Nigeria is the largest country of the black race in the world. It is also the most multi-religious among the countries in Africa. This is in line with the view of Akumu et al (2006:3) who opined that, “Nigeria is the most populous African state and one of the world’s most ethnically diverse societies being made up of over 250 ethno-linguistic groups.” The Nigerian ‘ethnic nationalities’ before the amalgamation, in 1914, comprised two separate geo-political zones: Southern and Northern protectorates. These two geo-political zones which constituted the ‘One Nigeria’ consisted of various cultures each with different traditional religions. Makozi in Okere (1988:9) asserted that:
Nigeria as one entity was born in 1914 when the two protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated by Sir Fredrick Lugard. The name “Nigeria” derived from the River ‘Niger area’ was proposed by Miss Flora Shaw in an article she had written as a press correspondent to ‘The Times’ in January, 1897, that is fourteen years before the amalgamation.
One would then be right to say that Nigeria as a country is an artificial creation of Lord Lugard. The “artificiality” in making up the country is a fundamental problem besetting Nigeria as a state in all facets of life (religiously, economically, politically, geographically, and so on). The various cultures with different traditional religions influenced governance in Nigeria tremendously, especially on the negative side. Logically and traditionally, each culture with its inherent religion, has some peculiar doctrines. These cultures had already been operating by different types of governance. For instance, the Igbo race within the South East zone was strictly under democratic rule, while the Hausa/Fulani race was ruled by the system of oligarchy or strictly indirect rule. These different ruling methods which were merged together created a lot of problems. The worst of it all was the merging of the two ccompeting religions (Islam and Christianity) inherently existing in different areas under the canopy of two different geographical locations (North and South). The emergence of these two foreign religions (Islam and Christianity) with the already existing traditional religions coupled with multi-populous nature of the country has made, and continues to make, both positive and negative impacts on the democratic governance of this giant country-Nigeria. Diara in Achunike (2011:162) stated that:
With well over 145 million inhabitants, Nigeria is unarguably the most populous African nation. After independence in 1960, Nigeria was to run a full democratic government, but military dictatorship unfortunately sprang up and took more than 30 years of the country’s 50 years of existence as an independent nation. Nevertheless, the country is today considered a democracy, having held general elections for four republics of four years span each – 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 – uninterruptedly.
At independence, the pioneer leaders (Founding fathers) chose the system of democracy as the system of governance for Nigeria. Atubi (2011) attested that: “the founding fathers of this country created a democratic system that separated church from state so that, as a country, we could avoid the slippery slope of getting into the business of telling people what to believe”. It suffices to note that the reality of democracy could not be achieved under this circumstance (the coexistence of the three different religions as well as the multi ethnic groups). According to Udeh (2011: Oral Interview) “one concrete reason for the failure of democracy in Nigeria is the attitudinal nature or logical concept of each religion regarding governance (democracy) coupled with different ethnic rationale”. A prime reflection goes to Islam.
Islam has different ideas altogether about governance. For Islamic culture, there is no separation of religion from governance. This concept was clearly buttressed by Ali (2002:81) who stated that:
Muslims believe that their religion, Islam, is a complete way of life which has made copious provisions for all facets of life: practices, social involvement, economic undertakings, political participation, technological innovations, legal phenomenon and religious beliefs.
If one should reflect on the above, it is pertinent to say that Islamic religion is one with all the sayings above including political participation and governance. This concept is contrary to the belief of Christianity: “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. For the Islamic religion, adherents of non Islam are referred to as infidels. This means that such infidels cannot go to heaven not to talk of ruling or having a say in the human society. For Moslems, it seems that only their adherents can rule and can exercise governance. Manchilla (2003: np) confirmed this statement when he said that:
Muslim recognized that “he (the leader or ruler) must be a Muslim” and the main reason they gave was that if the ruler is not a Muslim, he is unable to rule because he does not have the knowledge of Islam. If he is not Muslim, he doesn’t have any idea, he does what he wants according to his own religion, he doesn’t know what Koran says. If he is not Muslim everything is different. Islam is a complete way of life, so if he is non-Muslim completeness is not there.
Considering this fact in Nigeria means that democracy should not be a reality. For Christianity, governance and religion are separate entities. Though the two (governance and religion) have complex inclinations in every human person. For instance, man is a religious being (homo religiosus) as well as a political animal (zoo politicon). This means that the two virtues (religiosity and politics) exist outstandingly but independently in the same man and in every subject (man) irrespective of colour, culture, race and religion. Judging this tenet in Christianity, one will then say that the system of democracy for Christianity is better relaxed unlike that of Islam. This not withstanding, Christianity abhors a totally free concept of democracy. Christianity welcomes democracy to a certain level. Christianity is rather bureaucratic. This is because it follows rules and laws rigidly. Its officials are also dogmatic. Amidst the bureaucratic nature of the church, Christianity respects and cherishes democracy so well for the sake of human right.
The traditional (indigenous) religion, which had been in existence before the advent of the two foreign religions (Islam and Christianity) had a profound system of democracy. Indeed, traditional religion is very democratic in nature. Many scholars relate Igbo governance with that of Greece. On this, Onwubiko, (1973:108) wrote that:
As in the assembly of the Athenian citizens, in ancient Greece, every grown-up male has the right to air his views on a matter under discussion. After the Assembly had listened to several speakers, some members were appointed to consult among themselves for a decision. They withdrew and after the consultation, returned with a decision which was unanimously accepted by the Assembly. In this way, decisions were reached not by voting but by a consensus.
We can see that Igbo traditional society respects commoners. It could also mean that even the council of elders cannot act authoritatively without seeking the minds of the commoners. Such was the existence of democracy in Igbo area before the colonial era. In Igbo traditional set up, religion and governance (Politics) were formally intermingled. This is shown in the case of Eze being a ruler and a priest. But this is advisable only when the society is of one category. In this case democracy is safe. This is because the Eze respects and takes decision from his cabinets who are the representatives of the different villages and families.
Reflecting through these three prominent religions in Nigeria, one will not hesitate to assert that each of them Islam, Traditional Religions and Christianity has different notions of the type of governance (democracy) which Nigeria operates. Ngwudike (2011: Oral Interview) stressed that “for Islam, Nigeria and her democracy are a sham. Democracy or no democracy, governance or no governance, Islamic law is supreme and autocratic”. For Christianity, Nigeria and her democracy must have a limit (ie to a certain extent) even though it (democracy) is welcome and respected. And for traditional religion, democracy is a choice with relaxation.
Hence these diverse conceptions cause a fundamental problem or conflict in Nigerian governance. These different levels of welcoming Nigeria and her democracy had provoked cultural and religious wars, riots, squabbles, conflicts and loss of wealth. They also hamper the system of governance. With these different notions, religion as an entity could not have enough positive impacts on the country. Onwujiaku (2011: Oral Interview) opined that, “the worst is that religion is loosing its focus and functions to certain extent in sensitive issues.” Even though it has made some positive impacts in the country Nigeria, yet it had registered more negative effects. For example, some of religious adherents have been responsible for the shedding of much blood. They caused these atrocities in a bid to intervene in Nigerian democracy and governance.
Similar to the mistake of the colonial masters in merging the different cultures and many religions together, was their planting of the seeds of majority-minority syndrome in the country. The colonial lords apportioned very large geographical location (area) to the North. They also sowed into the minds and hearts of the Northerners the superiority of their life and their religion over others through the incorporation of Sharia into the governance of sections of the Nigerian society, that is, Northern Nigeria. Ubaka (2000:24) wrote that:
Islam with its law – the Sharia, pre-dates Nigeria: Islam came into the area known as Nigeria today through the trade links with North Africa and Middle East. Historians agree that there was some form of Islam in the Kanem Bornu area around the 11th century AD and the Hausa land area around the 15th century. Then it thrived as a court religion while the few comers practiced it in their private lives.
In view of the above, truly, Islam with its law – the Sharia has been in existence as a religion before the birth of Nigeria. But the grave mistake the colonialists made was the promotion of Sharia, especially in the Northern Nigeria. The British established the Sharia court in Northern Nigeria. Kukah in Onwubiko (1994:111) commented on this:
… Muslims look at English courts in Nigeria as Christian courts, and that because of the problem it created, the British decided to take steps to pacify and appease the Emirs. In 1956, the British established a Muslim Court of Appeal which was welcomed by chiefs and Muslim jurists as a means of protecting Muslim law from encroachment as a result of appeal to English court.
The problem here is that English law (ie Nigerian Constitution) was mistaken to be Christian law. Really this mistake is a misnomer. The colonial masters did a selective justice which disdained other areas (with their cultures and religions) which were also amalgamated. Other Religions have their own religious laws.
The inclusion of Islamic law in governance (Indirect Rule) in the Northern Nigeria by the colonial masters makes the Northerners to always swell, sway their heads and raise their shoulders above other groups in the affairs of Nigeria. It should be noted that Christianity also predated Nigeria and she has her laws too. Nonetheless, referring to Onwujiaku (2011: Oral Interview) “Nigeria absolutely could not have been merged to one state hence; the existence of two distinct constitutions. The idea it portrays is that the Nigerian Constitution and Sharia laws rule Nigeria. This is a disdain to Christianity and traditional religion. How will it look if one state embraces Canon (Christianity) law and another embraces traditional law so strictly as the Islamic adherents? It would be unwise and would have been another major mistake.
Another background cause of problem in Nigeria is the competitive nature of Islam and Christianity. The two religions are rivals to each other. Apart from being rivals to each other, they (Islam and Christianity) are suppressing the traditional religion. By this suppression, traditional religion is rapidly losing its values pertinent to the Nigerian society. The most outstanding of these values is the traditional education. Traditional education deeply grooms human conscience. Real traditionalist-brought up can not spill human blood. Very unlike the traditional religionists, some Muslims and some Christians are insensitive to human life. Odeh (2000:8) lamented that:
Today, as Nigeria wrecks with so much blood being spilled in the name of religion, it is evident that the evil genius of confusion is spreading not only confusion but also death. In an attempt to arrest the advance of the Christian south and thus allay its fears, the Muslim North grabbed political power long ago, indiscrimately mixed religion and politics and with both inflicted so much pain on the entire nation and the rest of us.
The above quotation clearly indicates the effects of competition between Islam and Christianity which resulted in the suppression of indigenous religion. The resultant effect of this competition always occasions the spilling of blood. This problem is a regular occurrence in Nigeria. It was not like that in the olden days when indigenous religion was predominant or alone.
More significantly is the constitutional favour which Britain granted to Northern Nigeria. This is another fundamental problem rocking the Nigerian governance. Onwubiko stressed (1973:391) that: