Politics for God: Religion, Politics and Conflict in Democratic Nigeria

By Onapajo, Hakeem | Journal of Pan African Studies, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Politics for God: Religion, Politics and Conflict in Democratic Nigeria


Onapajo, Hakeem, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

Many have researched and written on the politicization of religion or the religionization of politics in Nigeria (Bienen, 1986; Clarke, 1988; Ibrahim, 1989; 1991; 1994; Agbaje, 1990; Hunwick, 1992; Kukah, 1993; 1995; Kastfelt, 1994; Enwerem, 1995; Kukah & Falola, 1996; Falola, 1998; Mu'azzam & Ibrahim, 2000; Best, 2001; Obadare, 2006; Loimeier, 2007; Imo, 2008; Marshall, 2009; Wakili, 2009; Adebanwi, 2010; Sodiq, 2009). Of these, the earlier ones have indeed dwelled sufficiently on how religion shaped and heightened the tempo of politics in the early political history of Nigeria. And, they demonstrated the significance of religion to the formation of political parties, political mobilization, political legitimacy and voting behaviour of the people in previous democratic experiments of the country.

Hence, they have excellently provided a detailed account of the salience of religion to the major political debates, conflicts and series of collective violence that once characterized the early and recent history of Nigeria. Since the inception of a renewed democratic regime in 1999, religion has continued to surface in the political sphere of the country; and the dramatic and dynamic changes religion has taken in the contemporary global political space has further given much impetus to the phenomenon of religion and politics in Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Given the abovementioned, scholarly focus has again begun to centre on the politics of religion and religion in politics in Nigeria's new democracy. While noting this, it is duly observed that not enough justice has been done to this phenomenon in recent times, most especially on its significance to the multiple conflicts and violence fast enveloping the nation recently. Therefore, this paper is conceived to provide an analysis of the link between religion and politics and its relationship with the increasing rates of violent conflicts being experienced in the country within its present democratic era. Thus, the objective is to push further a thread of discussion on this topic and thereby to contribute to an existing body of literature on the phenomenon by examining the theoretical discourses on the political sociology of religion and the state in order to contextualize the intersection between religion, politics and conflict in the present democratic era of Nigeria.

Religion, Politics and Conflict in the State: A Theoretical Discourse (1)

Contrary to the assumptions of the modernization and secularization theorists who suggest the decline or insignificance of religion in the modern politics of the state (see Deutsch, 1953; Rostow, 1959; Almond, 1960; Apter, 1965; Smith, 1970), religion has not ceased to occupy a significant position in the political and economic configuration, and thus, it has resurfaced dramatically and virulently in recent times. Samuel Huntington (1993) consciously observed this trend and theorised that religion including its cultural composition will be a major drive of contemporary global politics. In this regard, Fox and Sandler (2003, p.562) suggest that an important area where religion takes a central stage in the politics of the state is in its ability to 'bolster or undermine' political legitimacy. Religion can thus be a viable instrument to legitimatize or illegitimatize political regimes (Lewy, 1974; Johnston & Figa, 1988; Nasr, 1988; Haynes, 1994; Juergensmeyer, 1995). This occurs mostly in a country where it is legitimate to invoke religion in political discourses, and where there is diversity in the religious population of a particular country (Fox, 2001).

Given the above, religion represents a significant element of ethnicity and an important source of identity which informs the basis of group discrimination and grievances in particular nations. Fox (1997, p.5) notes from the work of Gurr (1993) that 'religion is salient if it is a defining trait that sets a group apart' and has the capability of shaping all forms of group's political and social activities (Fox & Sandier, 2003, p. …

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