Book Review: Faith and Politics in Nigeria: Nigeria as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World

By John N. Paden, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-60127-029-0, ix-140 pp., $12.00 pbk.)
By Chris, M. A. Kwaja | 11 October 2010

The book under review examines John Paden’s incisive analysis of how the Nigerian state has been able to manage ethnic/religious diversity in the midst of violent confrontations across ethno-religious and regional fault-lines on one hand, and its relations with the U.S as a pivotal state in the Muslim world within the framework of the United States Institute of Peace’s Muslim World Initiative and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The author locates the nexus between faith and politics in Nigeria historically and demographically, as well as demonstrates a profound awareness of the convergence of interests between U.S and Nigeria, which has security, religious, political and economic undercurrents.

In chapter one, the author gives an overview of Nigeria in global perspective, in terms of its demographic importance, with a population of over 140 million people, its being the most populous country in Africa, the fourth largest member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), has the six largest number of Muslims in the world, it is the only country with an approximate balance between its Muslim and Christian population. Above all, its ethno-linguistic and religious diversity makes it one of the most complex countries in the world. All of these constitute the driving force in the quest for nation building and stability since independence in 1960 (p1), which also explains the link between Nigeria and the global economy. The author is categorical about intensity of religious identity in Nigeria, which accounts for one of the highest in the world. This religious identity grew during the military era (1984-1999) and was very pronounced and dominant during the Fourth Republic. He argues superficially that Nigeria is probably the least well known of the Muslim world’s pivotal states. Its role as the dominant African state, its extraordinary influence in West Africa, its significance as a major world oil producer, and its experience with democratic rule since 1999 makes it a critical country, especially in its relations with the United States (p.3-4).
Chapter two looks at the geo-strategic significance of Nigeria in term so of the sources of its influence within a sub-regional, regional and global realm. The author argues forcefully that Nigeria is not a Muslim state in Africa, but a multi-religious country that operates under a secular constitution that serves as a bridge between Muslims and Christians in Africa within the framework of the Federal Character Model and the ‘People of the Book Model’, as political solution, which is premised on the assumption that Muslims and Christians felt they had more in common than they had with indigenous, animist (or polytheist) communities (p.21-23). This assumption has been contested on the grounds that the use of derogatory words such as ‘arna’ or ‘kafiri’ (pagan) by the Muslims to describe their Christian counterparts contradicts this claim, which has been a major source of violent confrontation in Jos, Plateau State. This was one of the burning issues at the Plateau Peace Conference, after a state of emergency was declared on Plateau state by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo (Plateau State Government, 2004:46). The introduction of Shari’a law in some northern states of Nigeria as well as the delicate relationship between the Muslims and Christians are major threats to the ‘People of the Book Model’ as a framework for building inter-faith harmony in Nigeria.
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* Published in the Second Issue of Journal of Global Analysis (JGA).


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