The cloud on religious and ethnic co-existence in Nigeria is getting thicker and thicker on daily basis. Dialogue as a tool that ought to beam light on this apparent dark relationship needs to be given a renewed impetus in the face of some criminal activities that now carry the label of religion. Some of the government policies and political appointments are often given a religious interpretation such that some people even perceive these as indicators of a systematic method of endorsing a particular religion as National religion. There is an escalation of mutual suspicion between Christians and Muslims as a result of these. To drive home this enquiry, there is the need to be honest and frank if we must avert the sword that is daggling over the head of the nation. Religious war had never been funny in world history.
In the face of these suspicions, it becomes pertinent to re-examine the possibility of reawakening and sustaining the hope in Christian/Muslim relations in Nigeria. In some parts of Nigeria, people of different religions have lived in peace and harmony. John Cardinal Onaiyekan is very hopeful that in spite of the various challenges in the national life of the nation, the citizens can still co-exist irrespective of religious and ethnic differences. He says: “We have done it for many years. Despite the civil war, we have lived together and the civil war in any case was not a war between Christians and Muslims. We have proved to the whole world that we can live together (https://www.naij.com). The current danger however is that Nigeria is almost being fractioned as if every Northerner is a Muslim while every Southerner is a Christian just as anything Western had been labelled Christian.
Some Christians have concluded that the clash between the herdsmen and the farmers in the various communities in Nigeria is an Islamic agenda. Various arguments have been offered to counteract this notion. Some people have said that to label the herdsmen Fulani is a call for tribal conflict. These people argue that these herdsmen should be seen as criminals and not “Fulani herdsmen”. To those who think along the line of religion, it can still be argued that it is not every Fulani that is a Muslim. There are also Fulani Christians. Is it not possible that some Fulani people do not even practise any formal religion? For some real Fulani herdsmen, their religion is their cattle which some people think that they love more than human beings. The grazing Bill has become another source of controversy. While some people are strongly opposing the Bill, others think that the herdsmen have no permanent location hence they are fighting to acquire territories. The big question is the possibility of handling these issues beyond religion. What if we look beyond religion in investigating the causes of the clash between the herdsmen and the farmers? Perhaps political motivations and failure of government could also be properly examined.
The governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, in Makurdi on Monday, March 21, 2016 blamed the killings in Agatu, a local government area in the state, on porous borders around the location. In a meeting with members of the Senate led by officials of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), he said the porous Nigerian borders have led to an influx of foreigners in the country. He said foreigners from Mali, Senegal and Ghana are the perpetrators of the crisis in Agatu community (https://www.naij.com). The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan on May 8, 2016 said, “There is a terrible wind blowing around our country right now. There are so many people who are fanning the flames of discord and hatred. It is becoming very difficult to preach unity and mutual natural love and there are those who are already envisaging a clash between Christians and Muslims. There are those who are interpreting the clash between herdsmen and farmers as the front line of this battle” (https://www.naij.com).
The session on religion in the “Federal Ministry of Education 9 – Basic Education Curriculum; Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council, 2007” is giving serious concern to many Christians. Whereas the children would be taught that Jesus did not die nor resurrect for any body’s sin, the children would be taught that the GLORIOUS QUR’AN is designated as Allah’s Greatest Book and his Prophet Mohammed the Greatest of all the prophets. The Christians feel that this approach to training the young ones is a form of indoctrination that could perpetuate religious intolerance in the country. To enable the Muslim students study Islam authentically and Christian students study the Bible without prejudice, Prof Charles Adisa suggests that Christian Religious Studies and Islamic Religious Studies should be allowed to stand separately and be studied as independent subjects with separate textbooks.
Sometime ago, a respected lawyer told me that Nigeria is in a state of jihad. His reasons were that, there are about 109 verses of the Qur’an that call Muslims to war with non-believers. He said that there is a sharp difference between the verses of violence in the Old Testament of the Bible and that of the Qur’an. According to him, unlike the Old Testament, the verses of violence in the Qur’an are not restrained by historical context. The Qur’an has no New Testament that could give a counter narrative in a modern context. For the Muslim, the Qur’an is the unchanging word of Allah and not subject to interpretation. The terrorists therefore defend their ideology by referencing the verses that call believers to war against non-believers. Another threat to Christian/Muslim relations is the sharia question and the grazing Bill that many have perceived as a systematic agenda to Islamise the nation. Many Nigerians today believe fervently that the herdsmen are Boko Haram (who claim to be the true Muslims) who managed to escape the assault of the military operations.