Interfaith Conflict Mediation Mechanisms and Peacebuilding in Nigeria


Religious conflicts have been prevalent in Nigeria in the last couple of decades. Presently, the country is experiencing a scourge of violent Islamic fundamentalism which is threatening its cohesion. Several violent religious conflicts in different parts of the country have pushed citizens to sometimes query the modalities of the very existence of the country in the context of the uneasy co-habitation of diverse people of over 250 cultures; this is a multitude of cultures in a country which had hitherto witnessed harmonious inter-cultural relationships for over a century. Several strategies ranging from policy implementations, national dialogues (one was concluded recently), compulsory national youth services, civil and communal initiatives have been incorporated to manage ethno-religious relationships among the diverse groups. However, all seem to have failed in stopping religious conflicts in certain parts of Nigeria. Inter-faith mechanisms, which involve deliberate facilitation and management of interaction among the leaders and followers of dominant religious groups at the national, state, and community levels, have therefore been adopted to directly address religious frictions and prevent such frictions from degenerating into violence. The use of “interfaith dialogues, education and awareness” remain major features of interfaith mediation, and these features are also combined with the economic capacity to build religious adherents in order to distract parties from the frustrations that push them towards religious violence.

This paper aims at reviewing some of the interfaith peacebuilding efforts for reducing and managing religious conflicts in Nigeria and assessing how these efforts have been facilitating peaceful relationships among diverse religious groups in the country. Consequently, the paper will suggest ways of strengthening and improving such mechanisms to curtail the dangerous trend of Islamic radicalization and proliferation of terrorism activities making the North-eastern part of the country ungovernable and spawning distrust, insecurity and uncertainty for the people.

Geography of Religion and Ethnicity in Nigeria

Religion, ethnicity and politics are so intertwining in Nigeria that very thin lines separate them. In northern Nigeria, Islam is the predominant religion while majority of the Hausa-Fulani people are predominantly Muslims. However, there are Christian minorities in many communities and this number is buoyed by settlers who regularly come from other parts of the country. Religious conflict is one of the post-colonial problems that have been confronting Nigeria. Many lives have been lost in the course of this problem and economic activities have been paralyzed in some parts of the country. Many communities and groups that had been living harmoniously in the past have become estranged following bloody clashes oftentimes caused by religious violence. Developmental efforts have been paralyzed because of hatred, in addition to distrusts and clashes rooted in religious differences. Incidentally, the two dominant religions causing conflict are foreign religions: Christianity and Islam. The indigenous religious adherents who had lived peacefully in their varieties, even before the arrival of Christianity and Islam, have been co-existing with these two dominant religions, except when one of the dominant religions attempts to impose its tenets on them, or deploy force to convert them.

The spate of religious crises in Nigeria has increased over the past two decades and especially since the inception of the third republic. Some northern states have introduced and started implementing the Shar’ia form of justice system, causing frictions in states and communities having mixed population of the predominant religions (Richardson, 2010). While the Muslims claim the right to practice and live within the legal precincts of their belief, the Christians resist the imposition of the Shar’ia legal system on them, citing the secularity of the Nigerian constitution as the basis of resistance. Incidents of religious frictions remain very low in predominantly Muslim populated states such as Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara and Jigawa, whereas in states such as Kaduna, Plateau, Adamawa, Taraba and Nassarawa, having a fair mix of Christians and Muslims, or areas that are predominantly Christians, have had relatively less friction and sectarian violence. Many of the residential parts of the metropolis in these states have been unwittingly divided into two, each part exclusively inhabited by Christians and Muslims. This trend has become a serious threat to national cohesion and human development. Many communities that had enjoyed peaceful, harmonious co-existence have redirected communal resources and efforts to prosecute religious wars. Its immediate outcome is the Nigerian government’s inability to execute developmental projects in such communities to enhance human development and building infrastructures for growth in the northern Nigeria.

On the contrary, the Western part of Nigeria has an almost equal number of Muslims and Christians co-existing along with a minority of traditional religious worshipers. With a population that is predominantly Yoruba, the people appear to have resolved that religious diversity is a reality and they have learned to live with it considering how incidents of religious conflicts remain very low and almost non-existent in most communities in this part of Nigeria. In addition to accommodating the Arabic culture which brought Islam from the northern part of the African continent, the inhabitants of the western part of Nigeria also embrace the western culture and civilization, and Christianity. They have advanced a culture of tolerance for accommodating religious diversity and discouraging extremism in any form. This has been adduced for the low level of ethno-religious crises in this part. The population of the eastern and southern parts of Nigeria is predominantly Christian, with small minorities of Muslims and traditional religion adherents. There is virtually no incidence of religious conflicts in these parts except for rare reprisal attacks on Hausa-Fulani Muslims residing in the east alongside major ethno-religious violence and attacks on Ibo Christian settlers in the northern part of Nigeria. Such incidence often happen whenever the victims of such attacks are brought back for burial in the eastern communities.

The Maitasine riot of 1980 was the first major religious riot which occurred in Kano and other parts of northern Nigeria and signalled the beginning of the negative trend of religious intolerance and violence in Nigeria. The riot was inspired by the Islamic revolution which occurred earlier in Iran in 1978 and the rising wave of Islamic fundamentalism which swept through Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Wright, 2006). Even though this riot was later successfully under control, it established the emergence of Islamic fundamentalists and extremist groups holding various extremist ideologies. Subsequently, several other religious riots took place in Jimeta, Kafanchan, Kaduna, Jos and other towns and cities in the northern Nigeria where Muslim fundamentalists attempted to eradicate the activities of other religious adherents, but met stiff resistance and it led to massive killings and destruction of properties.

The second wave of religious violence erupted after the inception of the third democratic republic in Nigeria because some northern state governments insisted on implementing the Shar’ia legal code citing a predominantly Muslim population as justification. This led to widespread controversies over Nigeria’s constitution, but since the constitution also recognizes the rights of the different constituent groups, the willing states were allowed to begin the implementation of the Shar’ia law (Richardson, 2010). Its operation and implementation however, were met with resistance from the minority groups in other states, especially in states having heavy presence of Christians, such as Kaduna and others aforementioned. Since 1999, there had been about four serious violent religious conflicts in Kaduna state, where about two thousand citizens have died.

In the last decade, government and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have taken steps to address religious crises. Some of such initiatives include the establishment of policies that could ensure equity among the adherents of the various religions at the national level and projects that could guaranty the fundamental human rights of citizens irrespective of their religious beliefs. Part of such efforts is the sponsorship of adherents on religious pilgrimages, a situation that has provoked serious controversy among the citizens. Some citizens believe that government resources should not be expended on religious matters in view of the secularity of the Nigerian constitution, while others hold a contrary opinion. However, the most important structural effort at addressing religious crises in Nigeria is the emergence of interfaith mediation organizations which has initiated various programs for uniting the leaders and followers of the two dominant religions for dialogue, peaceful co-existence and a deeper understanding of the doctrines and views of the other religions. The bodies are facilitated by governments and the civil society and have made constructive impacts in facilitating inter-religious understanding in communities across Nigeria. Even though the efforts of such organizations have been constrained in North-eastern Nigeria where the activities of the Boko Haram extremists have led to the collapse of governance, and social and economic activities, the organizations continue to render humanitarian services effectively.

The focus of this piece is to explore the activities and impacts of interfaith mediation organizations in Nigeria and how their activities have impacted peacebuilding efforts across the country. Also, it is to explore the problems confronting interfaith organizations and how they could be strengthened to effectively curtail religious crises, especially in volatile communities across Nigeria. In order to achieve the foregoing objectives, this paper will engage the following questions in exploring the subject matter: What are the fundamental objectives underscoring the emergence and activities of interfaith mediation bodies in Nigeria? What are the specific strategies adopted by interfaith mediation bodies to achieve their objectives? What are the specific achievements of interfaith mediation bodies in encouraging peaceful co-existence among the adherents of the dominant religions in Nigeria? What are the problems confronting the inter-faith mediation agencies in carrying out their functions? How can the interfaith mediation agencies improve their performances to ensure peaceful co-existence among the adherents of the various religions in Nigeria?

Interfaith Mediation: A Historical and Theoretical Discourse

Interfaith mediation is a common feature in post-conflict environments especially in communities that had hitherto witnessed religious crises. Such initiatives are not novel and are common in countries that have witnessed protracted religious violence in communities where people hold matters of faith and beliefs very strongly. As a value-based form of conflict, religious conflicts are usually vociferous and extremely violent as adherents often remain under heavy indoctrination from worship arenas and have been prepared to lay down their lives in order to advance their religious beliefs and precepts; for example, the history of the crusaders and the exploits of the jihadists in the Middle Ages attest to the extent mankind could go in defending their religious beliefs.

Interfaith dialogues and mediation is as old as the history of inter-relations among major religious groups across the world, which has often fostered violence. Ayantayo (2010) outlines examples of interfaith dialogues among Muslims, Hindus, Sikhists and Christians in India initiated by Emperor Akbar the Great. Under the Ottoman Turks, from the 15th to the 19th century, there were dialogues among Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews and Sufis in the Balkans. In the contemporary times, King Juan Carlos of Spain in 2008 hosted an inter-religious dialogue among Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hinduists and Taoists in Madrid. In 2009, the Hindu preacher Morari Bapu convened a World Religions Dialogue and Symphony in Gujarat, where he brought together the leaders of the major world religions in an effort to initiate peaceful interaction and facilitate peacebuilding among them in the face of imminent major violent conflicts among the prominent religions across the world. Various efforts are initiated by international non-government organizations and community-based interfaith agencies to facilitate dialogues among various religions. The World Vision International, for instance, has initiated several projects across the world to encourage and facilitate religious understanding among diverse religious groups across the world. One of such projects is the collaboration with the Davao Ministerial Interfaith (DMI) in Mindanao, Philippines, which brought together about fifty religious leaders, including Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims for community based social actions to foster understanding and build confidence across faiths (Garred and Castro, 2011). Such initiatives have tempered volatile multi-faith environments and reduced tension in potentially combustible environments where poor interfaith interaction exists among populations.

The key objective of interfaith dialogue is to emphasis the similarities inherent in the religious doctrines of the various belief systems. Practically, most of the major world religions basically preach the same central doctrine – peaceful living among men/women and obedience to the commands of a superior being. They emphasize holy living and charity to all living beings through accounts of prophets and emissaries that mediated between the men and the superior beings of their religious books and literature. However, contradictions come into religious teachings as a result of the activities of religious leaders and entrepreneurs who decide for followers the extent to which they must attach dogmas to their religious beliefs and insist on their readiness to make supreme sacrifices in pursuit of such religious beliefs based on instructions they received from their superior being. These contradictions amount to teachings which are often diversions from the original tenets. Such teachings often breed fundamentalism, extremism, eventually antagonism and violence against the adherents of other religions. As a result, mediation is essential.

Mediation is a critical word when it comes into the activities of interfaith organizations. In the classic sense, mediation involves intervention of a third party in bringing together two opposites for mutual interaction in order to facilitate better understanding of each other’s position and to jointly chart the way for co-existence in an environment of mutual understanding and respect. The success of this effort is, however, predicated on a number of principles which the mediator must adhere to in order to gain the confidence of the parties he is trying to mediate. Neutrality and sincerity are critical factors in the mediation process. Both parties must have a strong confidence in the intention of the mediator to assist them to arrive at a peaceful resolution of their problems for their own good and not for some selfish ulterior purpose of the mediator. This factor often determines the extent that conflicting parties would be ready to open up and express their feelings about the kind of interactions they are expected to establish with the opposite parties. This explains why successful interfaith mediation is usually conducted by individuals who often do not have any emotional attachment to any of the groups involved in mediation. They never attempt to encourage conversion of the groups to the other faith, but, rather emphasize the common factors among the groups and the need for them to understand the right of the other groups to co-exist. In order to achieve this end, educating the parties must be the first assignment emphasized by mediators at the initial stage of any interfaith mediation process.

The most important objective of interfaith mediation is for peacebuilding purposes. The classic explanation of peacebuilding as offered by International Alert (1995), is “the employment of measures to consolidate peaceful relations and deter the emergence or escalation of tensions, which may lead to conflict.” The concept also refers to post-hostility actions taken to forestall future eruptions by strengthening structures capable of consolidating a settlement already achieved. It involves establishing structures, programs, economic and social initiatives which could help in restoring stability and enhance reconstruction in an already devastated environment, or in restoring a broken relationship. Thus, peacebuilding can occur in two stages, pre-conflict peacebuilding and post-conflict peacebuilding. Pre-conflict peacebuilding are efforts and initiatives that are utilized to ensure that an anticipated conflict does not manifest and bloom. It involves discovering and pre-empting a potential conflict either through an early warning system or through some other mechanisms, and ensuring that such conflict does not manifest or when it does, it does not escalate into violence. Therefore, all mediation efforts at this stage are geared towards reconciliation of differences among opposing parties and establishing mutual understanding of the positions of each other to prevent further degeneration of their relationships. Post-conflict peacebuilding involves efforts geared at restoring broken and already devastated relationship as a result of violence or physical actions among opposing parties. This involves confidence building to ensure that conflict parties will be willing to come together to rebuild their relationship and continue on the path of peace. More efforts are required at this stage because of the wounds parties have already inflicted upon themselves as a result of conflicts among them and genuine peacebuilding might require more time and resources to occur.

Interfaith mediation peacebuilding in Nigeria takes place both at the pre-conflict stage and at the post-conflict stage, in different locations, and communities. Even though post-conflict peacebuilding initiatives were the initial dominant feature of interfaith activities, many communities, especially those hosting the adherents of the two dominant religions, have embraced pre-conflict interfaith activities because of the experiences of other communities that have witnessed religious violence. In essence, preventative peacebuilding is seen to be more useful than remedial peacebuilding; the former is encouraged by the Nigerian government. The people of the western part of Nigeria seem to have perfected the art of balancing the interests of the adherents of the two dominant religions in community affairs to the extent that even when equal representation of interests are not possible, communities ensure that adequate recognitions are accorded to the interests of the rival religions in such affairs.

Activities of Interfaith Mediation Bodies in Nigeria

Inter-faith mediation organizations emerged in Nigeria as part of measures to manage and reduce the wave of religious violence in the country. According to Omotosho (2013), the aim of interfaith mediation, dialogue, and co-operation is to “create harmony (not unity) among religious and spiritual communities, with the goal of creating a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.” Since religious matters are often value-laden, emotional and very often non-negotiable, the unity of the dominant religions is neither realistic, nor desirable. Therefore, the focus of most of the interfaith bodies in Nigeria is on how to facilitate understanding and maintain peaceful co-existence among the adherents of the various faiths in the country. There are basically some variants of such bodies: those that were inspired and sustained by the government, those that have emerged as a result of the initiatives of the civil society and citizens who felt concerned enough to engage in mediation and advocacy work to reduce religious conflicts among the civil population. Such civil society bodies are sustained by the local resources they mobilize from communities within which they work and from local and international funding agencies. However, the most inspiring factor among such bodies is the experiences of loss among individuals who established such organizations after the violence, resulting from various religious conflicts. Some of them lost family members, friends and/or neighbours during past religious violence, while others were rendered incapable due to loss of a limb or some bodily function. Such losses have led them to say “never again” would they allow such incidents to continue to happen in their society.

A typical example of such bodies is the Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC) established by Imam Muhammed Ashafa, a Muslim cleric, and Pastor James Wuye, a Pentecostal Christian Pastor. The establishment of the organization was inspired by their losses – Ashafa lost members of his very close family and Wuye lost his right arm during the violent religious conflict in Kaduna state in 1995. The mission of their organization is to “create a peaceful society in Nigeria and beyond through non violence and strategic engagement” (IMC Pamphlet). Other organizations that belong to the league of civil society-initiated interfaith bodies include Interfaith Action for Peace (IFAP), Conference of Religious Educators and Leaders (COREL), International Peace League (IPL), Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), Women’s Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (WOWICAN).

Among its major achievements, the IMC has facilitated peace agreements among key religious leaders in volatile locations in northern Nigeria. Such agreements include the Kaduna Peace Declaration signed by Christian and Muslim leaders after the Sharia crisis, and the Miss World riot which took place in 2002, in addition to the Yelwan/Shendam peace affirmation signed in Plateau state after the 2005 religious riots, among others. The organization constantly organizes workshops and conferences to facilitate dialogue among the people of different faiths across Nigeria and has even extended its operations to Kenya to assist in dousing the violence that followed the 2007 disputed elections. The IMC and other interfaith organizations also provide counselling and resettlement services to people who have been affected by religious violence. They have established projects to rehabilitate ex-combatants and militia men and boys who have participated in religious violence. They run programs in resettlement camps to educate and re-program such individuals who have experienced trauma to interact with those who have had similar combat experiences from believers of a different faith, and they proceed to facilitate dialogue among them. The organizations employ professional counsellors who direct the attention of participants in these camps to the similarities found in the major book of each faith – the Quran and the Bible, while explaining how some individuals may be exploiting their ignorance for political motives and are engendering means to enrich themselves. After such training, the interfaith bodies provide economic opportunities to participants by equipping them with skills and providing financial assistance for them to establish businesses. This effort tends to distract participants from being recruited into violent causes and turns them into peace advocates in volatile communities. Such projects are supported by funds mobilized from international funding agencies.

Interfaith organizations, including the IMC, also engage in trauma work with women who have been victims during religious violence. As usual, women and children come out worse during such violence, either by experiencing physical trauma or by losing a husband, a father and/or the heads of their family. The organizations provide rehabilitation camps, relief materials and counselling services for this category of citizens. After coming out of the traumatic experiences, the organizations assist in re-integrating women into the economic environment by providing micro funds to start businesses and machines that could assist the women in the agricultural product processing for creative activities and trading. Ultimately, some of the women who would have suddenly come to be heads of their families can now cater for their families and contribute to the economies of their communities.

In the North-eastern part of Nigeria, which is still experiencing violent attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, interfaith organizations have provided relief materials for victims of the violence. They have also embarked on media advocacies on behalf of the victims and have initiated programs to mobilize relief materials for the victims of the violence. Such efforts have, to a large extent, provided succour for families and individuals who have experienced losses in the religious violence. The presence of interfaith organizations could be noticed among relief bodies who have been working over the past two years in refugee camps established to accommodate the victims of the rampaging militants in that part of Nigeria.

The other varieties of interfaith bodies are the ones inspired and supported by the government, both at the state and at federal levels. The Nigerian Inter-religious Council (NIREC) was inspired and supported by the federal government to facilitate dialogue and understanding among the leaders of the major religions in Nigeria. The body consists of leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Jamatul Nasril Islam, the apex bodies of both the Christian and Muslim organizations respectively in Nigeria. The Sultan of Sokoto, the President of CAN and other religious leaders across Nigeria are also members of this body. The organization is co-chaired by the heads of the two most prominent religions in Nigeria. The NIREC organizes seminars, workshops, conferences and periodic meetings to address issues of peace and conflict resolutions among the various religious adherents in Nigeria. The organization which is more or less a political entity also tries to arrive at consensus on sensitive national issues, which have the potential of breeding misunderstanding among the various religions in the country. It has instituted quarterly meetings in which the representatives of all the religions are gathered together to discuss issues that could cause frictions among them. It also advises the government on steps to be taken to facilitate religious harmony across Nigeria. The equivalent of NIREC is established in some states such as Niger and Kaduna to facilitate peaceful co-existence among religious groups. Such bodies are supported by state government finances and are expected to support government efforts in ensuring peace in the states that established them.

Problems of Interfaith Mediation

In spite of the efforts of interfaith mediation organizations to engender and foster peace among various religious adherents in Nigeria, it is remarkable to note that violence, rooted in religion, still occur intermittently across Nigeria. This is an indication that the interfaith mediation system in the country is not a perfect system and it still faces a number of challenges which sometimes frustrates its efforts. In the first instance, it has been recognized that some of the religious leaders who participate in inter-religious mediations have not displayed a sincere commitment to the process in order to engender genuine reconciliation among the different religious groups. Some of them are motivated to engage in inter-religious mediation by various reasons, including the accruable pecuniary benefits. Others are more interested in the political privileges and power that interfaith mediation confers on them. As a result of this, the confidence reposed in them by their followers is quickly eroded and therefore whatever reconciliation initiated by them is not taken seriously by the followers.

Many of the religious and secular leaders who engage in mediation activities do not have the required skills and education to engage in such activities. Mediation requires some specific skills and tools that enable a mediator to conduct the process without further aggravating the prevailing conflict. Religious matters are even more sensitive to mediate especially in an environment where it has been heavily enmeshed into politics. Unfortunately, there are no formal or informal programs in place to educate leaders who engage in interfaith mediation and to equip them with requisite skills, except for personal efforts to acquire relevant training by such leaders. As a result of this lacuna, some of the interfaith mediations unwittingly aggravate existing religious frictions because mediators could not demonstrate appropriate skills such as neutrality, sincerity of purpose, educating the parties about the process and encouraging parties to freely express their minds during the mediation processes. Unfortunately, some mediators at times exhibit the very attitudes which led to the problems they were trying to solve among the conflicted parties for which they were trying to achieve reconciliation.

Another problem faced by interfaith mediation initiatives is that some of the religious groups approach the process with very fixated and rigid attitudes. Ordinarily, a mediation process should be a flexible, give-and-take event, with each party ready to offer concessions to the others while accepting concessions from others. However, some of the religious groups sometimes refuse to perceive issues from the perspectives of others, which makes bargaining difficult in the mediation process. The tendency towards extremism and fundamentalism among some religious adherents sometimes accounts for this constraint. Sometimes, the disparity in knowledge of tenets of religions among those taking part in the mediation and dialogue process, and their followers who view them with suspicion is a problem. Followers sometimes think their leaders have compromised with the other parties for peace to begin and that such possible compromise has endangered interests. This problem could be solved if interfaith mediations are supported by massive public enlightenment to educate the public, especially religious adherents, on the need to accommodate the people of other faiths so that peace and development could take place.

The activities of conflict entrepreneurs remain a major problem militating against the success of interfaith mediation initiatives. Some individuals who benefit from religious conflicts and violence tend to perceive the activities of interfaith mediation bodies as merely endangering their economic interests and would spare no effort to frustrate the process. Such “soldiers of fortune,” who profit from sales of subversive religious materials, weapons, and collect contracts for re-construction of damaged infrastructures and facilities etc., would often attempt to cause further discords among the various religious bodies by spreading false information that could disrupt dialogue processes so that the society could relapse into conflicts and disagreements from which the misfits could benefit. Such individuals also fuel the embers of fundamentalism and extremism and often lurk in corners of venues where inter-religious dialogues are taking place to incite dissidents and inject negative opinions into the process. This is a problem that many of the interfaith mediation organizations have yet to clearly understand and continue to device strategies to contend.

Poor education and widespread ignorance among the population of Nigeria, especially in areas where ethno-religious conflicts are prevalent, is a major hindrance to the success of interfaith mediation. Many of the poorly educated individuals do not clearly understand the doctrines of their faiths and they are susceptible to misinterpretation of religious doctrines by misguided leaders engaging due to ulterior motives. Even when sincere attempts are made to expose the religious adherents to the truth, their low level of education, prevents them from accepting that they had hitherto been exposed to false doctrines. This situation also is predicated on a high level of poverty among the population. Because of the poor economic situation and the prevailing bad governance at the various levels, it is easy to raise religious dissidents and extremists with financial incentives and misdirect them to engage in negative religious activities. This poses a big challenge to interfaith bodies whose efforts could easily be hindered by such activities. Since Nigeria is a vast country, it is difficult to completely monitor those who support religious extremism and the movement of fundamentalist elements throughout the country. Therefore, one cannot be too sure that religious conflicts could not break out anywhere across the country.

Inadequate or lack of resources to implement interfaith activities and peacebuilding programs is a major problem facing interfaith mediation organizations. The scale of devastation in the North-eastern part of Nigeria is currently high due to the activities of the insurgent Boko Haram. The interfaith organizations often expressed the willingness to carry out reconstruction and reconciliation projects in this part of the country, but are constrained by inadequate resources. Some of the organizations established by the civil society often find it difficult to mobilize resources among their members to engage their target groups in dialogue. Even simple means of mobility are sometimes not available to reach places where potential religious problems could occur to conduct preventive peacebuilding activities. Organizations that rely on resources from the government are equally not immune from the problems of inadequate resources. However, for these organizations, even when the resources are available to them to implement their programs, the bureaucratic hurdles, before accessing the resources, could sometimes challenge their efforts. NIREC, for example, sometimes could not implement some of its programs because the expected resources from the government were not forthcoming or came late.

Future of Interfaith Mediation and Peacebuilding

Interfaith mediation and peacebuilding activities will continue to take place in Nigeria for a long time to come because of the volatile interfaith relationship among Nigerian citizens. The spread of Islamic fundamentalism across the world and the resulting global conflict from the activities of militant Islamic extremists is bound to fuel more inter-religious conflicts in Nigeria. Even though most of the religious violence that occur are presently restricted to the northern Nigeria, other parts of the country where people of diverse religions and ethnic nationalities co-habit are also at risk of experiencing religious conflicts and violence. It is imperative, therefore, that Nigeria devise a strategy for curtailing the activities of religious fundamentalists and militants. The international community also has the responsibility of supporting the efforts of Nigerian government in this direction in order to control the proliferation of the activities of global Islamic militants.

From the present situation, it is wise to strengthen the pre-conflict peacebuilding activities of the interfaith organizations. This pre-emptive measure could mitigate the consequences of religious violence and its impact on the population of Nigeria. Nigeria is a big oil producer and exporter. The target of the religious fundamentalists is to paralyze the economy and socio-political development of the country by orchestrating religious violence, if concerted efforts are not made to prevent them. Therefore, preventive measures are needed to stem the problem of religious conflicts in the country. However, these measures should not be left to the interfaith organizations alone. The Nigerian government and international agencies need to support and strengthen the efforts of these civil society bodies to enable them to carry out these activities efficiently by equipping them with training and material support to strengthen their resource base.


AYANTAYO, J. (2010). Ethics of the Inter-religious Dialogue, in Albert, I.O. and Oloyede, I.O. Eds. Dynamics of Peace Processes. Ilorin: Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies.

CHRIS, M. (2009). Strategies for Re-building State Capacity to Manage Ethnic and Religious Conflict in Nigeria. Journal of Pan African Studies. 3 (3).

GARRED, G. AND CASTRO, D. (2011). Conflict-sensitive Expression of Faith in Mindanao: A Case Study. Journal of Peace Research. 4 (2).

INTERNATIONAL ALERT (2000). Resource Pack for Conflict Transformation. London: IA.

JOSEPH, K (2004). Interreligious Dialogue in Nigeria: Personal Reminiscences of 40 years, in Anthony Akinwale. (ed.), All That They Had to Live on: Essays in Honour of Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Msgr. John Aniagwu. Ibadan: The Michael J. Dempsey Center for Religious and Social Research.

OKAFOR, G. (1992). Development of Christianity and Islam in Modern Nigeria. Oros Verlag: Alternberge.

OMOTOSHO, O. (Eds). (2013). Religious Conflict and Contestation in Nigeria: Can Interfaith Relations Play a Role? In Albert I.O., Aluko, B. and Isola, O. The Security Sector and Conflict Management in Nigeria. Ibadan: Peace and Conflict Studies Program, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.

REYCHLER, L. (2000). Religion and Conflict, in International Journal of Peace Studies, (2) 1.

RICHARDSON, E. (2010). Sharia Criminal Court and Nigeria’s Constitution, in Review of Faith and international Affairs. [Online] Available from: http//: /extras/articles.

WESTERLUND, D. (1992). Secularism, Civil Religion or Islam: Islamic Revivalism and the National Question in Nigeria. Religion, State and Society in Contemporary Africa. Ahanotu, A. M. (ed.) New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

WILKS, C. (2010). Religious Conflict and Interfaithism, Nebula, 7 (4). [Assessed: December 2013 ]

WRIGHT, L. (2006). The Looming Tower. Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York: Vintage Books.

This paper was presented at the International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation’s 1st Annual International Conference on Ethnic and Religious Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding held in New York City, USA, on October 1, 2014. 

Title: “Inter-Faith Conflict Mediation Mechanisms and Peacebuilding in Nigeria”

Presenter: Olusola O. Isola, Ph.D., Peace and Conflict Studies Program, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

Moderator: Elayne E. Greenberg, Ph.D., Professor of Legal Practice, Assistant Dean of Dispute Resolution Programs, and Director, Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution, St. John’s University School of Law, New York.


Related Articles

Religions in Igboland: Diversification, Relevance and Belonging

Religion is one of the socioeconomic phenomena with undeniable impacts on humanity anywhere in the world. As sacrosanct as it seems, religion is not only important to the understanding of the existence of any indigenous population but also has policy relevance in the interethnic and developmental contexts. Historical and ethnographic evidence on different manifestations and nomenclatures of the phenomenon of religion abound. The Igbo nation in Southern Nigeria, on both sides of the Niger River, is one of the largest black entrepreneurial cultural groups in Africa, with unmistakable religious fervour that implicates sustainable development and interethnic interactions within its traditional borders. But the religious landscape of Igboland is constantly changing. Until 1840, the dominant religion(s) of the Igbo was indigenous or traditional. Less than two decades later, when Christian missionary activity commenced in the area, a new force was unleashed that would eventually reconfigure the indigenous religious landscape of the area. Christianity grew to dwarf the dominance of the latter. Before the centenary of Christianity in Igboland, Islam and other less hegemonic faiths arose to compete against indigenous Igbo religions and Christianity. This paper tracks the religious diversification and its functional relevance to harmonious development in Igboland. It draws its data from published works, interviews, and artefacts. It argues that as new religions emerge, the Igbo religious landscape will continue to diversify and/or adapt, either for inclusivity or exclusivity among the existing and emerging religions, for the survival of the Igbo.


Conversion to Islam and Ethnic Nationalism in Malaysia

This paper is a segment of a larger research project that focuses on the rise of ethnic Malay nationalism and supremacy in Malaysia. While the rise of ethnic Malay nationalism can be attributed to various factors, this paper specifically focuses on the Islamic conversion law in Malaysia and whether or not it has reinforced the sentiment of ethnic Malay supremacy. Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country which gained its independence in 1957 from the British. The Malays being the largest ethnic group have always regarded the religion of Islam as part and parcel of their identity which separates them from other ethnic groups that were brought into the country during British colonial rule. While Islam is the official religion, the Constitution allows other religions to be practiced peacefully by non-Malay Malaysians, namely the ethnic Chinese and Indians. However, the Islamic law that governs Muslim marriages in Malaysia has mandated that non-Muslims must convert to Islam should they wish to marry Muslims. In this paper, I argue that the Islamic conversion law has been used as a tool to strengthen the sentiment of ethnic Malay nationalism in Malaysia. Preliminary data were collected based on interviews with Malay Muslims who are married to non-Malays. The results have shown that majority of Malay interviewees consider conversion to Islam as imperative as required by the Islamic religion and the state law. In addition, they also see no reason why non-Malays would object to converting to Islam, as upon marriage, the children will automatically be considered Malays as per the Constitution, which also comes with status and privileges. Views of non-Malays who have converted to Islam were based on secondary interviews that have been conducted by other scholars. As being a Muslim is associated with being a Malay, many non-Malays that converted feel robbed of their sense of religious and ethnic identity, and feel pressured to embrace the ethnic Malay culture. While changing the conversion law might be difficult, open interfaith dialogues in schools and in public sectors might be the first step to tackle this problem.