Recent incidences of ethno-religious violence in northern Nigeria have alarmed the international community to the point where Nigeria is now perceived as a potential breeding ground for transnational terrorism and violent religious extremism. According to Nigeria expert John Paden, this characterization is false. If anything, Nigeria is a hotbed of Islamic moderation.

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Summary

  • Recent incidences of ethno-religious violence in northern Nigeria have alarmed the international community to the point where Nigeria is now perceived as a potential breeding ground for transnational terrorism and violent religious extremism.
  • According to Nigeria expert John Paden, this characterization is false. If anything, Nigeria is a hotbed of Islamic moderation.
  • Religious violence in Nigeria must be understood as part of a complicated political context in a country striving to maintain national unity amongst an ethnically diverse population split evenly between Christians and Muslims.
  • Islam has a long history in Nigeria and has largely maintained a decidedly “West African” character, and less dependent on outside influences from the Arab world.
  • While religion has been and remains an inseparable and contentious component of politics in Nigeria, there have been a variety of mechanisms used successfully on state and local levels to manage religious conflict for the sake of national unity and promotion of religious tolerance.
  • Each of the three most recent instances of violent ethno-religious extremism does not necessarily signal a growing trend in a religious extremism. Rather, they reflect a complex set of contentious political and social issues, such as constitutional questions over the rights of “settlers” and “indigenes,” and grassroots frustration with respect to governance and corruption, which manifest in ethno-religious violence.
  • The most successful way to combat religious violence in Nigeria, according to Paden, is by working with Nigerian moderates to push for national and local level reforms, empower traditional leaders and promote interfaith dialogue.

About This Brief

On March 15th, 2010 USIP held a public event to address the recent incidences of ethno-religious violence in northern Nigeria and the increased scrutiny of Nigeria as hotbed of violent extremism. The event featured John Paden, Clarence Robinson professor of International Studies at George Mason University. Paden, author of “Faith and Politics in Nigeria” and many other books, has been studying Muslims in Nigeria for more than 30 years. The event was moderated by David Smock, vice president of the Institute’s Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution and associate vice president of USIP’s Religion and Peacemaking program, one of the Institute’s Centers of Innovation. Stephanie Schwartz, who wrote this Peace Brief, is a program specialist in USIP’s Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution and the author of “Youth in Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Agents of Change,” published by USIP Press in May 2010.

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