Saturday, July 19, 2014

Christians in Nigeria

Information on World Christians


Bullet points

1.       Out of nearly 175 million people, 40% or 80 million are Christians. The rest are Muslim

2.       Most Christians are in South

3.       Christianity arrived in the late 19th century, from European and American missionaries

4.       The nation has potential to be economically strong, but over 60% live in  poverty.

5.       The violence is between Muslims and Christians, but has roots in colonialism

6.       Boko Haram, the main terrorist group means “Western education is a sin”. They are based in Nigeria.



Nigeria is one of the most important nations in Africa.  With a population estimated at 175 million, approximately one out of four Africans is Nigerian. Based largely on petroleum, the nation has the second largest economy on the continent, behind only South Africa. It is one of the top ten oil producing nations, and, therefore a large trade partner with the West including the United States.  Although independent since 1960 – an early date for most of the nations of Africa—Nigeria has retained cultural ties to the United Kingdom, its former colonial power. English remains one of the official languages. 

Despite impressive oil revenues many Nigerians remain impoverished. According to the US Government, over 62% of the nation lives in extreme poverty. Corruption and graft are high. Typical of African nations, a large number of tribes and ethnic groups contest for space and power in Nigeria. Economic and cultural inequality is largely dependent on historical affiliations and geographical location.  Culturally there is a stark difference between the southern port cities that prospered under the British and those groups in the interior that were largely overlooked. This geographical divide can be seen in religion.

In regards to religion, Nigeria is evenly divided between Christians (48%) and Muslims (50%).  Over 75 million Nigerians are Muslim. Islam entered Nigeria from the north as early as the 9th century, as a result of conquest from invading tribes and inter-regional trade. Over time it spread west and south throughout the region, usurping local customs as it developed strong cultural ties.

Today the majority of Muslims in Nigeria reside in the north where economic and cultural inequality is greater. Partially as a result of long held hostilities between northern and southern tribes, Islam has become more polemical.   Nine northern states have recently incorporated Sharia Law into their legal system.  The terrorist group Boko Haram, which means, “Western Education is a sin”, was founded and is located in Borno, the northwestern most state.

Countering this are the more than 80 million Nigerian Christians of which nearly 18 million or 40% are Roman Catholic. The remainder is Protestant or adherents of new indigenous denominations such as the African Church.  Because Christianity was introduced by  colonial missionaries arriving  within the past century, it has been viewed by its critics as imported and no part of the traditional African experience. However, the church has thrived as nearly every denomination is present in the country, with Baptist and Anglican among the largest. Lutherans though on their 100th year remain a relatively small denomination, although they are expanding and are building a seminary.

Currently there is much strife in Nigeria. The reasons are complex but seem to be largely based on past colonial associations and an historical animosity between ethnic groups. Politics and religion have become the interwoven into these old arguments that occur throughout the region. Africa, as Nigeria shows, is at a crossroads between Islam in the North and Christianity in the South. It is also struggling as a continent to recognize its place in the world, and to that end, determining if Westernization provides the best path for success, or whether it needs to shed the cultural traits of its past colonial oppressors. African Christianity then for some is seen as vital and a unifying force, while for others it remains a symbol of the cultural West.