Religion, Politics and Democracy in Nigeria

By Akwara, Azalahu Francis; Agba, Michael Sunday et al. | Canadian Social Science, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Religion, Politics and Democracy in Nigeria

Akwara, Azalahu Francis, Agba, Michael Sunday, Ojomah, Benedict O., Canadian Social Science


The conflict between religion and politics in Nigeria is older than the Nigerian state. Religion formed the basis upon which the Fulanis invaded the Hausa homelands and established the Sokoto Caliphate. It also served as a forerunner of colonialism from the coast as it paved the way for the British to overrun the southern coastlands, exploit its economic resources, abolished the peoples' traditions and socio-cultural practices, and implanted Christianity. Nigerians therefore became religious before their unification into the modern Nigerian state in 1914 by the British. One way or the other, people do seek meaning in life, a sense of purpose that politics cannot adequately provide but can be provided by religion. However, religion itself cannot provide the organizing mechanism through which the society can deal with the perennial issues of power and the need to adapt to changing circumstances. This paper therefore examines how religious practices have endangered the development of democracy in Nigeria. It finds out that the multiplicity of ethnic groups in the country gives rise to social conflicts over resources, and that these social conflicts are cloaked under religion; and that religion is used as an instrument of internal colonization and disenfranchisement in Nigeria; and these have militated against the development and consolidation of democracy in the country which if unchecked would lead to the disintegration of the country. The paper therefore recommends the secularization of the state to guarantee the institutionalization of democratic practices in the country; and; guarantee fundamental rights of the citizens and the independence of and the survival of the state.

Key Words: Religion; Politics; Democracy; Religious fundamentalist; Ethnicity; National question; Contending elites; Dominant elites; Political financier; Political client


When there is a conflict within a group or between groups, an attempt is usually made for a negotiated settlement of the issues among the parties involved. This would involve the continuous adjustment of issues and dialogue and only in the last resort if deadlock cannot be broken that force could be applied by a legitimate arbiter to bring the conflict to an end. This can only be made possible through politics. Politics therefore arises from accepting the fact of the simultaneous existence of different groups with different interests and different traditions within a territorial unit under a common ruler (Crick, 1964). People have conflicting interests because they want several things at the same time and everyone cannot have his or her way. The way the society gets to resolve these conflicting interests simply means politics.

Religion has been defined by Kegley and Wittkopf (2004) as a system of thought shared by a group that provides its members with an object of devotion and a code of behavior by which they can ethically judge their actions. As a system of thought or belief, it provides its members with their main source of identity. This identification with, and devotion to a religion, Kegley and Wittkopf (2004) maintain, springs from the natural human need to find a set of values with which to evaluate the meaning of life and the consequences of their choices. Religion therefore is the belief in the supernatural and the practices sustaining that belief. It is the ultimate superstition and a level of consciousness mostly centering on good and evil; God and Satan; gods, spirits, and deities. It arises from historical, socio-economic and political factors in a society (Igwe, 2004).

Democracy can simply be seen as government by elected representatives. Its evolutionary process in every human society has never been a smooth one. It has always been punctuated by crises and conflicts between dominant and contending elites and classes in the society as each group tries to create a balance of power in the society; and to create a balance between liberty and equality. …

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