The Sectarian Conflict in Nigeria


by Sr. Mary Rose-Claret Ogbuehi, IHM, March 2019


The conflict in Nigeria arises from the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria by the British colonialists who failed to take into consideration disparities in religion, mindset and culture. The northerners are predominantly Muslims, while the southerners are largely Christians. The Muslim north considers the southerners infidels who can be eliminated. Colonial Britain handed over power to the northerners who see themselves as ‘born to rule’. Despite Nigeria being constitutionally a secular state, in practice in utter disregard of Section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution, the predominantly Muslim leaders run the country as an Islamic state. Ibrahim Babangida made Nigeria a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1986. The protest from Christians in this regard was ignored. 


Religious fanaticism is one of the principal causes of sectarian conflict in Nigeria. Nigeria is made up of 250 ethnic groups with over 200 languages. The freedom of worship, which implies freedom to be a Christian or a Muslim is usually infringed upon. Christians are not given the freedom to practice their Christian faith in the north. This has led to the burning of some churches. Whatever crisis there is in the northern states always leads to the massacre of Christians and the perpetrators usually go unpunished. In Kano, a pastor’s wife was lynched to death in 2016 and the five suspected perpetrators of this heinous crime have not been prosecuted. Any attack on the Prophet Mohammed in any part of the world usually leads to the massacre of Christians in Nigeria.  The caricature of Mohammed made by a Danish cartoonist in 2006 claimed the lives of 16 Christians in Nigeria. Our leaders appear to always look the other way. To date no one has been prosecuted for this crime. 


The Fulani herdsmen are a nomadic ethnic group living in the central regions of Nigeria. The Fulani are Muslims currently being used by the government to prosecute jihad against Christians. They move about with sophisticated assault rifles and grenade launchers and attack indigenous tribes and locals, who are mainly Christians, in their farms.  The atrocities perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen include destruction of houses and churches, raping of women and killing of children as well as the seizure of land and properties belonging to Christian owners. The most affected places include Southern Kaduna, whose residents are predominantly Christian,  and the Middle Belt.  In Benue State in April 2018, Fulani herdsmen attacked a Catholic church at 5.30am during holy mass. They killed two priests and 19 worshippers. The perpetrators are yet to be brought to book. Consequently, many people in these communities have fled their homes and the herdsmen have taken over their land, giving rise to internally displaced people living in various camps scattered all over the state. In the federal capital Abuja, a Redeemed church female evangelist was murdered in broad daylight by Islamic fundamentalists for preaching Jesus Christ. The killers were bold enough to say that preaching in the name of Jesus is forbidden in Abuja.


Culturally, the northerners do not believe in Western education. A majority of their youths neither attend school let alone higher education and turn into radicalized Muslims feeding the Boko Haram sect. The southerners embraced the education brought by the missionaries to the country. They believe in the power of education and what can be achieved through education. This explains the difference in mentality and the difference in development between the two regions.


Nepotism is one of the problems that cause division in Nigeria. The present government under Muhammadu Buhari has brought in division and hatred in Nigeria, as has never been witnessed before. In Nigeria, there exists the ‘Federal character’ policy, making it mandatory that there is even distribution in the appointment of service chiefs. Under Buhari, Nigeria is suddenly governed by Islamic heads of almost all Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as the following list (accurate as of March 2019) shows:


President - Muslim

Senate President - Muslim

Chief Justice of Nigeria - Muslim

Minister of Defense - Muslim

Minister of Interior - Muslim

Minister of Justice - Muslim

Minister of Information - Muslim

Minister of Works, Power and Housing- Muslim

Minister of Aviation - Muslim

Minister of Communications - Muslim

Minister of Education - Muslim

Minister of Water Resources - Muslim

Minister of Environment - Muslim

Minister of FCT- Muslim

President of Court of Appeal - Muslim

Chief Judge of the Federal High Court - Muslim

Chief Judge of FCT High Court - Muslim

Chairman of NJC - Muslim

Secretary of NJC- Muslim

Chief Registrar of Supreme Court - Muslim

Chief Registrar of Court of Appeal - Muslim

D.G legal Aid Council - Muslim

Chief of Staff to President - Muslim

Principal Secretary to President - Muslim

Clerk of National Assembly - Muslim

National Security Adviser - Muslim

Chief of Army Staff - Muslim

Chief of Air Staff - Muslim

Inspector General of Police - Muslim

Commandant General, Civil Defense Corps - Muslim

Comptroller General of Nigerian Immigration Service - Muslim

Comptroller General of Nigerian Prison - Muslim

Director General, DSS - Muslim

Director General, NIA - Muslim

Chairman EFCC - Muslim

Chairman Board of FRSC- Muslim

Director/ CEO- NFIU - Muslim

Chairman of INEC - Muslim

GMD NNPC - Muslim

MD/ CEO-NPA - Muslim 


The list speaks for itself. 

Buhari negotiated with Boko Haram to release all Muslim girls it kidnapped from a school in Yobe State in February 2018, except Leah Sharibu, the only Christian girl. 


The amalgamation of Nigeria, religious fanaticism, Fulani herdsmen and nepotism are among the main causes of conflict in Nigeria. These conflicts, I believe, could be solved by the following recommendations.

  •       Being a multi-religious, multi-cultural country and quite a large country, Nigeria could be divided along the lines of the three main ethnic groups of Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. The northern states could retain the name Nigeria, the eastern part would become the Independent State of Biafra while the western part would be known as Oduduwa Nation.
  •       A disinterested enthronement of the rule of law that gives primacy to the constitution. This will make it impossible to declare sharia law as has occurred in some northern states.
  •       An independence of the law enforcement agencies making it impossible for them to be manipulated by the executive arm of the government.
  •       An inclusive government based on competence irrespective of religion and ethnicity.



Sr. Mary Rose-Claret Ogbuehi belongs to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ Nigeria. She is employed by the Department of Foreign Languages and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka. She is currently a Research Fellow at Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn, Germany. As an academic, Rose-Claret is interested in gender studies and empowerment of women through education.