Understanding the Impact of Ethnic, Political, and Religious Violence on Nigeria
The primary objective of this chapter is to attempt a review of Nigeria’s historical background of ethnic, political, and religious violence. In this first part, I examine the sociohistorical and socioeconomic, as well as the socioreligious and sociopolitical contexts of Northern Nigeria. I link this to the British indirect rule in Northern Nigeria by explicitly and implicitly pointing out that far from bringing a new era of peace, social transformation, economic reform, and moral prosperity, the end of British rule opened the gates to continuing corruption and violence. I also argue that Nigerian elite and leaders cannot completely blame the British for their problems. Thus, chapters 1–4 weigh in on the general socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and socioreligious dynamics of violence in Northern Nigeria. This part seeks to bring to the forefront the impact of violence on moral and ethical perspectives and values since the demise of British rule in Nigeria as well as since the inception of Nigeria’s independence.
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so men [and women] are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.
Violence and wars are evil times that fall upon humans. They are not unexpected because they are human-made: however, they do snare and trap their perpetrators and victims. As Glen Stassen observes about the Gulf War, “The war had a major impact on many people’s values and perceptions.” This statement is not only true of the Gulf War but of any other war or violence that happens anywhere on our planet earth. So in order to understand the misery perpetrated by violence or war, we need to analyze the short- and long-term theological and ethical ramifications of such actions.
For more than four decades, Nigeria—Africa’s most populous nation—has been trapped in a spiral cobweb of violence. Christian and Muslim relationships have soured. What used to be seen as ethnic and political violence under the auspices of regional politics, power struggles, and competition has now translated into religious violence. In short, greed for political power welled up in each of the three regions struggling to capture more political clout and control of the economic resources of the country, resulting in the politics of numbers, which seeks to use the highest number of voters by using demagogic divisiveness. As each of the country’s three major regions—the North, the Southeast, and the Southwest—have vied to capture more political clout and control of the country’s economic resources, the country’s two main religious communities—Islam and Christianity—have been drawn into this politics of numbers. Therefore, as Jan Boer points out, “The fear of losing out to Christianity has made Islam even more nervous, for it stakes its claim on the basis of an alleged continued majority. Increasing nervousness spells greater volatility.” Implicitly, the politics of numbers is a time bomb. It is very explosive in nature. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why Christians in the Middle-Belt of Nigeria have been the target of Islamic onslaught, resulting in violent attacks and counterattacks.
The impact of these attacks and counterattacks in Northern Nigeria has remained largely unexamined. I recognize that there have been studies conducted on the sociological, ideological, political, religious, and cultural levels, but the theological and ethical questions that violence raises in Northern Nigeria still remain largely unexplored.
Undoubtedly, people are aware that ethnic, political, and religious violence has had negative impacts on Nigerians. However, their analyses of the issues involved tend to be one-sided. Dr. Toyin Falola notes, “The institutionalization of religious violence and the aggressive competition for dominance by Islam and Christianity continue to have a negative impact on the Nigeria[n] nation.” That means, according to Falola, the bulk of the problem of violence in Nigeria arises from religious conflict. If that is the assumption, I argue that it ignores the fact that violence is a multifaceted issue. Perhaps this is why like many other authors on the subject, Falola did not delineate how that negative impact also impedes Christians’ grasp of the way (or the teaching) of Jesus in the region. Rather he concentrated his analysis on the causes of the crisis and the secular ideologies that propel the crisis. Generally, most authors are concerned about the sociohistorical and sociopolitical development of the issues of violence in Nigeria.
In summary, because theologians and ethicists in Nigeria have paid little or no attention to the ethical impact of violence on society, many crucial questions have remained largely unanswered. In particular questions such as the following:
(1) In view of the ethnic, political, and religious violence, which have infested our society since independence, what shape is Christian ethics taking in Northern Nigeria?
(2) What attitudes and opinions have Nigerians generally formed about violence and how do such attitudes influence our Christian ethics and morality? In what way have other global events contributed to what is going on in Nigeria?
(3) Is there any underpinning connection between ethnic, political, and religious violence?
(4) In essence, given this context of ethnic, political, and religious violence, in what way do Nigerian Christians perceive the way of Jesus?
The above questions to be explored in this research will help me to argue, with precision, how violence issues are profoundly ethnic, political, and religious. They will allow me to show that violence, like war, deeply affects people’s worldview. War, which is a conventional violence, causes people to lose perspectives and values, especially, those perspectives and values that are transcultural. Love, justice, and compassion are transcultural (social) values: they are experienced in both Muslim and Christian communities.
Finally, ignoring the analysis of the moral and ethical impact of violence can obscure the larger, explicit, and implicit meanings of Africa’s ethical, political, and social dilemmas. Therefore, my primary task is to carefully examine the thesis that religious, ethnic, and political violence impacts people’s moral and ethical values and perspectives. In this vein, I attempt to paint a picture of a form of Christian morality and ethics that explores the following question: How does the way of Jesus speak to the present-day violence occurring in Northern Nigeria? Is it a form of ethics that encourages the creation of a nonviolent community amongst those of Christian and Islamic faiths? Does it preach and teach inclusive (or exclusive) ethics, where society is given a roadmap to a participatory, pluralist, and democratic community?
Violence is one of the issues of critical concern to the African church in the twenty-first century. Violent destruction is a double destruction because it impacts people’s moral perspectives and ethical values, and thereby influences the type of resulting community (exclusive or inclusive) in which each individual lives. This premise suggests the question: “How do the ethical teachings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount speak to the transformation needed in order for there ...