Ogbu U. Kalu


    I read the contribution about the marginalization of northern Muslims with great interest. Under Abacha, the Igbo came to the constitutional conference with the gripe about the marginalization of the ethnic group. Many guffawed and trivialized it. Under Obasanjo, some people have come to the conference with the same cry. But now, it is not about any ethnic group but about a religiously identified umma. This makes Laitin's Hegemony and Culture to be a perceptive characterization of the identity markers in Nigerian life. To the extent that the  author is engaged in the politics of religion, one should leave it to Obasanjo to worry about. He may get more gray hairs sorting through the statistics: the author provided conflicting statistics and concluded that all of them proved that Obasanjo is wrong and that the real ratio of Muslim-Christian population differential is 60:40. Is this the average from the conflicting figures? Is that how census is done-by collating white guesses? My own concern is that the political game should be played out without resort to violence. Our international image is now linked to the numerous spates of religious conflicts in Nigeria:  the destruction of churches, loss of lives and property, the environment of insecurity, and lack of basic freedom. How could we deploy our scholarship to contribute towards  conflict resolution? It is essential to explore some of the discussions in the literature before an effective model of conflict resolution could be designed. Islam consolidated in Nigeria around the 10th century long before Christian missionaries came to the shores of the country in the 16th century. Soon after sweeping through the Maghrib from the 7th century AD, the Muslims established the caravan routes across the Sahara, acquired salt from Taghaza and gradually established a lucrative trans-Saharan gold trade centered at Bures in the Futa Jallon basin. Muslim geographers, scholars, architects and others migrated into the western and central Sudan. Timbuctoo became the Paris of the medieval period. Islamic presence changed from quarantine to mixing as the Arabic scholars served the rulers of the ancient African kingdoms. The northern region of  Nigeria was soon woven into the Central Sudan by the Dyula  who traded along the River Niger and penetrated as far south as Zazzau and Kano. Some wards in contemporary Kano retain the memory and cultural legacies of their heritage. By the 19th century, re-assertion of orthodoxy and diatribe against mixing produced  nine jihads in West Africa. One of the most successful was the jihad by the Fulani Uthman dan Fodio  that overawed the Hausa/Habe regimes, won the assent of Kanem-Bornu, and established the Sokoto Caliphate that extended to Nupe and northeastern Yoruba regions. However, as happened with some of the state-forming jihads of West Africa in this period, the conjuncture with the extension of colonialism into the hinterlands, disrupted the new jihadist states and challenged Islam. The combination of political, religious and cultural challenges defined the character of Islam from this period. Its prideful heritage would become a burden in adjusting to the new state known as Nigeria, as happened with the ancient states of Buganda and Ashanti in youthful states created by colonialists.

The British made enormous efforts to placate the injured Muslim feelings: they protected Muslim communities from missionary invasion, constructed the railroads and improved communication that aided the spread of Islam into the southern regions, and installed the indirect rule system that preserved the power of emirs, albeit to a limited extent than would have been the case. The British legal system attenuated the ranges of the sharia laws but retained its operation in personal causes. There is little doubt that the British were fascinated with the emergent culture in northern Nigeria: the horses, durbars and colorful celebration of power and elitism. The colonial officials deployed invented cultural myths to cultivate a sense of racial and cultural superiority in the northern elite. Orientalist and Hamitic hypotheses encrusted the myths. Sir Gawaim Bell's Imperial Twighlight (1998) is quite instructive about the British attitude.

But colonial Western education broadened the cultural divide between the south and north. By 1914, administrative concerns further compelled the amalgamation of the northern and southern regions of the country. This renewed the Muslim sense of insecurity that heightened as the decolonization process started. This process was delayed between 1957-1960 to ensure that the Muslims felt duly protected in the new constitution that divided the country into three regions. Meanwhile, the northern elite tried to crusade among the un-Islamised ethnic groups so as to create a geopolitical block called One North that was Muslim. John Paden's Religion and Political Culture in Kano (1973) and his Ahmadu Bello   (1986), a biography of the Sardauna of Sokoto, are very instructive in recapturing this enterprise. R.Anifowose's Violence and Politics in Northern Nigeria: the Tiv and Yoruba experience(1984) has reconstructed how that was later countered by the creation of the United Middle Belt Congress as the Tiv communities sought to consolidate a separate identity. The effort to maintain a coherent umma within a federal structure placed religion at the center of political life of the nation, and a strain on the operation of the new constitution. (see, Kalu, Power, Poverty and Prayer,2000). Allocation of power and resources became contentious matters at every point. There are two time frames in the story of Nigeria's inter-faith conflict: a muscular but urbane rivalry suffused the period 1960-1980; thereafter the relationship between Christians and Muslims became more violent. riots, burning of churches, and attacks on the property and lives of southerners combined with ethno-religious conflagrations.

        This reflection examines how scholars have studied the violent face of Christian-Muslim conflict in Nigeria, 1980-1998. During this period, Muslims headed the governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, whether civilian or military.   The terminal date is significant because a change of government occurred in 1998 when a Christian civilian was elected as president, moved into Aso Rock, Abuja, the official residence of the President, and built a chapel for the first time in the compound that housed three mosques. The larger significance of the reflection argues that the transformation of religious conflict would rest on a tripod:

i. re-imagining the public space (socio-economic transformation and good governance);

ii.  healing the public space through projects such as truth commission and national conference;

iii. centering the religious space  by promoting a culture of interfaith religious education through (a) creating dialogue contexts that mine the interior theological bases of various faith traditions, and (b) deliberately engineering salient ethics for peaceful existence in the  entire continent.

It is argued that religious conflict transformation could only be achieved by the ordinary people as they dialogue; to dialogue means to live together, engage in the tasks of daily life, to talk with one another, argue, and compete in the market places and political arenas. Peace can only come in the risks of relationships that blunt the force of stereotypes and fear of the "other". It is suggested that some of the possibilities explored in other countries such as South Africa and Rwanda could aid Nigeria better than the structures advocated in western nations.

2.Discourses of religious conflict transformation:
(i) conflict model

Nigerian scholarship has shown much interest on how to curb the violent face of religious conflict in the nation. The pattern of the dominant discourses in the literature consists of three models: the conflict, instrumentalist, and rainbow models. Each has subsidiary dimensions.  The conflict argues that religion has been a dysfunctional force in Nigerian politics and is the cause of the spate of instability. The model locates the source of the dysfunctional role of religion in the public space in the nature of religion:

i. religious ardor/passion runs at deep levels of the human being and breeds loyalty; the depth of loyalty installs boundaries to exclude others who do not participate or share the same religion;
ii. religious prescription  conjures certainty and assured reward. It is one source for nurturing difference and identification of the 'other';

iii. doctrinal and  theological interpretations sustain certain
ethical practices.

       A combination of these factors engenders the wider politics of difference and compels devotees to do difference in avoidable ways.  From the imperatives of religion arise three more dimensions:

i. historical factors including territorial divide and ethnicity. The appeal to a prideful heritage and history could be used as an arsenal in the competition in the modern political space. But it hides fear and insecurity as modernity challenges the roots of such heritage, and it could become a burden that constrains in the search of creative possibilities.
ii. religion as  a marker of identity (either group or ethnic). David Laitin, Hegemony and Culture (1986) argues that while the Yoruba of south-western Nigeria use land as a cultural signifier, the Hausa/Fulani use religion and specifically Islamic religion as a marker and group identification especially when dealing with the outsider. The recruitment of religion complicates the quest for transformation.
iii. intrinsic ethics of violence in boundary maintenance within religions has drawn attention to the history of violence and conflict in Muslim-Christian relationship.

Thus, Toyin Falola studied Violence in Nigeria (1997) and subtly raised the question whether religion innately contains a prescription for violence. Does the binary worldview that divides the faithful from those proscribed to the sword instigate the use of violence for the preservation of orthodoxy? Interpretations of the word jihad abound to indicate that it does not always invoke war but refers to thinking, self-reflection etc. This academic exercise does not impress the common person. Popular belief and practice tends to privilege the declaration of jihad as self-assertion that employs violence in defense of true worship.

However, the easy resort to violence in the post-1980 period may reflect  the intricate weaving of religion into three other fabrics:
a culture of violence in the society that reflected the militarization of society. Years of military rule created this. Hassan Kukah's Religion, Politics and power in Northern Nigeria (1994) argues that military rule denied access to other channels of organized opposition and imposes limitations on their ability to negotiate with the state; social dissenters found that violence was the only means of attracting the attention of military regimes that had little patience for discussion and no parliamentary/institutional mediators between people and government. Another strand argues this period was characterized by social breakdown or social suffering that increases the level of social violence. Oil boom was gradually giving way to oil doom. For instance, it has been shown that as a consequence of economic failure, and as the World Bank installed the structural adjustment programs, and insisted that people should 'tighten their belts' on their lean waists, armed robbery increased and the resort to cultism increased. In Universities, 41 cult groups emerged between 1980-1995. Cultism became deadly and vitiated academic culture. ( see, Kalu, The Scourge of the Vandals: nature and control of cults in Nigerian Universities,2001).Many of these cults were funded by politicians and directly linked  to traditional religious shrines. This fact should stimulate researches into the resilience of indigenous religion in the public space  especially during social stress. A worthwhile research area is the use of "medicine' and amulets in religious conflicts and the magical perception of the Koran that incenses devotees to violence. (see, Stephen Ellis and G. ter Haar, Worlds of Power: religious thought and practice in Africa,2004).Conflict theories adduce that there are three levels: the manifest, the underlying cause and the ideological core in each conflict situation. Many argue that religion looms large as the ideology core buried deep in human psyche.

(ii) instrumentalist/manipulation model The instrumentalist model blames class as the underlying catalyst of conflict; that competition and struggle among the elite compels the manipulation of religion. Thus, many of the conflicts are not related to religion specifically. The elite who pose as devotees and defenders of Islam are not what they pretend to be. They are driven by more mundane interests such as the political power embedded in the power arrangements, the strains in operating a federal structure, and the sharing of resources in a constitutional arrangement where much power is located in the center. The collapse of economies, the long period of military rule (that vitiated the federal structure by imposing the military unitary command), legitimacy crises and the scourge of poverty increased the level of competition in the public space.

It also argues that conflict has been engendered by the response of Muslim elites to the power located at the center of the federal structure. According to Lamin Sanneh, Piety and Power (1996), Crown and Turban (1997), Islamic conception of power asserts that the state's power should be used to serve and preserve religion. It denies the separation of powers and the ambiguous doctrine of two swords/two kingdoms entertained by Christians. Religion suffuses the whole of reality. The flip side, of course, is the danger that the state could co-opt religion for legitimation. Ancient Muslim sages cautioned about this and adopted a middle axiom that distanced the seriki or turban from the crown. Bala Usman (1987)  alleges that the religious leaders have already fallen into the embrace of the elite, that Muslim elite manipulate the religious leaders who mobilize the masses to serve the ulterior interest of the elite; they spin political and social facts as devices to alert the masses about their presumed marginalization by infidels-a vindication for jihad and violent response. As an aside, people have always wondered why violent activities follow the Friday jumat prayers.  From here, the model argues that if only there were adequate economic resources, good governance and just distribution of wealth, everyone would live happily together. The Mervyn  Hiskett model (Jnl of Religion in Africa,17,3,1987:209-223; Elizabeth Isichei,ibid.,194-208) focused on the almajiri as examples to argue that the unemployed youth provide the fodder for religious violence. This is used to explain the incredibly violent Maitatsine riots that rocked Kano and other northern communities between 1980-1985. The Yantsine represents a populist genre of Islam that attacked both Muslim elites as well as Christian southerners in  Kano, Maiduguri, Kaduna, Yola and Gombe.  The argument follows that social order could be secured by ensuring that these youths, attached to Muslim teachers or mallams, are given employment and saved from the indignities of religious- sanctioned begging. But the model failed to explain the anti-Christian riots in Kaduna and Zaria nurtured by University students who dreaded the possibility of a southern President of the Students' Union in 1987. The Muslim Students' Society was formed in 1977 and sought to turn the University into a Muslim community. The Hiskett model does not explain the fact that the combination of ethnicity and religion caused over ten ethno-religious conflicts in Northern Nigeria between 1980 and 1992.The un-Islamised communities upon whom the northern elite imposed Muslim rulers, took the occasion to rid themselves of such leaders. This explains what happened at Zango-Kataf. Arguably, a sustainable environment may ease tension but the socio-economic argument does not adequately recognize the power of religion in fostering bigotry, superiority complex and conflict. Religious feelings are atavistic impulses that may be exacerbated by dwindling resources and competition.

Three groups of scholars urge the instrumentalist model: First is the socialist-oriented scholarship that has privileged this model because they cast religion to the periphery in social analysis and caricature it as false consciousness or humbug. It was prominent in the conclusions of a committee empanelled by government who produced The Report of the Political Bureau: Federal Government of Nigeria, March, 1997. Second are internal critics within Islam - those educated Muslim youth who feel that the elite have neither been faithful to the doctrines of the religion or helpful to the masses. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is the son of the Emir of Kano. He trained in the West as a banker but is also a recognized mallam. His trenchant critic of the Muslim elite has poignancy because of his class. (See,www.gamji.com for his articles).  Writing in the northern-based newspaper, Weekly Trust for June22-28,2001, Lamido observed that " whether it is in the name of religion, region or ethnicity, the Nigerian elite everywhere strives to keep people in perpetual ignorance of their real enemies." A third group of internal critics are the izalatu fundamentalists who are opposed to the abuses by the tariqas or sufi orders. Their goal is to restore the pristine traditions of Islam. The protagonists in the sharia controversy fall mostly into this category.

(iii) the rainbow model
The rainbow model  contains at the least four sub-sets that urge that each religious tradition has in -built models for peaceful co-existence; they preach peace, love, the sanctity of human life and other salient ethics; that scholars should mine the interiors of the faith traditions, identify and promote religious transformations through these pathways. The richness and diversity of the religious traditions could be compared to the colors of the rainbow that enhance the cultural life of the nation. It appeals to the shared origins and ethical resonance among the Abrahamic religions. It is built on the prominence of Abraham, Moses, the patriarchs and Jesus in the Koran and cultural ingredients, feast an fast periods. From here, it argues that respect for human dignity should build a bridge for co-existence. This was the staple in conferences of the Nigerian Association for the Study of Religion from the mid 1970s to early 1990s. The Abiola Foundation funded the Association to research in this area.

But a shade of this model subtly harps on indigenization of religion. It argues that both Islam and Christianity came into the nation at certain points in time and bear the traditions and cultures of the religious messengers; that the Arabs were just as hegemonic as the Western change agents; that these religions need to be inculturated and translated to answer the needs of specific African peoples and environments. It is hoped that a nationalist perspective may create a wholesome social space. Some argue that if left alone, Nigerians could solve their religious problems, that external enemies of the nation have funded religious conflict in Nigeria; that these forces essay to destroy the national unity. Yet some of these "nationalists' served as conduits for  foreign Muslim countries that increased their investments in mosques and Islamic educational and charitable infrastructure in Nigeria from the mid- 1980s. The Nigerian government would later accuse some Arab embassies for using their mosques to mobilize dissidence. By  2001, it was alleged that some al Qaeda fronts set up shop in northern Nigeria as charitable institutions.

An aside is the debate that surfaced in the 19th century: whether Islam is more suitable for Africans than Christianity. Anti-colonialists had instigated the debate to annoy the missionaries and play on their fear of Islamic expansion that could swallow up Christianity. The protagonists pointed to the adaptability of Islam to local cultures; its capacity to tolerate popular practices that arise out of ignorance of the religion. The absorption of Ifa divination into Muslim divinatory process is a good example. Attention has been drawn to the impact of the untranslability of Islam. The insistence on the use of  Arabic language explains the varieties of Islamic practices among many communities. Vernacularization deepens the people's understanding of a religion. However, the debaters sidestepped this dimension to argue that Islamic ethics against drinking alcohol produced better disciplined communities. It was not that Christians permitted the consumption of alcohol but that "Christian" European traders promoted the gin trade.  From here, the model has progressed in different directions: some deploy the concept of religious pluralism, as does Simeon Ilesanmi, Religious Pluralism and the Nigerian State (1997). Modernity has witnessed the illogical reality of the growth rather than death of religion. All religions are growing and the salience of religion in the political space of the Third World is quite alarming, according to Jeff Haynes (1996). Therefore, conflict arises from the competition by a multiplicity of religions each clothed with its invented history and unique claims. The older ones seek to establish a dominance that is stoutly resisted by new religious movements. Pluralism is portrayed as the enlargement of sacred space that increases the level of competition. Other scholars as Ruth Marshall-Fratani points to the peculiarity of pluralism in Nigeria which means " a plurality of citizenship, each with its own moral vision, invented history, symbolic forms, models of power and authority, and institutional expressions, all interacting in the context of an authoritarian power whose control over public goods and accumulation is constantly under the pressure of their claims, and whose legitimacy is challenged by their alternate vision." (JRA,28,3 1998)

(iv) competing fundamentalisms
This model argues that the increasing conflict may be a result of "competing fundamentalisms". Paul Gifford in his New Crusaders (19910 images both Pentecostalism and radical Islamic groups in Africa as fundamentalists. Commentators connect the violent response of incensed Muslims in the last two decades with the implosion of Pentecostal-charismatic spirituality. From the mid 1970s, charismatic evangelical activities intensified in the northern regions that had been the preserved Muslim enclaves. A good example is the crusade by the German-born, Reinhard Bonnke in the ancient city of Kano in 1990. For one week, over a million people gathered every night in the Stadium. He sent vans through the city to bring the blind, deaf and street beggars. It is claimed that he healed many. When he planned to return two years later, a riot broke out to signal Muslim resistance. Muslim youths have at the same time come under the ideological and resource influences of international Muslim radicalism. Nigeria as an oil -producing country remained central to Muslim interest and the politics of the OPEC. The conjuncture of the two trends ( the rides of youthful Islamic radicalism and youth charismatic/ Pentecostalism) may have intensified the violent atmosphere.

The d'awaah and the great commission are like hypnotic drums to a modern form of the crusade. The demarcation of Nigeria into sharia and non-sharia states is an intentional territorialization of Islam, veritable attempt to demarcate  sacralized spaces and boundaries against infidels. But charismatic spirituality rejected the compromises of the old mission-founded churches, and demonized "the religion of the bond woman". Southerners have turned the strangers' quarters, sabon gari, in Muslim North into Zion cities bustling with economic and charismatic Christian activities. They organize evangelistic tours to heal and convert Muslims. They see no reason why Muslims could operate freely in the south while Christians are restricted to operate in the north. Some Muslims detect a disgusting whiff of Zionism in their doctrine. The Christian Association of Nigeria (that Enwerem discusses in his Dangerous Awakening, 1995) counters the leadership of the Jam'atu Nasril Islam (Victory for Islam) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs led by the revered Sultan of Sokoto (heir of the Sokoto Caliphate).The new Christian daring elicits violent responses. The environment is volatile and the problem has become increasing intractable to all theories of conflict transformation.

3. The state and transformation of religious conflict The argument goes full circle:  there are three dimensions of conflict intervention: prevention, resolution and healing. It is argued that the state has the responsibility to prevent and resolve conflicts even when ill-equipped to heal. The state should prevent conflict by creating an enabling environment, alleviate poverty, create an economic environment that provides employment, and ensure good governance by promoting a federal character in the allocation of infrastructure and resources. The enforcement agencies should anticipate the breakdown of order and respond to open conflict situations. Beyond security, the ethics of governance is essential because corruption deprives the state of moral capacity. In practice, however, the security forces are often compromised partisan agents. In one case, investigators found that governor of the state had been alerted about an incident but failed to take adequate preventive measures. Often, the Intelligence services failed.  A second line of reasoning adduces that the demand for government patronage and the call on the secular government to referee religious activities cause much confusion. It created the unconscionable situation when the Muslim-led government was urged by Muslim leaders and buckled under their pressure to register Nigeria as the 46th member of the Organization of Islamic States without the approval of the Executive Council of the State. It caused a massive political crisis.  A partisan government compromises its capacity to enlighten the public or create a dialogical environment that would encourage people to be rooted in their religions and open to others. It is admitted that the provisions in the various canons that enhance peaceful co-existence are ignored in the heat of the virulent rivalry. Conflict transformation compels the recognition of the new reality or character of the public space, followed with deliberate policies that permit religious tolerance and religious freedom. It is realized that separation of religion and state as practiced in America may not suit the environment because the ethnic components operate from a worldview that does not demarcate the profane from the sacred. Therefore, policy should serve to articulate the moderating role of the state in such a manner as to leave the public space free. The problem for religious leaders is how to create and maintain distance from government. But this is not possible when every religious group tends to seek land, money, the patronage of pilgrimages, and a variety of government support. Besides, in Nigerian political culture, government officials are encouraged to use their positions in aid of their faith traditions. Faith plays an enormous role in political campaigns. Some, therefore, urge that ethics for peace should be deliberately engineered into the public space by either mining the indigenous religious traditions or by adopting a secularist ideology. The Nigerian Constitution actually declares that the nation is a secular state. This concept that was derived from the West cut against the grain and was stoutly rejected by  Muslims and Christians, and made no sense in indigenous political thought! The proponents of secularity were socialist scholars from the Departments of Political Science and Sociology in Nigerian Universities. Their criticisms of military rule were silenced by the General Ibrahim Babaginda's regime who installed many of these in the newly-created Center for Democratic Studies and Center for Inter-Governmental Relations, Abuja

This constitutional anomaly became obvious during the federal government's intervention in the Sharia controversy in 2002.It was hedged by the provisions in the Constitution of 1996 that a dictatorial, military, Muslim ruler foisted on the nation surreptitiously. This constitution permits the states of the federation to institute such religious provisions as the sharia. The government has made some efforts to play the referee's role. These include the creation of an advisory body, the Supreme Council for Religious Affairs, to culture peaceful co-operation among religious leaders. It has also tried to provide for the two religions in an even-handed manner. For instance, it created a Pilgrims Board that supervises pilgrimage to Mecca and Jerusalem; it donated to chapels and mosques in the Abuja and Lagos; and above all, it empanelled the Oputa Judiciary Panel to receive complaints of abuse by former military regimes and compensate those who lost property during religious riots. This endeavor that borrowed a leaf from South Africa failed to accomplish much. In Rwanda, Somalia and Eritrea, the healing effort came from grassroots communities that used indigenous methods of conflict resolution. This method worked prominently in Zango-Kataf when the leaders of the warring ethnic groups exchanged their garments and swords in the market place.

In conclusion, religious conflict transformation cannot be imposed from top-down; it can hardly be imposed by a constitution, or by the associations formed by the competing parties, or by the federal government. It will emerge from the quality of relationship generated by the common people. Dialogue means living together, arguing or debating, reflecting and sharing. It is risky but it is practiced daily in the market places, schools, offices and within political and social groups. When people interact, stereotypes dissolve. Stories abound that in the midst of violence, Muslim neighbors risked their lives to save southerners. Only the people could transform conflict in spite of the manipulations of the elite who control the media as instruments of fostering religious divides.