Religious Extremism Prevents Development in Nigeria

Leo Igwe, the Nigerian human rights activist who is coming to the U.S. for the Humanism at Work conference and a two week speaking tour of Ohio, Indiana, Chicago and Michigan, has an article in The Humanist about how religious extremism in his home country prevents development and all attempts to improve the lives of the people there.

When the drafters of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria enshrined in section 10 that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion,” they envisaged the divisive and polarizing nature of mixing faith and politics. They knew that for a religiously pluralistic entity like Nigeria to survive and develop, thrive and flourish, the state must be neutral in religious matters.

Unfortunately, subsequent state actors in Nigeria have ignored this crucial constitutional principle to the detriment of the Nigerian nation. Segments of the Nigerian Federation or state have continued to mix religion and politics in ways that have undermined progress, unity, tolerance and development across the country.

In particular, political Islam rules in the Muslim majority states in the north. Contrary to the constitution, sharia is the state law, Islam is the state religion, and jihad is a way of retaining, restoring, or securing the Islamic political status quo.

Politics is driven not by attempts to grow the economy, alleviate poverty, or tackle unemployment but by the so-called struggle to establish an Islamic state. Politicians from these northern states regard political Islam as a necessary qualification for participating in the Nigerian state…

Both versions of political Islam are alienating and antagonizing, turning northern Nigeria into a religious battleground pitching Muslims against Muslims, and Muslims against Christians and other religious minorities. No society can achieve meaningful development under this climate of fear, hatred, and mistrust.

To develop and prosper in the contemporary world, northern Nigeria must dismantle the structure of political Islam and separate mosque and state. Politicians should de-establish Islam, stop state enforcement of sharia, and end the legalized discrimination against non-Muslims. The government of Katsina is using state money to build mosques and pay imams as part of its sharia implementation program. And the sharia police in Kano have destroyed goods belonging to Christians in the name of enforcing sharia law in the state. It is not the duty of the state to enforce Islamic laws, finance the building of mosques, or sponsor religious pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

The state should instead focus on guaranteeing the equal rights of all citizens to profess their religion or belief and providing an enabling environment for local and foreign investments. The people in northern Nigeria should value a state that is religiously neutral; a state that can uphold the rule of law, of civilized, secular, human rights-compatible laws. People are likely to invest and contribute to the development of a state or country where they are treated with dignity and respect—where their full human rights are respected and where they can access justice.

There is also an urgent need to improve the quality of education in the region. According to Unesco, northern states have among the lowest literacy rates in the country. Development depends on information and learning, and any society that wants to develop must take education seriously. To combat underdevelopment in northern Nigeria, mixing education and Islamic indoctrination must stop. Schools should no longer be an extension of mosques and Quranic learning centers.

Well said.


  1. busterggi says

    Sounds as though the ‘baggers & Religious Reich have resettled in Nigeria.

  2. dingojack says

    On the other hand:

    Nigeria rebased its GDP from 1990 to 2010, resulting in an 89% increase in the estimated size of the economy. As a result, the country now boasts of having the largest economy in Africa with an estimated nominal GDP of USD 510 billion, surpassing South Africa’s USD 352 billion. The exercise also reveals a more diversified economy than previously thought. Nigeria has maintained its impressive growth over the past decade with a record estimated 7.4% growth of real gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, up from 6.7% in 2012. This growth rate is higher than the West African subregional level and far higher than the sub-Saharan Africa level.”


    The Gruniad breaks it down into economic sectors (in millions of naira. $1 ≈ 157.3321864 naira)
    Note, however the figures came from the Nigerian Government itself. Judge the creditability of the figures in that light. Also, this doesn’t say anything about where any of that money is going.

  3. colnago80 says

    Re dingojack @ #3

    The article specifically refers to the Northern part of the country. It may be that, while the Northern part stagnates, the rest of the country is doing just fine. A bit like the US where Northern Virginia is booming like all get out, due in part to the Beltway Bandits, while the rest of the state south of the Occoquan stagnates.

  4. colnago80 says

    Re dingojack @ #3

    It should also be pointed out that Nigeria is a substantial oil exporting nation which certainly contributes to economic growth in this era of 100$/barrel+ oil prices

  5. dingojack says

    SLC – Oil and gas production makes up about $73.438 billion, or around 14.4% of total estimated GDP for 2013.

  6. dingojack says

    A complete loss of oil and gas revenue would reduce the GDP to 436.4616 billion, about 23% larger than SA*.
    * or so they say

  7. bmiller says

    Well, another thing to keep in mind is total GDP growth is one thing. If the growth all goes to a few connected politicians and busineses (a la crony capitalism), that may mean that the vast majority of the population suffers. Prey to religious solutions and extremism as neoliberal economics only makes things worse for more people?

  8. colnago80 says

    Re dingojack @ #9

    According to Google, the population of Nigeria is 169 million. The population of South Africa is 51 million. A little simple arithmetic yields a per capita GDP of $3017 per capita for Nigeria, a per capita GDP of $7100 per capita for South Africa. Neither figure is anything to write home about but clearly South Africa is more then twice as well off as Nigeria. By contrast, Australia has a per capita GDP of $75,000.

  9. dingojack says

    Nigeria 6.2%* growth in GDP (US 1.9%; UK 1.8%; SA 2%; Mali 4,8%; Niger 6.2%; Cote d’Ivoire 8%; Australia 2,5%;). Hmmm… seems like growth (development is another thing). I was surprised since the country has so much money (suddenly).
    * thanks to some nifty accounting?

  10. dingojack says

    Assuming the population continues to grow at 2.47%, that’s a growth rate in GDP/Capita* of about 3.64%.
    * UK 1.25%; US 1.14%; Australia 1.39%

  11. criticaldragon1177 says

    Ed Brayton,

    Once again we are reminded that the United States isn’t the only country where a lack of secularism and respect for religious pluralism is a problem. Once again we are reminded how difficult it can be to bring those things about once the fundamentalists, of any faith have gained power.

  12. D. C. Sessions says

    Assuming the population continues to grow at 2.47%, that’s a growth rate in GDP/Capita* of about 3.64%.

    And who knows? Maybe the median income isn’t fall too quickly.

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