Factors Responsible for Muslim-Christian Unrest in Nigeria: A Socio-Political Analysis


Lately, Nigeria was in the local and international news again for another unpopular reason. While we were just recovery from the shame that was brought to the entire nation by a 23 year old Yemen based Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who attempted to bomb a United States bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 24, 2009 on religious grounds; another religious crisis struck in Jos claiming several lives and property. Until recently, it is not an overstatement to say that Jos was one of the most peaceful cities in Nigeria. What could have happened that the peaceful city of Jos lost it glory? The situation of Jos is fast becoming typical of most cities in Nigeria. What can we do to prevent these ugly situations that keep         soiling the good name of Nigeria in the international community? Above all, what can we do to stop this incessant blood shed in our nation in the name of religion?  Theses are some of the questions we shall be attempting to answer in this post, from a Christian and an evangelical perspective.  But first, it would be proper for us to start by looking at some of the socio-political factors that may be responsible for this problem.


Generally speaking, apart from corruption, one of the major problems facing Nigeria is Christian–Muslim religious unrest. It is not uncommon to hear about violence involving Christians and Muslims anytime in any part of the country. Initially, the problem was prevalent in the northern part of the country but over time, the crisis could now been seen in almost every part of the country. It is however ironical to say that both Christianity and Islam claim to be religions of peace. The reverse has always been the case in Nigeria. In the last four decades, hardly can a year go without religious unrest in Nigeria. These riots have claimed several lives and property. Several factors are however responsible for these incessant crisis. Some of these factors include political instability, instable economic fortune, poverty, bad governance, military dictatorship, violation of fundamental human rights, lack of love and value for human life, to mention just a few.

On daily basis millions of Christians and Muslims rub elbows with each other during a variety of encounters. Closeness and distance at the same time characterize the inner relationship between the Christian and Islamic faiths[1] in Nigeria. The door to healthy dialogue on spiritual matter is always open, but seldom entered.[2] Yet an average Muslim in Nigeria lives in suspicion with his Christian brother. The story is however the same is for Christians to Muslims. Several factors are responsible for this suspicion. One is what Matthew Kukah calls “historical differences and misinterpretations aided by colonial histories.”[3] In the words of Kukah:

Christian-Muslim relations, even at the best of times, have always been disturbingly marred by suspicions, accusations and counteraccusations over interpretations of history and experiences. This is a historical reality that has been further confounded by the very complex nature of colonial histories on the continent of Africa, where the destruction of the existing civilizations, empires and emperors provided the foundation stones for the establishment of the colonial states that later emerged. The passage of many years after the end of colonial rule has not changed the prejudices.[4]

While Kukah’s submission may be generally true in Sub-Sahara Africa; I do specifically concur that the experience is true of Nigeria. Religious issues have been completely politicized in Nigeria. Since Nigeria attained independence, regional, ethnic and religious tensions have marred its progress. Although the adherents of Islam and Christianity form the dominant majority of the Nigeria society, neither religion has been able to overcome the obstacles laid by the political class, which continues to manipulate religious sentiments set one group against the other.[5] This is one of the reasons why bad governance, corruption, ethno-political and religious riots is rampart in Nigeria. The real religious teachings of love, peace and respect for human life have been neglected. According to Kukah, “the higher religious values that emphasize the dignity of human person as created by God, irrespective of his or her beliefs and station in life have been deemphasized”[6]. Little wonder while the government of Nigeria has not been able to do anything tangible about the incessant Christian-Muslim unrests in Nigeria. The political leaders are using manipulating religious sentiments for their personal interests. So, the tensed religious atmosphere of Nigeria is readily visible in that the contest for power within political arena has entered the Cathedrals and Mosques.[7]

With the kind of atmosphere described above, Christian-Muslim violence is naturally almost inevitable. Besides the aforementioned factors is the big issue of poverty.  It is like a vicious circle. Corruption and poverty are almost inseparable. While many political and religious leaders in Nigeria are enriching themselves with the public funds; it is the poor majority that suffers the consequences.  That is why people can do anything to get money including been involved in religious violence. In away, it will not be an over statement to state that most Muslim-Christian crisis in Nigeria has little or nothing to do with the religions; rather it is the consequences of corruption and poverty. Samuel Kunhiyop is right to argue that, “the erosion of moral values, increased social values, lack of transparency, disregard for the rule of law, lust of public trust, adoption of a utilitarian ethic, limited productivity and incompetence, ineffective development and administration, limited foreign and domestic investment and general underdevelopment that we experience in Africa are the consequences of corruptions”[8]. All these are true of Nigeria and they serve as background for Muslim-Christian unrest in the Nigerian society.

Finally, another factor which must be added quickly is that which is caused as a result of ignorance. Many of the issues that led to Muslim-Christian violence in Nigeria can be traced to this factor.[9] Most adherents of the two religions know little or nothing about each other’s faith. The defensive culture of Christianity and Islam must have been responsible for this. Chawkat Moucarry argues that, “although Christian and Muslims have been living together for hundreds of years, they always had a ghetto mentality, especially with regard to their faiths. Mutual ignorance, some would argue, was the price of trouble-free coexistence, and for Christians, perhaps the price of survival.”[10] The ghetto mentality explains why it is easy for a Muslim to have a wrong attitude toward a Christian or Christian toward a Muslim (as the case may be) without a justified cause. What happens about Imago Dei? What happens to love and respect for human life? Where is the Holy Spirit in this issue? We shall now proceed to see what the Bible has to say about this topic.


We shall attempt to respond to the above questions in the next post. Your comments, questions, critiques are most welcomed.


Photo culled from mypenmypaper:http://mypenmypaper.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/

[1] Paul Varo Martinson, Islam An introduction for Christians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1994), 210.

[2] James P Dretke, A Christian Approach to Muslims: Reflections from West Africa (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1979), p. xv.

[3]Matthew Hassan Kukah, “Christian-Muslim Relations in Sub-Sahara Africa: Problems and prospects”

Routledge Taylor and Group, Vol.18, No.2, 155-164, April 2007.

[4] Kukah, 155-164.

[5] Matthew Hassan Kukah, “Christian-Muslim Relations in Sub-Sahara Africa: Problems and prospects”, 155-164.

[6] Kukah, 155-164.

[7] Razaq Abdul Kilani, “Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Niger Delta (Nigeria)”, Journal of

Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 20, No.1, 2000.

[8] Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, African Christian Ethics (Nairobi: WorldAlive Publishers, 2008), 166-168.

[9] Paul Varo Martinson, Islam An introduction for Christians, 17.

[10] Chawkat Moucarry, Faith to Faith: Christianity and Islam in Dialogue (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 15.

13 thoughts on “Factors Responsible for Muslim-Christian Unrest in Nigeria: A Socio-Political Analysis

  1. One of the names of the nalmigty is ”The Ominiscience God” meaning he knows all things. Nomater how bad, ugly, or worst the situation may be now, the Ominiscience God has the solution, answer to the situation at hand. S therefore, give it to God. Thanks God bless.

    1. Thanks indeed brother Yohanna. Your views are really very encouraging. I encourage you to please pass it on to your friends, relatives and comrades.

  2. I wish that, Nigeria society should have a well ventilented national unity among ISLAM and CHRISTIANITY. And not a country that is seen as “state of nature” where life is brutish, solitary and short, a society without rule and regulations,.

  3. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and
    found that it is truly informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I’ll be grateful if you continue this in future.
    Many people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

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