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A Dangerous Awakening

Iheanyi M. Enwerem


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1No student of modern Nigeria can be oblivious of the ascendancy of religion in the country's political terrain over the last two decades as the two dominant religions — Islam and Christianity — struggle for power in the country. No longer do many Nigerians look at government policies, actions, and the motives behind them from the purview of ethnicity as they used to in the not so distant past. Now, these are largely seen through the lens of religion. This book, a revised version of my doctoral dissertation, is written in the light of this development.

  • 1 . Here we refer to scholars like E.C Amucheazi, Church and Politics in Eastern Nigeria, 1945-1966: (...)
  • 2 . See Y. Turaki, The institutionalization of the inferior status and socio-political role of the no (...)

2Not since the early 1980s has so much serious attention been given by social scientists, to the role of religion, and the politicization of religion, in contemporary Nigerian politics.1 But most of these studies, with the exception of Amucheazi, Usman, and Laitin, have concentrated on Islam. Besides, they either subsumed religion into ethnic politics or tried to demonstrate that religion was apolitical. While it is true that the border between religion and ethnic politics in Nigeria is thin, and that religion is political, the specific and concrete form the relationship between religion and politics took has received minimal attention. The works which attempted to correct this shortcoming said little or nothing about the religious organizations which have given clear evidence of the politicization of religion in Nigeria.2

  • 3 . See B.P. Tanko, The Christian Association of Nigeria and the Challenge of the Ecumenical Imperati (...)

3The exception to the preceding observation is Tanko's work3, although it was more theological than political. Its declared objective was to use the Christian Association of Nigeria to show the absolute imperative for the theological principles of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue among Christians in the face of a common enemy, Islam, in Nigeria. Even if we grant the need for ecumenism, Tanko failed to link this to the more important imperative of a dialogue among all religions in Nigeria towards a new social order.

4This study examines the causes and consequences of the pervasive politicization of religion in modern Nigerian politics. It uses, as its case study, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which not only emerged in 1976 as the political umbrella in the service of a diverse group of Christian churches, but also grew to become a thorn in the flesh of successive Nigerian governments, including the military regimes. Finally, we hope to go beyond the prevalent religiosity in the country and suggest a possible avenue to retrieve the emancipatory potential of religion from its current exploitation and to demonstrate how it can be directed towards creating a new social order in Nigeria.

5This book is intended primarily for the general reader of Nigerian contemporary politics. Although it is neither a study of Islamic nor Christian religious values per se, we have not lost sight of how these impinged and were impinged upon by politics; and we have tried to present enough of the basic account of events to make the whole intelligible to those without any previous knowledge of how religion has acquired a central position in Nigeria's contemporary political terrain. At the same time, it is hoped that the book will provide useful evidence that may interest, and perhaps provoke, those struggling for an egalitarian society in Nigeria to pay closer attention to, rather than dismiss, the potential which religion has for mass appeal and for the mobilization of energies.

6It is with pleasure that I acknowledge my debt to those who, at various levels, have assisted me in the preparation of this book. Notably here are people like Professor Paul E. Lovejoy who directed my doctoral thesis, which advanced my interest in writing this book; Dr. Akamu Adebayo and Professor John Priestely whose proofreading of the original text and whose corrections minimized its shortcomings; to Bishop John Onaiyekan, and to Rev. Fr. (Dr.) Matthew Kukah, both of whom gave me unlimited access to their academic resources. I am indebted also to several government and non government institutions in Nigeria like Arewa House, Kaduna; the National Libraries and Archives in Kaduna, Ibadan and Lagos; and the secretariats of the Christian Association of Nigeria in both Kaduna and Lagos. Furthermore, I would like to thank several benefactors each of whose support, either in kind or in cash, saw me through the writing of this book. Of special note here are the following: Bob and Joan Smith, Dr. Norm and Helen Kelly, Fr. Ed. Jackman, Professor Maureen Muldoon, the Richards (Joe, Bev and Karen), Archbishop Peter Jatau, Rev. Fr. Vincent Uwazie, Mr. C. O. Williams, my sister, Josephine, and her husband, Callistus Uwakwe. Finally, my most heartfelt thanks go to my parents, Bridget and (the late) Daniel Enwerem, who endured personal sacrifices and discomfort to give me a Western education, and to the members of my religious community — the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) — in Nigeria.

Figure 1. Administrative Map of Nigeria


1 . Here we refer to scholars like E.C Amucheazi, Church and Politics in Eastern Nigeria, 1945-1966: A study in pressure group politics (Lagos: Macmillan, 1986); J. Ibrahim, The politics of religion in Nigeria: The parameters of the 1987 crisis in Kaduna State (Mimeo, 1987); R. Ibrahim, Northern elders meet: The politics of religion?, West Africa (July 20, 1987); Y.B. Usman, The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria, 1977-1987 (Kaduna: Vanguard Printers, 1987); D.D. Laitin, Hegemony and Culture: Politics and religious change among the Yoruba (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989); P.M. Lubeck, Islamic protest under semi-industrial capitalism: ‘Yan Tatsine Explained’, African Affairs 55/4, 1985; and idem., Islam and Urban Labour in Northern Nigeria: The making of a Muslim working class (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

2 . See Y. Turaki, The institutionalization of the inferior status and socio-political role of the non-Muslim groups in the colonial hierarchical structure of the Northern Region of Nigeria: A socio-ethical analysis of the colonial legacy (Ph.D. thesis, Boston University Graduate School, Boston, USA, 1982); M.H. Kukah, Religion and politics in Northern Nigeria since independence (Ph.D. thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1989); M. Chukwuma, Nigerian Politics and the Role of Religion: An analysis of national integration (Bonn: RheinischerFriedrich-Wilhelm University, 1985).

3 . See B.P. Tanko, The Christian Association of Nigeria and the Challenge of the Ecumenical Imperative (Rome: Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1991).

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Leyenda Figure 1. Administrative Map of Nigeria
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© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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