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Insecurity in Nigeria: Religious Institutions Need Help

Nigeria is often characterised as teetering on the brink. The unprecedented security threats to places of worship are diverse and alarming. The problem of insecurity is taking a huge toll on societal life and posting negative development indices in several areas. They include: terrorist attacks, kidnapping of religious leaders and congregants, theft of relics and offerings, arson active shooter incidents, amongst others.

With a population of more than 200 million people, Nigeria’s North is predominantly Muslim, with the Hausa and Fulani are being the dominant ethnic groups. The Kanuri are also noteworthy, focused in the Northeast, particularly in the states affected by armed group violence. The south of Nigeria is predominantly Christian. Muslim and Christian communities, however are found in most parts of the country, with sizeable Christian minorities in some northern states and sizeable Muslim minorities in the South. Both Muslims and Christian communities are distributed more evenly in the central parts of the country known as the Middle Belt, as well as in parts of the Southwest, where the dominant ethnic group, the Yoruba, is made up of both Muslims and Christians.

The diversity among people encapsulates the richness of traditions. The country provides the basis and language of morality and ethical behaviour, there are expectations, pressures and practices, related to norms of religious giving, in-group favouritism, communal financial obligations and material prosperity. Nigeria’s constitution ensures freedom of religion and the country is home to some of the world’s largest Muslim and Christian populations, simultaneously. Religious harmony and peaceful coexistence of people belonging to the two major religions existed in Nigeria. In Lagos for example, there are over 10,000 religious organisations, both Christian and Muslim.

Understanding the Paradigm of Nation-building in Nigeria

As a country where religion is so fundamental, contentions over water and land or ethnic rivalries often assume a religious coloration in Nigeria. The power of religious leaders over their flocks is particularly salient during periods such as now when popular distrust of the Nigerian government is endemic and national identity is weak.Often some religious leaders come out in the public domain and say so many nasty things that will raise tension. Worshipers should be wary of these antics and shun all divisive tendencies aimed at inciting or setting them against one another. Recently, Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, who spoke on the situation report on his state, however, said his government frowned at the actions of individuals, groups and political actors, who incited citizens to arm themselves.

Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai. Photo: Premium Times Nigeria

“The rhetoric of self-help is dangerously misunderstood. It is a recipe for descent into anarchy. Individuals, who perpetrate violent attacks are very often not around, when retributive actions are taken by the victims, and so citizens, who are perceived to share ethnicity or religion with the attackers are then targeted in reprisal,” he said.

Meanwhile, tension has continued to rise due to the widespread insecurity across the country with the attacks on innocent Nigerians becoming more frequent. Peace is required, if we as a people in the country want to make progress. The inability to mobilise or gather security intelligence by the state actors is worsening the situation. Political analyst says security and stability is a collective responsibility of both government and citizens. Citizen’s initiatives have proved credible, result oriented and cost effective. Violence is being perpetrated by citizens and the solution to the problems most logically can be found within citizen’s initiatives. Government has not drawn this link unfortunately. It is the people’s movement that will awaken government to its responsibility and provide an unadulterated platform for genuine dialogue and cooperation. Therein lies the third way!

A holistic approach must be put in place to tackle poverty and suffering with integrated programmes that provides for the practical needs of the communities based on the priorities that they identify themselves. Government, private sector initiatives can partner with Nigerian religious centres which are granted non-profit status by providing possible incentives include grants to religious centres to support community-building efforts, such as food banks, job fairs and clothing which will drive peace in the society.The state government should also collaborate with community leaders on awareness programmes and targeted intervention. Security expert advice that proactiveness should be the watchword of every place of worship, nay organizations. A professional, visible, courteous, responsive security team will certainly make worshippers, visitors feel safe and welcome. Muslim and Christian leaders in Nigeria should called for the adoption of a universal code of conduct for the protection of holy sites and places of worship across the country.

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