Nigeria's plurality is an old tale mostly recounted to highlight the consequences that have come with it. Nextier SPD has recently published an article that proposes using traditional institutions to aggregate the interests and agitations of the mosaic of groups that make up the nation. This article will dwell on the religious diversity of the country and how it often exacerbates conflict. Nigeria is a secular country with three dominant religions: Islam (50%), Christianity (40%) and Traditional African religion (10%). Despite Nigeria's documented secularity, religious conflict is prominent in the discussion of challenges facing the country. Therefore, it is essential to ask why has Nigeria's proclaimed religious secularity not curbed its recurrent religious conflict. A study conducted in Spain gives insights into this question. The study found that societies split along religious fragmentations are prone to intense and prolonged conflict than those divided by political, territorial and ethnic differences.
Religious conflict in Nigeria is one that has paradoxically defied religion as an instrument for social harmony in many civilisations. Sampson (2012) pinpoints that, state patronage and veneration of the two dominant religious groups in the country have helped in heightening underlying tensions and rivalry. The proclivity of politicians to campaign and mobilise supporters on religious basis in no small measure exacerbates the nation’s polarity. These conditions have also helped to enable religious intolerance and social distrust. As national integration is grossly hampered by religious intolerance and conflict, the state responses in addressing them are insufficient. Therefore, government must map out a systematic approach to address the issue of religious intolerance in Nigeria. According to Oxford Research Group, the lack of systematic engagement of religious agencies in peace processes and the instrumentalisation of such agencies in a symbolic way reduces the capacity of religious peacemakers within their communities. National integration, peace processes and conflict resolution strategies should involve key religious stakeholders and institutions. It is ideal for identifiable actors to peace and national integration to be involved in the cultivation of social harmony and durable peace.
Moreover, identity in Nigeria is often weaponised as an instrument for pushing group agenda and interests. Wonah (2017) affirms that it is more glaring that a group tends to assert its identity when in most cases there is an oppressive mechanism usually in the form of political structure designed to oppress, subjugate, exploit, and relegate it to the background. Perceived oppression and marginalisation of one group (religious) by another fuels distrust and tension that can lead to religious conflict. To solve this, the Nigerian state must, first, take into consideration all the numerous identity groups in resource allocation. Second, ensure that there are no structural enablers of social disequilibrium.
Undeniably, distrust and disharmony may be unavoidable between and among diverse identity groups that exist within the Nigerian space. However, state policies and programmes may directly or indirectly widen the gap that exists within these groups. Also, at the detriment of national integration, key religious stakeholders often hijack group influence in pursuit of private gains. The Nigerian state must charge religious institutions to become champions of national integration through the social capital they enjoy from their platforms. Civil society groups and faith-based organisations have a role to play in holding religious institutions accountable. Religion has proven to be a two-pronged fork that can be used to either cultivate social harmony or incite violent tensions. Nigeria needs to explore religion more systematically rather than ceremonious in pushing the national integration agenda.