Home Opinion Featured Articles Why Western Policy on Religion in Nigeria Must Change

Why Western Policy on Religion in Nigeria Must Change


Policies are principles that inform or determine the actions of governments. Policies guide states in their decisions and interventions. They embody the interests and positions of countries on issues. Until recently, western policy on religion in Nigeria has been chrislamic, which means it has focused on Christianity and Islam only.

It has catered for the interests of Christians and Muslims. Like the Nigerian government, western governments try to appease members of the Abrahamic religions. They do not want to be seen to be biased for or against Christianity or Islam. That is why whenever Western politicians and diplomats visit the country, they only meet with religious leaders and members of the Christian and Islamic faith communities. They visit the bishops, pastors, and priests; they call on imams, sheikhs, the sultan, and other chrislamic clerics.

Whenever western embassies organize programs, they only invite members of these religions. They make sure that the two faiths are represented. Western governments have largely ignored Nigerians from other faiths, minority religions, and irreligious organizations such as traditional religionists, atheists and humanists. They have conducted their affairs as if adherents of other faiths or none do not exist in Nigeria.

Look, the reason for this western chrislamic policy is not far-fetched. Christianity and Islam are the dominant religions. The followers are in the majority. Christianity and Islam are the ‘powerful religions’. Millions of Nigerians identify with these faiths. All Nigerian politicians profess them. Western governments are interested in faith communities that have the numbers and in religions with significant social capital. But as recent developments have shown this Chrislamic policy focus is defective and mistaken. This policy orientation does more harm than good and needs to change.

And here are the reasons. Nigerians are not as Christian and Islamic as the statistics out there show. Many practice a mix of these religions and beliefs. Many Nigerians identify as Christians and Muslims out of fear and by force. They are socially and politically coerced to profess these faiths. Many Nigerians fear that they could be persecuted, discriminated against, attacked, or killed if they openly and publicly renounce these faiths; if they professed their belief or nonbelief.

More importantly, in a religiously pluralistic society, western foreign policy should be neutral. It should not favor any religious or irreligious belief. However, the chrislamic policy focus discriminates against minority religious and nonreligious groups. It reinforces existing inequities and injustices. The policy turns a blind eye on Islamic tyranny in northern Nigeria and Christian tyranny in southern Nigeria. It is pertinent to note that traditional faith and irreligiosity predate Christianity and Islam in Nigeria. Nigerians professed traditional religions as well as irreligious beliefs before the advent of Christianity and Islam. However, after centuries of promotion and propagation of these faiths, traditional religion, and irreligion have been sidelined, and pushed to the margins. The two Abrahamic faiths have become dominant. They are now in the majority.

The two religions owe their spread and dominance to oppression, violence, and persecution of Nigerians from other faith or no faith traditions. Western religious imperialists introduced Christianity. Foreign and local missionaries demonized African traditional religions and deployed structural violence against religious and irreligious others. Whilst Arab and North African religious imperialists introduced Islam.

They used violence and force to enthrone their faith and suppress others. Islam sanctions violence against apostates and blasphemers. The religion is opposed to the equality of persons of other faiths and none. Meanwhile, all Nigerians as citizens are equal before the law. A chrislamic foreign policy is not good for Nigeria. It negates tolerant pluralism and reinforces this regime of discrimination and oppression of minority religious and irreligious groups. A shift in policy is necessary to address these ills and defects in interfaith relations and perceptions. Western governments should use their powers to foster inclusivity, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence of persons from faith and no faith traditions in Nigeria.

Leo Igwe is a board member of Humanists International, UK.

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