Ethnic and Religious Conflicts in Kaduna and Plateau States: Implications for Development in Nigeria


The research problem of this study is “Ethnic and religious conflicts in Kaduna and Plateau States and their Implications for the Socioeconomic and political development of Nigeria”. The incessant ethnic and religious conflicts have become a major problem confronting the two states and the nation. The conflicts have resulted in the death of many Nigerians and the loss of property worth billions of naira. This has led to disappointment by well-meaning people within and outside Nigeria. The researcher, therefore, researched the root and remote causes of these conflicts. That was done through the historical method. Data was obtained from primary sources through oral interviews as they relate to the research topic. The study used six randomly selected local governments in Kaduna State and six Local Government Areas in Plateau State. Secondary sources like the Library and Archives were consulted for data. The Internet was equally a great source of information for the study. Findings reveal that the root and remote courses of the ethno-religious conflicts are tied to the Sharia law, intolerance, indigene/settler syndrome, unemployment, poverty, unguided utterances of Religious and Political Leaders, lack of proper education, and absence of good governance among others. The conflicts, by implication, have resulted in the irreparable loss of human and material resources that could have been useful for the nation’s social and economic developmental purposes. The conflicts have also seriously affected the nation’s political system, affecting democratic values and norms. By way of conclusion, the researcher hoped that sincere governmental schemes and efforts be established to achieve social, economic and political distributive justice for all people in the country. With that, the incessant conflicts shall be controlled.



1.1 Background of the study

Ethnic consciousness is the loyalty or attachment to an ethnic group as a social, political and economic entity or a cultural community. Whichever way we look at it, ethnic consciousness is based on the distinctiveness of one’s group as opposed to other groups.
Ethnic consciousness is not detrimental to national integration in a nation-state. It can be argued that every individual needs this form of consciousness for his or her own identity. The fact that one is Ibo, Yoruba, Kataf, Hausa, Idoma, Fulani, English, etc., is a basic fact of identity. However, Ethnic consciousness can be easily exploited by competing elites or politicians for other purposes. That is why Elaigwu (2004:3) observed that:
When highly educated Nigerians like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president, go back to his village to take a traditional chieftaincy title, he is responding to a decolonizing aspect of modernization as he seeks identification with his base of identity, Onitsha. The new awareness of his cultural obligations and rights among his own group only demonstrates ethnic consciousness.

On the other hand, ethnic consciousness can be transformed into a weapon of offence or defence in a competitive process in relation to other groups over desired scarce resources.

This could lead to the mobilization of ethnic bedfellows in order to maximize gains at the expense of the other competing group(s). Ethnicity could create problems of integration, especially in a multinational state. Ethnicity, like religion, is an issue of primordial identity and could easily be subjected to mobilization by actors for group causes.

Religion, on the other hand, is a very emotive issue. It is a matter of primordial identity and means different things to different people. In some societies, it has taken ideological coloration to the extent that it provides a guide for faith, action and evaluation in private and public life; in others, it guides only private life. Bunnet (2009:5), opine that:
Religion for Nigerian people is a set of beliefs and practices based on faith, which is sacred and defies rational scrutiny. Therefore, it can quite easily trigger off emotional reactions. Religion also makes the world more predictable, the vicissitudes of life more tolerable, and its complexities more understandable. It provides psychological relief and inspiration for the individual. At the social level, it provides a medium for fellowship and mutual support.

Conflicts are unavoidable aspects of human interaction. They arise from the pursuit of divergent interests, goals and aspirations by individuals or groups. Changes in the socio–political environment provide fertile grounds for conflicts involving individuals and groups probably interested in using these conflicts to achieve their selfish goals. Therefore, the negative exploitation of ethnicity and religion results into ethno–religious conflicts. These often arise out of mistrust, hostility, and polarization of relations among groups and sometimes in a competitive setting. According to Elaigwu (2004:4), all conflicts regiment primordial identities of a group in a competitive relationship with other groups are regarded as ethno–religious conflicts. The history of conflicts in the Northern part of Nigeria clearly illustrates the above point. This is because the Kafanchan conflict of March 1987, as an example, started as a religious conflict but ended up as an ethnic conflict. The 1991 market fight between individuals in Tafawa Balewa took on religious coloring, spreading as far as Bauchi town. Similarly, the 2001 Jos fight that started as an ethnic conflict ended up as a religious conflict. The North has had a large share of ethnoreligious brands of conflicts, especially since the Maitatsine conflict of 1980.

Religious experiences are one of the most important experiences of mankind the world over, and every religion claims, among other things, to be an agent of peace. Such claims seem to be true to some extent. That is why Asaju (1988:128) asserted that “although, religious experiences differ, but one fact is that all people are affiliated to one Supreme Being, that is God who is worship under different names among different tribes of the world”. It is on these bases that the Nigerian constitution recognizes three religions. These are Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religions. The practice of the African Traditional Religion in Nigeria before the advent of Christianity and Islam was peaceful and accommodating because there was no external influence or unhealthy rivalry among the Traditional Religious Cults. That is why Islam came into Nigeria in the later part of the 14th century, and Christianity, which finally settled in Nigeria in the middle of the 18th century, were accommodated by the traditional religion. The toleration exhibited by the Nigerian indigenous religion was not in any way reciprocated by Islam and Christianity.

The advent of the two religions made the indigenous religion begin to recede into the background. As a result, most people (Nigerians) identify themselves as either Christians or Muslims. Furthermore, Kukah and Achebe, cited in Achunike (2007:3), observed that “both Christianity and Islam today straddle across the Nigerian polity without apologies and are aggressively proselytized”. This has led to a serious rivalry between Christians and Muslims. That is why Ahmadu in Achunike (2007:3) also stated:

The presence of oriental religions in Nigeria thrust a discordant note into the serene religious atmosphere. Throughout their developments, Islam and Christianity have existed in mutual hostility. Though emerging from the same roots with almost identical literature and tenets, their strides for proselytization have often been marked by violence and intolerance.

Some writers have also observed that religion has become an inextricable reality of Nigerian society (Christianity, Islam or the African Traditional Religion), which is supposed to encourage peaceful coexistence, unity, morality and a sanitized society, but has failed to achieve that. Rather, religion has become the same vehicle for the transportation of envy, strife and resultant physical conflicts between and among relations and societal neighbours. Religion, the expected unifying force of Nigerian society, is now used to tear it apart.

Therefore, as rightly observed above, the increasing rate of ethno–religious conflicts in Nigeria in recent years shows that the adherents of the two major religions (Christianity and Islam) are not on good terms. Nigeria has witnessed several ethno–religious conflicts. These sad developments made Ozigbo (1993:52) remark that:

The inability of the federal, state and local government authorities to play fair and neutral roles in religious matters and in the provision of basic life necessities tends to exacerbate ethno– religious rivalry and politics, leading to conflicts in the country.

These are witnessed during the last three decades (1980–2010), where several ethno–religious conflicts in Nigeria have negatively affected the country’s socio– economic and political growth. Some of these conflicts include:

– the 1980–1982 Maitatsine religious conflict in Kano;

– the 1987 Kafanchan ethno–religious conflict;

– the 1992 Zangon Kataf ethno–religious crises;

– the 1998–2000 conflict in Okitipupa area of Ondo state;

– the 1999 conflict between the Hausas and the Yorubas in Shagamu; – the 1999–2000 conflict in Kano;

– the 1999–2002 Wukari, Takum, Taraba/Benue States’ conflicts; – the 2000 Aguleri and Umuleri Inter-communal conflict in Anambra state;

– the 2000–2001 conflict in Burutu Local Government of Delta state;

– the 2000–2001 Modakeke conflict in Osun state;

– the 2005 Jos Yelwa Shandam ethno–religious conflicts;

– the 2008–2011 ethno–religious and political conflicts in Jos Plateau and Bauchi States.

As a result, serious threats are posed to the country’s political, social and economic activities. These we have witnessed in the number of lives lost and property worth millions of Naira often destroyed at will during such violent conflicts.

Therefore, ethnoreligious conflicts have become one of the major problems affecting Nigeria’s social, economic and political development in recent years. These conflicts tend to undermine the sacredness of man’s relationship with God, which calls for the love of one another irrespective of men’s differences in religious beliefs or affiliation.

Culturally, Nigeria is a heterogeneous society. So, during the precolonial era, there were three major distinct autonomous cultural groups in the country (the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) and each group with its own religiopolitical dispositions. However, Nigeria’s two major religions, Christianity and Islam, favour monotheism. As a result, during the colonial period and due to the embargo placed on missionary enterprise in the northern emirates for about half of their entire stay, there was no religious provocation between Christianity and Islam.

However, soon after independence, with an understanding that guaranteed freedom of association and conscience, the stage was ripe for greater interaction between Christians and Muslims. Again, not only was religion dragged into the nation’s political sphere, but the struggle for pre-eminence ushered in the unfortunate experience of the two major religions (Christianity and Islam) struggling to be at the center of their groups’ interests. Kukah (1993:10), viewing the situation as an unfortunate one, described it thus: “both religions are straddled across the Nigerian polity, each no longer knocking and pleading to be admitted, but seeking to take over the architectural design and construction of the Nigerian polity”. Continuing, Kukah (1993:12) further observed that:

In Northern Nigeria, the ruling class made no efforts towards conning to the south to achieve power, mainly because it has always seen itself as having the required numerical advantage to hold on to power as the means of political participation.

This development has plunged the country into a serious ethno– religious divide and conflicts between Christians and Muslims.

Ethno–religious and other forms of sectarian struggles and conflicts are on the rise recently in Nigeria. The return of democracy with accompanying respect for fundamental human rights seemed to have unleashed all the tensions accumulated over the years. Of recent, deepest attachments have tended to shift more in favour of ethnic–based tendencies as ethnicity and religiocentrism occupy more space in the social and political landscape of Nigerian society. This trend has been intensified and made more complicated by unpopular policies and bad governance in the past and even at this present time.

The two states, Kaduna and Plateau, are located in the highlands of Central Nigeria. They belong to the Central States of Nigeria, otherwise called the “Middle Belt”, a geo-political term with a lot of ethno-religious connotations comprising the states of Bauchi, Benue, Kaduna, Nassarawa, Plateau and Taraba. These states have unique characteristics vis-à-vis other states in the federation. A special report by the National Orientation Agency (NOA, 2002) identifies these features in the zone to include:

(1) Home to over 50% of ethnic groups in Nigeria; although no ethnic groups share 100% of its culture with other groups;

(2) Christianity, Islam and Traditional African Religion all command considerable influence on the lives of the people.

(3) Apart from the rich mineral resources, the zone is also endowed with massive land and grazing activities, explaining the massive influx of people from other areas to this zone;

(4) In terms of development, the zone is one of the least developed in spite of the location of the federal capital close to the zone;

(5) The zone has a very large pool of ex-servicemen, some of who are not gainfully employed;

(6) The people of this zone are known to be hospitable, accommodating and peaceful. It is indeed worrisome that such a people could suddenly be engaged in frequent violent clashes (National Orientation Agency, 2002).

However, Kaduna and Plateau states are particularly viewed as rainbows of vibrant diversity and mini Nigeria with about 47–52 ethnic groups in each Muslim and Christian population. It should also be noted that Kaduna and Jos Plateau, as the capitals of the two states, have always played host to a variety of interests from both the North and even beyond who always, rightly or wrongly, believe that the two states are places from which messages of whatever hue and cry could be effectively conveyed to the entire country. The convergence of these factors in the two states no doubt has contributed to the development of the states but has also put a lot of strain on the systems as it has now and then been found handy by some mischievous and misguided elements among Christians and Muslims who exploit them for the attainment of their selfish and often nefarious objectives. Such individuals and groups often pretend to be pursuing public or communal interests.
The two states, however, do not have the monopoly of being the flashpoint or theatre of ethno–religious tensions and conflicts. Elsewhere in Nigeria and throughout the world, contemporary events and political processes provide ample evidence that even developed societies are not free from the deadly explosions and violent confrontations along ethnic, religious, regional, economic, cultural and other divisions.

What makes the difference from one area to the other is the question of the degree of the conflicts and, perhaps more importantly, the efforts being made to address the basis of the problems related to the conflicts. Whereas in some places, mechanisms have been put in place to tackle the problems, in others, nothing is being correctly done, leaving the problems to find concrete expressions in the most violent form.

A plurality of ethnic and religious groups, ideally, should not be a problem. Diversity and pluralism are known to be the basis of cosmopolitan and complex societies and other cultures. However, the mismanagement of these factors by controllers of political power often breeds sectarian and other conflicts. Therefore, the multi ethno–religious nature of the society is not the problem. Problems manifest in various forms only when ethnicity and religion are made to narrow people’s participation in political, economic, and social spheres that problems manifest in various forms.

The two states under discussion (Kaduna and Plateau) geopolitical areas have sometimes occupied positions of volatility in the history of ethno– religious tensions and conflicts in Nigeria, with eruptions from the states having great consequences nationwide. The states have experienced varieties of conflicts – Sometimes subtle and at other times violent – mostly expressed in ethno–religious forms. Bad leadership at both macro and micro levels has also played a major part in the escalation of ethno–religious conflicts, particularly when adequate mechanisms to reduce their occurrence are not employed. The central issues revolve around people, social equality, citizen’s rights and participatory democracy.

The negative effect of these conflicts is that government, private individuals, and groups have spent a huge amount of money on rebuilding the destruction caused by ethno–religious conflicts in the country. The amount of money spent on Kaduna and Jos Plateau states alone would be enough to move Nigeria to another level of socio–economic and political development. What is very much disturbing is the irreparable lives of Nigerians lost during such conflicts.

1.2 Statement of the problem

Ethnic and religious conflicts have seriously and negatively affected Nigeria’s socio-economic and political development. This has negative effects on the country’s national security, stability and integration. The manipulation of religion and ethnicity has been a major obstacle to the country’s efforts towards attaining greater height and as a force to be reckoned with by the world.

Ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria have become major boundaries that create divisions among people. Ethnicity and religion have also become potent tools for mobilization and manipulation in the country. They have been so manipulated that virtually all institutions in the public and private sectors have been polarized along ethnic and religious lines. Civil servants, community and social workers are most victims of intimidation and oppression in their places of work. Survival and job security are strongly based on who is of the same ethnic group and religion as the boss. These are ideologies that do not promote peaceful and harmonious co-existence among Nigerians. Our ethnic and religious values should have been a force that will encourage Nigerians to appreciate the great benefits derivable from working together as Nigerians in honesty and for a better future irrespective of our ethnic and religious differences.

1.3 Research Methodology

The research methodology adopted in this research work is the historical approach. Information was obtained from primary sources through oral interviews as they relate to the topic under discussion. Information was obtained from both Christian and Muslim groups through the interviews. These include leaders and those faithful to Christianity and Islam, Government officials, Law Enforcement Agents, businessmen and women, teachers and students of tertiary institutions etc. these interviews were conducted from six randomly selected Local Government Councils in Kaduna State and another six Local Government Councils in Plateau State. These include Kaduna North and South Local Governments, Zangon Kataf Local Government, Jema’a Local Government, Zaria Local Government and Lere Local Government Council in Kaduna State. While in Plateau State, Jos North and South Local Governments, Wase Local Government, Langtang North Local Government, Panshin Local Government and Barkin Ladi Local Government Councils were used for the study.

Sampled Survey assessments of perceptions or constructive views about ethno-religious conflicts in Kaduna and Plateau States were made. The interview data proved crucial in understanding how ethnic and religious identities are implicated in the ethno-religious conflicts in Kaduna and Plateau States.

The researcher also obtained data from secondary sources, which include existing Text Books, Journals, Magazines, Newspapers, Periodicals and Handbills from Libraries and Archives. The Internet was equally a great source of information for the study. The presentation followed the analytical and descriptive approach.

1.4 Purpose of the study

This work is aimed at assessing the extent of human and material resources destroyed or lost in ethno–religious conflict in Northern Nigeria with particular reference to Kaduna and Plateau States. It also creates awareness of what Nigerian enemies, mostly in the Northern part of the country, are doing underground to undermine the country’s socio–economic and political growth and development.

The research unravels the roots and remote causes of ethno–religious conflicts in Nigeria. And how these conflicts have dictated their ascendancy as a normative process in the history of the country’s match to socio–economic and political development as a nation-state.

The work also aims at establishing the fact that each ethnic group is as important as the others. As such, the leadership of this great country is not the sole responsibility of only one particular ethnic group.

1.5 Significance of the study

The research reawakens in the minds of Nigerians the important role religion plays in the socio–economic and political development of Nigeria. That is to say, religion can be a very good tool for fostering national unity and economic and political development when properly handled. On the other hand, it can also be a disruptive instrument and viable tool for conflict if negatively handled.

Teachers, students and researchers of religion, economics, sociology and history in Nigerian schools will find the work beneficial as it furnishes them with current information on the country’s social, economic, political and religious development. The research shall be useful to politicians and political leaders in decision-making on issues that affect religion directly in the country.

It will help in the provision of relevant data on the genesis, effects and measures towards the control of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria, particularly the Northern part of the country.

It will also unravel decision-makers awareness of the effects of ethno-religious conflicts on Nigeria’s socioeconomic and political development. This will help in the formation of favourable policies and decisions that will stimulate a conducive atmosphere for the practice of religion in the country.

It will also serve as a means towards the development of a strategic action plan that will be a significant force in peaceful and harmonious co-existence amongst the practitioners of different religions in Nigeria.

It will strengthen a network of all stakeholders who would share their experiences in the search for peaceful co-existence, which will, in no small measure, contribute to Nigeria’s socio-economic and political development.

1.6 Scope of the Study

This research work focuses on the effect of ethno–Religious conflicts on the socio–economic and political development of Nigeria with particular reference to Kaduna and Plateau states. This is because Kaduna and Plateau are ranked top among the list of States that have witnessed a most perturbing and unprecedented upsurge of ethno–Religious conflicts in contemporary times.

1.7 Definition of Terms

Religion: Although lacking a universally acceptable definition, religion is very relevant in man’s life on earth. It is rooted in Latin words: relegere (to unite or link) and religious (relationship or bond). It, therefore, means a link or a relationship between man and a being that exists, which is greater than man. Man and religion are inseparable in all human cultures (Achunike, 2007:1).

Elaigwu (2004:4) viewed religion as “a set of beliefs and practices based on faith, which are sacred and dept rational scrutiny”. Therefore, it can quite easily trigger off emotional reactions. Ekwunife in Achunike (2007:1) provides a walking definition when he states that religion is “man’s awareness and recognition of his dependent relationship on a transcendent being – the wholly other, expressible in human society through beliefs worships and ethical and moral behaviours”. However, for the purpose of this study, we shall adopt the definition by Merriam (1980:250) as our working definition who defined religion thus:

The outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of God or gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service, and honour are due: the feeling or expression of human love, fear or awe of some superhuman and over-ruling power, whether by profession or belief, by observance or rites and ceremonies or buy conduct of life.

Conflict: Sani (2007:43) defined Conflict as “a moment or time of danger or great difficulty, turning point, disaster, emergency, calamity or catastrophe, as level of Conflict with tense confrontation between mobilized armed forces”.

Economics: Hornby (2001:275) views economics as “the science of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services or the condition of a country as to materials prosperity”.

Development: Balogun (1988:178) defined development as “the act, process or result of developing, or state of being developed, gradual advancement or growth through progressive changes in Technological, scientific, political, social, economic and religious advancement leading to better condition of living”. Changes occur and can be seen or observed in all human endeavours.

Ethnic and Religious Conflicts in Kaduna and Plateau States - Implications for Development in Nigeria

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