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Nigeria - Religion

Religion is critical for grasping the difficulty of achieving consensus in a complex state like Nigeria. For example, from 40-50 percent of Yoruba are estimated to be Muslims, but this affiliation has not translated into political solidarity with the Muslim groups of the far north. Christianization, on the other hand, has integrated previously fragmented groups in the Southeast and in the Middle Belt or North Central zone of Nigeria. The politicization of religion is nothing new in Nigeria, but has become more pronounced since the introduction of the Islamic (Sharia) criminal code in the 12 northern states after the 1999 election.

The country has an area of 356,700 square miles and a population of 152.2 million. While some groups estimate the population to be 50 percent Muslim, 40 percent Christian, and 10 percent practitioners of indigenous religious beliefs, many observers generally assume the numbers of Muslims and Christians to be approximately equal. Several religions coexisted in Nigeria, helping to accentuate regional and ethnic distinctions. All religions represented in Nigeria were practiced in every major city. But Islam dominated in the north, Protestantism and local syncretic Christianity were most in evidence in Yoruba areas, and Catholicism predominated in the Igbo and closely related areas.

The 1963 census indicated that 47 percent of Nigerians were Muslim, 35 percent Christian, and 18 percent members of local indigenous congregations. If accurate, this indicated a sharp increase in the number of Christians (up 13 percent); a slight decline among those professing indigenous beliefs, compared with 20 percent in 1953; and only a modest (4 percent) rise of Muslims. This surge was partly a result of the recognized value of education provided by the missions, especially in the previously non-Christian middle belt. It also resulted from 1963 census irregularities that artificially increased the proportion of southern Christians to northern Muslims.

Since then two more forces have been operating. There has been the growth of the Aladura Church, an Africanized Christian sect that was especially strong in the Yoruba areas, and of evangelical churches in general, spilling over into adjacent and southern areas of the middle belt. At the same time, Islam was spreading southward into the northern reaches of the middle belt, especially among the upwardly mobile, who saw it as a necessary attribute for full acceptance in northern business and political circles. In general, however, the country should be seen as having a predominantly Muslim north and a non-Muslim, primarily Christian south, with each as a minority faith in the other's region; the middle belt was more heterogeneous.

The predominant sect of Islam is Sunni; however, a small but growing Shia minority exists. Christians include Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, nontraditional evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, and adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

The north is dominated by the Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri ethnic groups and is predominantly Muslim. Significant Christian communities have resided and intermarried with Muslims in the north for more than 50 years. Both Muslims and Christians reside in approximately equal numbers in the Middle Belt, including the Federal Capital Territory, and also in the southwest, where the Yoruba ethnic group predominates. While most Yorubas practice either Christianity or Islam, the practice of traditional Yoruba religious beliefs continues. Southeastern ethnic groups are predominantly Christian. In the southeast, where the Igbo ethnic group is dominant, Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists constitute the majority, although many Igbos continue to observe traditional rites, such as marriage rites, ceremonies, and other cultural forms in tandem with Christianity. In the Niger Delta Region, where the Ogoni and Ijaw ethnic groups are most numerous, Christians are the majority and only an estimated 1 percent of the population is Muslim. Pentecostal Christianity is also growing rapidly in the southern part of the country. Members of the Ahmadiyya movement maintain a small presence in Lagos and Abuja.

The Muslims in the north had long advocated the passing of legislation that would reflect their ethics would have put the large non-Muslim community in the same position that the Muslims had rejected as incompatible with their culture. The British had a solution to the problem. British criminal law had been modified over the years in a similar situation in India and was operating satisfactorily. The Indian situation had in turn been successfully applied in an African setting in the Sudan. Faced with a similar situation in Northern Nigeria, they considered the Chief Justice of the Sudan, himself a Muslim, best qualified to draft a penal law for the north. The compromise Penal Code of Northern Nigeria. that was then enacted remained in force until the creation of states.

Though each state now has its own penal law, the penal laws of the northern states reflect common similarities with the original Penal Code, while those of the southern states reflect common similarities with the British Criminal Code. Adultery is a crime in the north, but in the south it is a tort. "Murder" under the Criminal Code is broader than "culpable homicide punishable by death" under the Penal Code.

The federal government approved the use of air carriers for religious pilgrimages to Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem or Rome for Christians; it established airfares and negotiated bilateral air service agreements with Saudi Arabia and Israel to support these services. During the year President Goodluck Jonathan increased the allowances for both Christian and Muslim pilgrims. The National Hajj Commission provided logistical arrangements for approximately 75,000 annual pilgrims to Mecca. Likewise, the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission provided logistical arrangements for approximately 20,000 annual pilgrims to Jerusalem and Rome.

Violence between Christian and Muslim communities increased during 2010 in several regions arising from complex factors, including economic disparity, ethnic identity, and seasonal migration patterns. Acute communal violence in the Middle Belt heightened tensions between religious groups. In the Middle Belt, identity is simultaneously molded along both ethnic and religious lines. Even in areas outside the Middle Belt that did not otherwise experience violence, tensions remained between Christians and Muslims. In most cases competition for scarce resources, combined with livelihood differences and discriminatory employment practices, often underlay the violence. Minor incidents involving only a few individuals could escalate to engage entire communities in conflict. Local politicians and others continued to use religion on occasion to aggravate hostility among groups.

Boko Haram members continue to attack and kill numerous religious leaders, police and military officials, government officials, and civilians that the group perceived to be assisting the government in their persecution. On 21 October 2010, Boko Haram released posters at key road intersections in the northern part of the country warning the local public against assisting police in apprehending the sects' members. Each poster bore the signature of the AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and warned, "Any Muslim that goes against the establishment of Sharia law will be attacked and killed." It has not been established that the two groups have any operational links.

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