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Education crucial to resolve religious tensions in Nigeria
A Catholic religious leader said recently that education is crucial in order to resolve the growing unrest and the clash of faiths in Nigeria.
Fr. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah, a professor of philosophy and vice rector of the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, told Aid to the Church in Need that Muslim-Christian conflicts in Nigeria have deep historical roots, and politics, economics and ethnic differences interweave with faith, enhancing religious tensions.
Onah told ACN that education can address these roots. However, further complicating the matter of uneven distribution of education is the quality of education. For example, northern Nigerian Muslims believe Islamic education–limited to Arabic and Koranic teachings–is the only true instruction.
Radical Islamic groups like the Boko Haram claim that Western education teaches falsehoods. They find fertile ground for recruits among idle Muslim youth who roam the streets. Onah told ACN, “I think, part of the cause is the lack of proper catering to the programs that take care of the young people.”
A second factor that adds to religious conflicts is ethnicity. Onah told ACN that Nigeria historically had 350 nationalities which comprise the country today. “No attempt was made to create, of these ethnic nationalities, one people,” Onah said.
Onah noted that in Nigeria, ethnic affiliation is even stronger than religious affiliation and oftentimes, an ethnic clash is mistaken to be religious. He cites for example the clash of farmers and nomads, often mistaken to be primarily a religious issue, ACN said.
Nomads, who are largely Muslim, have traditionally had no concept of land ownership and their cattle graze anywhere. When they graze on a farmer’s land, crops are destroyed. Many farmers are Christian, Onah said.
Oftentimes there are no police in the area. The farmers therefore poison their crops so that as the cattle graze on their land, they die. Nomads respond by poisoning the dead cattle so that if the farmers eat them, they will die too, ACN reported.
Onah said with proper education and dialogue, cultural-ethnic groups will be able to understand one another and can peacefully resolve the problem. Onah told ACN, “These [ethnic] affiliations are things we have to try to overcome.”
Economic changes have also contributed to religious tensions with the existence of poverty throughout Nigeria and a growing number of young people who are disenchanted with government. This, Onah told ACN, is aggravated by politicians who enrich themselves while manipulating the poor and the youth.
Aggravating the internal political situation are the external political interests. Many Muslim groups, Onah told ACN, seek to dominate Nigeria including influences that come from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran.
Nigeria is strategic for oil and its sizeable population of 150 million people. Onah told ACN, “Within, the Muslim world is not a homogenous group, so there is often infighting among the Muslims themselves before even spilling over to the non-Muslims.”
Onah said that education will help greatly to not only address the religious divide, but to attack its roots for a long-term resolution. He told ACN, “If we don’t know the cause, we would not even be able to begin to suggest solutions.”