully in politics. According to their own claims, this is also true for the Yoruba-based RCCG,
but as set out above, the RCCG does have some influence in local politics through its members.
As suggested above, it is likely that the RCCG’s case illustrates the difficulty of participation for
organizations that perceive politics not only as economically but also as morally and spiritually corrupt.
The RCCG perceives its own mission as political, and it encourages its members to be politically
active in order to contribute to the making of a new Nigeria. At the same time it fears, like many
Pentecostal churches, that the traditional practices which underlie local politics in many parts of
Nigeria are morally and spiritually corrupting.
Despite the fact that all these religious groups and FBOs engage in, or withdraw from, politics in a
context of great unrest, bitter conflicts and some spiritual anxiety, there does not appear to be any
systematic discrimination against any particular organization. Furthermore, none of the religious
groups and FBOs’ representatives claimed that their religious activities were controlled or curtailed by
the State, although the JDPC explained that their monitoring work was sometimes met with suspicion.
(Considering that this work was powerful enough to help unseat Governor Chris Ngige in 2006, and in
the light of the degree of violence unleashed in other contexts, this does not seem an extreme
response.) Also, all the organizations are recognized as not-for-profit organizations and none pays tax
on its religious activities. Although the HMCO, the RCCG and the JDPC pay the prescribed taxes,
Working Paper 39
registration fees and general levies on all other institutions or activities they run, even if non-profit, this
does not appear to be the result of State government discrimination, as in Kano. Instead, it appears to
reflect insufficient legal transparency or lack of competence in the relevant ministry. Although this is
regrettable and leaves open the door for potential manipulation in the future, it appears that at present
the situation could be addressed relatively easily.
Part of the reason for this lack of direct victimization of Muslim or local opposition groups may be the
fact that the extension of the ‘federal character principle’ to religion appears to have been generally
adopted in Anambra State politics, and there is some agreement that certain quotas of positions of
power must be given to members of different denominations. Nevertheless, this arrangement in turn
fuels religious competition or creates other problems. As one respondent, a senior government official
in the Directorate of the Women Advocacy and Empowerment Agency, explained:
For instance, many times in Anambra State, appointments are pigeon-holed into
denominational consideration rather than on qualification, so that even when there might
be a better somebody for that particular position, they canvass for the appointment into
that position even for a mediocre, because he belongs to a certain denomination
(interview May 2008, Women Advocacy and Empowerment Agency).
We were given to understand that most of these appointments are divided between the Catholic and
Anglican denominations, but that members of other churches (including the RCCG) are also
represented in the government bureaucracy, turning the State administration into a space where the
different Christian denominations cooperate, compete and negotiate with each other. While the Hausa
Muslim community seems to be represented only in a few instances, its tentative inclusion in the
State’s religious ‘federal character principle’ suggests that, as long as Muslims are not perceived as a
threat to local interests, the State administration may even provide a forum for inter-religious (and
inter-ethnic) debate.
This proportionalist arrangement conveys a considerable degree of religious tolerance, which is
presumably possible because the political elite in the State consists of individuals whose power is not
religious and political in the same manner as that of the northern Nigerian aristocracy. Also, the high
degree of political violence involving ‘godfathers’ and their clients suggests that there is much a higher
degree of fission within the elite. This also implies that the elite might be less successful in subverting
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 63
and excluding religious movements like the Izala. All the same, the opportunities for religious groups
and FBOs to engage with government remain dependent on their political links. On the one hand, this
means that the nation’s patronage politics are not necessarily religiously based or biased. On the
other hand, as the deep rift between the Catholic and Anglican denominations illustrates, the
politicization of religion also encourages religious and faith-based organizations to ‘religionize’
patronage politics.
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5 Yoruba opposition politics, ‘godfathers’ and
religion in Oyo State
Oyo State is located in the Yoruba-speaking south-west of Nigeria, which has a long urban tradition.
Claiming descent from a mythical first city of Ile-Ife, which was in existence by 800 AD or earlier
(Olaniyan and Akinjogbin, 1992, p. 48), Yoruba towns and cities were founded throughout south-west
Nigeria. During the pre-colonial period, the government of most towns combined authoritarian and
participatory structures: towns were usually headed by a ruler, who was advised by chiefs as well as
members of representative organizations. By the eighteenth century, the area of today’s Oyo State
was, for the most part, populated by relatively small settlements under the control of the powerful Oyo
Empire, which dominated many northern, central and western Yoruba towns, as well as neighbouring
non-Yoruba groups. Although by this time most Yoruba-speaking communities were united not only by
a mutually intelligible language but also by the shared practice of Ifá divination and the worship of a
pantheon of deities, neither Oyo nor any other local centre ever united all Yoruba communities.
By the early nineteenth century, the advance of the Uthmanian army in the North and the expansion of
British interests in the South led to the collapse of the Oyo Empire, and the capital, also called Oyo,
was destroyed. Many of the warriors from Oyo and its dominions, who fled northern Yorubaland,
subsequently settled in the small town of Ibadan, which is the present capital of Oyo State. Ibadan
quickly established itself as a regional centre under the leadership of important and powerful warlords.
However, the expansion of colonial rule from Lagos to the hinterland curtailed Ibadan’s attempt to rise
to local hegemony before it was successful and the British eventually curbed the power of the warrior
companies. Instead, they introduced the principles of indirect rule and re-invigorated local traditions of
urban rulership.
After the abolition of the slave trade, the coastal city and early colony of Lagos became home to a
mostly Christian elite of freed or returned slaves, many of whom contributed actively to the
Christianization and spread of education in Nigeria. Colonial rule encouraged conversion to both
Christianity and Islam. Although local Christians did have a start on access to education, many Muslim
groups, especially those based in Lagos, such as the Ansar-Ud-Deen Society (ADS), produced local
intellectuals and educated leaders by the 1940s. While the indirect rule system was often bitterly
criticized by the growing Yoruba educated elite, the fact that rulership and chieftaincy provided access
to the state also proved attractive, and often educated members of aristocratic families contested and
won traditional office, thereby creating an enlightened traditional elite that was equipped to engage with
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 65
both the rapid changes that occurred under colonial rule and, later, the party politics hailing
independence (Nolte, 2003).
As discussed in the previous section, by the 1940s, the long-established Yoruba dominance of
Nigeria’s political debates was challenged by a rising number of educated Igbos, who had left their
densely populated home areas to search for better opportunities in other parts of Nigeria, including
Lagos. Eventually, the Nigerian independence movement broke up along (mostly) ethnic lines, and by
the 1950s the Yoruba speaker Obafemi Awolowo was able to convert existing Yoruba cultural
nationalism into political nationalism. He subsequently established control over the Western Region
and even over Lagos, once one of Nnamdi Azikiwe’s strongest bases. However, Awolowo struggled to
overcome the historical rivalries that characterized relationships between many Yoruba polities and,
like Kano in northern Nigeria, Ibadan emerged as an early centre of opposition to ‘mainstream’ regional
politics and continued to vote against Awolowo long into the 1950s. Ironically, in view of Awolowo’s
difficulties, the attempts by the ruling coalition to extend their control over south-western Nigeria after
independence confirmed Awolowo as a Yoruba leader by turning him into a political martyr (Nolte,
2009, especially p. 157-97). Awolowo failed to capture power again in the Second Republic (1979-83),
and Yoruba fears of their exclusion from power were confirmed during the military governments of the
1980s and 1990s, especially after 1993, when the presidential election of the Yoruba-speaker Moshood
Abiola was annulled by the military government. As a result, both Awolowo and Abiola came to stand
for a specifically ‘Yoruba politics’ which both lamented its exclusion from the federal government and
criticized the ‘centre’, often understood locally to describe a northern Nigerian elite imagined as
monolithic, for its corruption (Adebanwi, 2009).
The present Oyo State was created in 1976, when the Western State created in 1967 was divided into
three states. Its boundaries were last adjusted in 1990, when Osun State was carved out of its east,
although this did not affect Ibadan’s status as Oyo’s capital. With at least 5.6 million inhabitants, Oyo
State is, like Kano and Anambra States, one of Nigeria’s most populous states (Federal Republic of
Nigeria, 2006; see footnote 2). Like Kano, much of Ibadan’s population is made up by in-migrants from
the surrounding region, who speak the local language, and the lines dividing ‘indigenes’ and in-
migrants are often the subject of local political debate. Apart from its majority Yoruba population,
Ibadan also has significant Igbo and Hausa communities, as well as immigrants from other parts of
Working Paper 39
Nigeria and beyond. Like in most states in Nigeria’s south-west, the population of Oyo State consists
of a minority of traditional practitioners and roughly equal numbers of Muslims and Christians, although
it is likely that the Muslim community is somewhat bigger than the Christian one. As in Anambra, the
federal government attempted to find political brokers in south-west Nigeria during the 1980s and
1990s. While the entrenchment of a Yoruba opposition politics vis-à-vis the central government meant
that this project was on the whole not very successful, Ibadan was one of the few places where local
strongmen emerged as political brokers or ‘godfathers’. Most of these ‘godfathers’ were Muslims.
While it is possible that this fact reflected a greater preparedness by some Yoruba Muslims to
subsume ethno-regional sentiment under religious solidarity, it is impossible to generalize from it, as
Muslims also came to dominate Yoruba ethno-national organizations (for the Oodua Peoples’
Congress, see Nolte, 2007, p. 222).
5.1 The collapse of the Yoruba opposition and the rise of ‘godfather
Due to the negative experience with the presumed transition to democracy in the early 1990s, the
1999 elections in south-west Nigeria were dominated by mistrust of the central government. Most
Yoruba-speakers strongly opposed Obasanjo’s candidacy because, as a former military ruler of
Nigeria in the 1970s, they considered him a stooge of the country’s political elite.28 This mistrust found
its expression in an election result unusual for many African states (and beyond), which meant that
Nigeria’s first civilian Yoruba Head of State was elected primarily by votes from outside his area of
origin. Instead of Obasanjo’s party, the PDP, which had a strong base in northern and south-eastern
Nigeria, the party successful in most of south-west Nigeria was the Alliance for Democracy (AD), a
party led by many of Awolowo’s former political friends and allies. As a result, Obasanjo lost some
influence when in 1999 Alhaji Lamidi Adesina won the gubernatorial elections in Oyo State on the AD
ticket. However, by the end of Adesina’s first term in office, the political situation had changed. At the
federal level, Obasanjo had enthusiastically courted the Yoruba vote, and within the south-west,
Adesina and other AD leaders had failed to show that they were pursuing markedly different or better
policies than the PDP. Moreover, disagreements within the AD meant that many younger AD members
‘crossed the carpet’ to the PDP, thus legitimating the governing party locally.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 67
While majority public opinion was probably still in support of the AD, the change in public opinion made
it possible for the PDP to manipulate the 2003 elections at the State level, often with the help of local
‘godfathers’. In Oyo State, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu had emerged as a powerful political broker in the early
1990s, when he supported Moshood Abiola’s presidential aspirations. A few years after the annulment
of the 1993 election, Adedibu supported Abacha’s self-succession bid, but soon found himself so
ostracized that he had to rely on armed soldiers and policemen for security (Omobowale and Olutayo,
2007, p. 425-42). However, by 2003, Adedibu had re-established himself, and was able not only to
deliver Oyo State for the PDP but also to install Rasheed Ladoja as the governor. As in Anambra, the
relationship between the two accomplices soon deteriorated, and constant attempts to manipulate the
State House of Assembly – though less fomenting public violence – characterized the struggle over
dominance. Eventually, Adedibu won enough support to have Ladoja impeached, and in January 2006,
Ladoja’s successor, Adebayo Alao-Akala, was sworn in. While there were some doubts over the
legality of Ladoja’s impeachment, Alao-Akala was (re-)elected in 2007, roughly a year before the death
of his ‘godfather’ Adedibu, and continues to govern Oyo State.
Perhaps because of its long history of Muslim, Christian and traditionalist coexistence, Oyo State
appears to be the state least affected by religious antagonism since 1999. However, some debates
have mobilized religious constituencies in interesting ways. Thus, Lamidi Adesina, himself a Muslim, in
2003 responded to complaints by the National Council of Muslim Youth Organization (NACOMYO) by
announcing that female Muslim students could wear a head-scarf to school. NACOMYO, a
predominantly south-western federation of Muslim youth organizations, had taken up the demand for
shari’a law in northern Nigeria and was instrumental in setting up private shari’a courts in some
mosques in Oyo State and elsewhere, which eventually led to the establishment of the Independent
Shari’a Arbitration Panel in the year 2002 (cf. Makinde, 2007). However, NACOMYO activists took
Adesina’s statement as a mandate to admonish and harass female students without head-scarves.
When these activities created disruptions to school activities, thousands of Muslim and Christian
students took to the streets to protest to the governor (This Day, 18 March 2003).
Although Adesina called the NAYOMCO militants to order, important Christian organizations like the
Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) accused the
government of a lack of sensitivity towards Christians, and suggested that the next governor should be
Working Paper 39
a Christian. Comrade Ola Oni, the National Secretary of the NBC, then stood for the PDP
gubernatorial primaries in the State, but his initiative was not successful, and both the next governor,
Rasheed Ladoja, and his ‘godfather’ were Muslims. Nevertheless, CAN and other local Christian
leaders also raised concerns related to education. Like in south-eastern Nigeria, many Christian
leaders argued that the State government should return nationalized schools to the organizations that
had founded them. Unlike in south-eastern Nigeria, in a mixed Muslim-Christian society such a
demand does not reflect a general interest in an increase of religious influence vis-à-vis the state. It
appears instead as a specifically Christian demand for a relative advantage over Muslims. As most
early schools in Nigeria were founded by Christian missions, Christian organizations would benefit
disproportionably from a return of their schools. Considering that even in south-western Nigeria, some
Muslims fear that Christians abuse their dominance of the educational sector, the demand has some
potential for generating local conflict. It is therefore possible that Adedibu’s replacement of Ladoja with
Adebayo Alao-Akala, a Baptist Christian, was also designed to prevent the further politicization of
5.2 Muslim organizations in Oyo State
The Muslim organizations selected for study in Oyo State were the Ansar-Ud-Deen Society (ADS) and
the Nasrul-Lahi-Il-Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT), whose representatives were also interviewed in
Kano State. As set out above, both organizations originated in south-west Nigeria and, among other
matters, focus strongly on the provision of education to both Muslim men and women. NASFAT has
been somewhat more successful than ADS in overcoming its Yoruba base and presents a slightly less
‘ethnic’ form of Islam. Both organizations are currently establishing private Muslim universities, with
NASFAT building Fountain University near Osogbo, a Yoruba city less than an hour’s drive from
Ibadan, and the ADS planning Taqwa University in Offa, a Yoruba town situated on the northern border
of Yorubaland. Unlike in Kano, both organizations have several branches in Oyo State, pointing to a
very strong local membership.
Our respondent from NASFAT, Alhaji Opeyemi Abuliazeez Abduljeleel, is the chairman of NASFAT’s
organization in Oyo State, which is designated as South-west Zone 4 and consists of 19 branches
(NASFAT, List of Branches). In the State, the organization runs nine praying grounds where Sunday
prayers are held,29 an education committee, a medical committee, a health committee, a social
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 69
welfare committee and a technical committee, and engages in a wide range of projects. These include
a large number of educational programmes on Islam, as well as relationship and marriage counselling,
a clinic, a co-operative and an interest-free credit programme. NASFAT does not pay tax on any of its
activities. The organization is well represented at the government level, and Alhaji Abduljeleel pointed
out that the former State governor, Rasheed Ladoja, was a member of NASFAT, although he did not
come regularly to the organization’s Asalatu prayer meetings. In addition, a NASFAT member from
Oyo town, Asimiyu Alarape, is the present Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly.
Good relations with Oyo State’s governing elite are reflected in the fact that whenever NASFAT has
invited Muslim members of the Executive of Oyo State to its events or programmes, they have made
promises of gifts and kept these promises. For example, while Rasheed Ladoja was the governor, he
promised to tar the road leading to one of NASFAT’s praying grounds at Samonda, Ibadan, and later
fulfilled his promise. The former Deputy Governor, Alhaji Hazeem Gbolarumi, supplied a transformer to
NASFAT, which the organization reported that it had used for some time until it acquired a new one.
The government also invited NASFAT to participate in the State Action Committee on HIV/AIDS, and
provided drugs to be handed out at NASFAT’s weekly community services.30
Our respondent felt that NASFAT’s closeness to government did not automatically translate into
significant political influence. Asked whether NASFAT had ‘a lot of input in governance’, Alhaji
Abduljeleel replied:
Yes. But I would not say input per se because they [NASFAT members in government]
did not go into politics to represent NASFAT. They went on their own and it just happens
that they are NASFAT members and find themselves in positions of authority (interview 6
January 2008, Alhaji Abduljeleel).
The Ansar-Ud-Deen Society (ADS) was established in Ibadan in 1932 or 1933, and State-level councils
came into existence in 1969. Below the Oyo State Council, there are zones with zonal headquarters,
which are divided into branches, and some branches are further divided into divisions. The Oyo State
Council Secretary, Prince Sulaiman Makanjuola-Totoola, estimates that there are about thirty branches
of the ADS overall in Oyo State. ADS runs a general purpose committee that deals with personal,
occasional or seasonal activities, from hospital bills to Ramadan activities. Through this it oversees
and operates three local primary and secondary Islamic and Arabic schools in Ibadan alone, as well as
Working Paper 39
others in other Oyo towns. It also organizes lectures, symposia, and seminar workshops. The
organization reported that it pays tax on its schools and vehicles and also encourages its members
and the teachers in its schools not to default on income tax.
Like NASFAT, the ADS claims to have representatives in government, interestingly including former
Governor Rasheed Ladoja, whom our respondent described as “a passive member of Ansar-Ud-Deen
Society”, as well as one of the Permanent Secretaries. The ADS also pointed to the roles played by
some of its influential members in the development of the society. According to Oyo state ADS council
Secretary, Prince Makanjuola-Totoola,
The ‘children’ of Ansar-Ud-Deen society of Nigeria who are well to do like Musliu Smith,
former Inspector General of Nigeria (IGP), have contributed over N100, 000,000 (N100m)
to take over some of the secondary schools which belong to Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of
Nigeria. Invariably, members are grateful to these few influential members (interview 27
December 2007, Prince Makanjuola-Totoola).
However, the organization does not feel included to the same degree as NASFAT, and Prince
Makanjuola-Totoola noted that the ADS had written to the present governor to suggest one of their
members for a position, but that this letter had been ignored. He also complained that the organization
had not received State government support for pilgrimages to the degree it had expected. Beyond this,
Makanjuola-Totoola stressed that the group’s members in government were there on the basis of their
own merit. However, he admitted that this meant that the appointments in question constituted
informal representation.
The few of our own members who [are] in … government, we were only lucky because it
was [not] given by [sic] being a member of Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria but by merit
… but fortunately, we turn there (interview 27 December 2007, Prince Makanjuola-
While it is clear that both Muslim organizations were well represented and free to pursue their aims in
Oyo State, it should also be noted that both the ADS and NASFAT are locally based groups that include
very few Hausa-speaking Muslims. As in Anambra State, the term Hausa is used locally to refer to all
northern Nigerian and non-Nigerian Hausa-speakers, even if Hausa is their second or subsequent
language. As in most Nigerian cities, members of non-local ethnic and linguistic groups – including
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 71
Hausas – tend to live in separate quarters of the town. This both reflects and reinforces ethno-regional
dissociation, and Hausa and Yoruba Muslims in Ibadan rarely worship in the same mosques.
The three areas of Ibadan usually recognized as ‘Hausa’ quarters are Sabo, Ojoo and Shasha, each of
which is ruled by a leader or Sarkin, who represents the area to the outside and also settles local
disputes. During the military period, which was characterized by strong ideological opposition to the
federal government, the centre often turned to the Hausa communities in search of local ‘godfathers’.
The way in which such strongmen were favoured economically and politically often created
resentment. Thus, the fact that the Sarkin of Shasha frequently received more respect and security
support at official functions than the Olubadan or ruler of Ibadan was perceived by locals as
humiliating for both the city and its (Yoruba) inhabitants (Agbaje, 2002, p. 19).
When local links to the central government were transformed after the 1999 election, local anger over
the past preferential treatment of northern Nigerians found expression in several fights between Hausa
groups and the Yoruba ethno-nationalist organisation, the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC). In June
1999, a Hausa cattle dealer stabbed a local in a dispute, and the resulting violence led to many deaths.
At the time, the government accepted local perceptions of causation, and threatened the Hausa cattle
dealers with relocation. A similar mass response occurred when, in January 2000, a Hausa-driven
lorry accidentally crashed into a commuter bus at Ojoo and killed three passengers. After a battle in
which more than a dozen people were killed and more than 180 shops destroyed, the driver, who had
been hidden from the crowd by fellow Hausas, was given up and killed (The News, 19 January 2000).
Since the early years of civilian rule, relations between Hausas and Yorubas have improved, but it
appears that the backlash to the former over-representation of Hausa-speakers has not fully ended
yet. Thus Dr Aderemi Sulaiman Ajala, a close follower of Ibadan politics and a former confidant of the
late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, asserts that there is virtually no representation of Hausa Muslims in the
city’s local governments. According to him, almost all parties send Hausa-speaking ‘indigenes’ to live
in the quarters of immigrants before elections, who are then nominated by the parties and
subsequently constitute the only choice for those immigrants who care to vote (conversation 23 July
2009). Thus, while Yoruba Muslims usually enjoy unproblematic relations with the Oyo State
government, non-‘indigenous’ Muslim groups have almost no representation.
Working Paper 39
On the other hand, the Ibadan Hausa communities’ decision to settle disputes around inheritance and
similar matters cases among their members with the help of shari’a law has been undisputed.
Interestingly, another northern group in Ibadan, the Nupe (Tapa) community, has also set up an
independent Shari’a Panel, which, while also supposedly compulsory for all local Nupe Muslims, has a
less inclusive remit than that of the Hausa community (Makinde, 2007, p. 100-3). While the local
acceptance of different shari’a practices reflects both religious and ethnic tolerance (or laissez-faire),
the fact that the shari’a panels of the Hausa and Nupe communities are independent of the
Independent Shari’a Arbitration Panel of Oyo State suggests ongoing divisions among local Muslims.
Unlike in Kano State, the differences arising from the differential treatment of ‘indigenous’ and in-
migrant Muslim communities are not bridged by shari’a law. Instead, different shari’a practices
reinforce ethno-regional difference.
5.3 Christian organizations in Oyo State
The Christian organizations interviewed in Oyo State include the Christian Association of Nigeria
(CAN), the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and the [Roman Catholic] Justice,
Development and Peace Commission (JDPC). As an umbrella body, CAN Oyo focuses on advocacy
work on behalf of its member churches and does not pay tax. It has also organized ‘Christian
activities’, including visits to motherless babies’ homes, special needs schools and grieving widows.
CAN is not represented in the government, and our respondent admitted that this made it more difficult
to participate in decision-making; for example, the organization felt that it had not been adequately
considered by the State’s Pilgrim Board during the distribution of funds for Christian pilgrimages to
Jerusalem. However, CAN believed that it easily makes up for its lack of government representation
through its good links to the press and media, through which it makes its views known. Possibly
referring to the struggles over Muslim students’ head-scarves, our respondent, Pastor Andrew
Olubunmi, argued:
Any time we believe that there is a wrong step being taken by the government … we do
give advice to the government so that they will know that the decision they are about to
take is not good for the entire populace (interview January 2008, Pastor Olubunmi).
As explained above, the RCCG is a Pentecostal Church with a strong base in south-west Nigeria,
which has expanded to include members of many different backgrounds. In Oyo, the church has a
strong social focus, running a prison and hospital ministry as well as an HIV/AIDS awareness
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 73
programme, which includes talks by victims of the disease during Sunday services, thus reaching all
regular church-goers. Through the awareness programme, HIV/AIDS patients from within and outside
the congregation are also provided with free drugs, counselling and testing, and the church asserted
that it works very hard to address the (strongly stigmatized) status of the disease:
… the [church] is going all the way to make sure the society is aware of this, we are
preaching it even in our church that everybody should go for a test … we don’t isolate
AIDS victims in our [RCCG] society, we sit together, because we know sitting together
won’t spread AIDS, we advise on health issues (interview 3 January 2008, Area Pastor
Peter Adagbada).
Apart from its churches, which it also uses for lectures and other educational events, this organization
runs a primary and secondary school in Ibadan, in relation to which it pays tax, and it also holds
regular and extremely popular prayer vigils in an area known as Redemption City (formerly
Redemption Camp) about an hour south of Ibadan along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Near
Redemption City – which includes houses and apartments for sale to church members – the church
is currently establishing its own university, Redemption University. The RCCG has also conducted
services at State House, the governor’s official residence, and it has several members in the
As in Anambra State, the presence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ibadan dates back to the 1880s. It
has established a large number of schools and seminaries, including a school for the blind, as well as
hospitals and medical centres. Because of its international links and welcoming attitude towards
resident in-migrants, the Catholic Church in Ibadan is, even more than the RCCG, a church with an
ethnically mixed congregation. It has some members in government, although these are not
considered representatives of the church itself but simply successful Catholics. According to our
respondent, the Reverend Father Ezekiel Owoeye, who is the Director of the Ibadan Justice,
Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), the FBO carries out a range of projects which focus
on health, education, development and democracy. Specifically, it is active in agricultural extension
work and has run several institutional HIV/AIDS awareness workshops, as well as a range of training
and rehabilitation programmes for inmates of Agodi prison. Beyond this, it has also organized a range
of civil peace, democracy and human rights courses and events in schools and at other public venues
(interview 27 October 2007, Father Ezekiel Owoeye). Beyond pro-democracy education and training,
Working Paper 39
the election monitoring work of the JDPC has been important in documenting electoral malpractice,
and supporting appeals against official results. A number of JDPC reports on the conduct of the 2007
elections in the state were submitted to the election petition tribunal which decided on the challenge to
the current governor Alao-Akala by his rival from the ANPP, Abiola Ajimobi.
Ajimobi is a gifted orator who is widely believed to have been the popular candidate. Ajimobi
campaigned as a devout Muslim, implying that he would not engage in the corruption associated with
‘godfather’ politics. However, more importantly, he campaigned as an Ibadan ‘indigene’. As most of the
citizens of Oyo State live in Ibadan, many Ibadan citizens believe – rightly or wrongly – that the
governor of the state should be from the city itself. This undermined Alao-Akala, who hails from
Ogbomosho in northern Oyo State. With his ‘godfather’s’ help, Alao-Akala was able to convince key
players that he hailed from the ‘Ibadan side’ of Ogbomosho, and the election was won for him.
However, once his ‘godfather’ had died, Alao-Akala confirmed local misgivings over his commitment to
Ibadan. Undermining the authority of Ibadan’s traditional ruler, the Olubadan, by awarding a crown to
the ruler of a village traditionally under Ibadan’s control, Alao-Akala cut himself off from almost all local
ties, and Ibadan-based support for Ajimobi’s appeal against the 2007 gubernatorial election increased
dramatically. Disappointingly for both Ibadan’s elite and the JDPC, however, Ajimobi’s appeal was not
granted by the court (Vanguard, 7 December 2008; This Day, 16 July 2009).
5.4 Conclusion
As the political struggles in Oyo State illustrate, there appears to be very little difference overall
between the experiences of indigenous Christian and Muslim organizations in terms of access to and
representation in government. Of the organizations interviewed, NASFAT and the RCCG seem to have
the best links to government, which suggests the possibility that government officials favour ‘new’ or
‘reform’ movements within both Islam and Christianity. This might be because such movements are
most attractive to members of the local elite, who tend to be opinion-makers and are generally
overrepresented in government.
The strong emphasis by all organizations (except for the ADS) that their members are in government
as individuals and not as representatives of the organization in question is counterintuitive, because
appointments to government posts in Oyo State are usually made in line with an extension of the
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 75
‘federal character principle’ to religion, meaning that Christians and Muslims are represented in about
equal numbers and most religious organizations are included. It appears as if the proportionalism in
Oyo even exceeds that of Anambra, because posts are not only allocated by local government origin
and religion, but also, increasingly, according to gender and age, thus ensuring a (not necessarily
equitable) proportion of women and younger politicians in positions of authority. This concern reflects a
strong local awareness of the dominant debates among donors and international observers as well as
grassroots demands, suggesting that the local political elite is conscious both of its international
image and the potential rifts within the society.
Beyond such concerns, however, it is also likely that the claimed distance from the government
reflects the fears of many religious organizations that they might be identified with the corruption
associated with the political elite. Thus it is likely that the concerns of our respondents do not only
reflect concerns over economic malfeasance, but also many people’s belief that those who derive
‘unjust’ or ‘satanic’ wealth from the political sphere have sacrificed their integrity as Christians or
Muslims.31 Thus, many people suspect Muslim and Christian leaders who are politically successful of
being involved in modern-day traditional practices like oath-taking, an involvement which would
undermine their authority as Christian leaders. Therefore, the assertion of religious leaders that they
maintain a distance from the political sphere is also an assertion that they are ‘real’ Muslims and
Christians (cf. also Harnischfeger, 2006). This is implicit in the – slightly dissembling – comment by
Oyo State NASFAT representative Alhaji Abduljeleel:
During my tenure here, I did not entertain politicians, I did not go to them, because I know
what they will demand from me, I may not be able to give them. The moment you believe
in money and go to them, you will dance to their tune because money dictates a lot of
things (interview 6 January 2008, Alhaji Abduljeleel).
Interestingly, two of the larger conflicts that have dominated Ibadan politics in the past decade reflect
struggles over the locality itself and the status of its traditional ruler. The Yoruba-Hausa clashes of
1999 and 2000, as well as the clash surrounding the governorship of Alao-Akala, crystallized around
the perceived humiliation of Ibadan’s traditional ruler, the Olubadan. The Olubadan is a focal point of
local identity and like in Kano, non-‘indigenes’ who are perceived to embarrass him or the town of
Ibadan itself find themselves, like outsiders in Kano, under attack by members of the ‘indigenous’ elite.
This notwithstanding, and despite a long royal tradition in south-western Nigeria, the Olubadan does
Working Paper 39
not hold the power or religious influence of the Emir of Kano. Therefore, it appears that opposition to
him is not perceived as religious but as based on origin.
The debates about head-scarves, the activities of militant NACOYOM members, and the Christian
demands for the return of schools appropriated by the state illustrate that some of the religious
identities mobilized within Oyo State politics are potentially divisive. However, recent events
demonstrate that, although members of different faiths (or different denominations within a faith)
fundamentally disagree over certain issues, this does not seem to play an important role in the real
struggles over power in the State. In the context of local rivalry, concerns over Ibadan’s status and the
general unease over the city’s ‘godfather’ politics were crystallized by Ajimobi’s appeal to the election
tribunal, which brought together Ibadan’s traditional elite, a Muslim candidate and a Catholic pro-
democracy organization in order to defeat a Christian candidate who had been installed by a Muslim
This case clearly illustrates that, while religious rivalry constitutes part of everyday politics in Oyo,
religious organizations are involved in politics not so much on the basis of their religion but on the
basis of their position within local politics. However, the boundaries between ethnicity, indigeneity and
religion are sometimes blurred and, as in Anambra, it seems that the politicization of religion by
‘godfathers’ or their opponents in the State encourages religious groups and FBOs to introduce religion
to patronage politics.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 77
6 Religion in the political realm
While the case studies from Kano, Oyo and Anambra States highlight the great variety and local
embeddedness of religious politics and the activities of religious groups and FBOs, they also illustrate
some wider similarities and differences that affect religious engagement with politics. Some aspects
of this engagement will be explored in the section below, which complements the case studies of the
organizations’ activities by examining organizational – and respondents’– attitudes towards some key
issues: good governance and development, poverty and gender. Interestingly, despite the rivalry which
characterizes the experience of day-to-day politics for most religious groups and FBOs, the
respondents agree on many points. We suggest that this indicates that religious and faith-based
organizations share a vocabulary of criticism of the state that appeals to a large section of the
The main topic on which interview respondents disagreed is gender. However, here the responses
suggest that ethno-regional and cultural differences play a much stronger role in shaping attitudes
towards women than religion, with both Muslims and Christians in southern Nigeria, or of southern
origin, generally more open to women’s active participation in society than Muslims and Christians in
the North or those of Hausa-speaking origin. However, as highlighted in Section 2, almost all our
respondents were male and, as views on women’s abilities and roles might differ by gender, our
findings should be treated as preliminary.
6.1 Good governance and development
Despite the high degree of political violence in all three States, none of our respondents, when asked
about good governance and development, focused on this topic. Instead, reflecting the social realities
experienced daily by the vast majority of Nigerians, they referred to the failure of the Nigerian state to
provide its citizens with basic goods. Both religious and government representatives understood the
concepts of good governance and development in a very similar fashion. In their descriptions, the
provision of social welfare and security loomed particularly large. Our respondent from the civil service
in Kano argued that
Good governance entails tackling public affairs through empowering people; through
ensuring their welfare; through maintaining their good health; ensuring that a conducive
environment is provided for education; good roads are provided; power sector is tackled;
water is provided (interview 13 May 2008, Mallam Danyaro).
Working Paper 39
His views on development were congruent with the comments of a female Christian (CAN) respondent
from the same state:
When things develop people will be aware. … There will be electricity, there will be water,
and there will be good roads. That is what they call development. … So by bringing
electricity you are bringing development to the people. Even education, there will be
awareness among your children, instead of everybody being farmers, they will read and
write, they can communicate (interview 14 May 2008, Mrs. Funmilayo Osho).
Equally, a Christian (RCCG) respondent from Anambra State suggested that
Good governance means a government that is popular, that is meeting the needs of the
people they rule [sic], like for example, the government that provides motorable roads,
not only within the townships but into the hinterlands and communities to enable the
people easy access to transport their farm produce. This is one aspect of good
governance. Also provision of pipe-borne water, electricity, the government that assists in
providing these social amenities is good (interview 14 May 2008, Pastor Orji).
Some respondents added important provisos that reflected their positions within local relations of
power in various ways. Highlighting the JDPC’s engagement in civic education and its many links to
international donors, the views of its respondent from Anambra State on good governance illustrate his
familiarity with the international language of governance and development, as well as the JDPC’s
commitment to pro-democracy work. Highlighting the relationship between government and people as
the most important issue in good governance, the JDPC’s response does not focus directly on
material progress, but, in its reference to the people’s wishes, takes such expectations into account:
Good governance is people-oriented. It is being pro-poor and adopting or developing a
listenership culture. … It is centered on participatory governance; brining the people to
assist in whatever you are doing, letting them judge their representatives through their
score card; it is bringing the people at all times to a point where they would understand
the activities of government, be part of it and also ask questions and get answers.
Good governance also plans ahead, taking into consideration the long term nature of
development needs of the people, as always pivoted by their needs assessment; good
governance should always be purpose driven by sustaining whatever the people are
enjoying or want (interview 16 May 2008, C. J. Onyenze).
Several respondents also linked their expectations of good governance and development explicitly to
religion, as well as to other abstract values, such as justice and equality. Thus, our respondent from
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 79
the Izala in Kano explained that he understood as good governance as “governance guided by justice
and the fear of Allah”, explaining that Izala preaches against the stealing and looting of public funds
(interview 13 May 2008, Mallam Ali). The comments by Reverend Bwamche from Kano State have a
similar emphasis on equality and justice. He also emphasized the importance of religious freedom – a
comment that is likely to reflect his frustration over the treatment of his church, and Christians in
general, in northern Nigeria:
Good governance is when we respect the rule of law, when we respect the human rights
when we equally respect and see human life, value humans; and good governance is
when there is security… not only security of life and properly, there is equally freedom,
freedom of speech, freedom to propagate even your religion. …Good governance is
when development is spread evenly. Not one-sided. (interview 6 January 2008, Reverend
While also listing material and educational progress as the aims of development, the respondent from
the RCCG in Oyo used a scriptural reference to illustrate the importance of fairness and justice of
[The Biblical King] David said, let them that lead in the midst of man be fair and just.
When you are fair and just in managing the resources of the community for the welfare
of the community, essentially you have good governance (interview January 2008, Pastor
Andrew Olubunmi).
In contrast to the widespread consensus on good governance and development provided by the
majority of religious groups and FBOs, our respondent from the Yoruba Muslim community in Anambra
was very critical of ideas of development as infrastructural development. Interrogating the interviewer’s
question by linking it to the material expectations ascribed by most other religious representatives to
the political class, Imam Ologbonoke emphasized that material wealth was nothing without spiritual
Development for all of us in the state? Do you mean for everybody to become rich? Well,
it is only God that can take society and the people to a better kind of living. Development
is acting according to the will of God for the bettering of mankind. It is not about all these
material things that we see today. People do many evil things to get money, to build big
houses etc [sic], but it is vanity if we don’t have the fear of God (interview January 2008,
Imam Ologbonoke).
Working Paper 39
It is unlikely that this dissent reflects the fact that the Yoruba Muslim community is one of only two
organizations that are clearly not FBOs, because these views are not shared by the other member of
this group, the northern Muslim community. However, it is a useful reminder that both world religions,
at least potentially, can also constitute the basis for a non- or even anti-materialistic view of the world
(and nation). However, among our respondents, and despite the dissenting view by Imam Ologbonoke,
there was a widespread agreement among the religious organizations and FBOs on good governance
and development, which is believed to be linked to material progress, including the provision of
infrastructure and education, as well as justice, even-handedness and good relations between
government and the people it represents. These comments represent views widespread among
Nigerians of very different backgrounds. A recent survey suggests that
Nigerians are broadly discouraged by the performance of their political system, and do
not generally believe that they have reaped the “dividends” of democracy. Nonetheless, a
large majority of Nigerians continue to prefer democratic government over all other
options, and many Nigerians remain patient about the anticipated benefits of the
democratic system. … These popular attitudes suggest that Nigeria’s new democracy
remains fragile, and suffers a growing deficit of popular confidence (Afrobarometer, 2006,
p. 2).
At the same time, our respondents frequently represented abstract ideals, such as justice and
equality, as essentially religious ideas, thus framing the enlightenment values generally associated
with the debate on development within a religious context. A number of respondents from both
Christian and Muslim religious groups and FBOs pointed out that the aims stated by them as desirable
could only be achieved by leaders who are God-fearing and who follow scriptural examples, points that
were also emphasized by Imam Ologbonoke. The widespread emphasis on the fear of God clearly
comments on the prevailing political culture throughout Nigeria, where those in power often commit
crimes with impunity. The expression of such – essentially political – criticism through religious
discourse suggests that the heated religious debate in Nigeria fulfils important social functions.
However, Nigeria’s vibrant press culture suggests that critique of the system is also possible within
strictly secular parameters, so the need for a space for debate is not likely to be the main reason for
the use of religious discourse for such a critique.
Nevertheless, as the language and main messages of Islam and Christianity are closely related, it is
possible that in a country with very divergent cultural and intellectual traditions and influences, the
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 81
Abrahamic religions do contribute to a shared moral and political vocabulary that is intelligible across
linguistic, cultural and geographical divides. In that sense, the rise of religion in Nigeria might reflect
both the failure of secular political alternatives to the country’s patrimonial system, and the ongoing
struggle by many Nigerians to frame their concerns and hopes for the future in ways that are clear and
appealing to their fellow citizens.
6.2 Poverty: “It is here with us”
Asked about poverty, the respondents from the religious organizations and FBOs agreed that the poor
should be helped and supported. Most responses focused on individual support for people identified as
poor, as well as on programmes designed to provide skills and capital to those without. However,
despite similar structural approaches, there seemed to be no general agreement on who the poor are,
and several respondents struggled to identify those who are not (quite so) poor rather than poor. A
typical comment that illustrates the many facets of poverty recognized by churches, religious
communities and FBOs, and the manifold responses offered by these organizations, was made by the
respondent from the JDPC in Anambra State, who explained that the JDPC’s pro-poor programmes
are “directed to alleviating the inconveniencies on the poor, the physically challenged, [and] the
marginalized”. This organization emphasizes that it is important not to impose one’s own ideas on the
poor but to support them in order to assist them to help themselves:
Our entire attempt this year is focused on the concerns of the poor, the less privileged,
the marginalized, the physically challenged. We will not only try to be their voice but we
also try to restore their voice to them, so that they would begin to see their own needs
and also to have them met (interview 16 May 2008, C. J. Onyenze).
Despite this professional-sounding statement, however, an element of despair could be discerned in
Mr. Onyenze’s responses to our interviewer, as he stressed repeatedly that poverty is everywhere:
Oh my God, when we talk about poverty alleviation, it sounds as if it is something that is
far-fetched. It is here with us. Go around, you see poor people around at every nook and
cranny, you will meet them on the roads, on the streets, you will meet them even in the
families. They are there in the schools (interview 16 May 2008, C. J. Onyenze).
It is perhaps this anguish over the ubiquitous presence of poverty which has encouraged a range of
different responses by many religious groups and FBOs. For example, NASFAT in Oyo State has
helped poor members to set themselves up in business, buying a motorcycle for one former prison
Working Paper 39
inmate and sewing machines for others wishing to set up as tailors. In a similar manner, their
representative considered those in need of food as poor, and reported that such people receive food
from the organization during Ramadan. However, in the same breath, the NASFAT representative also
expressed fear and anger about poverty, claiming that it results from laziness and lack of parental
supervision. Although it is unlikely that secretly well-off people beg for the fun of it, this well-worn trope
so exercized him that he spoke with distaste about those who beg although they do not need to:
Every day during the Ramadan we distribute food, raw foods, not cooked ones, for [the
poor] to be able to observe the Ramadan fast, [we give them] rice, beans, milk, Bournvita
[a malted drink], sugar, etc to observe the fast. And when we see a boy that begs and we
know that he is not supposed to beg, we ask the security to go and bring such boy. We
will interview him to be able to see his problems. Some [times] during the interview we
would see that he or she is not supposed to beg, but [is doing it] because of laziness.
Some children will run out of their parents’ house, coming here to beg. We have seen a
lot like that, and we have taken them to their homes where the parents are apparently
surprised to see them begging (interview 6 January 2008, Alhaji Abduljeleel).
The dislike for poverty expressed in the comments by Alhaji Abduljeleel is presumably fed by an
attempt to reduce, if only by implication, the number of poor to a more manageable size: one suspects
that people like Alhaji Abduljeleel feel that if only those who are really in need of it beg, charity could
alleviate poverty. At the same time, the association of begging with laziness or lack of supervision
reflects fear and the need to draw a distinction between the real poor and oneself. If a person works
and fulfils their obligations as a parent, Alhaji Abduljeleel’s argument suggests, they and their offspring
will not be afflicted by poverty. The need to draw such distinctions between the real poor and others is
surely an indication of poverty’s omnipresence. The ever-present nature of poverty is also confirmed in
comments from Kano State. According to Mallam Danyaro, the government spokesperson of Kano,
Pro-poor change is change that is biased towards the welfare of the poor, positive
change that is aimed at alleviating the suffering of the poor by giving them shelter [and]
food, let the poor have access to health [and] good drinking water, let the poor enjoy the
goodies of life. In Nigeria we have got the resources but these resources cannot reach
the poor (interview 13 May 2008, Mallam Danyaro).
As only a minority of Nigerians has regular access to health, good drinking water and “the goodies of
life”, it seems clear from his submission that almost every Nigerian can be considered as poor.
Considering that he speaks as a government official, it is interesting that he also acknowledges –
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria 83
albeit indirectly – that the state has failed to channel existing resources into assisting those in need. In
the face of such helplessness and failure, the admission of the Izala representative is sobering:
Apart from Zakat [alms giving, see footnote 18], which we use in distributing [means] to
the poor as the Prophet (SAW) has obliged us to do, we do not have any other means of
helping the poor (interview 13 May 2008, Mallam Ali).
While Mallam Ali also expressed the hope that his organization’s planned carpentry programme will
help to alleviate poverty, and while several respondents suggested that similar programmes, including
those aimed at women and students, will improve the situation, the pervasiveness of poverty, and their
own helplessness in the face of it, is tangible from all the responses. These reflect the painful reality of
the Nigerian state’s failure to address poverty and social inequality, and the growing chasm which has
opened between the poor and the not-so-poor since the 1980s. According to Lubeck, Lipschutz and
Weeks (2003, p. 20-21) the number of Nigerians in poverty has exploded from a little under 20 million
(or roughly a quarter of the overall population) in 1980 to about 70 million (or two-thirds of the
population) in 1996, with inequality rising further over the last decade despite overall economic growth.
Despite numerous government programmes to alleviate poverty, life expectancy today is a mere 54
years, and infant and maternal mortality are among the highest in the world (Ewhrudjakpor, 2008).
Thus the many initiatives through which religious groups and FBOs support and help the poor must
seem, at least at times, like a drop in the ocean. To retain hope and optimism in what appears like a
hopeless situation, people may turn to faith. It is very likely that concerns over poverty also undergird
the support for shari’a law in northern Nigeria, which contains both the country’s poorest states and
those states with the most rigid social order: in the late 1990s, the incidence of poverty was over 70
per cent in Kano State, and it reached more than 83 per cent in many shari’a states, such as Sokoto,
Kebbi and Zamfara (Lubeck et al, 2003). While the concern over poverty was certainly not the only
reason for the support of shari’a law, support for shari’a among those self-identified as members of the
poor or the middle level of society is between 12 and 14 per cent higher than among members of the
upper levels of society (Afrobarometer, 2009, p. 7-8).
If, as suggested above, religion provides part of a shared vocabulary for the moral debates Nigerians
want and need to hold over the political future of their country, the failure of past efforts to reverse the
declining life chances of most Nigerians also encourages groups and individuals to seek out a more
Working Paper 39
powerful language. In this sense, the historically grounded legal codes guiding the implementation of
shari’a penal law in Kano and other northern states represent not only part of the discourse of Muslim
religious freedom, but also a vocabulary of criticism and hope that is, at least in part, directed at all
Nigerians. In part, therefore, shari’a is not only perceived as threatening because of its association with
sectional interests, but also because of its claim to universality, which excludes other visions of a
better future for Nigeria.
6.3 Ethno-regional difference in gender perceptions
In principle, most of our respondents from both the religious and faith-based sector and the
government agreed on the meaning of women’s empowerment, which they saw as advancing the
cause of women in society. At the same time, the fact that all the organizations contacted had a
predominantly male leadership was not questioned by any of our respondents, although we would like
to re-emphasize here that we only spoke to one female respondent and that our findings may not be
representative of women’s views. Separate from the main (and usually male) leadership, all the
organizations have women’s wings or sections run by female members, which gives women space to
organize and mobilise other women, with varying degrees of independence from the male leadership.
This was even the case for the organizations which place a strong emphasis on female submission,
such as Izala in Kano State and the Yoruba Muslim community in Anambra State, where women are
active as teachers and helpers within the female schools. They are also encouraged to participate in
the activities of FOMWAN, the Nigeria-wide Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations of Nigeria.
Overall, therefore, women appear to play important roles in most religious groups and FBOs,
confirming the suggestion that religious groups are one of the most popular and legitimized ways for
women to organize for development and self-improvement (Para-Mallam, 2006).
One of the reasons for the strong presence of women in the religious sector is undoubtedly the fact
that religion is seen as an appropriate concern for women by large sections of both the Muslim and
Christian populations. Moreover, because many women’s activities take place in all-female
environments, they can be active even in religious organizations that insist on a strong division of
gender roles. While this suggests that the participation of women in the religious sphere is generally
better than in other areas of public life, it also illustrates the drawbacks of channelling female agency
through structures added on to the main organizations. Through this arrangement, women’s interests
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
are both included in larger organizational remits and kept under close control, especially as the overall
leadership of most religious groups and FBOs continues to be dominated by men. However, even in
very strongly male-dominated organizations, such as the Hausa Muslim community in Anambra, it was
reported that women may be asked to mediate or act as intercessors. As Alhaji Garba Haruna
acknowledged, Muslim women can also rely on a very strong organization at the national level:
They [the women in FOMWAN] are organizing themselves well. Sometimes we may
need something from the government, [and] we would go through them. These women
have their way more than us [the men in the main organization] because anytime they go
to the government for something, the government have always have their demand met
[sic] (interview January 2008, Alhaji Garba Haruna).
As our fieldworkers were mostly offered appointments with male respondents, we suspect that our
information about the activities of women in the religious groups and FBOs examined here may be
incomplete. However, even from the information we hold, it is clear that most of the religious groups
and FBOs run programmes or offer opportunities specifically aimed at serving women. These include
prayer groups (NASFAT, ADS, ECWA, CAN, RCCG, Church of Nigeria), educational opportunities
(NASFAT, ADS, CAN, RCCG, JDPC), micro-credit and small-scale business training opportunities
(NASFAT, ADS, CAN, JDPC, Church of Nigeria) and centres dedicated to maternal or reproductive
health or hypertension (NASFAT, RCCG, Church of Nigeria).32 Beyond these initiatives, which clearly fit
into mainstream development policies, many respondents also mentioned the support of widows and
orphans as both a religious obligation and a development need. It partly reflects the widespread
Nigerian practice of demanding elaborate rituals of submission and grieving from widows, who are
often asked to remain in seclusion for up to a year. Moreover, in many parts of Nigeria, widows cannot
inherit from their husbands, reducing them to dependence on family and relatives for survival. In this
context, the relevant injunctions both in the Bible and the Qur’an are perceived as placing powerful
obligations on believers.
However, despite the widely shared acknowledgement that women play an important role in most
religious groups and FBOs, the views of our respondents on the meaning and purpose of women’s
empowerment differed dramatically. Our respondents directly or indirectly associated with the Hausa-
speaking communities of northern Nigeria seemed to agree that women’s empowerment should
Working Paper 39
centre on helping them to fulfil their roles as wives and mothers. As the respondent from the Izala
pointed out, this requires some concessions from men:
The Qur’an says it is a man’s responsibility to take care of the needs of his wife and it is
the responsibility of the father to take care of the needs of the daughters. … Among the
Sunna people [such as the members of the Izala], if a man does not have male children,
or if he has small children who cannot engage in labour, it is the man’s responsibility to
fetch water and firewood for the woman to cook with. That is what real Islam teaches
(interview 13 May 2008, Mallam Ali).
Similar suggestions were made by the respondent from the Hausa Muslim community in Anambra
Women, you know, women are housewives. They belong there and it is completely that
way. Everybody knows his rights and the rights of a woman. So, if you know this, it would
be wrong to abuse their rights as housewives (interview January 2008, Alhaji Garba
The respondent from the ECWA church in Kano State which, unlike many other churches, has local
roots, highlighted analogous values, although he suggested that women should be able to contribute in
a small way to the family finances:
Women empowerment is a situation where women are enlightened [and] given the
appropriate knowledge of their roles as mothers, their roles as wives, and their roles as
custodians of lives, tender lives. And then giving them not only the knowledge but
financing some projects, giving them money to start little, little projects where they
themselves can meet up with the financial needs in the family (interview 6 January 2008,
Reverend Bwamche).
In contrast, the comments from the Yoruba-dominated ADS in Kano State, despite its Muslim base and
historical and close links with the locality, reflect a much more emancipatory view of women’s
empowerment. While the respondents emphasized typically female roles, they clearly also perceive
women as having responsibility for the moral integrity of their husbands, as playing important roles
within society, and as holding responsibilities beyond the confines of the household (and petty trading):
What the women really need, what the Qur’an says, is that they are supposed to take
care of the home, their children, develop their husbands, make sure [the husbands] do
not go astray. … And you know if you do not develop women you have not developed
society. You need to develop women to make sure that they are good housewives, good
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
mothers. A good housewife and mother will behave decently if she gets to her office, she
will not tamper with government money (interview 3 January 2008, Adbul-Lateef Jimoh
and Alhaji Ayedun).
Mrs Funmilayo Osho, also a Yoruba-speaker and the secretary of CAN’s Women’s Wing in Kano, had
even stronger views on the capabilities of women, arguing that women’s empowerment meant to give
women the opportunity “to do things themselves, without consulting the men, to be given free hands”.
However, despite her forceful interpretation of female empowerment in theory, her practical examples
of what the organization does to help women suggests a general focus on the family, although she
also emphasized the importance of education for women’s advancement. She explained that,
We do seminars, we do try our best [to] encourag[e] them. The little you have to take
care of your family, your children, find something doing. [We support women] not [by]
giving them the money [to do things] but [by] giving them the knowledge on what to do
(interview 4 January 2008, Funmilayo Osho).
The wider remit envisaged for women’s scope of action expressed by these non-Hausa FBOs in Kano
State are shared, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm, by both Muslim and Christian
organizations in southern Nigeria. Thus, the respondent from the RCCG in Anambra pointed out that in
his church, women can aspire to high leadership positions, and that some Provinces are even headed
by female pastors. He linked women’s success strongly to their religious status and argued that:
If a woman is born again [a member of a Pentecostal church] and conversant with
scriptural instructions and is carrying them out, that person would have been
empowered. And I also believe that women should be encouraged to express
themselves in getting equal opportunity and education like the men. … I read in the
newspaper that we have more women in school than men in Anambra State. So I believe
that in [the] Anambra context the women are empowered spiritually, physically and
otherwise, even [economically]. Thank God, we have a Deputy Governor of the state who
is a woman33 (interview 14 May 2008, Pastor Orji).
His views were shared by the head of the Yoruba Muslim community in the State, who despite his
general skepticism about development (see above), simply stated:
We have very influential and powerful women among us who have contributed so many,
many things to the progress of this religion, in particular in Awka and other parts of the
state (interview January 2008, Imam Ologbonoke).
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In Oyo State, responses from Muslim and Christian organizations reflected a similar pattern. Perhaps
in response to disagreements between Hausa and Yoruba-dominated interpretations of Islam, as well
as to attempts by the local Muslim organization NACOMYO to enforce the wearing of head-scarves by
schoolgirls, the respondent from the ADS also explained in some detail why the limitations imposed on
women in northern Nigeria do not reflect the Qur’an’s teachings:
The Almighty Allah gave tem a very long Sura in the Qur’an, … they do not lead prayer
[among men], they only head prayer among themselves. But in the socio-economic
sector the Qur’an does not forbid them [to be active] and we should not try to mix [the]
culture of other people with religion. Culture is separate…
… when you get to Saudi Arabia for instance, it is their culture that their women do not
work because they believe that they are the weaker sex. … But if you now tell us that
everybody in Oyo State should wrap their bodies, [you] are now mixing culture with
religion. So religion permits them to play their own role (interview 27 December 2007,
Prince Makanjuola-Totoola).
Also in reflection of wider debates in Oyo State about the exact meaning of the scriptures (possibly
related to the ongoing attempts to ‘fix’ the meaning of religious identities), even Christian respondents
went into some detail about Biblical injunctions. The RCCG’s Area Pastor Peter Adagbada explained:
There is a scripture in the Book of Timothy where Paul said women should not speak in
the fellowship of the brethren, but if they want to ask any question they should go and ask
their husbands at home. Maybe that is what [some churches] are holding on to, [but] …
the Holy Spirit that God gives has no gender characters. Because the Holy Spirit is a gift
and its fruits are given to male and female … what a man can do a woman can do
(interview 3 January 2008)
Thus it seems that with regard to gender, the differences between the world religions are less
pronounced than the differences associated with ethno-regional origin. Clearly, both Christians and
Muslims in or from northern Nigeria emphasize stronger gender separation than their counterparts in
or from the South, and northern women’s roles are perceived as primarily determined by their
obligations towards their fathers, husbands and children. In turn, certainly among Muslims, women’s
male relations are obligated to support them. In Muslim and Christian communities in the south,
however, women are believed to be as capable and powerful as men. However, the expectations of
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
female leadership in most Muslim groups seem to be limited to worldly success, while some Christian
churches accord to woman the same ability to provide spiritual leadership as men.
These positive views of female capabilities are particularly interesting in the light of Muslim support for
shari’a law in Oyo State, as shari’a law has been criticized for its harsh treatment of women in northern
Nigeria. In response, scholars concerned about women’s rights, as well as organisations like the
Federation of Muslim Women Organisations (FOMWAN), have engaged constructively with shari’a in
northern Nigeria and commented on the improvement which shari’a law might bring to women’s
political, inheritance, ownership, marriage and custody rights, among others (Sada, Adamu and
Ahmad, 2005). While we did not interview members of a religious group or FBO involved in the
practical framing and implementation of shari’a law in Oyo State, it seems that the wider perceptions
of female abilities pervasive in south-western Nigeria are reflected in the fact that female scholars and
scholars supportive of women’s rights are invited to be contributors to the south-western Independent
Shari’a Arbitration Panels. As a result, although they do not inherit from their deceased husbands and
fathers under local law, these panels have improved the position of widows and orphans under their
jurisdiction (Makinde, 2007, p. 158-165).
The importance of ethno-regional origin and culture for religious views on women’s roles illustrates
that orientations primarily linked to ethno-regional origin cross-cut the religious divide. As views on
gender relations are an important reflection of wider social norms and values, the importance of
religion for Nigerian politics is easily overvalued in studies which examine Islam as a northern religion
and Christianity as a southern religion, because differences that are more closely associated with
area of origin might be attributed to religion. Our findings support the belief that the higher incidence of
religious conflicts in northern Nigeria is not primarily due to the fact that Islam and Christianity are
associated with dramatically different world views, although in the absence of more extensive
interview material, including from groups that challenge the state, it cannot examine the possibility that
there are significant differences within the Muslim and Christian communities. At the same time, the
continuing importance of ethno-regional origin resonates with the finding that the dominant basis for
exclusion of religious organizations and FBOs from governance in the southern states was origin
rather than religion.
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6.4 Conclusion
The comments by the religious representatives on development and good governance, poverty and
women’s empowerment suggest that in this area, religion plays a less important role than generally
assumed in structuring popular views on the state of the nation. While it is possible that the fact that
our respondents were mostly (male) members of the educated elite may overemphasize similarities
between the religious and faith-based groups we interviewed, we believe that our findings point to
greater similarities than expected.
Most respondents agreed that the most important indicators of good governance and development are
the provision of education, healthcare and physical infrastructure, as well as government inspired by
the fear of God. Both Christians and Muslims also argued that justice and equality are important
indicators of good government, and they sometimes presented these abstract ideals as essentially
religious values. Likewise, questions about poverty revealed similar perceptions and responses. Most
religious and faith-based organizations have responded to the overwhelming presence of poverty
within Nigeria by providing direct assistance to those in immediate need, as well as through (planned)
programmes offering skills or capital to the poor. Despite the optimism inherent in the existence of
such pro-poor efforts, both Christians and Muslims also expressed anguish over the pervasiveness of
This agreement on Nigeria’s fundamental problems suggests that Christians and Muslims share,
possibly based on their common descent from the Abrahamic tradition, a vocabulary of protest and
critique, through which they can express their criticisms and hopes in a way that is intelligible in a wide
variety of contexts. The fact that religion has taken on this important social and political function attests
to the ideological emptiness of the Nigerian political space, but it also suggests that Nigerians
themselves are determined to provide credible alternatives to widespread poverty and governance
failure. It is possible to understand the introduction of shari’a law as one such alternative, albeit one
which is sectionally based and which can therefore be understood as an attempt to silence other
aspirations for reform.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
In contrast to the largely shared views on the state of the nation, Christian and Muslim views on the
private sphere, and specifically on women’s roles within society, are more varied. This variation is
linked to ethno-regional origin rather than to religion, with northern Muslims and Christians, as well as
Hausa-speakers in the south, generally agreeing that women’s roles should be confined to the family
and household, whereas southern Muslims and Christians often argued that women can take on
similar or even the same roles as men, especially in terms of professional achievement or political
influence. While the responses were obtained primarily from men, and while they are not
comprehensive enough to fully determine the degree to which political and social points of view
differed among respondents, they suggest that Christian and Muslim perspectives on governance,
development and poverty in Nigeria do not clash significantly, while differences in the views of religious
groups and FBOs on gender are primarily linked to different geographical and cultural backgrounds.
While our interviews only cover some of the many important topics on which different world views
might find expression, the shared political vocabulary and the regionally rather than religiously divided
views on the private realm suggest that religious conflict is not primarily determined by dramatically
different world views. Instead, our findings suggest that the authoritarianism of the political sphere in
general and the unequal relationships between different religious groups and FBOs and the state in
particular contribute to religious rivalry.
Working Paper 39
7 A fraught relationship: religious groups and FBOs
and the Nigerian state
As set out above, the vast majority of religious organizations and FBOs interviewed share both political
and practical concerns, and run educational or health-related institutions and programmes which,
according to their own definitions, contribute to good governance, development and poverty alleviation.
At the same time, many religious groups and FBOs are offered support by government in recognition
of their services. However, as our case studies suggest, relationships between the Nigerian state and
the country’s religious and faith-based organizations are not simply an exchange in which the state
empowers religious groups and FBOs, whose services in turn supplement those provided by the
state, but are based on a more complex set of mutual expectations and concerns.
In this section, some of the structural features that characterize the relationships between religious
groups and FBOs and the state are explored. It notes that all State governments attempt to work with
religious groups and FBOs to some degree, and all have adopted methods or institutions through
which they exert a degree of control over some groups. However, the responses we obtained from
government representatives suggest that government interest does not focus on the developmental
efforts of religious groups and FBOs, but on their power and influence at the grassroots. Meanwhile,
comments from religious and faith-based organizations indicate that they both resent their exclusion
from government’s close relationships with other groups and fear the appropriation of their own
organizations by a morally corrupt government. With concerns on both sides over the reliability and
even-handedness of the other, relationships between governments and religious and faith-based
groups is fraught with difficulties and fears.
7.1 State governments’ attempts to co-opt some religious groups
and FBOs to gain access to the grassroots
In all three case studies, it emerged that State governments had established formal ways of managing
their relationships with religious and faith-based organizations and of co-opting especially important
groups. Despite this shared agenda, the ways in which individual governments followed these aims
differed. In Kano State, the co-optation of religious groups and FBOs into government has advanced
furthest, finding expression in the Islamic institutions of the State, in which religious leaders discuss
with each other, within the existing constitutional framework (as they understand it), the
implementation of shari’a law, as well as other Muslim concerns. In the two southern Nigerian states of
Oyo and Anambra, there is no formal religious participation in government, but the extension of the
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
federal character principle to religious proportionalism ensures the inclusion of both Muslims and
Christians in government through personal appointments. It is through the links created by personal
appointments, as well as public visits, presents and donations, that State governments interact with
religious groups.
However, while these institutions provide a space for the mutual exchange and assimilation of
important Muslim organizations, they also explicitly exclude others. In Kano State, with the possible
exception of the Izala34 no organization unsympathetic to the State government or the Emir has been
invited to participate in the new Islamic institutions. In Oyo and Anambra States, the notion of
indigeneity, which also underlies the federal character principle, gives rise to exclusion, and especially
in Oyo State, some (though not all) organizations which are closely identified with in-migrant groups
fail to be represented or included. Even so, all the States in our case studies engaged with less
significant religious groups and FBOs through the allocation of funds to Muslims and Christians
through the State Pilgrim Boards, and in several cases also through the inclusion of religious groups
and FBOs in public health (especially HIV/AIDS) campaigns.
The often frank statements we received from the government representatives with respect to their
views of religious groups and FBOs confirmed our case studies of the organizations themselves.
They suggest that the inclusion or exclusion of religious groups and FBOs primarily reflect
government concerns over power and influence at the grassroots, rather than government
appreciation of their developmental efforts. The most positive acknowledgement of religious groups
and FBOs’ developmental contributions from the government’s side came from an official in Anambra
State, where our respondent commented:
Apart from a few, maybe one or two, universities, hospitals and the rest of them, built by
the churches, they [religious groups and FBOs] do not really come into governance
(interview May 2008, Women Advocacy and Empowerment Agency).
Our contact from the Anambra State government revealed what is really important from the
government’s point of view, namely the importance of religious groups and FBOs for reaching the
population, in order to garner support for political candidates or institute specific programmes.
Working Paper 39
You know when someone is at the pulpit you do not question the person or whatever the
person says. They subtly tell their congregations what to do or who to vote for… But it is
done underground and they do not come out openly to fight for it (interview May 2008,
Women Advocacy and Empowerment Agency).
Even in the particular environment of Kano State, where the most important (Muslim) religious groups
and FBOs are represented in the institutions associated with the introduction of shari’a, the ability of
religious groups and FBOs to mobilize the population was considered to be their main contribution to
governance and development by Mallam Danyaro from the Kano State Ministry of Information:
They [religious groups and FBOs] do have [a positive impact on governance and
development] because if government is talking about transparency and accountability,
social re-orientation, the FBOs and other religious movements are involved because they
have influence over the people too. You know they have followers and therefore,
whatever message you want to carry to the people you have to go through them
(interview 13 May 2008, Mallam Danyaro).
However, not every government official felt as generous towards religious groups and FBOs as the
respondents quoted above. Thus, Chief Akanbi Atoyebi, a Director in the Ministry of Women Affairs,
Social Development and Children’s Welfare, Oyo State, explained that religious organizations’ greed
for donations and contributions means that religious groups and FBOs do not really make a
contribution to good governance and development:
I am sorry to say this, I hate to be guilty of heresy but let me be honest with you, the
churches and the mosques are paying lip service to moral sanctity in our society. They
preach well, they say don’t do this or that, but when it comes to issue of donations,
people with questionable integrity would go to the Church and the Mosque and make
huge donations, yet the clerics will collect it and they [the donors] would be eulogized,
and they will be more recognized them those who are living credibly and who rely only on
their definite income, legitimate income. …
So these are the issues, they [the religious organizations] are culpable in the issue of
corruption rampaging the Nigerian Society [sic] (interview 25 May 2008, Chief Atoyebi).
These comments suggest that the activities highlighted by many religious groups and FBOs as
important development contributions, such as their almost universal engagement in education and
health provision, are not perceived by government as playing an important role. Instead, religious
groups and FBOs are perceived mainly as organizations through which government can connect with
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
specific groups, and which can give spiritual gravitas to political careers. While this alone suggests a
strong gap between the self-perceptions of the religious and faith-based organizations and
governments’ perceptions of them, it also suggests that the more idealistic concerns highlighted by
several respondents from the religious sector, including the fear of God, justice and equality, are not
acknowledged in any meaningful way by state bureaucrats.
7.2 FBO perceptions of government and politicians
While several religious groups and FBOs reported that they have close and successful relationships
with the respective State governments, many others see themselves as playing a role as moral critics
and advisers. The role of moral critic is exemplarily played by the JDPC through its engagement in
civic education, election monitoring etc, which has played an important role in supporting legal
challenges to political results determined by violence and patrimonial ties. However, a similar
monitoring role is played by several other groups, which argue that they control those in power through
the creation of other forms of public commentary, including sermons. As the comments by the
respondent from the Izala in Kano State illustrate, preaching in particular can be perceived in this
context as both dangerous and highly charged politically:
We preach against stealing and looting of public funds, we preach against bad
government and its consequences. You know that one of our Mallams, [Sheikh] Ja’afar,
was murdered … He was a vocal preacher who was against moral and social vices and
defended the cause of the commoners. Those in government did not like him and he
was murdered.… That is how we contribute to society, even with our lives (interview 13
May 2008, Mallam Ali).
While none of the other religious groups and FBOs interviewed shared the extreme experience of the
Izala, other (though not all) groups also pointed to the power of religious sermons in criticizing and
reprimanding those in power. Thus the representative of the Anglican community in Anambra State
explained that the church uses its influence within the community to influence its members. As a
result, according to him, the Anglican Church contributes to good governance by
… trying to admonish the church members in government when they come to church so
that when they go they carry [out] their duties with the fear of God (interview May 2008,
Sir Ngozi).
Working Paper 39
Thus, the power of sermons is perceived very differently by many religious groups and FBOs and
government officials. While those in political office perceive sermons as a practical way to
communicate their interests to the people, religious leaders see them as a way to evaluate and, if
necessary, reprove government on the basis of their spiritual authority. As the NASFAT representative
in Kano State, Mr Abduljeleel Abdulyekini Soga, pointed out, the activities of many religious groups and
FBOs also include prayer, which is perceived as a developmentally relevant activity:
We contribute to the development of Kano State from the spiritual perspective by praying
for the development of the state and by educating people on moral principles in
governance (interview 2 January 2008, Mr. Soga).
In our interviews, prayer often also signalled a real or public distancing by a religious group or FBO
from the political sphere. Thus, the ECWA respondent, Reverend Bwamche, whose organization’s
ability to influence local decision-making has been greatly affected by local prejudice against
Christians, suggested that among ECWA’s most important contributions to Kano State were its
I strongly believe whether they like it or not that part of the peace we enjoy in this state is
an answered prayer of the believers who are currently asking God to control [events in
the state] (interview 6 January 2008, Reverend Bwamche).
Several respondents asserted that their organizations do not contribute to good governance by
participating in the political process, or even by engaging in public debate, but through prayer alone.
For example, the Yoruba and Hausa Muslim communities in Anambra State asserted that they
primarily pray for those in power and do not participate in government. In the same vein, the
responses from the RCCG in both Oyo and Anambra States reflected a general policy that ostensibly
precludes the church from taking any direct action in the realm of politics, not even in the form of
public comment. As its representative in Anambra State explained:
If you are a spiritual leader, before you venture out to make any contribution [in the
political affairs of the state], you have to be under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and up
till now the Holy Spirit has not instructed us … to intervene or seek redress [other] than
what the Scripture told us to pray for our leaders. Any policy that is not too good to the
populace, we go to God in prayer for a reversal of such a policy, we pray for our leaders,
for God to guide them in their policy formulation and implantation. These are the areas
we will only intervene (interview 14 May 2008, Pastor Orji).
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
Such declarations are particularly interesting because these groups, with the exception of the Muslim
Community in Anambra, are de facto represented in government and have played roles of local
political importance. As suggested above, it is therefore likely that their claims reflect an attempt to
distance themselves publicly from the modernized traditional practices – often referred to as ‘occult’ –
which are perceived to dominate politics behind the scenes.
Incidentally, there has recently been increased evidence for the endurance of modern traditional
practices, especially in southern Nigerian politics. Apart from the participation of former governor Chris
Ngige and other prominent Igbo-speaking leaders in practices at the Okija Shrine in Anambra State
and other documented cases in the south-east (Harnischfeger, 2006; Ellis, 2008), the revelation that
Sam Edem, the chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, had allegedly employed a
traditional practitioner to further his own political aims (Newswatch, 11 August 2008) and the
publication by Ogun State governor Gbenga Daniel of a picture of his opponents during an alleged
oath-taking (cf. Newswatch, 5 July 2009) illustrate that non-monotheistic techniques of ensuring
political unity and success continue to play an important role in Nigerian politics. Beyond the
widespread and historical use of oaths to establish trust in southern Nigeria, important politicians of
northern Nigerian origin are also rumoured to have used such techniques.
Although it appears that traditional practices are more widespread than visible at first glance, very few
politicians have, to date, dared to describe themselves as traditionalists, and traditional practice is
often perceived as indicating low social status. One of the reasons for this is political rather than
spiritual: many Nigerians feel embarrassment about a public discussion of traditional practices –
which are most likely to come to light in connection with political scandals – because they perceive
such practices as undermining their own position. Reasons for this reaction include the fact that
Nigeria’s political economy at the central level is based on the presumed equal value of Christianity
and Islam, with no room for traditional practice. Therefore the public questioning of a regional power-
broker’s monotheistic identity can easily undermine her or his suitability for public posts. Moreover,
many Nigerians are also strongly aware of perceptions of Nigeria outside the country, including
audiences of primarily secular or Christian orientation in the West and the wider Muslim community
(ummah) in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In view of existing prejudices about Africa in both groups,
many Nigerians are concerned that they, or their country, might be associated with practices frowned
upon by many outside observers.
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At the same time, the perception of (some) traditional practices as embarrassing or even ‘evil’ may
also reflect a conflation of developments in Nigerian discourse, in which Christian and Muslim master
narratives and fears of the ‘occult’ are believed to be confirmed by widespread corruption within the
political sector. However, the popularity of the Okija shrine among Igbo speakers from different social
backgrounds, as well as the esteem in which traditional practice is held among other Nigerians,
whether they are in politics or not, suggests that traditional practices have relevance far beyond issues
of political corruption. Far from indicating the collapse of the moral order or the state (cf.
Harnischfeger, 2006), many traditional practices are historically rooted in local beliefs and therefore
part of many everyday interactions. In such contexts they are described, even by Christians and
Muslims, as cultural traditions. Because these traditions include concerns over the creation and
restoration of morality and community, some traditional practitioners have even argued that the
dominance of the monotheistic religions in Nigeria has contributed to its corrupt political culture. It is
therefore also in response to the endurance of traditional practice, its appeal as a moral alternative,
and its unstable existence as both ‘traditional religion’ and ‘culture’ that many Christian and Muslim
leaders (though not all their followers) adopt a form of self-assertion that centres on the projection or
creation of a fixed monotheistic identity.
Deriving from the struggle to create unambiguous religious identities is the belief by more
fundamentalist monotheists that Christians or Muslims can be contaminated by closeness to those of
suspected involvement in traditional (or cultural) practice. Such closeness to tradition is interpreted as
undermining the principles of monotheist faiths, and accusations and fears about contamination often
dominate debates among Christians or Muslims. Because of their presumed participation in traditional
practice (as well as corrupt acts), some people perceive Christians and Muslims active in politics as
‘fake’. As the respondent from the marginalized Yoruba Muslim community in Anambra State
Some people are not where they are supposed to be because they were never God-
fearing in the first instance, before they entered politics. They do not fear before they
enter there, that is why they perpetrate all those kinds of things in the name of religion
(interview January 2008, Imam Ologbonoke).
As the comments from the RCCG suggest, such views are not restricted to those who are for the
most part excluded from the political sphere. Even a representative of NASFAT in Oyo State, an
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
organisation that is ostensibly very successful and proud of its achievements, expressed a similar
worry about the blurring of boundaries between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ Muslims. He mistrusted even those
members of his own organisation who had entered politics:
But we can now say that our members in government are also the same with them
[meaning that they are politicians rather than good Muslims]. Some came because they
know that NASFAT has a large following/membership and want to use us to win
elections. That is why many belong to NASFAT (interview 6 January 2008, Alhaji
Apart from their concerns over individual and collective moral integrity, the mistrust of the political
sphere felt by many religious groups and FBOs reflects a significant difference in outlook and
aspirations between the religious sector and the state. As the material contributions to development
provided by the religious groups and FBOs are belittled and their spiritual and moral ambitions for
Nigeria – the fear of God, justice and equality – are ignored, it becomes clear that, despite the positive
relations between some NGOs and their governments, the structural relationship between religious
groups and FBOs and the state is problematic. The reluctance of the state to acknowledge the
contributions and visions of religious groups and FBOs beyond the material – or, in Kano State, the
administrative – level has both influenced and repelled religious engagement in politics. In response,
some groups, like the Anglican Church in Anambra or the Sufi tariqas in Kano, seek political
patronage, and others, like the JDPC, refuse it completely and consistently.
However, most religious groups and FBOs are torn between the desire to benefit from active
participation in politics and their own mistrust of the political system, suggesting that the state has only
partly managed to appropriate the religious sector. It is likely that political competition between
individual religious groups and FBOs expands as a result, because the incomplete appropriation of
religious organizations creates jealousies and fears amongst those that are excluded. Beyond existing
variations in religious faith and practice, religious organizations also assess each other’s moral and
spiritual integrity. Thus, when religious groups and FBOs close to power make use of the possibility to
shape the public sphere, their opponents perceive them not only as rivals, but also as acting in a
morally objectionable way. Such perceptions are likely to intensify the tension between different
religious groups, and also contribute to the ongoing emergence of new religious groups.
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7.3 Unstable and non-equitable: relations between the state and
religious groups and FBOs
The state’s inability to establish equitable and non-instrumental relationships with religious groups and
FBOs also means that it is not able to mediate successfully between such organizations in those
areas where their visions of development and their perception of their own and others’ agency differ.
This is particularly relevant in the relationships between Muslims and Christians, and especially in their
politically crucial attitudes towards education. Thus for example, many Christian groups and FBOs
understand their ability to offer education and charity as a way to benefit the larger community. By
offering scholarships to students from backgrounds outside their own community – whether they are
from other Christian denominations or Muslims – these organizations believe that they are
demonstrating selfless charity based on an acknowledgement of the shared humanity of all those able
to appreciate education. This is illustrated by the comments from the RCCG in Oyo:
We observe really that anything that is worth its value must be paid for… but what I know
at least by the grace of God, apart from pastoring [sic] this church, I administer the
school, what we try to give… because we have people who are not even redeemed
members who have children here, we try to make sure that we empathize and
sympathize with them when they have difficulties making up the fees … when parents
have difficulties in paying and you will be surprised, we have a lot of people coming in
here, even Muslims, they have their children here (interview January 2008, Pastor
Andrew Olubunmi).
A more explicit commitment to Christian charity and development for ‘the people’, irrespective of faith,
was made by the JDPC representative, who explained:
I know the next thing you will ask me is how we have been able to develop the people.
We have been developing them through paying school fees and awarding scholarships
to individuals, we have also been showing them on demonstration forms how to get
better yields. You teach them what they don’t know, they know it and then begin to do
them [what they have learnt] on their own (interview 16 May 2008, C. J. Onyenze).
However, the offers of Christian organizations to bring Western knowledge and education to Muslim
children, and even to support those Muslim children through scholarships, alarms and offends many
Muslim groups. As a Muslim scholar comments:
I wish I could make the point more forcefully that the factors driving social discrimination
of non-Muslims [in northern Nigeria] are due mainly to attempts at resisting unrestrained
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
proselytization and its covert methods as well as the need to maintain an Islamic cultural
identity. … The covert methods used by these missionaries, including enticement of
vulnerable and poor people (especially women and children) with certain material
benefits, such as scholarship or health benefits, are also considered by many as
objectionable, if not immoral (Ahmad, 2005, p. 24).
Thus, it appears that many Muslims perceive the offer of education to their children in Christian
institutions as a form of covert aggression and even, if it leads to conversion, as immoral and
threatening. Ahmad’s comment also suggests that the Christian outreach to women, children and the
poor, which reflects, at least in part, (Western) development concerns about the exclusion of
vulnerable groups, is perceived as particularly perfidious, thus interpreting both Christian and Western
concerns for the wellbeing of ‘all people’ as attempts to lure Muslims into apostasy and to undermine
Islam as a whole.
Ahmad’s comment suggests that many northern Muslims do not want to discriminate against
Christians in general, but feel forced to do so in order to defend their own identity and Islam in general.
For this reason, the attempts by the governments of some Muslim-dominated states to restrain
Christian activity are both popular and populist measures, which respond to a pervasive sense of
Muslim vulnerability to ostensibly powerful and wealthy Christians. As State governments themselves
remain under threat from radical Muslim groups who remain very critical of the state, and who
perceive even negotiation with Christians as subversive, governments simply respond to local fears by
reducing Christian influence, instead of creating an atmosphere in which local concerns, strategies
and practices can be debated and negotiated.
While this strategy may work to maintain the status quo in northern Nigeria in the short term, it is likely
to contribute to the radicalization of those feeling under threat at both ends of the spectrum. As
illustrated by the aggressive techniques of Christian evangelization in private northern media channels
as well as the recent violent clashes involving Boko Haram, marginalized groups from both sides feel
threatened, and often defend their perceived interests by insisting on them ever more forcefully.
In southern Nigeria, exclusion appears to be more strongly linked to non-indigeneity, or at least to origin
from outside the area demarcated by shared ethnicity and language. Local fears of domination by
outsiders are partly influenced by opposition to the political influence emanating from northern Nigeria,
Working Paper 39
the internal political complexities of which are rarely acknowledged. In the contexts of the southern
states, therefore, violent conflicts involving religion tend to be linked to power struggles over local
influence, which are frequently ‘retaliation’ attacks following violent conflicts in the north or violent
responses to events which are perceived as threatening to local forms of authority. As resentment is
primarily directed against (particular groups of) outsiders, the State governments continue to exclude
non-‘indigenous’ organizations. As most of these are also set apart by religion and outlook, the
possibility that ethnic conflict will be ‘religionized’ remains open.
Migrants’ experience of exclusion and the uneven assimilation of even ‘indigenous’ religious groups
and FBOs into State politics create an acute sense of under-recognition among many religious
groups. As this sense of discrimination in turn encourages maltreatment elsewhere to ‘even things
out’, it fails to put a check on group rivalry. Moreover, the rivalry between religious groups and FBOs in
southern Nigeria fuels spiritual insecurity. The negative judgements made by excluded organizations
about the integrity of their rivals who are closer to power mean that despairing Christians and Muslims
turn to organizations which promise to be untainted by tainted practices, and which are likely to
espouse ever more radical theologies in order to convince their followers of their authenticity. Thus,
even though religious clashes are not a structural feature of southern Nigerian politics at present, it is
possible that religious violence will increase if local fears about exclusion and ‘false’ religion are not
7.4 Nigeria’s current politics as a laboratory of inter-religious
At the same time, however, Nigeria’s current politics illustrate fascinating social, political and
theological processes that may help the state to develop a more satisfying form of multi-religious
practice. For example, while the proportionalist representation and incorporation of religious groups
and FBOs into southern State-level politics is often non-equitable and short term, it also creates a
promising laboratory for religious interaction. This is particularly true for the south-west, where both
Muslim and Christian organizations closely engage and compete with each other. While the state’s
ability to create spaces in which local fears and tactics can be discussed freely is limited, both
because of its uneven treatment of religious groups and FBOs and because of religious organizations’
own fears of being tainted by the state, the practices of local religious groups and FBOs reflect a close
engagement between Islam and Christianity.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
This engagement is in part historical, as reflected, for example, by the adoption of secular education
by most Yoruba Muslim organizations, and by the ban on pork and alcohol in many Nigerian churches.
The ban on pork is especially interesting, because it reflects a shift of both sensibilities and local
practice: while archival documents from the pre-colonial and early colonial era often refer to
widespread pig farming, this is rare today and, unlike goats and chickens, pigs are rarely seen along
public roads. More recently, the success of NASFAT derives from its decision to address some of the
issues which concern Muslims throughout Nigeria. During the 1990s, Christian Sunday services were
increasingly perceived as a problem by many Nigerian Muslims, because the use of modern media
(including DVDs, projectors, digital screens etc) introduced by Pentecostal churches, and quickly
imitated by the older mission churches, attracted many young people. Among them were, allegedly,
many young Muslims who had nothing else to do on a Sunday morning and who followed their friends
to church for entertainment. Similarly attractive were the night vigils introduced to Nigeria by
international Christian missionaries like Reinhard Bonnke, where thousands of people travelled to
large prayer camps to spend the weekend praying for and experiencing miracles under the guidance
of a charismatic pastor. In many cases, it is believed that Muslim visitors to such events converted to
While some Muslim groups explicitly forbade their members to participate in such Christian events,
NASFAT was founded in 1995 with the aim of adopting a different strategy: the organization simply
offered Muslim religious events instead. Thus NASFAT members meet every Sunday for an Asalatu or
‘prayer’ service from 8:30 to 12:30 at a praying ground, where, under the charismatic guidance of a
Mallam or teacher, members can also listen to sermons and pray for themselves and each other.
Apart from extensive educational support, NASFAT also offers a Lai-latul Quadri or ‘night of majesty’,
which includes an all-night Muslim prayer session of great spiritual intensity. Most importantly,
however, NASFAT has developed a strong emphasis on mission, and employs a ‘chief missioner’ who
encourages groups of youth, women and people in different professions to reach out to lapsed
Muslims and Christians in their environment. The success of the organization, and its recognition even
in northern Nigeria (or at least in cosmopolitan Kano35), means that NASFAT not only adapted
successfully to a threat emanating from the (mainly) Pentecostal movement, but also successfully
changed the face of Yoruba, and by extension Nigerian, Islam.
Working Paper 39
The formal incorporation of different Muslim groups into the State governments of northern Nigeria
through Islamic institutions has also transformed local Muslim (and Christian) practice, although it has
not led to a systematic Islamization policy across northern Nigeria because the shari’a codex in
different states varies considerably. While Kano State has, along with other states with strong ANPP
presence such as Zamfara, Borno and Jigawa, spearheaded the introduction of shari’a, other shari’a
states, such as Kaduna and Gombe, have taken a much slower and more consultative route (Ludwig,
2008). The fact that several of the latter states have strong Christian minorities may have influenced
the emerging Muslim legal culture in the shari’a states, and it has been suggested that some principles
of contemporary shari’a judgements reflect the local circumstances of its coexistence with other
Abrahamic religions. Thus, for example, Nigerian shari’a courts condemn all murderers to death, even
if they are Muslims who have killed non-Muslims, and in most States, they give equal probationary
weight to the statements of Muslims and non-Muslims, neither of which are traditional features of
shari’a jurisprudence (Ahmad, 2005, p. 33). Suberu (2009, p. 553) suggests that the contemporary
implementation of shari’a reflects an ongoing engagement with the Nigerian constitution. In particular,
he sees the shari’a States’ refusal to criminalize apostasy (conversion from Islam), which is greatly
abhorred by many individual Muslims and which is a crime in classical shari’a law, as an indicator that
Muslim legal scholars respect Nigeria’s constitutional commitment to individual religious freedom.
In addition, the introduction of shari’a law appears to have encouraged the popularity in northern Nigeria
of Christian pilgrimages, originally a Christian appropriation of Islam which emerged in south-western
Nigeria during the 1980s. After the establishment of a National Pilgrims Board for Muslims in 1975,
Christians complained about the state’s support for Muslims at the expense of other believers, and
after an intermediate arrangement, the federal government established a Christian Pilgrims Board in
1985. Sponsored by this board, Nigerian Christians of different denominations go on pilgrimages to
Jerusalem and return from their journeys with an elevated status similar to Alhajis or Alhajas, which
they mark with the abbreviation JP – Jerusalem Pilgrim – after their name.36 Since the mid-1980s and
beginning in religiously diverse south-western Nigeria, many State governments have also established
support for Christian pilgrims at the State level.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
While the adoption of the pilgrimage model by Christian groups appears to demonstrate marginality, in
which their only access to state funds is through an imitation of Muslim practices, our example from
Kano State (and the history of Christian pilgrimages in south-western Nigeria) does not suggest that
Christian pilgrimages are perceived as an indicator of marginality by Nigerian Christians. Not only did
the ECWA representatives in Kano State ask for such support, but Nigerian Christians generally tend
to perceive the ability to embark on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem as an expansion of their Christian
experience. Perhaps equally importantly, the existence of state support for Christian pilgrimages also
illustrates that northern Nigerian governments are not in principle averse to supporting Christian
groups, as long as their activities are not perceived as threatening. Thus it is likely that the debates
which have emerged in northern Nigeria in response to the introduction of shari’a law will transform the
face of Nigerian Christianity more generally, and that the Christian pilgrimage will become a more
widely accepted feature in coming years. This development illustrates both the constant competition
between the world religions for symbolic, political and economic resources in Nigeria and the
innovative potential of Christian-Muslim encounters.
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8 Conclusion
An assessment of the relationships between religion, governance and development needs to take into
account a variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels. Overall, our findings suggest that the
interactions between religion and the state are complex and ambiguous. On the one hand, religious
organizations contribute to good governance and development, both through the provision of
infrastructure and development programmes, and through their public and private criticism of
corruption and iniquity. Through these activities, religious groups offer practical and ideological
critiques of government in the common interest. In fact, the high degree of agreement between the
respondents in this research even suggests that important concerns over the state of the nation –
especially its development and anti-poverty efforts – are shared across religions and States. Muslims
and Christians communicate with each other across religious and denominational boundaries in and
help to shape a shared language of criticism and improvement.
However, with the exception of the JDPC, most religious and faith-based organizations participate in
politics without actively speaking for all believers, or even all citizens - thus only the apex bodies, such
as CAN and the NSCIA, attempt to speak for all Christians or Muslims. By not systematically
challenging the state’s exclusion of other religious groups, religious and faith-based organizations
constitute a political group in themselves, but not for themselves, and often become complicit in a
politics of exclusion. By not standing up for the common interest wherever possible, they subvert their
own ambitions to serve the common interest. While we have no concrete evidence to support this
suggestion, we think that it is possible that the moral panic over ‘real’ and ‘fake’ believers
demonstrates that many organizations are aware of their own complicity in this process, but that they
displace their concern by focusing on spiritual rather than moral integrity. However, if religious
organizations are to transform Nigeria’s political landscape in a positive way, this will be achieved only
if they act in concert and in the common interest.
Despite attempts by all the States to co-opt and appropriate religious groups and FBOs in order to
gain grassroots presence and legitimacy, none of the State governments actively supports the
development efforts of these groups. Moreover, relations between the state and religious and faith-
based organizations are often unequal and depend on an individual group becoming involved in
politics. There is at present no template for formal and structured interactions between the state and
religious organizations. The existence of differential relationships between the State governments and
religious groups and FBOs means that many religious organizations perceive themselves as victims
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
of policies influenced or executed by others. To address these interlinked problems and concerns, the
state must take greater account of religious contributions to addressing social inequality and poverty.
In addition, it must stop privileging locality and ‘indigeneity’ in its interaction with religious groups and
The close encounters between different religious groups also have a potentially positive side, which
involves dialogue, imitation and negotiation. The shared views of most religious groups and FBOs on
the state of the Nigerian nation suggest that the country’s religious debates do or could contribute to a
widely intelligible discourse of critique and improvement based on the Abrahamic tradition. In northern
Nigeria, the close engagement of important Muslim groups in the establishment and maintenance of
shari’a law has led to the dynamic development of Islamic jurisprudence. In south-western Nigeria,
where religion has not been actively incorporated into governance processes, but where Islam and
Christianity have a long history of interaction, the mutual appropriation of religious practices has
contributed to a transformation of such practices, and in some cases such ‘new’ practices have been
emulated in the wider Christian and Muslim communities. Some of the religious developments in
Nigeria – for example the preparedness of the government to provide funds for minority groups, or the
creation of spaces for the interaction for religious leaders and scholars of different backgrounds –
have the potential to serve as a template for other political encounters involving religion and Muslim-
Christian difference.
Moreover, the consideration of state texts and concerns in religious debates by religious leaders and
intellectuals has confirmed, albeit in an indirect way, the importance of the state for current religious
debate. This is particularly illustrated by the centrality of the 1999 Constitution to both Muslims and
Christians in the ongoing debates about shari’a law. Thus, while we contend that the decennary of
shari’a law suggests that the constitution has been widely accepted as having a non-secular nature,
we also believe that the importance of the text (of the constitution) for religious debate in Nigeria
remains undisputed.
The current engagement of religions with the state has not only transformed religious rivalry and
practice, it has also transformed the state. The introduction of shari’a penal law in twelve northern
Working Paper 39
Nigerian states has led to an appreciation of the de facto decentralization brought about by the return
to civilian rule. Beyond the inclusion of local – and locally grounded – intellectuals and scholars
through the States’ Islamic institutions, the ongoing development of these institutions has made Nigeria
a more pluralistic society in the sense that a greater variety of legal options are open to its citizens. As
the only African country without a strong Muslim majority that has introduced shari’a law, the Nigerian
experiment gives a unique insight into the possibilities of combining the Western legal option with a
seriously debated alternative (cf. Ludwig, 2008, p. 605).
Finally, the Nigerian state has been transformed by the expansion of the federal character principle to
include the dominant Abrahamic religions, and the adoption of religious proportionalism below the
central level in southern Nigeria. While proportionalism explicitly includes religion in the realm of
politics, it also re-establishes the state as the ultimate arbiter in conflict between religious
organizations. And although proportionalism, as lamented by some respondents, limits choice and
may undermine meritocracy, it also supports mutual exchange and negotiation and alleviates fears of
discrimination. If the state is able to encourage more equitable relations between religious
organizations, and if it is able to overcome or reduce the prevailing rhetoric of marginalization, it may
also be able to encourage not only an assessment of the appropriateness of fears nurtured within the
group, but also an ability to take the fears of others seriously.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
1According to the Chatham House website at
chathamhouserule/, the rule states: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham
House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the
affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”.
2The Nigerian data seems conservative and many other sources suggest a population larger by 5-10
million inhabitants (for example UN data, accessed 22 June 2008 at
CountryProfile.aspx?crName=Nigeria, estimates that Nigeria has a population of 148 million).
3For a short discussion of the terminology, see Section 2.3.
4Not all local forms of belief are entirely confined to the locality, however. For example, Yoruba òrìs?à
practice is observed in parts of the Caribbean and Brazil, and it is a fast growing religion among
5As in most of West Africa, these courts generally reflected the Maliki tradition.
6However, from 1933 onwards, under British rule, a number of bodily punishments, such as
amputations or beheadings, were abolished.
7An example would be the emergence since the 1950s of local schools teaching not only Islamic but
also secular subjects, such as the Islamiyya schools (cf. Bano, 2009).
8To a lesser degree, this also applies to health care, as many missions founded hospitals and health
9Appeals from the State shari’a courts could be heard by a panel of judges who were versed in
Islamic law and chosen from the Federal Court of Appeal (Laitin, 1986, p. 9).
10 This paper is shaped by the particular experiences of the research team. Our original research plan
in 2005 was that a Nigerian team of mostly junior researchers led by a senior researcher from the
Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research would carry out the relevant research, and that
they would later produce a report. These activities would be coordinated for the Religions and
Development Research Consortium in Birmingham by Insa Nolte. The senior researcher’s
resignation from the team in 2007 left the team without local leadership. As it was difficult to find
another local project coordinator at short notice, the component was completed by the junior
researchers in the team with advice and guidance from Insa Nolte. It was, at this stage, too late to
budget for frequent travel between the UK and Nigeria, and communication between the two
locations was mostly by email and telephone, which was often difficult. Under the circumstances,
we believe that the completion of this report reflects the strong commitment of both Nigerian and
UK team members to the research, and we have therefore agreed that all those who have
contributed to the success of the report beyond their assigned duties are named as contributors.
On the basis of their interview responses and field notes, Nathaniel Danjibo and Abubakar Oladeji
produced a short draft report. While the present paper has been written entirely by Insa Nolte, this
draft was an important starting point because it included observations from the field which could be
followed up in order to provide additional information on religion and governance in Kano and Oyo
States. It is in acknowledgement of their general commitment to the component that they are
named as contributors of this report. The main author has also confirmed details in exchanges with
Nigerian and Nigerianist colleagues, as acknowledged at the beginning of the report. She is solely
responsible for the intellectual argument put forward in the paper, which was subsequently
accepted by Danjibo and Oladeji as representing their views.
11 The Arabic plural of tariqa, which refers to a Muslim order, is turuq. To ensure greater readability for
English-speaking readers, we have decided to use the Anglicized tariqas rather than the Arabic
12 The document is called Taj al-Din fima yajib ala al-Muluk (The Crown of Religion Concerning the
Obligation of the Princes) and was authored by the scholar Al-Maghili.
13 It also won the elections in neighbouring Kaduna State.
Working Paper 39
14 The ANPP’s gradual loss of influence in northern Nigeria is not necessarily due to lack of popular
support. The PDP has interfered strongly in many elections, and it may have used the powers at its
disposal to prevent the emergence of a religiously dominated party.
15 Gombe State introduced shari’a penal law after the return to civilian rule, but Kogi and Kwara States,
despite a predominantly Muslim population and a historical association with the Caliphate, did not
introduce shari’a law.
16 Even more than the 2003 election, the 2007 election was widely criticized for electoral malpractice
and violence, which was generally believed to have served the interests of the ruling party, the PDP.
17 For an informative reflection on the political and social imaginary associated with hisbah groups
under shari’a, see Last (2008).
18 Apart from its one-time name ‘Taliban’, this group has no confirmed link to Afghanistan. Its other
name, under which it became widely known after the 2009 uprisings, refers to Western education
or literacy (boko is derived from ‘book’). Haram is an Arabic term to denote forbidden or unclean
according to religious injunction, so that Boko Haram means ‘Western education is forbidden’.
19 Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and consists of the contribution of a small percentage one’s
income to welfare.
20 This is a centre where prospective pilgrims are taught the correct hajj exercises.
21 Nevertheless, conflicts between different groups have continued to dominate local politics. Not all of
these conflicts reflect the dividing line between Sufism and Izala. According to Paden (2005, p.
188), Kano experienced some protests in 2003 and 2004 by representatives of the Qadiriyya, who
felt that Shekarau had discriminated against them in the appointment of the Shari’a Commission.
22 The Ahmadiyya was proscribed in Nigeria in 1974, at least in part due to the influence of Sheikh
Abubakar Gumi, a prominent leader of the Izala group. Most of its members joined the Anwar-ul
Islam Movement of Nigeria.
23 This organization aims to provide a common forum for the contemporary interpretation of and
reflection on Islam by bringing together Muslim legal scholars and intellectuals from different
24 Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims are obligated to fast during
daytime hours during this month.
25 There are important Igbo communities in the Niger Delta, and struggles over their political identity
have played an important part in local disputes.
26 Sir Ngozi is a Knight of the Church of Nigeria.
27 Two such pamphlets, entitled Democracy: What You Need to Know and Democracy and Human
Rights: What You Should Know were given to the research team by the Anambra JDPC.
28 This is a 44-page documented Report of the 2007 Elections of April 14th and 21st by the JDPC of
the Catholic Diocese of Awka, Anambra State.
29 The fact that both candidates for the presidency were Yoruba-speakers does indeed suggest that
the election of a Yoruba was a pacted outcome of the transition programme, which was designed to
overcome Yoruba opposition.
30 They are located in Iwo Road, Sango, Moniya, Challenge, Apata, Tollgate and Beere, in the heart of
old Ibadan, where Adedibu occasionally attended services.
31 The nature of these drugs was not clear from the interview transcript, and could not be ascertained
32 For a discussion of this trope in Christian Ghana, see Meyer (1995).
33 Hypertension is widely perceived as a typically female complaint in Nigeria.
34 Pastor Orji was referring to Virgy Etiaba (APGA), currently the Anambra State Deputy Governor.
35 Izala remains critical of the Emir, and as pointed out in Section 3, its representation in the Islamic
organs of the State is believed by academic observers not to reflect its local relevance.
Religion, Politics and Governance in Nigeria
36 While Kano is northern Nigeria’s largest urban agglomeration, some social and political trends
within the city cannot be considered typical of the north.
37 This practice has now been taken up by demands by traditionalists in the south-west that their State
governments should pay for pilgrimages for them as well. At the time of writing, however, no such
pilgrimages had yet been instituted.
Working Paper 39
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