Volume 4, Issue 1, 2016
Religion and Violence in Africa
Ian Linden, Thomas Thorp
Religious Conflicts and Peace Building in Nigeria
Historical analysis confirms the home-grown character of Nigeria’s conflicts and the complexity of their peaceful resolution. Religious leaders have traditionally contested political space with other actors and continue to do so. But the religiosity of popular culture is such that Nigerian religious leaders can make a substantive contribution to peace building and countering religious extremism if given the time, space and tools to do so. Elections have been critical moments in the evolution of religious tensions and conflicts owing to the country’s geographical demographic and history, and the popular hope of correcting injustice that they evoke. There is a need to distinguish between genuine religious conflicts and conflicts that are essentially socio-economic or about competition for political power which become “religionised.” The evolution of the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram, can be traced back to intra-Muslim conflicts and anti-Sufi movements. But it reflects no less the underdevelopment and poverty of the Northeast and the impact of corruption on the perception of state and national government. The crude and violent narrative of Abubakar Shekau, its leader, shows a deterioration beyond that of its founder Malam Yusuf, who was able to offer financial and economic inducements over and above a rejection of most aspects of modernity and Western education. Increasingly, efforts are being made by religious leaders at both national, and local levels through formal, and grassroots networks to build better understanding and awareness between faiths to change and challenge narratives. With the appropriate support, these networks have great potential for improving communal relations and overcoming Boko Haram’s narratives of hate.