Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse country, which consists of 36 autonomous states and the Federal Capital Territory. Although its diversity extends to religion, Christianity and Islam are the two major religions. Unfortunately religion is one of the key factors that have kept the country divided for a long time since independence.
Irish writer, Jonathan Swift, once said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Those words capture the exact situation in Nigeria today. Instead of keeping the people united in love, religion has become the cord of enmity leading to irresolvable differences between the various ethnic groups in the country.
According to a report published in The World Fact Book by the American Central Intelligence Agency( CIA), Nigeria’s religion population is estimated to be 53.5 per cent Muslim, 45.9 per cent Christian (10.6 per cent  Roman Catholic and 35.3 per cent other Christian) and 0.6 per cent for others.
As recorded by Wikipedia, Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914, only about a decade after the defeat of the Sokoto Caliphate and other Islamic states by the British, which were to constitute much of Northern Nigeria.
In Nigeria, violent religious crises, especially between Christians and Muslims, have claimed thousands of lives and properties worth hundreds of millions of naira have been destroyed. For example, between 1980 and 1992, 26 religious riots were recorded and the death toll put at 6,775.

In 1993 the Human Rights Committee, an independent body of 18 experts selected through a UN process, described religion or  belief as “theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief.”  In addition, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Unfortunately, the reverse is the case in Nigeria as the two most prominent religions in the country are involved in a struggle for supremacy. This in effect has turned what should be the basis of peace to war. One wonders what caused the enmity.
Research shows that The 1980s witnessed an upsurge in violence due to the death of Mohammed Marwa, a.k.a Maitatsine. In the same decade, the then military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, enrolled Nigeria in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. This move aggravated religious tensions in the country, particularly among the Christian community. In response, some members of the Muslim community pointed out that some other African states had smaller populations of Muslims, as well as Nigeria’s diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
The fear of domination is a major problem fuelling religious crises in Nigeria. The country is also battling the fear of domination by a particular ethnic group over the rest. As rightly reasoned out by Voltaire, who said,“If you have two religions in your land, the two will cut each other’s throats; but if you have thirty religions, they dwell in peace,” Muslims and Christians in Nigeria are always in disagreement.
The rule of law has been displaced and there is no respect for the right of individuals to practise their chosen religions. Human lives are wasted nearly every day as a result of religious intolerance.
As mentioned by this same writer in a piece titled, ‘Factors stimulating poverty in Nigeria’ that poor access to education is a major problem aiding poverty in Nigeria, poverty arises from lack of education and education brings about enlightenment. Statistics show that beyond national average, the division by geopolitical zones puts the South-East geopolitical zone ahead of the rest with 95.4 per cent literacy rate and the North-West with the lowest at 38 per cent. Following the Southeast are the South-South at 94.8 per cent, the South-West at 92.6 per cent, the North-Central at 62 per cent and the North-East at 41.9 per cent in 2018.
Consequential to the rate of illiteracy, the people are poor and easily brainwashed into killing their fellow citizens under the umbrella of religion.
The involvement of government at all levels in religious matters is another cause of religious turbulence. Whoever will rule the multi-ethnic and religiously diversified Nigeria must not be a religious extremist or ethnic supremacist. Such a leader will bring nothing other than disunity among the people. It is quite unfortunate that the government gets involved in issues related to tribal differences and the fight for religious supremacy. C.S Lewis says, “Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.
As the saying goes, idle hands are the devil’s tools. The high unemployment rate in the country, which has increased by 33 percent in recent time and is currently rated second highest in the world, also contributes to religious crises. When people are gainfully employed, they will have little or no time for frivolities. Unemployed people can be easily bribed with money to wreak havoc in the society.
Crises in Nigeria, especially religious crisis, have affected the growth of the economy in general and the development of communities and people in. Many lives have been cut short, properties worth millions of naira destroyed and innocent Nigerians have been displaced and turned to refugees in their own country.
In curbing religious violence, the government should make education accessible to all in an affordable way and effort should be made in getting more people employed. In addition, the government should desist from getting involved in religious matters, as this can bring about discord, unrest and disunity in the society. Furthermore, there should be respect for human right and tolerance for an individual’s religion.
In conclusion, the people should bear in mind that God is not someone anybody can fight for or fight against and stop causing unrest under the pretext of defending God.
•Adeparua Damilola can be reached via adeparuaadot55@yahoo.com